Saturday 18th September 2021

Women of Courage Series. #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here. And below, as I introduce Woman of Courage, Juliette, I will expand more on our connection.

Women of Courage Series #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

I was honoured and delighted when Juliette O’Brien, aged 37 agreed to share her story as a woman of courage. We have yet to meet in person, but we have connected on social media (where she is @juliette_io on twitter) and one day, we will catch up over coffee at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Now, if that name seems familiar, then you might be correct in making the connection that Juliette is the late Professor Chris O’Brien AO’s  daughter.

I feel so privileged and glad to have been referred to my head and neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark AM that day back in May 2017. He learned much in his training days from the Head and Neck surgeon we all knew from the long-running show about a Sydney Teaching Hospital,  R.P.A. on Channel 9, Dr Chris O’Brien.

Thank you to Juliette so very much for this. You are a gifted woman in so many ways and a quiet but steady achiever too.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

I lost my dad and elder brother to separate unexpected illnesses when I was in my 20s. I did – and continue to do – my best to support my mum and younger brother, to honour my dad’s and brother’s memories, and to continue to find joy and meaning in the world.

I don’t think any of this is courageous, but it has taken effort and perseverance.

 

How did this change you in any way?

These losses changed me profoundly.

They drove me to question our most common assumptions about what it means to live a ‘good life’, especially external signals like attaining status, hoarding wealth and meeting social expectations.

Living in way that subordinates these to your own principles means pushing through discomfort, fear and disapproval.

I suppose this takes ‘courage’ that I doubt I would have had otherwise.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

 

Sometimes we use the adjective ‘courageous’ as though it is a constant state of being or personality trait.

In fact, I think courage, or at least the possibility of it, presents itself moment to moment through the countless decisions we make, and requires renewed interrogation and commitment every day.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

 

I would like to share a poem by the wonderful John O’Donohue (poet, philosopher, former priest).

It is called ‘For Courage’.

I especially love these phrases: “this darkness has purpose”; and “Close your eyes, Gather all the kindling, About your heart, To create one spark …”.

 

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Thank you so much Juliette. Not only for your story but for the added words of John O’Donohue.

His words, narrated before his death, are part of a series of his that I listened to a great deal as I struggled with some challenges in my life’s transitions before cancer.

I cannot and will not compare one person’s story to another, however to know that we can share resources of hope, love, wisdom and courage is to be connected. We need to stay connected.

Looking forward to “that coffee” as soon as Covid is settling!

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

IF a family member or someone you know does have a diagnosis of a head and neck cancer or that person is a carer, the value of a good facebook group cannot be over-done. The friendly space that IS this group for eligible people to request membership is a good one. There are people from all over the world but the group is not huge so personal connections can be made. It is mainly made up of New Zealanders, and Aussies too…along with those from the U.S. There are questions to be answered to join and it IS strictly for those with a head and neck cancer. Link is here.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

 

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Calm Days And Calm Nights. 2/2021.

Calm Days And Calm Nights. 2/2021.

Yes I now have these: days and nights of calm.

I have found the secret to inner peace…forever and ever.

Actually that is so not true …..do read on!

Waaaay back in 2015 I was in transition. From my former to life to the life we had chosen. From work, family near by, security of home (until end of 2014) to retirement, no family nearby and no home other than a house to rent. It was not great YET it was the life we chose to have after turning 65.

 

My husband, above, who is of a much different disposition to me, was fine. In fact, he LOVED the change, except for the awful house we selected to rent, and was busy studying counselling on-line, doing volunteer work with Lifeline and building projects at his brother’s.

Me? I missed company, some work,  friends, going out for coffee and yet…..I knew that I could not get my old life back.

We HAD moved on.

When I get to write Chapter  Twenty One of Telling My Story for 2015 there will be much more revealed but right now, I am leading up to what started to make a difference for me….

Meditation.

