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I don’t know what to say

When someone dies, we often find it difficult to know what to say to the people they’ve left behind.  Strangely, rather than overcoming this sense of embarrassment, we often avoid having a conversation at a time when, by just being there to listen, we could make such a huge difference.

As an Independent Celebrant, I often meet with loved ones very soon after their loss and it is my job to talk to them about the person who has died, to help us prepare a service to celebrate their life.  It is a huge privilege to be with families at this time and to hear their stories and share their memories.  I love helping them open up their box of happy memories, finding comfort in the joyful moments they all spent together is a wonderful way to start the process of grieving.  And most of what I do at our first meeting is listen.

It is hard to know what to say.  Nobody finds it easy, or comfortable to start a conversation about death, especially when it seems there are no words that are “enough”.  And there really are no words that will ever feel like the right ones, so you have to be yourself and use the kind of language you normally do.  We tend to over-think what to say and this becomes our excuse to say nothing.  “better to say nothing than the wrong thing”, we tell ourselves, but in truth, it is better to say something simple and show you are thinking of them.

Before the age of facebook messages, we used to write to people when they lost a family member or loved-one.  Sympathy cards, which so often seem ‘old-fashioned’ now, are exactly that – a lovely, kind old-fashioned way of showing that you are thinking about what that person and their family are going through.  They cost very little (even less if you make one yourself, or use writing paper) but mean a great deal to the recipient.  I recently spent time with a client looking through more than 130 cards from her husband’s work colleagues and friends.  She was overwhelmed by their kindness and by how many lives her husband had touched.  She told me that their words meant more to her that she knew how to express, and that they were giving her great comfort.

One of the wonderful things about being a Celebrant in a small community, is that you also hear about the way people support each other at a time of loss.  Food arrives regularly, cooked with love and care and with no thanks expected.  Lifts to appointments and offers of filling in forms and informing locals of funeral arrangements are common place and every time I visit a family, there are neighbours popping in to make tea, do washing or collect the kids for an hour’s relief.  I am constantly reminded that life goes on and it is the people around us who ensure we’re able to get back on board as we start to recover.

And as time passes, after funerals and wakes and celebrations of life are over and the family has to return to ‘normal’ life, comes the time when being there is even more important.  Once the initial shock and support has subsided, and everyone has had to return to their own lives, it can be a very isolating time for the family.  Once the organising and preparing for the remembrance has ended, family can feel at a loss and the reality of finality hits home.  This takes a different amount of time and a different form for everyone.  We all grieve at our own pace, and one of the most important things you can do is reassure them that there is no need to rush the process.  Reassuring them that you’re there for as long as they want to talk, whenever that might be, is very supportive.  Don’t be disappointed if they don’t take you up on this offer, and don’t hesitate to keep offering; when they’re ready they’ll hear you.

Most of all, don’t stop talking to them about the person who has died.  We tend to feel like we should avoid mentioning them, in case we upset their loved one.  I like to think of this in a different way  – when we talk to them about the person who has died, we help them remember the memories they created together, their shared stories and the good times they enjoyed.  We give them a chance to reconnect with their happiness at a time when they are feeling sad, and to see that the memories will always be with them to enable them to experience those emotions again.  It’s a gift we can give them which might make them cry as they smile.

I think we talk too little about death in our society, and this is a key reason why we hesitate to engage with those who are experiencing it within their family group.  We don’t know what to say, because we’ve rarely heard our parents talking about it and it’s highly unlikely it has been discussed at school unless a tragedy has impacted the school directly.  When we look at cultures where death is more widely discussed and made part of life, we discover the challenges in talking about it are less frequent.  In Mexico, for example, every child has experienced the Day of the Dead celebrations, by the time they reach school age.  Death is part of the culture from art to music to tourism, so offering words of support is second nature.

I’d love to know if you were supported by people listening when you lost someone you loved.  How do you think we can make it easier for people to feel they can offer a hug or words of support?

With love

Dinah

It’s all about you!

It is, it really is!  It’s all about YOU.  Isn’t that wonderful news?  Or is it rather scary?  We’ve grown up being told it’s not all about us, that we should focus more on those around us, make our mission in life to put others first.  And these are wise words.  Indeed, I am a great believer that focussing on others builds us as people and gives us huge joy.  So when did the rules change?

They changed the moment you decided to follow that dream – you remember, that crazy moment when you put on that new hat and said “I’m going into business on my own!”  The minute you decided to blaze your trail and join the ranks of the Entrepreneur, you changed the rules.

