Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day

Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick’s Day Holds Special Significance For My Family

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been important for my family because of our Irish heritage.  My mother’s maiden name was Geraghty.  My other hobby is genealogy.  I have traced our family tree back to our European roots – Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish on my mother’s side and English and Polish on my father’s.  I have another blog about our family history called This is Who We Are.

My Irish Family’s Emigration to New Zealand

My Irish ancestors emigrated from County Cavan to New Zealand in 1865 on board the Ganges.  Patrick and Bridget Geraghty (nee Brady) had an eventful journey as she gave birth to a son, naming him Bartholemew Ganges Geraghty after the ship.  There were 56 deaths on board the Ganges from bronchitis and whooping cough.

Patrick and Bridget emigrated to New Zealand because of the chance to own their own land.  The potato famine had caused 1.5 million deaths in Ireland, and led to mass emigration to New Zealand, America and other parts of the world.  They had another 11 children.  One of their children died at the age of 2, another at 16.  

The Early Settlers Had a Tough Life

Life was very tough for the Irish settlers as they were housed in rough conditions then moved to a small town in the Waikato, Tuakau.  The New Zealand wars were fought in the area.  The Alexander Redoubt was built by the British troops and it was here that the wars with the Maori took place.  The result was that land was confiscated from the Maori to be used for farming for the settlers.  This caused  a lot of tension between the settlers and the Maori in the area.

The family became flax farmers as they had been allocated a 10 acre block.  The demand for flax fibre for ropes was high, and there were numerous flax mills in the area.  The Geraghty family have made their mark in Tuakau. There are a couple of roads named after them, and the cemetary in Tuakau has many of the descendants of Patrick and Bridget. They are buried in a large grave with an impressive monument to the Geraghty name along with several of their children. They began what is now a huge number of descendants who bear the Geraghty name in their family tree.  

Treasured Memories of my Irish Grandfather

My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary.  Saint Patrick's Day is a day to remember my Irish heritage.
My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I love this photo as they both look so happy

My grandfather was a third generation New Zealander.  He moved north to Dargaville after he married my English grandmother.  My grandfather wore a green jumper frequently.  He was a gentle, kind man but also tough.  His whole back yard was a potato garden.  The potato famine must have impacted the family through the generations.

St. Patrick’s Day Is Bittersweet

My family always celebrated St. Patricks Day but it holds bittersweet memories for me.  It is also the anniversary of my mother’s death.  Mum passed away from cancer in 1991, 30 years ago today.

My mother Diana (nee Geraghty) and the author, Christina Henry.  Taken in 1990 six months before Diana passed away
My mother and I in 1990, approximately six months before she died

Her passing was quite sudden.  This photo was taken of her on my hen’s night approximately 6 months before her death.  She was completely fine then and we had no inkling that cancer was metastasizing inside her.  In January she came to stay with me and my sister and I noticed that she wasn’t herself.  She seemed vague and not sprightly, and wandered off during a walk.

A Heart-breaking Diagnosis

I took her to my GP who ordered a CT Scan of her brain.  Being a nurse, my curiosity overcame me and I looked at the results.  The shock of reading that she had multiple metastases in her brain will always stay with me.  Having to phone dad and my brothers was incredibly hard.

We never did find out what her primary cancer was, but it was probably lung cancer.  The only treatment available in those days was radiotherapy which would have taken weeks to administer, and only extended her life for a few more weeks.  We decided to take mum home and make the most of the time we had left.

She had a burning desire to see her family so we took her to Sydney and Melbourne on the train to visit them.  Her brother, sister and nephew flew from New Zealand to meet up with us there.  My sister decided to take mum back to New Zealand to visit her other family members there.  Unfortunately mum took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away in her hometown, Dargaville.