I first found it in person, at a Buddhist Centre, in the first months of 2015, and then via an app called Headspace. This helped me from 2015 until into 2018 when I changed my meditation app to Calm. Now I am a life time subscriber and what a difference it makes for me:

EVERY

SINGLE

DAY

& NIGHT.

In 2019 I shared more about Calm and its help for me over here.

These thoughts and views are formed by me, over time, as I changed and grew to understand what I was doing….I was practising meditation. I was practising being still and I was/am continuing to do this every day and each night. It’s called Meditation Practice for a good reason.

What Meditation Is Not.

  • a clearing out of your thoughts
  • a way to get to inner peace easily
  • a place & way of being seated to best meditate
  • perfection found
  • silence

What Meditation Is.

  • a regular 10-12 minutes in my morning, and then in my evening which is just for this.
  • lying in my bed…yes, not sitting nor kneeling, because I can still concentrate, relax and take in what I need to being comfortable on my back with my hands by my sides.
  • a gift to my inner health
  • a space & time which I value that is MINE
  • something I can come back to over and over again
  • being curious about myself
  • learning something a new and refreshing my previous learnings.

How Did I Get Here?

Even before 2015 I was seeking help and information on how to help me calm myself inside and accept more readily what “life” is about. As a teacher and always a lifetime learner I sought much information, learning and help and got it via CDs, courses on-line and podcasts. I have added some images of some of my kept resources.

The first real introduction I had to becoming mindful and helping with the sadness I was feeling, even though I was not clinically depressed was this book and I still listen to it from time to time. These two men, Mark Williams and Danny Penman, are pioneers (after Jon Kabat-Zinn) of Mindfulness for Wellness and Using Mindful Practices for Stress Release.

Some were purchased on-line directly from Sounds True, others via my (then) favourite book selling site, Book Depository. Others I found directly on-line or at my local books sellers.

Some of the authors who helped me “get me” are:- are found here and in my messy but lovely photos of my books and CDs. On display for easy reading….for you, the reader.

Pema Chodron  Tara Brach    Jack Kornfield    Brene Brown  Sharon Salzberg  Clare Bowditch     

Elizabeth Gilbert   Andy Puddicombe  John O’Donohue   Jeff Foster  Judson Brewer

Megan Devine    Martin Seligman     Steve Peters    Andrew Fuller   Kristin Neff    Glennon Doyle

Rick Hanson   Christopher Germer    Lori Deschene    Paul Gilbert  Claire Weekes  Anne Lamott 

Yes, that IS a list and yet, not the end of it. The reason each of these people helped ME and form part of many meditation practices that I know of is that they mention common ideas:

there is only one moment: now

that we can only control one person, us

that we forget the above two often so we need to practise

AND, that it’s human to be like this.

This image is my iphone locked screen.

Calm Days And Calm Nights. What Is This About?

Regular readers of this blog know I was diagnosed with a form of head and neck cancer back in 2017. Full series of blog posts here. I learned so much about myself then, about what I could cope with, about how I could, with support and practise, learn to deal with hard things. I wrote a post or two about exposure therapy as I learned I HAD to do after seeing a psychologist back in 2016.

Changing from Headspace Meditation to Calm Meditation for me was about just that…change. It did turn out to go well for me in 2018 I was offered a great price for a lifetime subscription and being on a pretty fixed and low income that helps a lot.

I liked and still do the ways in which I can pick and choose the meditation for a particular reason*, for example, if  I sense I am being overly self-critical I will choose to do the series on that to learn and learn again (practise remember) the various ways in which I can pull myself up in terms of self-talk and gently guide myself forward.

Each day now, at the time of waking…and in retirement days this can vary from 8.00 am to 9.00 am and I LOVE that luxury, I open the Calm App and settle back in bed (loo stop first) for my morning Daily Calm. Following it, I reflect via the suggestions and may choose to keep and share the quote and image of the day. Then I get on with my day.

Oh, I do not write about Calm because I was asked to or I was paid to do so. I just like to share what works for me.