And if you didn’t you missed something HUGE!

Here are a few reasons why it’s all about YOU:

– YOU are the real USP (unique Selling Point) in your business.  People do buy from people.  When there is a choice about where we spend our money (especially when money is tight) we’d rather spend it with someone we know and trust; someone we’ve connected with or heard great things about.  YOU.

– YOU are the values in your business, the ethics and code of conduct.  YOU are the Customer Service Policy, the Complaints Procedure and the Guarantee.  YOU set the standards that create your credibility. YOU.

– YOU are the face and the voice of your business, the person who engages on social media, who writes the blogs, who shares the pictures of your family and your first time on a stage or meeting new people. YOU.

– YOU are the driving force, the energy that kick-starts the action every Monday morning, the determination to keep going when it feels like it’s hard out there, the reason to get up and do it all again tomorrow. YOU.

Most of all, YOU are the one that will realise that, above all else, when you embrace that it’s all about your contacts, your clients, your friends and your collaborators, when you value them above everything else in your business, YOU will be a success.

It really is all about YOU.

Have a great day

Dinah

According to whom?

I watch with my head in my hands when the adverts come on the television.  The cause of this despair is quite simple really, it’s the idea that women are failing if they don’t “match up” to the perfection that is personified in stick-thin, teen-age models with “perfect” lifestyles and the skin, hair and figure to match.  Apparently, it’s what we all want.

 

I’d like to know, According to whom?

 

I saw an ad for skin cream that claimed “80% of women said they’d consider delaying surgery after using it”

 

Delaying? As if, surgery was inevitable once we took a good look in the mirror and realised how wrinkled we were.

 

Another shows a husband, claiming “we’ve been through three pregnancies…. and she still looks like Kate”

 

Let’s get this straight – the model still looks 30 because she is 30 and has probably never borne a child, let alone three.  Your wife still looks like your wife because you love her and we see only what we want to in people we love. And by the way, despite the grey hair you seem to despair of, she finds that sexy and exciting.  Don’t knock it!

 

My point is, who is it that sets these expectations, these apparent standards we must strive to achieve with diets, creams, procedures and prodding?  And what is it that makes us buy into them?  Is it a crowd thing, that sense that “everyone else does it so if I don’t then I’ll stand out for the wrong reasons?”  Is it that we’ve been so convinced the message is true, we’ve started to believe it ourselves?

 

I looked at my husband this morning; really looked at him.  His lines around his eyes, from working out-doors and no doubt added to by stress over the years. His grey hairs, now a good 30% of his head is covered in greys and whites.  I love them, I think they show his experience and maturity and yes, if I’m totally honest, they just look incredible with his tan!  I looked at his hands, with scars that show a life-time of crafting, creating, working hard for a living. Oh yes, I looked at other bits too – but that’s between us 😉

 

I asked myself “Do I see these changes in him as imperfections?  Do they stand out and become the things I notice?”  The answer for me was no.  I see these as the signs that we are growing old – together.  That makes me emotional.  We did not anticipate this.  It’s exciting and new.    I love the lines that tell his story, the rugged look that highlights his features, the grey hair that makes his blue eyes even more intense.

 

And I wonder, does he notice my lines, my creases and wrinkles?  Does he see the grey mixing in with the blonde or notice the lines on my hips and arms which tell of my history?  Does he love me because of them or despite them?  I believe I know.  I believe he’s with me on this one.

 

According to him I’m beautiful.  According to him I can stop fixating over the ageing process and continue to celebrate my years and my lines.  According to him, I’m perfect just as I am.

 

Dinah x

Letting go of letting-go!

A few years ago, I had a series of heart attacks.  From out of nowhere they stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider everything about my life.  You could say they were a major crossroads; I’ve spent a great deal of time since focussed on “letting go” of the feelings I was left with, that I’d been deprived of the future I’d been planning, a brief example of what lay ahead enjoyed, the perfect business collaborations and friendships formed, all to be knocked back, all to be no longer available in my new life.  I think it was only yesterday that it hit me, I’d been so busy trying to let go, I had forgotten to look forward, to plan a new way, to explore what I have now that will shape a new path.