Remembering my Mother on St. Patrick’s Day

Mum’s family looked after us all so well.  Her brother arranged the funeral and she is buried with her mum in Auckland.  Every time I go to New Zealand it is the first place I visit.  We have also buried a small portion of my dad’s and sister’s ashes with mum so that they can be together in spirit.

Mum was buried on my 25th birthday.  It just seems so weird to think she’s been gone for 30 years.  She was my age – 54 when she died.  Far too young to die.  I can’t imagine dying at my age.  She definitely wasn’t ready to go.  She wanted to see grandchildren but none of her four children had had kids yet.

Saint Patrick’s Day Today

I keep in contact with her family as they are such lovely people.  I visit them when I go to New Zealand.  Over the years my celebration of my Irish heritage has become more subdued.  I used to go to an Irish pub to eat Guinness pie and enjoy the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.  On her 10th anniversary my father, brother and I enjoyed a fantastic day in Auckland at the Irish pubs.  I just don’t enjoy it anymore.  I decided that I would have a quiet day of reflection instead.

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Coping With Loss and Grief After Major Life Changes

Coping With Loss and Grief After Major Life Changes

Grieving For All Major Losses

The grieving process can occur when you experience any major loss.  Most people acknowledge that losing someone close to you leads to a period of grief. Many people don’t realise that grieving can occur at other times of our life. Major life changes are grieved as well.  This post is about coping with loss and grief after major life changes.

Grief After a Change in Your Health

Grieving after major life events such as changes in your employment status, or an illness or injury, can impact you in a similar way to the loss of a loved one. Although it is not as acute, it is a type of grief as well. I wrote about the loss of my role as a Registered Nurse due to post mastectomy complications previously. I have been grieving for the change in my health, from being a functioning member of society, to not being able to work.

A few weeks ago I started working with an Exercise Physiologist to build up my upper body strength.  Because I wasn’t allowed to exercise for six months after my bilateral mastectomies, my upper body strength was very poor.  Adding to my issues, I have had chronic back pain for years due to degeneration in my spine.  My aim is to return to my job as a Registered Nurse.  Because I work for Queensland Health, I am unable to return on light duties (as per policy).  I need to be able to do my job 100% including CPR and heavy patient cares, which requires a lot of upper body strength.  

Coping With Disappointment

I started the program with great enthusiasm, believing that the light was at the end of the tunnel with regards to my prolonged recovery.  My first disappointment was being told it would take three months to get me to that point.  This is on top of the eight months I have just had.  Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get back to work, and that’s when I get really despondent.

The second blow was just how much pain I had.  I was using muscles that had been neglected for eight months so they were crying out at having to work!  On top of that I was doing half the exercises wrong, hence the pain.  That was a week wasted.  The exercises seem so basic, but they are making me relearn movements so that I minimise the amount of work my back and leg muscles have been doing.  Something as simple as sit to stand – using the correct method is nothing like I normally would do it.  

Once again I’m frustrated at my slow progress.  I’ve never shed as many tears as I have this year, apart from when I was grieving for my parents and sister.  It does feel like a kind of grief – I’m grieving for the loss of my health and my ability to work.  Even acknowledging to myself that I’m coping with loss and grief doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

Working on my upper body strength has been one way I have been coping with loss and grief.  Photo of my home gym equipment and my dog who I take for daily walks
Working on my upper body strength has been one way I have been coping with loss and grief.

Coping When Someone Close To You Is Dying

I have written about my parents-in-law previously.  My mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer.  We had the palliative care team initial home visit last week.  They are an incredible team who will help my mother-in-law stay in her own home for as long as possible, and in hospital when the time comes.  While my in-laws are excellent for their age, they still struggle sometimes so we are grateful for the extra help they will receive.

We have been planning a surprise birthday party for my mother-in-law.  It is very emotional, knowing that this will be her last.  I don’t think there will be a dry eye there on the day.  I have been planning my father-in-law’s 90th birthday celebration as well.  The amount of planning these two events takes just compounds an already busy time of the year.

