A Very Special Birthday Celebration

A Very Special Birthday Celebration

Celebrating a long life with joy

My father-in-law turned 90 years old last week. I would like to share with you how we celebrated this special event in this post. It was a very special birthday celebration which almost didn’t happen because of sudden changes in travel restrictions. We were so lucky that the weekend strict lockdown in Brisbane didn’t affect us.

Happy 90th birthday Cec
Happy 90th birthday Cec – cheers to a long life

A Positive Outcome From 2020

One of the most positive things about 2020 was nurturing relationships that are important to me.  Normally my life is extremely busy and I feel continually jetlagged from unrelenting shift work as a nurse.  Many of you know that I have been off work since May because of complications during surgery.  Having time on my hands has been a blessing in that I have been able to spend a lot of time with my in-laws. 

I have had time to visit for a chat and a cup of tea, and not stress about needing to be somewhere or do something on my brief days off.  I also have been able to attend all the family gatherings, whereas most of the time I work on public holidays and other special occasions.  This is something I don’t take this for granted.  I feel like I have been blessed with this time.  

Stronger Family Relationships

My relationship with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law have been the most improved by this.  My sister-in-law and I have been able to plan some lovely family gatherings such as my mother-in-law’s High Tea surprise birthday party.  I could also help with my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday Alice In Wonderland party.  Just in general we have become closer this year, bonded by being married to two lovely men who are definitely the product of their equally lovely parents.

My sister-in-law and I share another thing in common. Both our mothers passed away when we were newlyweds in our early 20s.  I think that it is why we know that we need to create lovely memories during the latter years of our parents-in-laws’ lives.  Every birthday and special occasion has taken on new meaning as we are aware that time with them is limited.

My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law
My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law

My Father-in-law’s Special Birthday Celebration

My father-in-law’s 90th birthday is the latest milestone for our family. We celebrated the occasion with a lovely lunch.  The family let me organise the event which I felt very privileged to do – they needed to put some trust in my organisational skills!  I don’t have the same creative, event planning abilities as my sister-in-law (just look at what she did for my mother-in-law’s High Tea and you will see what I mean!).  But I am pretty good at organising things.

The day was a success, and the smiles on everyone’s faces were my reward.  We had the lunch at a club nearby which we have used previously for events.  

My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister and dear friend
My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister Shirley and dear friend June

Celebrating a Long Life

At 90 years old, my father-in-law has been through a lot, including serving in the Australian Army in the Korean conflict when he was a young man.  He has chronic pain from injuries sustained in a fall through a roof, and suffers from COPD.  His mind is still sharp and he and my mother-in-law still drive and live independently in their own home.  Cec is one of the kindest men you will ever meet.  To be able to organise this special birthday for him was an honour.

I was brought to tears when the whole club sang Happy Birthday to him.  I created a collage of photos of him from babyhood until now and he was “tickled pink!”.  He talked about each photo and shared his memories with us.  His sister aged 92 was able to come from Northern New South Wales. A close family friend who has been like an Auntie to my husband and his brother was also able to come.

A collage for a 90th birthday - celebrating the life of my father-in-law Cec
A collage of photos depicting the life of my 90 year old Father-in-law Cec

The Special Birthday Celebration Almost Didn’t Happen

We have been holding our breath leading up to this event. No-one knows whether the border to New South Wales will close again or we’ll be sent back into lockdown.  There was a weekend lockdown as close as Brisbane and Logan because of two new strains of the more contagious UK variant of Covid-19 being detected in Brisbane.  We have been extremely lucky here to avoid it.

Treasure your loved ones as you never know when they will be taken from you.  This year marks 30 years since my mother passed away, and 10 years since my sister died suddenly from an epileptic fit.  It’s hard for me to fathom that so much time has passed.  Many of you know that my mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer so we value any time we have left with her.

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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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Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

Music Affects Our Emotions

Music has a positive affect on our emotions.  I have always used music as a tool to uplift my mood.  Spotify sent me my list of songs I listen to the most, and it’s too good not to share.  I have dubbed my playlist the Mood Boosting Song List for Midlifers because listening to these songs never failed to uplift me this year.