At the end of the day, again in bed, when I am ready to settle for the night, I select a meditation via need*. It does not matter if I have done this one before, there is always something new to learn and focus on.

If by the end of this one, I am still wide awake – not often – I may choose a Sleep Story. They are awesome and have great narrators and stories to share. It’s much better for me than music.

As we know and admit, we are all “works in progress” and I decided to share my thoughts in this first week of blogging 2021 with you and in joining a couple of link ups.

  • May you find peace.
  • May you be content.
  • May you be well.

When I am here…I am the most mindful I can be outside of practising meditation!

And may you never stop learning!

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne and friends here for link up called Lovin Life.

Now on the weekend I am joining here with Natalie and friends for a Coffee Catch Up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women Of Courage Series. #40 Anonymous. 41/2020.

Women of Courage Series.

How did it start? Read here!

Who was the first Woman of Courage to share her story? It was Sam.

Thank you all…today might be an anonymous post, as have several others been, to protect the identities of those whose stories form part of the post.

ONE YEAR ON…here we are…..in May 2020 with the fortieth person to share her story.

2020 Image For the Series.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

Trigger warning: Family Breakdown, Grief, Terminal Illness.

 

Women Of Courage Series. #40 Anonymous. 41/2020.

“THEY SAY WE WALKED AWAY”

When Denyse asked me to join this incredible group of women in her Women of Courage series I wondered where to focus.

How do I do my spot on your screen justice?

How should I make this worth your while?

 

Today I am going to hold my husband’s hand and tell you about the day we had to find more courage than we ever thought we’d have to find in our lifetime.

Today I’m going to talk about the day we chose to walk away.

 

The Back Story

Once upon a time two people met and fell in love. They got married with his young daughter standing beside them.

His daughter was ingrained in their marriage and became the much-loved big sister to the children born from their union.

Fast forward to when his daughter got married, fell pregnant and moved interstate.

The daughter and her husband needed financial assistance to buy a home which the two people offered as guarantors.

Then the daughter got cancer.

Her husband walked out of the family home leaving her, their child, the cancer and the debt.

The two people don’t know why he did this.

They never asked.

Instead, the two people and the extended village supported the daughter as best they could and fell deeply in love with their grandchild.

Over the next five years the daughter cried often. As she fought the cancer she was also fighting for custody of her child.

She gratefully won the second battle.  She could not beat the first.

 

The cancer was aggressive.  The husband returned.

All money, court cases and his hurtful emails were forgotten as a united front was created for peace in her final year.

The daughter passed away surrounded by love.

 

The two people reached out to the husband offering meals, cleaning, baby sitting and support for the mini-me born from their daughter’s womb.

Then one day the husband declared the two people were no longer grandparent worthy.

Despite their best efforts in trying to understand his aggression, access to their daughter’s mini-me was taken from them via a text message.

Just like her mamma who’d passed away 6 months prior, they would not see their grandchild again.

 

The Pursuit For Peace

The above story is a very quick and overly simplified look at the twenty-five years I personally had the pleasure of being a stepmother and the 6 years I got to be a step-grandmother.

Of course, we didn’t just walk away then and there.

We chose to seek peace.

This was a very weird turn of events given the unity and open-door policy we’d extended.

We waited.

 

Then we gently texted, called and visited the house of the husband awaiting the day it would be business as usual.

We assumed he was going through a phase that required distance and fewer interactions in his life.

Alas, he ignored all contact and rejected all visits.

As a peace-loving family, we’ve never been involved in this sort of animosity.

My husband and I have backgrounds which are in synch.

We don’t do drama.

Our families don’t do war.

As an extended bunch, we choose to accept people for who they are and focus on strengths.

We choose peace and we choose happiness.

We don’t know why he rejected us so firmly and completely.

The people around us suggest it was his own guilt driving the decisions rather than anything we had personally done.

Counsellors advised likewise.

 

My husband – father and maternal grandfather – he knew.