Grieving Before They Have Died

I feel like I’m grieving for them before they’ve even gone.  I felt the same when dad was dying of pancreatic cancer.  You’re seeing them deteriorate, and their quality of life diminish as the cancer takes over.  When they no longer enjoy food because their sense of taste and smell is gone, and simple activities sap their strength and leave them breathless, it rips your heart out.

The Affect Grieving Has On Your Life

I had plans for blog posts that still aren’t written.  My time and enthusiasm for writing just hasn’t been there.  Some things are more important, like spending time with family.  When time is limited, you prioritise.  I felt compelled to write  to my remaining uncles and aunties.  They are all aging so quickly and none of them live close.  They are the last link to my parents so I value keeping in contact with them.

Nurturing Yourself When You Are Grieving

I am nurturing myself in order to cope with these circumstances.  I’m making sure to continue activities that I know help me deal with stress.  I never miss a day where I walk my dog for half an hour.  I write in my journal daily and do gentle yoga every couple of days.  When I’m tired I have a rest.  I’m also seeing a psychologist for counseling which has been really helpful while I am coping with loss and grief.

If you are also experiencing grief, or stressful life events, ask for help.  You needn’t go through it alone.  My GP has been supportive of my need to improve my strength and have counseling.  Often women are the ones who prop up the rest of the family.  While they care for everyone around them, they don’t get their needs met.  Don’t be afraid to speak up.  

When there is more than one stressor in your life, such as the ones I am dealing with, your ability to cope is stretched thin.  Sometimes I wonder what my breaking point is.  Life seems to throw more and more at me.  I don’t have all the answers, as sometimes I really don’t do well.

Allowing the Grieving Process to Take Its Course

What I have learned from grieving in the past is that you can’t avoid it. If you deal with it by using substances like alcohol, you just delay the inevitable.  The only way through grief is to let it run its course.  Those days when you can’t get out of bed because you’re crying so much your whole body hurts, just go with it.  Be kind to yourself and accept that it’s going to take time before life resembles any sort of normality.  

There are some deaths you never get over, like my mum’s.  It’ll be 30 years next year and it’s still hard without her.  Losing someone else close to you reminds you of your previous losses.  Small things remind you of them, and can take you back to a different time and place.  

People Grieve in Different Ways

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  And every death will be different.  People don’t cope the same way.  Some like to spend as much time with the person while they still can, while others avoid seeing them sick.  Grief can bring out the worst in people, especially when they don’t think the person is dealing with it the ‘right’ way.  Patience and understanding are needed at a time when the whole family is coping with loss and grief.

Even though life won’t be “normal” for me for a while yet, I won’t give up. I have survived other difficult periods in my life and I know I can get through this. If you would like to read more about coping with difficult situations, you may enjoy:

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A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.  A positive attitude to life has been shown by studies to increase your lifespan by 11 to 15%, and increase your odds of living to 85 years or more.  Other benefits of optimism include stress reduction, improved immunity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  It improves resilience to illness and contributes to happiness, leading to a richer, more fulfilled life  (Source VeryWellMind.com).

My Observations of Elderly Patients

 As a nurse I have developed the opinion over many years, that if you make it to your 80s and 90s, you are often healthier than the 50 or 60 year old in the next bed.  That generation was made of steel and their inner strength comes from having to survive and thrive during so many hardships.  In their eight or nine decades they have seen wars and hardships like no other.

The Strongest Woman I Know Is 85 Years Old

The strongest woman I know is my 85 year old mother-in-law.  Strength can be measured in physical terms, but in this case the strength is her inner strength and fortitude. Over three years ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She was offered treatment but she declined as it wouldn’t have cured her.  While her family fell to pieces she declared “I feel fine!  What are you all upset about?”

She got on with life and it was easy to forget she had incurable cancer and other health issues.  She has always been very active and sociable and cancer didn’t slow her down.  Off she went to bingo and lunch with her friends, carrying on life as usual.