Music Evokes Pleasant Memories

Music evokes memories of growing up in a very creative family.  My parents met because dad spotted mum singing in the Church choir.My parents loved music and we were brought up loving a variety of genres from classical music to rock.  My mother was a beautiful singer and I learned to harmonise by singing along to Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. At Christmas we would stand around the piano while mum played Christmas Carols, and we’d sing along.  Mum would also entertain by playing the ukelele and singing fun folk songs.

Our family’s love of music goes back generations.  Dad’s father played the piano while silent movies played at the cinema.  Dad had 8 brothers and sisters and they all learned to play an instrument.  As a group they would play on stage to entertain a gathering. Some of the extended family became accomplished musicians.  My cousin played viola for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. 

Mum playing Christmas Carols on the piano while everyone sings along.
Mum playing Christmas Carols on the piano while everyone sings along.

Passing My Love Of Music On

Both my sons both inherited the music gene and can play multiple instruments.  My elder son has played the drums in several bands and has a Diploma of Music.  He has made a business out of creating band tour videos and music videos. My love for music extended to singing in the choir. I taught my younger son to cook while playing our favourite tracks in the background. He is a content writer, but the first expressive material he wrote was song lyrics.

Starting them young - My sons at age four and one
Starting them young – My sons at age four and one

So you could say that music is in my blood. I have used music a lot this year to uplift my soul as it has been a really tough year. Music never fails to improve my mood.

Here is my Mood Busting Playlist for Midlifers:

Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

What music do you use to uplift your mood? Please share in the comments.

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What I Really Want For Christmas in 2020

What I Really Want For Christmas in 2020

Family Unity is More Important Than Gifts

My Christmas wish list is a little different this year. What I really want for Christmas can’t be wrapped and placed under the tree. Christmas is a time for families to gather, often over a celebratory meal and the traditions like gift giving.  In Australia it is one of the main celebrations of the year.  Even if you don’t identify as Christian, most families gather together.

Most mothers take on the role of organising many of the Christmas traditions such as buying the gifts and preparing the food.  It can be a busy time leading up to the day as mothers tend to take on the extra tasks so that Christmas can be a happy time for their family.

Christmas Traditions

Every family has its own traditions for this time, whether it is watching the Carols by Candlelight, eating roast turkey, or going to Midnight Mass.  There is often food that she traditionally cooks every year because it is someone’s favourite.  

Every year there are a few things that I always cook.  My son loves turkey, but it has to be one specific turkey that I cook.  I was a single mother during their teens, and my budget didn’t stretch to buying a whole turkey.  I cooked a rolled turkey thigh that was frozen – it was pretty grim.  Even though I could now cook a whole turkey, my son insists on that awful rolled turkey thigh!  Every year we laugh about it, but that is what I still cook for him!

My Christmas Wish List

As another Christmas looms, I have put some thought into the gifts on my wishlist.  This year’s Christmas is sure to be extra special as most of us will be pleased to see the end of this very trying year.  These are the gifts I would love:

  • My family to be united to celebrate Christmas
  • Security and safety for my family
  • Good health – everyone remains Covid free, with the prospect of a vaccine soon
  • My sons are happy with life and both stay employed in jobs that they enjoy
  • Our country remains free of natural disasters
  • Our leaders keep our country safe and our economy strong
  • We are free to travel and enjoy our freedom again
  • Peace and serenity, gratitude for all that we are blessed with

I am optimistic that I will receive all the gifts on my wishlist this Christmas.  Wouldn’t it be a lovely celebration if we could all receive them?  It wasn’t that long ago that we took most of this for granted, but after this year I don’t take anything for granted anymore.

The Gift I Most Desire

Time with my family is even more precious now, as both sons moved out leaving us empty nesters.  The border was closed for most of the year meaning that I couldn’t see my family in New South Wales.  Our family has had many health issues, not from Covid, but from cancer and other issues.

This year the emphasis won’t be on material gifts, it will be on celebrating together as a family.  One of my brothers will be here, which will be lovely.  

My other brother has sadly distanced himself from the rest of the family after our father passed away.  It’s such a shame as dad’s dying wish was for all of us to be united as a family.  The situation seems insurmountable as he refuses all attempts of reconciliation. 

It may be the last year we spend with my mother-in-law too, as she has reached the palliative stage of lung cancer.  We will treasure every moment we have with her.  