When life changes mean we have to make new choices, we have to allow ourselves a period of time to learn to adjust; that time required for acceptance to replace anger and frustration, time that heals initial pain and confusion and stops us asking “why did this happen to me” and replaces it with “what can I do no that this has happened?” and finally “I’m ready to see a future, how ever different it looks to the one I imagined.” When I was 26, I had a car accident that left me in a wheelchair for almost 12 years and one of my key learnings from this experience was that we have to mourn things we loose, not just people. I lost the use of my legs at 26, I had to mourn all the things I had lost from my independence to my joy of mountain climbing to making love with my husband.  I had suffered a loss, a bereavement, the death of my life the way it had always been.

The last few years have been my time to adjust, to come to terms with my latest loss, the belief that my heart was strong and would work, without me thinking about it, for many years to come.  Once you’ve lived through the heart attacks, the surgery, the physical recovery, the news of heart-failure, the difficulty breathing and total inability to do much of anything without help from others, you start to accept.  Acceptance that you are a different person, physically, and that means mentally too.  Acceptance that life is not going to look how you imagined, or planned. Acceptance that every day is rather special, precious, too important to waste on worries and concerns.

Now, I’ve reached the point of planning for a future; that feels amazing.  Seriously, when you’ve spent a few years not knowing if you’re going to make it, you see every single day as a bonus (even the ones where you feel negative and scared and less than great) because it’s been such an enormous effort, on the part of so many, to make it here.  Planning can take on a whole new meaning now, not just something I’m told to prepare for my business to thrive, but instead, a plan for my life, to live every day as though it might be the last chance I get to enjoy feeling this good.  I’m reminded of a song by Tim McGraw called “My next thirty years” and the lines speak to me of making every moment count.

My focus now is changing, from letting-go to letting-in; I’ve pondered enough times to last me a long, long life, what might have been if I hadn’t had the heart-attacks.  It is time to let in the new, embrace the opportunities starting to come my way with my new focus, my new goals in place.  It can so often be the case that we’re not open to new opportunities because we’re so focussed on the past, the ones we think we missed or messed up.  Not for me, that time in my life is through; I know I have limits, that my heart is depending on me to look after it and make sure I stick to those limits and behave.  And it’s also telling me in a loud, strong, clear voice “I trust you. Go get ’em girl. It’s time!”

And it is time. Time to move forward.  Time to let go of the letting-go and time to get on with the next chapter of this remarkable life.

Dinah x

 

Choosing to accept

Written the night before I came home from my heart surgery in 2013. I now felt ready to share this here.

 

 

Ok, so here’s the thing…..

Of course I’m grateful. Grateful for the new lease of life I’ve been given; for the amazing care at the hospital; the wonderful messages from friends; the visitors who’ve come to cheer me up; the constant, un-ending support from John.

So why am I feeling so down? What is really keeping me awake tonight, the night before I finally get to go home after 33 nights in hospital?

I looked in the full length mirror they have in the shower room here yesterday. I was horrified by what I saw. A body covered in bruises, some so big and dark that they look fake, others tiny and already going green at the edges.

My Body covered in scars, with a new one standing out in the middle of it’s chest; clean incision, well closed (glue not stitches!), neat yet long scar.

I notice the surgeon has lifted my left breast – around four inches, maybe five, as he has closed my rib cage and sealed it with his careful stitching and gluing.

I only notice because my right breast now hangs lower, the nipple pointing straight ahead while the left seems to point slightly to the right. Can you have a lazy nipple, like a lazy eye?

And then I look at my leg. My poor left leg, dominated by a bruise across the whole thigh, that wraps itself around from front to back – or perhaps back to front, I’m not sure.

And on the inside of this bruised, swollen thigh, nine small incisions. Proof that they worked hard to harvest enough veins for the by-pass surgery.

Thanks to the swelling, each incision looks angry & ready to burst open, causing the whole leg to look strangely shaped and to rub against my right leg with each step.

“The swelling will go down soon” they tell me. “Keep it elevated and walk a little each day and it will soon be back to normal” (what is normal anyway?)

So when, at 4am the nurse asks me “can’t you sleep Dinah” and I try to explain and she offers me the advice that “you need to be strong Dinah” I really do want to scream!!

I need to be strong!? Have I not been strong enough for a lifetime yet?

Perhaps what she really means is “I don’t know what to say.” Because what is there to say?

John tells me I look gorgeous; I know he means that. Love sees things differently. Love is blind. Love is amazing. I joked with him tonight “it’s a good job you love me already babe, because I wouldn’t have a hope of you taking me home otherwise”

And so, I’ve had a sleepless night, worrying about going home instead of being excited. Worrying about how I will cope with this new body; I had only learnt to love my old one in the last few years and now, well, okay so here’s the thing….

Dinah x