Gwen has not only survived, but thrived.  She refused to change her lifestyle and continued to live life to the fullest.  She’s the type of person that cleans up and moves all the furniture before the cleaner comes.  We offered to help her and my father-in-law but they push on, staying as independent as they can in their own home.

A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

We often complained about our aches and pains and other physical ailments.  Gwen would sit and listen to us all moan, then would pipe up with “You’re all falling apart!  I feel great!”  She put us all to shame because she never complained, and rarely has had a day in bed.  If she goes to bed during the day we know she’s really sick. Her positive attitude and stoicism has helped her maintain her health.

A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.
A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.

The Cancer Has Progressed

This year we’ve all noticed her slowing down, becoming more short of breath and looking pale and gaunt (under the makeup of course!).  One day she coughed up blood, which gave us all a fright.  My sister-in-law persuaded her to go to hospital to be checked.  Remarkably she’s never been in hospital other than that time, and another time when I called the ambulance because she was having chest pain.

The scans revealed that the cancer has grown and now 90% occludes her bronchus – the main airway to her left lung.  It spread from the initial tumour on her left chest wall to surround all the major blood vessels and organs beneath her sternum.  It’s finally catching up with her and she only has a limited amount of time left.  Mind you, she was given 9 months to live over three years ago so she’s far surpassed anyone’s expectations.

Staying Active Keeps You Healthy

Her positive attitude and get-up-and-go is the reason she is still here with us.  If she had decided to slow down, sit around and accept our help, I have no doubt she wouldn’t have still been here.  Just by being more active (she even still does her exercises) she has kept her physical strength up, and not allowed her body to degenerate.  

If she had lain around, she would have been at higher risk of developing pneumonia because her lower lungs would collapse and trap mucous in their bases.  Just by keeping active she has prevented this common cause of death in the elderly.  Both my parents-in-law have had influenza and other upper respiratory infections during the last few years, and miraculously have pulled through every time.  

Just seeing how the two of them have not only survived, but thrived, is so inspirational.  My own father lost most of his mobility over the last two decades of his life because he enjoyed being waited on hand and foot.  I remember encouraging him not to sit around when he was only in his 60s.  Use it or lose it.

Strong Family Connections Are Important

My husband’s family have always lived within 10 minutes of each other which is in contrast to my own.  I had no family around when I was bringing up my sons as a single mother, so it was a shock to the system to suddenly have so much connection with family.  That connection has contributed to my parents-in-law living such fulfilled lives.  My nieces and nephew don’t know how lucky they are to have so much contact with their grandparents in their 20s.

Keeping Mentally Active Improves Quality of Life as You Age

Keeping mentally active has also played a part in their quality of life.  My mother-in-law does puzzles and crosswords, while my father-in-law has a keen interest in documentaries.  He tinkers with the boat and has always been a keen gardener.  We always get great advice on gardening and home improvements from my father-in-law.

Living Life Without Regrets

The one thing I’ve seen in common with my father and my parents-in-law is that they don’t fear death.  They have lived long productive lives and don’t live with regret.  They have strong connections with their families and look forward to being reunited with their loved ones that have gone before them.  My dad was incredibly peaceful and serene when he was on his death bed despite severe pain.

We can’t choose the day we die (unless we commit suicide) but we can live our lives in such a way that the quality of life is maximised.  Keeping physically active and emotionally connected to our families – having a purpose in life – is vital if we want to live life to the fullest like my mother-in-law.

Our Family’s Loss Will Be Acutely Painful

We will all be devastated when we lose her.  The heart of the family will be gone.  We’re all dreading the day.  My sister-in-law and I lost our mothers when we were newlyweds so we know what it’s like.  30 years later and I still miss her.  Our husbands don’t know what being without your mother is like.  I just hope I can be strong enough to help my husband through the grieving process as he has helped me.  I lost my sister suddenly and my father after a long battle with prostate and pancreatic cancer, and Phil has supported me through both those losses.