This Christmas Will Be Different

This Christmas has taken on a different meaning for all of us.  We now don’t take for granted that we can cross the state border, or gather together as a family group.  Our health has been our focus and we no longer take that for granted either.  It will be a relief that we made it through one of the most challenging years any of us has ever seen.

I am so grateful for a Christmas celebration with the most precious thing, my family.

What gifts do you most look forward to receiving? Are you wanting intangible gifts like me? If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:

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Caring for Your Skin As You Age

Caring for Your Skin As You Age

Caring for your skin in Midlife

As you enter midlife, you will notice changes in your skin.  The skin care regime you used in your youth will no longer suit your skin.  This article will discuss how aging skin changes and give you some tips on caring for your skin as you age.  You will learn how to choose anti-aging products for your skin and what to look for when you purchase skin care products.

Midlife brings with it changes to your skin. Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause leads to itchy, dry skin, and may even cause breakouts. My skin became oily and acne prone in my 40s.  Now that I am in my 50s I have patches of dry skin, noticeable age spots and visible broken capillaries on my chin.

The affects of aging on skin

Aging affects skin in many ways, both on the surface of skin and below the outer layer.  The effects of aging on our skin depends on various factors including lifestyle, diet and hereditary factors.  In Australia and New Zealand we are exposed to harsh sunlight year round and eventually the damage we have accumulated catches up with us. 

The affects of sun damage on skin 

Damage from the sun is arguably the main cause of aging skin.  Sun damage is called photoaging.  UV light damages elastin fibres in the skin, which causes skin to sag, stretch and lose its ability to snap back if stretched.  The skin bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal.

Lifestyle factors that affect your skin

Other causes of skin damage are pollution, stress, gravity, daily facial movement and sleep position.  Gravity causes drooping of eyebrows and eyelids, and looseness and fullness under cheeks and jaw.  Facial movement leads to the appearance of horizontal lines on your forehead, vertical lines above the nose, and small lines on the temples, cheeks and around your mouth.

One of the leading causes of aging skin is smoking.  Smoking ages your skin by producing free radicals, once-healthy oxygen molecules that are now over-active and unstable.  Free radicals damage cells, leading to premature wrinkles.

How Natural Aging Affects Skin

As we grow older, the following changes occur naturally:

  • Your skin becomes rougher,
  • Skin may develop lesions such as benign tumours,
  • Aging skin becomes less elastic and will hang loosely,
  • You may notice that your skin is more transparent.  This is caused by the thinning of the epidermis (surface layer of the skin),
  • Skin becomes more fragile,
  • Your skin becomes more easily bruised due to thinner blood vessel walls,
  • Skin is dry and prone to itching due to the loss of oil glands.

Changes below the skin:

Changes also occur under the skin surface as we age:

  • Bone loss around the mouth and chin may cause puckering of the skin around the mouth,
  • Cartilage loss in the nose causes drooping of the nasal tip and accentuation of bones in the nose,
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat, especially on the cheeks, temples, chin, nose and eye area may cause loosening skin and sunken eyes.

(Source: WebMD)

How Our Skin Ages - 1. Lines on forehead, above nose, on temples and cheeks.  2. Drooping eyelids, sunken eyes, 3. Looseness and fullness of skin under jaw.  4.. Puckering of skin around mouth 5. Cartilage loss in nose causes drooping of nasal tip.  Photo of a woman's face (split screen), young version on right and older version on left
How Our Skin Ages

Anti-aging skin care tips

The following tips will help you when caring for your skin as you age:

  • Protect your skin from the sun.  Sun protection is the best way of protecting your skin from further damage, and may even reverse some of the sun damage that has already occurred.
  • Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps as they also damage the skin.
  • Apply moisturiser daily as it traps water under the skin, giving it a more youthful appearance.  Use moisturiser on your face and body and lip balm on your lips.
  • Wash away dirt and grime twice daily with a mild cleanser.  Don’t use soap.
  • Stop smoking as it leads to premature aging and wrinkles, among other things.
  • Eat a healthy diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats.  Drink plenty of water to hydrate you from the inside.
  • Ensure you have enough sleep as it gives your body time to refresh and renew itself.

