Grief & the Craft of Recovery – A Tribute

This time last year I was giving a Tribute Speech at my Mother’s funeral. Today my blog is about remembering my Mum…. and my personal journey of recovery – crafting a way forward and honouring the past.

Mum had died a few days earlier following a swift and nasty battle with Gall Bladder Cancer. The few days we had her home (and the one’s following her death caring for my Dad) , have been my most challenging  nursing experiences of my life, with all of my personal and professional care and passion coming together, combining personal and professional in a most intense way. (Despite our best efforts as nurses – it is not actually possible to be two different people – I am a nurse & a daughter, and I found it a powerful and authentic combination).

Over the past few days, I have reflected a great deal on the journey of the past year, and how it has shaped my present life. It has been a rough patch – and an emotional roller coaster, but one which I have been able to meet head on and travel through with the support of a wonderful and caring  husband, and the most wonderful and caring four children of my own that any mother could ever hope for. I have been the recipient of generous amounts of care  and love. My close friends and extended family have also been caring and compassionate as well – I am blessed to have had so many people to help me out, a privilege that I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have, and so I am so very grateful.

So what have I learnt from my own personal experiences?….. some very basic things really – Three of which  I thought worth sharing – because you probably won’t read about these ideas in a text book! My Mum had an attitude of finding joy in the giving  – so I am following in her tradition – and finding something worthwhile in giving to others in the sharing of my experiences, in the hope that it helps others who have reason to either support a loved one, or to endure themselves the recovery time needed following grief and loss……

  • For me, my sense of colour – that is how I experience the visual sense of colour, became duller. I noticed that colour had lost some intensity. That surprised me! I had expected to experience some blunting of sense – perhaps taste sensation… but the colour was something that I really noticed. I love craft (just as my Mum did) and especially find it very satisfying to see colour used beautifully in craft, arts…everywhere…. this joy was dulled for a while. I knew I was recovering when my sense of colour sharpened and returned. If I have a low day now – I see the colour fade away again briefly, and then return. I had never really considered the experiences of colour before…. and that fluctuation of my own mental state. As I reflect back (having regained a sense of vibrancy of colour again!), I find the experience fascinating!
  • Flowers help! I had long held the view that copious amount of dollars spent of sending flowers to the bereaved was perhaps wasteful of money  -and there were perhaps other practical things one can do! You know- the ‘in lieu of flowers please make a donation to……’ line. (Donations are a good thing… don’t get me wrong!); or making a meal; or some other practical help or service at a difficult time (all good too!). But, unexpectantly, I was swamped with many gifts of flowers – bunch after bunch, after arrangement. And – to my surprise…there was a little bit of healing in each petal, every bunch spoke absolute volumes – and the thing I expected to help least…helped the most. So – my beliefs and values changed a little – sending flowers is a good thing!
  • There is recovery in craft! Making something new, creating something worthwhile and valuable out of scraps of fabric, creating a beautiful quilt – slowly, piece by piece, stitching together a future, ironing out the wrinkles, making new and bright future with pieces and colours coming together in a new and warm life story….is in itself a healing journey. Rich in metaphor and mindfully done, moment by moment…. For me, quilting was an essential part of getting back!

This blog might seem an odd one to share in such a public space. But I think that the authentic sharing of self is an enriching thing to do for me – and it might just be that others connect with the authenticity in a way that helps them too…. I hope that is the case.

I will finish with publishing the speech I gave at my Mum’s funeral – one year ago today….. it may not mean much to a reader who doesn’t know me personally, or who did not know my Mum – but I include it here by way of tribute to her. Rest in peace Mum…

My Mum – A Daughter’s Tribute

In memory of Lynne Alison Schaeffer ~ 12 July 1947 – 2 October 2012

The last few days have brought many memories – too many to share here today. I can’t even hope to cover some highlights! But, Mum has taught me much – and I hope in turn to do justice to her memory by emulating some of the strengths of her character in my life.

As you will all be aware, Mum loved craft –a passion which has always inspired me (and now my children). She has taught me, and many others, techniques and skills across a broad range of crafts – no project was too big or too small! The joy of craft, the simple pleasure of being creative, and then sharing the knowledge and/or the products of craft with others was one in which Mum immersed herself. Together we often wished that it was possible to do nothing but craft…. But food, chores, washing, work…. These things drew us both back to reality! I have to admit I have picked up some of her bad habits too…. Such as working to all hours to complete a project, despite the tiredness the next day! But, to quote Mum ‘can’t let it beat me!’

While Mum loved making craft items – she mostly gave them away – she found great joy in the giving. She was often making something special for someone’s wedding, or a new baby, or as a fund raiser for some charitable purpose….

She was a teacher at heart. She was able to patiently demonstrate and teach others the art of craft making across many genres. She was renowned for demonstrating the great wheel at local spinners and weavers activities. She taught many people, many craft skills, and was able to take an interest in others progress with these skills.

Some of her specialties:

  • Crochet
  • Knitting
  • Trichot
  • Weaving
  • Spinning
  • Tatting
  • Bobbin lace making
  • Leatherwork
  • Leather platting
  • Beadwork
  • Jewellery making
  • Felting
  • Fibre dying
  • Marbling
  • Mud brick hut making
  • Soap making
  • Stenciling
  • Latchwork
  • Net making
  • The list could go on!