He knew the day his daughter passed away it was only a matter of time he’d lose his granddaughter.

He knew the husband well enough to predict the future. He was just waiting for whatever excuse the husband would use to “justify” it.

 

When it became clear the husband was serious about taking our grandchild away, we sought the advice of lawyers and organized mediation.

 

We sat and listened to all the things he hated about us.  I personally spent the entire session in tears. I so badly wanted to explode. I so badly wanted to speak my truth.  I so badly just wanted to remind him of his cowardly departure from our daughter five years prior. His cowardly departure from her cancer and the $500,000 mortgage he left us with in a town where industry has disappeared, and houses have halved in value.

 

Do you know how hard it was to welcome someone into our home after wiping away our daughter’s chemo tainted tears caused by her husband’s emails, texts and profanities from the other end of a phone? Words I can’t utter because they are too disgusting to repeat.

 

Do you know how hard it was to watch him spend his newly found wealth gained from her death?

But my husband and I didn’t shout.  We didn’t say the things we wanted to say.  Why? Because we choose peace.

That afternoon the husband told us if ever our granddaughter asked to see us, he would consider it.

Then he said, “but quite frankly, she’s never mentioned your names”.

Then he walked out the door.

 

When you love someone, truly love someone, all you want for them is peace.

So, for the sake of our daughter’s memory and the sake of our granddaughter, we made the ultimate decision when he left that mediation session.

As I pressed my face into my husband’s tear soaked suit, we both agreed to walk away in the belief that when she’s old enough and no longer under the influence of her father, our granddaughter will come looking for her Mamma’s other family.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend helping others who need courage?

In all honesty, I would never wish this heartbreak on anyone.

The feeling is so overwhelming it’s unfathomable.

Since that day in the mediator’s office we’ve had to dig deep just to go about our daily activities.

But there is always a lesson worth sharing:

 

  1. When you love something, set it free: The greatest courage comes from being selfless. To continue fighting may have put our granddaughter under stress.  While our hearts will be broken forever, her heart will mend.
  2. Nobody can take away our true selves, unless we let them: I am still a stepmother. I am still a grandmother.  I can’t see either of our girls anymore, but they are still in my heart, in my head and in my soul.  They remain ingrained in who I am as a person, who we are as a couple and who we are as a family.  I continue to talk to our daughter every day, and I write letters to our granddaughter which I keep in a box for the day she comes back to us.  Plus, I have her mother’s voice recordings to give her when she’s of age and a book her mamma half wrote for her in her final days.  I will finish that book and put it in her box of “we love you”.  Nobody can take away the person I became when I married into that father/daughter dynamic.
  3. Behind every challenge is an opportunity: Walking away that day with our hearts heavy and our souls severely damaged, gave us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and try new things. I had given myself to be available as a caregiver for several years.  I was offered long-term contracts but never took them so I could be available for our daughter and then our granddaughter.  Finding myself in a new career has been an amazing up-side. And yes, there is an upside. Nothing will replace what we had, but without it we can still thrive.  Lie in a heap in a corner or get up and bloody well get on with life.  That’s the decision we must make in these situations.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Absolutely. In this uncertain world filled with bushfires, hailstorms, floods and pandemics, my resilience is high.

My courage is at an all time high.

We have gone through stuff and experienced such loss and not only survived it but walked away from it hand in hand.

The most courageous thing we ever had to do was turn and walk away.  Everything else is a piece of cake to be honest.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Believe.

  • Believe in your ability to get through the challenges
  • Believe that while ever you are being the best version of yourself, your courage will far outshine the rubbish that surrounds you.
  • Believe in the fact this too shall pass.
  • Believe that with each new situation you are faced you will come out wiser, stronger, braver and more resilient.
  • Believe in who you are and the value you add to this world.

 

Was it hard to tell this story?