Source:  American Academy of Dermatology Association

How to choose anti-aging products for your skin

Choose products that are suitable for your aging skin.  Look for products with the following characteristics:

Choose hypoallergenic products if your skin is sensitive.  Use mild unscented products to avoid irritating your skin.  Look for creams with bakuchiol instead of Retinol.  Avoid Fragrances, artificial dyes, coconut oil or butter which can clog pores and cause breakouts.  Choose non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic products if your skin is prone to breakouts.

Use AHA or retinoid products to reduce aging.  Retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives) promote cell turnover, stimulate collagen production and help even out skin tone.  Peptides help repair skin damage.  Antioxidants like Vitamins C and E help fight free radicals (unstable molecules that damage cells).

Moisturise after your shower to trap moisture in your skin.  Choose products with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, shea butter and hydrators to lock in the moisture.  An anti-aging moisturiser helps to minimise fine lines.

Buy products in dark opaque tubes as ingredients can become unstable and degrade when exposed to air or light.  Store them in a cool, dark environment.

Source:  Prevention.com

Caring for your aging skin.  How to Choose Anti-aging Products.  Retinoids, Peptides, Hydrators, Antioxidants, Sunscreen.  Three photos of woman attending to skin care regime while looking in mirror
How to Choose Anti-Aging Products

Skin Care Regime

The following regime should be used when caring for your skin as you age:

Cleanser

Use a cleanser with a low pH to maintain optimal skin balance.  Using a cleanser rather than soap preserves your skin barrier and keeps it resistant to dehydration and damage.  Toner isn’t necessary if you use a cleanser with a low pH.

Exfoliate

As you age your skin slows down its rejuvenation process.  Dead skin cells aren’t replaced as quickly, leading to dull skin and an uneven skin tone.  Exfoliation removes the dead skin cells and helps your skin appear clearer.  Avoid harsh physical exfoliants such as sugar scrubs and products with beads.  Use a chemical exfoliant for maturing skin, with ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) like glycolic acid and lactic acid.  These ingredients will also be in toners, serums and at-home peels.  AHAs can fade uneven pigmentation and help hydrate your skin.

Use a Serum

Serums contain a higher concentration of active ingredients than a moisturiser.  The best anti-aging ingredients are Vitamin A derivatives known as Retinoids (Retinol, Retinoin and Tazarotene), and Vitamin C.  As well as increasing collagen in your skin they act as antioxidants to soak up biological and environmental oxidative stress that builds up to cause aging.

Moisturise your Skin

Aging leads to less sebum, which causes dryness and fine lines.  Look for a moisturiser with water-binding humectants like glycerine and hyaluronic acid, and an occlusive like petrolatum and mineral oil to prevent water from evaporating.

Protect Your Skin from the Sun

Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+ to all exposed skin.  Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeved shirt and long pants where possible.  Seek shade between 10a.m. and 2p.m.  Daily sunscreen use can fade age spots, improve skin texture and flatten wrinkles by 20%.  It allows the skin to take a break from harmful UV rays, and rejuvenate.

Avoid Trauma to Your Skin

Take into account that older skin is more fragile when caring for your skin as you age.  Avoid strong tugging and rubbing as you wash your face and apply skin care products.

Source:  Healthline

Morning Skincare - A step-by-step guide.
1. Cleanser 2. Exfoliate 3. Antioxidant Serum 4. Moisturise 5. Sunscreen
Morning Skincare – A step-by-step guide.
Cleanser 2. Exfoliate 3. Antioxidant Serum 4. Moisturise 5. Sunscreen

See a beautician for a taylored skincare regime if you can afford it.  I had a series of facials leading up to my wedding six years ago because my skin had broken out with the onset of menopause.  I don’t currently have the funds for a beautician,  so I do my own facials at home.

Use a hydrating face mask weekly and you will notice the difference.   Using a night cream has also improved my skin noticeably.  Make sure you test all new products on a small area of your skin before you start using them.

Caring for your skin as you age should be part of your daily routine in midlife. My recommendations for anti-aging products are in this article. I would love to hear if you have found any great products or routines so please feel free to comment. If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the following:

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The Roles We Have Help Form Our Self Identity

The Roles We Have Help Define Our Self Image

Our self identity is what defines us

Our self identity is what defines us.  Self identity is formed in childhood, largely by our parents.  It develops over time, much of it stemming from the roles we take on.  These roles may be chosen by ourselves, or inflicted on us by chance.  The roles we identify with most strongly are what makes us who we are, and form our self identity. My roles as a nurse, mother and wife are the ones I identify with the most.