We’re planning a surprise high tea garden party for my mother-in-law’s 86th birthday in three weeks.  If she can make it through her birthday, then Christmas, then my father-in-law’s 90th in January, we will be relieved.  We’ve had her for borrowed time already but that would be a bonus.

Stay Positive – It Will Improve Your Quality of Life

Elderly people who maintain their quality of life have much to teach us.  A positive attitude and a sense of optimism will not only improve your quality of life, but it will help you live longer.  Embrace all that life has to offer.  Keep strong ties with your family and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Your health will be enhanced if you stay active and continue to exercise your mind. Above all, a positive attitude can improve your quality of life as you age.

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Mixed Feelings on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has always been a day of mixed feelings for me. My mum passed away from cancer when I was 24. She was 54, the exact age I am now. A lifetime without my mum has been hard to bear at times, especially those times when your mum would be present for you, like the birth of your children.

Mum and I, about 6 months before she died of cancer. We didn’t know she had cancer until 2 months before she died

When I became a mother, it was a time of immense joy tinged with grief. My mum had only passed away 18 months before so I was still grieving. I had post-natal depression after my first baby, and really struggled with motherhood. My baby had colic and screamed a lot, his poor tummy visibly rippling with the pain of bowel spasms. My mum would have been there quietly supporting me and giving me advice gently. Her firstborn had also suffered colic so her advice would have helped me so much.

You never get over losing your mum. 30 years later, I still miss her and wish she was still here. She was the best role model for motherhood I could have had. She guided her family with a soft hand, never raised her voice or hand, yet instilled respect and compliance from us.

Before she passed away I spent a few days sitting by her hospital bed. That time with her I hold dear because she talked about mitherhood and advised me on how to bring up my children using the same gentle approach as she. I have never forgotten the advice she gave me and used it as a basis for my own approach to bringing up my children.

Being a mother has been one of my life’s joys. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. I had trouble getting pregnant and my pregnancies weren’t easy, but it was all worth it. That intense love you feel when you hold your baby for the first time is like no other.

I have always felt very emotional on Mother’s Day. Some years I’ve been really sad because it’s a reminder that I can’t give my mum cards, presents and a warm embrace. A few years ago I decided to do something to honour my mum’s memory so I joined in the Mother’s Day Classic which is held in memory of loved ones and raises money for breast cancer research. By doing that I changed an emotional sad day into something positive.

My husband Phil, our dog Banjo and I walked 6km for the Mother’s Day Classic which raises money for breast cancer research

In honour of mum my husband and I are walking 5km today. It’s a virtual walk because of social distancing laws, which means we can’t join with other participants but the online community is very supportive of each other.

If you would like to donate the link to my fundraising page is below (click on the picture). All money raised goes to breast cancer research.

To all the mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

https://fundraise.mothersdayclassic.com.au/fundraisers/christinahenry/mothers-day-classic-2020

Click here to go to my fundraising page. Thank you!

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Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

I was asked to contribute a guest post by Sue Loncaric for her Website Sizzling toward sixty. Sue’s passion is “helping and encouraging women in midlife to reach their full potential living a healthy & active lifestyle”. I encourage my readers to have a look at her website because it has so many resources for women in their midlife. It aims to inspire and guide them to live a healthy life. Sue lives on the Gold Coast like me. We’ve never met in person but I look forward to having a coffee and a chat with her when we are no longer social distancing.

This was my first guest post. I feel very honoured to have been invited to take part in her series Aging Well Living Well. I talked about some of the challenges I have faced in my life and how I overcame them to arrive at this point in my life. Here is an excerpt:

I want my remaining years to be as healthy as possible so I strive to overcome my health issues and live the healthiest version of my life as I canNo matter what your issues are, whether they are physical or mental, a lack of money or support, it is possible to live the healthiest version of yourself. Do what you can rather than focusing on what you can’t.

