Saturday 25th June 2022

Women of Courage Series. #17. Lydia C. Lee. 94/2019.

Women of Courage Series. #17. Lydia C. Lee. 94/2019.

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

I have ‘known’ Lydia for more years than I can recall. She remains, however, a woman of some mystery, as this image is the only one I have seen. I am guessing it is Lydia. I also know though, that she is one very caring and helpful individual in my on-line world of friendships. She has offered me some good advice and in fact, some it relates to the person she references in her post. Thanks Lydia for sharing your words. One day, we WILL catch up in person!


While I was flattered Denyse asked me to be part of this series, I feel a little bit of a fraud, as I’m not sure I’ve done much with courage. However, as it would be a lack of courage not to accept, I will try my best to offer something useful. Courage is not just bravery, it also has the definition below:

Courage: Strength in the face of pain or grief.

When my father was dying, it was a long and drawn out painful affair. I had to drive two and a half hours every second day to visit him in the hospital. I was working myself into a tired and emotional state on the drive over there, and finding the visits understandably distressing. By chance, to quash my irritability in the traffic, I started listening to audio books. This found me at least on arrival, refreshed and in a good mood, as all my stream of consciousness had been hushed with the external focus.

By chance I listened to This is How by Augusten Burroughs.

This book was a life changer for me. He has a chapter on how to let someone die, and it really altered my understanding of what I could give my family at this most devastating time. The tips I express are his but they worked 100% for me and the by product from doing the small things is the courage defined above.

The first thing he called out is that you will want to find ways to avoid visiting. And it’s true. I kept thinking ‘I need to do this for the kids’ or ‘I have to get this work done’ and so on. The minute I heard his words, I realised it was all unimportant for now, and the visits were the only thing I would really regret not doing.

Secondly, he points out what matters. The special moments you will share that seem insignificant or even mildly unpleasant at the time become something you treasure. One of my favourite memories with Dad was when I took cake for my birthday and we ate it on his hospital bed and laughed at our gluttony and how much better it was than the hospital food. There was such a strong connection that day. In our shared lifetime, this was not one of the ‘big moments’ but it is something I often think about fondly now, and it brings me much comfort.

Thirdly, I’m the youngest in my family. My mother and sister were dealing with it differently to me, and that’s okay – I honestly believe there is not ‘right way’, only what is right for you, and most importantly, for the dying person. It gave me the job of making sure Mum was coping, and would not grieve the difficult decisions she had to make over the myriad of medical options and how to process the conflicting information from the many specialists involved. That job made me busy and feel productive and helpful in a situation where we were really all helpless to ultimately fix anything.


In a very strange turn of events, I had a number of concerts already booked, and I kept going to them, even if I didn’t feel like it or as happened one time, I cried in the taxi on the way to the venue. What I discovered was the dancing and energy of the audience was transformative. The endorphins from the exercise and joyous high I’d get would reset my emotions for the next day, so I was recharged to visit again and bring the little gifts of being truly present to share with him.

Our natural instinct is to shut down when facing grief but it’s actually the worst thing in my opinion. I became an expert at compartmentalising my emotions. It’s important to grieve and feel that loss and sadness, but it’s equally important to energise yourself so you’re ready for the next day’s emotional battle.  If worse comes to worse, just leave and go home early if it’s all too hard. I told myself that a few times but it never did pan out that way.


One of the benefits of this compartmentalisation was that I became very good at focusing on one step at a time. I could encourage Mum to stop the ‘what if’s’ and just make decisions on the information we had at hand, and make one decision at a time, not trying to second guess ahead. It reduces the enormity of what is happening and the overwhelming responsibility.

 “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

In all things medical, one step at a time is all you can cope with.

Eat well. I ate my emotions – usually in the car on the way home from the hospital. It was not good for my weight or my energy. But long time readers will know I’m far from perfect so this one is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Had I not eaten junk daily, I might have felt better about things in those down moments. But as Augusten Burroughs says “Eat the brownie”. Sometimes food is the only happiness you’ll have that day. I’d probably do the same again so I’m not going to judge anyone on this.

If you can, during this time, exercise instead of drinking. Both will take the edge off, but one is better for the next day (and your waistline if you are eating a junkfest to feel good).

It is never a good time, but you can make it better for all involved, and for yourself so you don’t regret choices you made when it’s too late to change anything. Most of all, you are making it as best you can for that loved one who is finding their own courage when you aren’t there.

“Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

This is not medical advice, it is just what worked for me. If you are under stress and feeling it is too much, please see a doctor. Grief causes stress and disorientation and can lead to anxiety. Always seek medical help if you feel overwhelmed.

Wow, Thank you so much Lydia. Your recommendation of Augusten Burrough’s book was just what I needed to listen to last year. I am sure there will be readers here who will be nodding along with some of your insights gained personally and learning of others.



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