One of my roles – My 30 years as a Registered Nurse

This month marks 30 years since I graduated as a Registered Nurse.  I was one of the last hospital trained nurses to graduate from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane.  Nursing has been an incredibly rewarding career, and it forms a large part of my self identity.

On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse
On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse

My nursing career has taken me to the Northern Territory where I spent a year in a tiny 10 bed remote hospital.  We did everything there – Accident and Emergency, Theatre, and nursing paediatrics and adults.  I even assisted the midwives deliver babies which was amazing.  We had our own plane and pilot so we did retrievals to remote outback areas, and down to Alice Springs.

Most of my career has been in surgical nursing in hospitals.  I did a stint in palliative care but got really burnt out – I’m not cut out for that kind of nursing and really admire those that are.  It’s a rewarding job but incredibly taxing on your body, especially the type of nursing I do.

Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.  My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.
Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.
My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.

What happens when a role that we identify with, disappears one day?

I’ve been unable to return to work for over three months, since my bilateral mastectomies.  Because of the demanding nature of my job, I can’t return to work until I’m able to perform CPR and all the requirements of working as a nurse.  While I’m glad I’m not pushed back to work before I’m ready, I’m finding it incredibly hard to wait patiently while my body heals.

Because I haemorrhaged the day after my mastectomies, I still have residual swelling and pain on the left side.  Even a small amount of activity like light housework and shopping, causes more pain and swelling.  There’s no way to tell how long it will be like this.  

Missing my role as a nurse

I was expecting to be able to return to week six weeks after my surgery.  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know I’d be off this long as I would have seriously considered delaying the surgery.  That delay could have been detrimental to my well-being as my chances of getting breast cancer were so high.

I’m able to fill my days with other activities like writing (thank God for my blog!), and cooking, but I miss working.  Nursing is so much a part of me – a strong aspect of my identity – it feels like part of me is missing.  Nursing is such a fulfilling career.  There’s nothing better than being able to make someone more comfortable, and assist them to heal. 

I miss my colleagues too.  Nurses have a real camaraderie.  We can laugh and cry together, knowing that our job will make us feel so many emotions, usually all in one shift.  I know there are many healthcare workers working incredibly hard under stressful conditions at the moment because of all the extra precautions we have to take due to Covid-19.  To be stuck on the sidelines while my colleagues are struggling is frustrating.  I just want to help out!

Over the last few years my health has taken several blows and I’ve struggled with the workload and shiftwork.  Physically I’m struggling to cope with the demands of my job, but I still feel I have a lot left to give.  I really don’t know what the future holds but I know if I can’t return to work as a nurse in some capacity I will really miss it.

The roles we identify with may be learned from our parents

I’ve written about identity in the past, and I feel my strongest roles that I identify with are being a mother and a nurse.  This month also marks 28 years since I became a mother.  Being a mother has been incredibly rewarding.  I had a strong role model in my own mum, and I have tried to emulate her.  There is no way anyone could come up to her standard!  Our mothering styles differed somewhat – she was a stay at home mum for one thing.  I don’t know if she would have approved of me working throughout my kids’ lives (apart from 4 months’ maternity leave for each of them).  She passed away before she became a grandmother.

My husband and I will soon be empty nesters because my son is finally moving out!  I loved having them live at home but they’re well and truly old enough to spread their wings.  Because I left home for good at 19 so it’s extraordinary that my sons lived at home till they were 24 and 28.  I must have made it too easy for them!

My sons and I in 1997, Alice Springs.  Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.
My sons and I in 1997. Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.

Merging two families can cause conflict

My husband came into our lives when my sons were in their late teens.  He doesn’t have kids of his own.  He took the right approach and didn’t try to be their father, which wouldn’t have gone down well at all.  We’ve all lived together for about 6 ½ years so it’ll be nice for the two of us to finally have the house to ourselves.  We’re looking forward to it.

My husband and I on our wedding day, 2014.  Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.
My husband and I on our wedding day in 2014. Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.