Christina Henry 2020

Take a look at my guest post at this link:

Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

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Letter to myself – aged 17

I have been thinking of my parents a lot lately, especially when I was writing my last two blog posts. Reflecting on what skills I learned from my parents, I realised that I didn’t appreciate it at that age. I was a bit of a handful for my parents, rebelling against their strict rules. I was able to rebuild my relationship with them in time, but I really wish I’d listened to their advice more.

This isn’t an original idea – I have seen other people write letters to their younger selves. Oprah wrote a powerful one and asked 17 well-known people to write letters as well – they’re on her website. There’s even a Grammy-award winning song by Brad Paisley:

If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen

After reflecting on the things I wish I knew when I was 17, I decided to write a similar letter to myself:

A photo of the author, Christina Henry, aged 17
Me at aged 17

My Letter to Myself, Aged 17

Dear Christina,

I am writing to tell you that you need to appreciate your parents more. They really love you and only want what’s best for you. Their rules are there to protect you, even if they are strict and old-fashioned.

Learn as much as you can from your mum. She’s a beautiful person who gives her whole life to you – appreciate her, because she won’t be there when you really need her. She’ll be at your wedding, but 4 months later she’ll pass away from cancer. You will miss her for the rest of your life but you’ll be so grateful that you learnt a lot about cooking and homemaking from her. You’ll draw on your memories of your mother when you have your own children, and you’ll appreciate the advice she give you in her last few weeks about bringing up children. Memories like that will be treasures.

You will grow to appreciate your father, but not until you have your own children. Then you’ll realise how hard it is to give them a private education, holidays overseas and a nice house. You’ll come to terms with the type of man he is and that he was very much a product of the times when men were chauvinistic and had little to do with child rearing. You may never want to rely on a man, and you will always be strong willed and independent. You’ll eventually be on much better terms with him, but it’s not until his deathbed that he’ll tell you you’re a good daughter.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It doesn’t agree with your body, and will play havoc with your mood and mental state. It won’t help at all when you’re grieving. You’ll make some pretty awful decisions under the influence, for which you’ll be regretful. Definitely don’t take drugs because the affect they have on family members will be devastating. Keep an eye on your sister – her spiral downwards in mental health will eventually have a diagnosis but not for 10 years. Step in and get her help when she has her first psychotic episode – she needs medical attention so don’t hold back from seeking it.

Learn to walk away from people and situations before they start affecting your mental and physical health. You will try to help so many people who will hate you for it, and it won’t be until years later that you learn boundaries. Find help with being assertive and only let people into your life who are authentic and care for your well-being. Even if that means having fewer friends – quality is better than quantity.

The author with her best friend Paula, aged 17
Me with my best friend Paula, aged 17

Don’t try to be a people pleaser. People will walk all over you until you learn to listen to your own inner voice and stand up for what is right. Don’t ever be a doormat. Your shyness will hold you back, and it will become so bad you’ll develop social anxiety. Seek help for it because there is treatment that will help. There will be one person who is strong enough to help you and will always have your back – you won’t meet him till you’re in your 40’s but when you do, there’ll be an instant connection and you’ll know you’re with the right person. Life won’t always be easy, but he’s the one you’ll be able to grow old with.

Protect your back. Back pain will be the defining feature of your later years. Nursing is a wonderful career which you will love, but it will take a toll on your health. Don’t stay in a job that causes too much stress. It’s not worth it and there’s better jobs out there.

Appreciate your healthy body. Look after it and don’t take it for granted. You’re in for a lifetime of health related issues so appreciate your youthful body. Get your teeth fixed while you’re young – your confidence and self esteem will improve. Investigate your migraines and palpitations – the underlying cause will shock you but you’ll be on a better pathway towards a healthier you. Watch out for weight gain – you’ll discover that more of a plant based diet is the answer to maintaining your weight and well-being.