Bush crafts

As kids…. We lived on a property ‘Glenowen’, about an hour out of town. Mum was an expert in innovation in this context. She had the knack of always ‘finding a way’ and ‘making do’. She had a pioneering spirit in some ways – both of her parents had developed that in her in various ways in her childhood! She often made homemade bread, homemade soap… homemade everything she could – providing me with a platform for my life in many respects – I love and treasure ‘home made and home grown!’ an attribute that I can attribute directly to her!

As a young family we all loved Mum’s dampers, twisters with golden syrup & billy tea – either on one of Dad’s work sites, or on a camping trip.

And then there were the poddy lambs….. sometimes one or two, often times 10’s of them! I am afraid I could never eat a friend though! At shearing time on the property, Mum would always bake ‘bushman’s brownie’ for smoko. A family favourite – which I couldn’t resist but to bake yesterday and bring for morning tea today! And of course – Mum would always spin any wool she could (especially the coloured fleeces) – managing to spin so finely that it could be run through a knitting machine. A huge challenge – but ‘she wouldn’t be beaten!’ And, of course succeeded!

Mum was so inspired on one occasion that she managed to rope the local primary school (Wongwibinda) and the local community into to assisting her as she led the construction of an adobe mud brick hut at the school. She designed, and led the construction of project and of course mastered the art of quality mud brick construction, with lots of practice at home. This project was a great deal of fun for us all….

Music

Mum was very involved with Wongwibinda School activities with teaching both guitar and music classes at Wongwibinda Public School….for all of my primary schooling at least! Eclectic Sing-a-longs that included classics such as ‘How much is that doggy in the window’! ‘Frosty the snowman’, ‘Mary’s boy child’, ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’ and of course quite a few Rolf Harris classics like ‘Tie me kangaroo down’, ‘Jake the peg with his wooden leg’ …… with the end of year school concert for the wider Wongwibinda community a yearly highlight.

But Mum didn’t limit the sing-a-longs to the classroom! Car sing-a-longs…. ‘Little Green Valley’, ‘Train whistle blowing’ and other Seekers and Peter Paul and Mary classics. She wasn’t content to have us just sing –a –long, harmony parts were required!!!! My brothers and I might be a bit rusty on harmonies these days – but we can still sing-a-long to the old favourites…. We just don’t like to admit it!!!!

With town a good hour away, Mum saw our time on car trips as captive opportunities for her to provide educational sessions on things like ‘manners’, ‘correct diction’ (eg aitch – never hatch!) and spelling practice! As well as more fun memory training such as ‘when I went shopping’ and of course ‘I spy!’…..

Cards and games

Mum loved her cards – especially Canasta, but Uka, Fish, Strip Jack Naked and Patience were all fun as well – she was the official family cards coach! A role that she acquired in the footsteps of her own Mother!

Mum and I loved a game of scrabble – as did Laura! It usually involved coffee and choc mint biscuits in good supply…. And it usually involved Mum winning and gloating over a nice triple word score!

However –being a thoroughly contemporary and modern woman, and always ready to embrace change and adapt – she came to terms with the cyber world and discovered Tetris & Solitaire! And of course, Angry Birds… and she didn’t stop until she had conquered all levels of Angry Birds – much to Tom’s amusement and great pride!

Africa

Mum and I shared a love of reading…. Often swapping books – our latest batch of books having an African flavor – we both love the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McAll Smith, and shared the joy of retracing the steps of the fictional Mma Ramotswe in Gaborone, Botswana about this time last year.

It is not possible to summarize – but Mum was a Craft Master, a teacher, and encourager, to me and many others. She was patient, selfless and considerate, none more so then in her last days were her first concern was to Dad and the family. Though she was thoroughly amazed and appreciative of all the generosity and kindness of so many family and friends towards her!

She believed in us – she believed in our capacity to do well and thrive, in all circumstances. That belief will help us all in the days ahead.

I will give the last word to her – an excerpt from her travel diary Friday 7th July 2009 – Goondiwindi, shortly after she had broken her wrist on the first leg of their big travelling expedition in the caravan.

Noel is discovering he can do lots of things he hasn’t had to concern himself with for a long time! He is being very good & considerate & thoughtful….cooking BBQ’s, cutting my meat, spreading my toast, making coffee, washing up, doing the washing, pegging it out & getting it back in, though he’s not as good at doing up bras as he use to be at UNDOING them….! I could get use this life…

We will all need to discover what we can do without her – though her legacy is she has taught us well!

The final song for today is a lullaby. One that Mum used to sing to her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews….. it seems appropriate for today.

One that I sang to her quietly by her bedside and holding her hand in the stillness of her last night with us…with me.

There’s a lake in South Australia, little lake with lovely name

And the story woven round it, from the piccaninnies came

Every night the native mothers croon this lovely lullaby,

Croon across the moonlit waters, to the star up in the sky

 

Carra Barra Wirra Canna, little star upon the lake

Guide me through the hours of darkness, keep me safely till I wake

 

Piccaninnies’ heads are nodding, drowsy crooning fills the air.

Little eyes at last are closing, And the boat of dreams is there.

Guide my boat across the waters, Cross the waters still and deep,

Light me with your little candle, safely to the land of sleep

 

Carra Barra Wirra Canna, little star upon the lake

Guide me through the hours of darkness, keep me safely till I wake

              

Rhonda Lynne Wilson

8 October 2012

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