Merging two families didn’t go smoothly all the time.  My parenting style was different to my in-laws’ parenting style. I was used to being independent and not having family around to help out.  My kids were very independent as well.  Phil’s family live 5 minutes from each other and spend a lot of time together.  I can go months without seeing my family (especially with the border closures at the moment) but Phil sees or speaks to his family nearly every day.

There have been rocky patches, particularly between his mother and I.  She couldn’t understand what I was going through when I was grieving my dad.  My husband was working away for days at a time, week after week and it was very hard.  I had a fall out with her that lasted a couple of years.

I sensed real concern for me this year when I was going through my surgeries, and that has helped smooth things over between us.  I’m so glad we’ve been able to patch things up because it put a strain on the whole family.  We’re having them over for Father’s Day brunch which will be the first time in a few years that they all come here.  

My relationship with the rest of his family has been much better. I gained his parents, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew when I married my husband. I’m so happy to have a close bond with them because I no longer have my parents and sister, and I don’t see my brothers and nephews much (especially since the border closed between my state and theirs).

When one of our roles disappears, our self identity suffers

Mother, daughter, nurse, wife, sister, auntie, friend – many of my roles in life, and a strong part of my identity.  These roles have shaped who I am and when one of the roles is absent, I feel lost.  I’m able to compensate by spending more time in the other roles.  It’s been lovely having more time to spend with my loved ones, and not be constantly tired from shift work. The challenge now is to accept that I am still me, even though I’m not working at the moment. I can channel my desire to help people into this blog, and still feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.

My role as a mother is changing with my sons leaving home. I’m still their mother though! That will never change. I’ve done my part – they’re fully functioning adults. Now I can enjoy my role as a wife more. We’ll have more quality time to spend together without the distraction of young people around. It’s something I look forward to, as I want to grow old together with my husband.

The roles we have help form our identity. When one of those roles disappears or changes, it can affect our self identity. We can compensate by spending more time on our other roles, and adjusting the way we think of ourselves.

My sons and I in 2001,  Auckland New Zealand.  My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.
My sons and I in 2001. My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.

What roles do you identify with?  If one role disappeared, would you feel like part of you was missing?

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Planning for Retirement – Is it Ever Too Early?

I’m turning 54 this month and my husband just turned 52. While I’ve been thinking of and planning for retirement for years, he still lives in the here and now and hasn’t put any thought into retirement. Part of that is his work mentality – he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, and can’t see past the next 15 or so years til he retires.

I’ve always been a forward thinker, and an organiser and planner. I like everything organised down to a “t” and I’m not really good at winging it. I think in the big picture and like to consider things from every angle. I don’t always get it right but more often than not my plans are successful. When it comes to retirement, thinking ahead is essential if you don’t want it to take you by surprise. From what I’m reading from people who have retired, the ones that didn’t plan it before-hand found themselves lost and didn’t cope so well when the worker role was at an end.

Are Women more Prepared Than Men for Retirement?

This may affect men more than women perhaps, because mens’ identity is so tied in with their role as a worker, but I suspect that women are catching up now that most of us work compared to past generations. Women have an advantage in that they have strong connections with other women and because a large percentage of us work part-time we have time outside work to express ourselves through other means. This starts from when we took our newborn babies to mother and baby groups, then play group, tuckshop duties and so on. We were able to make connections outside of work with other women in the same stage of life as us.

Part of the difficulty with retiring before you are emotionally ready, is that you are left with time on your hands and feel lost without some purpose to your day. There probably aren’t as many structured social gatherings for people in that age group, like there are for younger women. We need to seek groups where we can find purpose in our lives and develop relationships with other women in our age group.

Looking ahead to retirement in your 50’s is not too early in my opinion. Not only do you need to set yourself up financially, you also need to start creating a life outside of work so that your identity is not solely tied with your employment. This is especially important for men who often don’t belong to clubs, and spend most of their hours at work or home.

Where Can Retirees Find Social Connection?