Travel as much as you can when you’re young. The world will change so much and your health will limit how much you can travel.

The author aged 17 - she looks so shy and insecure in this photo
Myself at 17 – I look so shy and insecure

I don’t need to tell you that motherhood will be the most rewarding role you’ll have in life. You already know you will be a mother, even if it takes you years to have children. You will guide them in the way you wish your parents had guided you – with strong communication, mutual respect, and appreciation of the unique creative people they are. They will give you so much joy and fulfillment.

Don’t ever stop writing and reading. It will give you untold joy and satisfaction. You’ll always want to learn something new, and you’ll throw yourself into new projects with passion – don’t ever stop doing that!

Above all, keep believing that there’s a higher reason for all of this. We’re spiritual beings in human form and our goal is to learn as much as we can in our lifetime. Your life will throw you many curve-balls, and at times you’ll struggle with the weight of so much burden on your shoulders, but you’ll always get through each challenge. Care for yourself, make sure you take time out for yourself. Enjoy your life,

Love Christina, aged 53

No Regrets

I don’t regret much – my life has been a learning curve and I’ve probably dealt with more situations than some people. Some I’ve dealt with well, many not so well. I’ve learnt to accept myself with all the traits, good and bad, that I have. Some inherited, some learnt as I’ve traveled through life. I enjoyed writing this letter to myself as an exercise in self reflection.

What would you tell yourself at 17? Please comment below.

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The Half-Empty Nest

The Half Empty Nest

When a Child Moves Out it Feels Like Grief

A week ago my son moved out of home. I knew it was coming – he’s nearly 25, but it still caused an upheaval in my life all the same. I have my other son at home still, so the nest is only half-empty. Despite this I’m feeling a sense of loss akin to grief that only another mother could relate to. Empty Nest Syndrome, while being a cliche, is very real.

This is the son who I bonded with immediately after birth when he latched on in the delivery suite. It was complete love at first sight with my second baby. My first baby had been born three years earlier when I was mourning the death of my mother. This meant my bonding with him was affected by post natal depression and anxiety. And from not having the one person there for me – my mum, whose presence would have made such a difference to a new mother. He had colic as well so he cried a lot. In contrast, my second baby was a calm, relaxed and cuddly child, and I was a more experienced and confident mum.

The Close Mother-Son Bond

For years my second son was my shadow and clung to me. Our bond was strengthened by our similar sense of humour as he grew older. We enjoyed banter where we fed off each other, talking about diverse subjects at great length. This was often to the bemusement of the rest of the family who didn’t really ‘get’ us. Our mutual love of animals and our taste in music, our enjoyment of cooking together, and our daily walks with the dogs meant that we spent a lot of time together over the years.

My son went through a period of depression a few years back and he dropped out of university. 18 months later he decided to re-enroll in a different course in another university. I told him I would be keeping a close eye on him to make sure his mental state didn’t suffer by taking on another course of study. Our conversations became more in depth as I didn’t hold back with communication. I needed to make sure he was OK this time around, and that the pressure of studying, working and internships didn’t impact his mental health.

To my absolute joy he thrived under pressure, and was able to take on a heavy study load while working full-time and doing two internships at the same time. He was more motivated to accomplish his goals when his schedule was full. He completed his degree in communications, public relations and journalism in just over two years.

Coping With Disappointment

My son applied for jobs all over Australia in his chosen fields. He was keen to start his new career and leave the crappy retail position he’d held since the age of 14. He struggled to get so much as a reply to his application. The few interviews that he attended did not even bother to let him know he’d been unsuccessful. After six months of knock-backs we were both disheartened and incredibly disappointed. For me as a mother, it was like a stab in the heart to watch him go through this.

Honestly, I do not know what is wrong with employers these days. They do not even send out an email to let applicants know they’ve been unsuccessful. No wonder young people struggle to find a job, and when they do, there’s not the sense of loyalty that we had to our employers. I’m disgusted by how rude it is. The least they could do is send out a polite email thanking them for their application and telling them they have been unsuccessful.