Yes, it’s hard.  It’s hard because by putting it out there I am opening the wounds.  I am also potentially opening a door for more explosive behaviour from the husband and his extended village.  But you know what? This series is about courage.  For years I tip toed around being the diplomatic corps for the sake of my stepdaughter.  Always the insurer of peace in the blended family dynamic.  My post today … these words you are reading … are coming from a place of courage.

 

Any final words?

If anybody reads my story and feels lost in a similar situation, please do reach out to Denyse.  I am a strong believer that the power within us, extends beyond us.  I am lucky that I have a hand to hold.  Not everybody has that.  I can be that hand for you if you need it.

A powerful story and one of which some has been shared with me personally. I thank this person for her literal courage to share.

While the author of this post would like to reveal herself, for the sake of her daughter’s memory and her grandchild’s privacy she has chosen to remain anonymous. 

There will be no replies from this poster.

She will, however, be reading and I will be responding to readers’ comments.

Thank you for your understanding.

Denyse.

 

The following information may be helpful to you or another. These are Australian-based.

  • Your Family G.P. can be a helpful person to listen and make referrals.
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
  • Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for 24 hour assessment, referral, advice, and hospital and community health centre contact details
  • Qualified Psychologists can be found by visiting https://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/
  • Australian Counselling Association is on 1300 784 333 to find a counsellor

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

 

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Women of Courage Series. #7. Dorothy. 74/2019.

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Grief, Family.

 

 

Women of Courage Series. #7. Dorothy. 74/2019.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid May 2019: Wednesdays: each week.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

Welcome to Dorothy’s story.  She is 67. In 2016 I was ‘introduced’ on-line by a fellow art lover to Dorothy who has a Mandalas For A Season Group on Facebook and in that time, we have followed each other’s stories as women of a ‘certain age and stage’ and similar careers. Dorothy’s image is her mandala for Jarrod.

 

This is the icon mandala for Jarrod I created in the week before he suicided.

Dorothy shares her story here:

I am into my 5th year of creating mandalas (from October 2014).

In my retirement from being a Primary School Principal, I began with Kathryn Costa’s 100Mandala Challenge, having dabbled in Zentangle previously. I found as I immersed myself in creating mandalas, the greatest inner peace I have ever known.

Little was I to know that I would be launched into a devastating grief experience in January 2016 when my 36 year old son suicided after 18.5 years of battling multiple complex mental health issues.

My mandalas provided me with solace and comfort and continue to do so.

In the first month I created a mandala for every year of his life, and then on the 20th of each month in the year after he died I created a mandala to honour his life.

I was moved to create a mandala community on Facebook after Kathryn Costa took her 100Mandala Sharing Circle off Facebook.

Because of the value I have found at various seasons of my life, I called the community Mandalas for a Season.

Apart from engaging fully in the mandala journey, the nurturing of this community for each member has deepened and grown, and I have developed wonderful friendships through this community.

I am not a professional mandala artist – for me it’s deeply personal, and an amazing healing and encouraging experience.

 

I have learned that the grief journey is messy, non-linear, and has no end.

It’s not a matter of getting through it. It’s a matter of continuing to breathe.

I never knew that in grief love grows.

I never knew that I would miss my son more as the days pass.

I thought that in the immediate aftermath, life would go on and the pain would dull.

I am a member of several support groups for the “bereaved from suicide”. I gain perspective from other people’s sharing and it’s been reassuring that my aches and pains, days of lethargy, a feeling of the cloud hanging low, are not unusual.

I have learned that each member of the immediate family experiences the grief differently. For one stoicism is the pattern; for another distancing oneself is needed at times, for another detaching is the way.

I have learnt not to expect that anyone else can meet my needs – that the courage to go on comes from within me, and through my mandalas.

 

Dorothy, I am honoured that you have chosen to share your story about your son and the journey with mandalas.

Thank you for your heart-felt words and telling us how it is and has been.

I am including Lifeline’s 13 11 14 here.

Denyse.

 

Follow Dorothy on Social Media:

Instagram: dorothy_heartfulmandalas

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

Copyright © 2019 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

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