Some suggestions for places that may help you to connect with other people after retirement are:

  • Mens’ sheds where men can build things and donate them to charity while creating connection with other men
  • Charity groups such as Lions, Meals on Wheels
  • Volunteering, e.g. Red Cross, hospitals, RSPCA
  • Sports clubs e.g. bowls, golf, tennis, swimming
  • Traveling especially organised tours, cruises
  • Retreats and meditation or yoga classes
  • Church groups
  • Craft or other hobby groups
  • Car clubs
  • Clubs such as the RSL, surf clubs, bridge clubs
  • Bingo
  • University of the third age
  • Council-run free programs
  • Library resources and courses
  • Mentoring younger people
  • Meetup which has groups for every type of interest and if there isn’t one you can create one
  • Online – Facebook groups
  • Landcare – caring for the environment
  • Book clubs
  • Local historical society or family history centre
  • Dancing e.g zumba, ballroom
  • Arts, music or museum e.g. Friends of the Museum
  • If you have a chronic illness there are often recovery and support groups e.g. walking groups for heart disease

Isolation and Its Impact on Retirees

Isolation can be particularly distressing for people who have not formed connection with others. It may take time to create these connections but many of the places I have named can give people a sense of purpose to their lives where they can use skills they developed over their lifetime of work. It is important to reach out if isolation and lack of direction is causing emotional issues like depression.

According to this article by VicHealth, loneliness is particularly prevalent amongst elderly people. Loneliness in our society is a growing concern that should not be ignored. We can avoid this by preparing ourselves ahead of time – create connections before you retire. If you are transitioning into retirement by reducing your work hours, use that time wisely. Join groups and find some purpose in your life so that when you eventually stop working you have already begun to structure your time to incorporate time elsewhere.

Planning Ahead for Retirement

As you begin to think of retirement, picture how you want to live. Do you want to live in a retirement village or independently. Start looking at facilities they offer so that when the time comes you already have a plan in place. Do you want to be a grey nomad or a world traveler or would you be happy to spend most of your time at home? Do you want to live close to your family and friends?

I have already started planning ahead for retirement by picturing the life I want to have. I don’t want to live in the rat-race we live in now, and I want a slower, quieter life. However, being close to services such as hospitals will be crucial. We will be downsizing to a smaller house in the next few years, and the place we retire to will be much smaller again. Having less upkeep than we have here will be necessary as we both experience physical problems like chronic back pain and joint issues.

Preparing Financially for Retirement.

Meanwhile, we’ll being to prepare financially by paying down our mortgage and investing in superannuation. Gone are the days when people could leave all their life savings to their children. People are living much longer these days so the money may be gone by the time you pass away. We may need to fund a retirement of 30 or more years! My father retired 30 years before he passed away.

See a financial advisor early on – in your 50’s and start building your nest egg. First pay off any debts, especially ones with high interest rates such as credit cards. Put any extra cash, e.g. tax return, into your superannuation. Interest rates are at an all-time low. Since we bought our house, the interest rates have decreased dramatically but we have deliberately kept our repayments the same. Without changing anything we are paying our mortgage off quicker.

Your Superannuation fund may have information on their website on saving for retirement. My superannuation fund has a tool to calculate how much superannuation I’ll need when I retire. I can also work out how much my nest will grow if I put extra payments in, which is a good incentive. They have an excellent budget planner as well which is another free tool available to anyone online.

Sources for Superannuation and Pension Information

In Australia the best source of information is the Money Smart website which is free to use and is not just for people planning their retirement. Good money management should start when you are young. When my sons started their first jobs at age 14, I helped them to set up an automatic deduction of $5 per week into their superannuation. It’s not very much, but compound interest will see it grow, and it gets them into the habit of saving for the future at a young age. Now they’re in their 20s and they don’t own a credit card or have a loan, and are pretty good with their money. They don’t have any assets worth mentioning but they have fantastic memories from their travels across the globe.

Look into what pension you may be eligible for, well in advance of retirement. There are Transition to Retirement packages available in some situations. There may be concessions and rebates available to help with the cost of living. In Australia, each state has its own Seniors Card, and there is information online about what you may be eligible for. (These links are to Australian websites only). I’m not an accountant or financial planner, so for individual advice I recommend seeing a professional trained in that field. This is merely some advice on where to start doing your own research.

Start Planning for Retirement

Is it ever too early to plan for retirement? The earlier you start, the more you will have in place so that your transition out of the workforce is a smooth one. By getting financial advice early, you can start building your nest egg through superannuation and other investments. To avoid loneliness and loss of purpose after you retire, social connections should be built prior to then so that you have prepared for a life outside work. I’d love to hear from my readers – how are you preparing for retirement? If you have retired, what advice would you give to someone like me?