So my son stayed in his retail position, stayed living at home and gave up on applying for jobs. My husband and I went on holiday. While we were there my son rang me to tell me he’d quit his job. He couldn’t work there anymore – it was making him ill, both physically and mentally. He was getting migraines nearly every day and spiraling into depression again. Of course this caused alarm and I begged him to reconsider. His employers met with him and pleaded with him to stay as he is a hard worker and reliable employee. He dropped back to casual and took on another job (retail as well!).

Then he decided to go back to university and do his Masters Degree in Secondary Education. He’d be able to teach high-school English and History. I wrote about it in my last blog post Don’t Hold Back . He was all set to start university this month then out of the blue he decided to move out of home and take on a full time position in his new workplace. Just when I thought he was set on one path, he did a 360 turn. He has now put off going back to university just so he could move out of home.

The Turmoil Caused by a Child Leaving Home

Our household has been in turmoil for the last few weeks. Quite a few deep discussions have occurred between my son and I as I attempt to persuade him to reconsider this decision. But he was set on this path and has now moved out. My main concern is that he’ll regret this down the track, and he won’t be fulfilled in his current job. I know it won’t be challenging enough for him mentally. He needs a job that will stimulate him intellectually for his own well-being. He acknowledges that but is still keen to spread his wings and become a fully functioning adult by cutting the apron strings.

I was fine until I drove toward our house the evening before he was due to move out. I realised it would be the last time our family of four would sleep in the same house together. The floodgates opened and I couldn’t control the tears for the next 12 hours until I had to show up for work again. It felt like I was grieving for my father again – he’d passed away 18 months prior. That’s understandable because a partial empty nest is a loss, just like all the other losses I’d experienced. I’d had the same reaction when my mother and sister had passed away, and when I separated from my ex-husband. No-one died obviously but I was losing a massive part of myself all the same.

The bedroom my son left behind is now my new writing space.  This has eased the feeling of an empty nest slightly.
The bedroom my son left behind is now my new writing space. This has eased the feeling of an empty nest slightly.

Close Bond Reinforced Through Shared Experiences

I was prepared to be emotional because my son and I had been together during several of the hardest periods of my life. Despite his youth, he had proved to be an incredibly resilient person and very supportive, emotionally mature and caring. When my father was suffering from cancer and spent the last few months in and out of hospital, it was my son who came with me to New Zealand to see him.

I leaned on him more than what a mother would normally do with their son. His strength of character showed that he could handle this. He did it willingly and generously, not holding back from seeing the brutality of his grandfather dying from pancreatic cancer. We grew even closer from that shared experience. We both felt honoured to have spent that time with my father, who, despite being in pain and hallucinating from his condition, displayed utter peace at being so close to dying. He was praying that God would take him and he had incredible faith right until his last breath.

If my son had moved out a year ago I would not have coped as well as what I have, because I was still grieving my father. For anyone who has lost someone that close, you know that the acute stage of grief varies. It has been different for each person I’ve lost – my mum when I was 24, my sister when I was 45 and my dad when I was 52. But eventually it becomes easier to bear. So in no way do I feel that my son moving out is in any way as bad as losing someone who has died. I still see my son as he’s only 20 minutes drive away. But it won’t be the same without our daily walks, cooking sessions and nightly banter at the dinner table.

My pets keep me company as I write
My pets keep me company as I write

How Has Your Empty Nest Impacted You?

I’d love to hear from you, my readers – how was the empty nest for you? What helped you to adjust to the gap left in your life? Do you still miss your children or are you enjoying the freedom of not having dependents at home? My immediate way to adjust was to clean out his room and turn it into a study for me. A space where I can write freely without interruption, and decorate it according to my taste, in soothing colours. I write surrounded by my pets who are great company.

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