If you enjoyed this article, read How to be Self-Sufficient as a Sustainable Future, about our other plans for retirement.

Retirement: How to Prepare for it.  Is it ever too early to plan for retirement?  This article explains why early retirement planning is essential
Retirement: How to Prepare for it. Is it ever too early to plan for retirement? This article explains why early retirement planning is essential
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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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What’s with the Middle Aged Spread?

Why do People Get a Middle Aged Spread in Midlife?

What is Middle Aged Spread?

We’ve all heard about the middle aged spread. Many of us in our 40’s and 50’s start to put on weight which seems to cling to our abdomen, hips and thighs. But why is that, and what can we do about it?

I’ve always put weight straight on to my tummy. Looking at photos of my family, we all have a “pot gut” which we inherited from our father! Weight gain around our waistline is sometimes caused from hereditary factors, and sometimes from just learning about food from our families. We’re all foodies in my family – we love our food, we talk about food in detail, and love to experiment with cooking. Being good cooks means we enjoy it just a little too much at times and all our social occasions are based on lavish feasts. All well and good when you’re young and fit and can keep your weight down with exercise and eating well the rest of the week.

How Menopause Affects Weight Gain

But after the age of 40, the reduction in sex hormones in both men and women (yes there is a “manopause”!) can lead to excess body fat being stored around the abdomen for men and the buttocks and thighs of women. Women and men store fat differently and it can change due to aging.

I went into a sudden and severe menopause when I was about 46 where my ovaries switched off overnight. I suffered hot flushes every 5 to 10 minutes, severe anxiety and insomnia. For me, going on to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was vital for my health. I started to put on weight at the same age, but put it down to lifestyle factors. It wasn’t until this year, at the age of 53, that I managed to slowly wean myself off HRT over the course of about 6 months. It’s only been since then that I’ve been able to lose weight more easily than before. Scientific studies dispute the link between weight gain and HRT, but for me, I believe HRT made it harder for me to control my weight.

How to Control Middle Aged Spread

Because weight gain in middle age is so common, it is important to look at what we can control, especially our diet. I genuinely did not know that the recommended number of servings of protein and grains is lower after the age of 50. Here was I, eating the same amount of food as my sons who are in their 20’s, and wondering why I was putting on weight! It wasn’t until the dietician told me this that I had a light-bulb moment and realised that I needed to change not only how many servings I was eating, but the amount of food per serving as well.

Once I did this, the weight actually came off easily. I could no longer eat 3 stalks of broccoli and call it a serving, and 200g of red meat and think that that was a reasonable amount for dinner. An adjustment in both my number of servings of food, and the amount of food I ate made a huge difference to my waistline.

Recommended Number of Servings Per Day

Here are the recommended number of servings per age group:

Men

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-506262 1/23
51-705 1/2262 1/22 1/2
70+524 1/23 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Men

Women

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-505262 1/22 1/2
51-7052442
70+52342
Pregnant528 1/22 1/23 1/2
Lactating7 1/2292 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Women

Adjust Your Eating Habits as You Age

You can see from this table, the number of servings changes after the age of 50, so it’s important to adjust our eating habits accordingly. I had assumed that my diet was full of healthy fruit and vegetables, but when I looked more closely at it, I realised that I really wasn’t eating many vegetables at all. It was easy to fix – I just started eating a large salad or some homemade vegetable soup for lunch, and loaded extra vegetables into my night time meals. My serve of meat is now much smaller, and I’ve started incorporating legumes with my meals. My son went vegetarian at the beginning of this year and we’ve really enjoyed cooking sessions where we experiment with different recipes. He’s becoming a good cook as well. His meals look far nicer than our carnivorous ones!

A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day
A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day

There are some great resources on the internet about serving numbers and sizes. The one I use is an Australian Government website, Eat for Health. If you are struggling to increase your number of servings of vegetables per day, read 13+ Ways to Get More Colour in Your Diet.

It really is as simple as that: keep to the recommended guidelines for your age and sex, and you will begin to lose weight. Add in exercise, and you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll feel so much better too.

What's with the middle aged spread?  Why do we gain weight around our waist in our 40s and 50s and what can we do about it?
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