A story about kindness

emotions, Grief, Health

It’s suicide prevention awareness day today here in Australia and I wanted to share with you a story. Its not strictly about suicide prevention but it is about bereavement and trying to keep going when you’re not entirely sure what the point is anymore.   My story happened yesterday and I am afraid that I cannot name the person who was so helpful because I was so distressed during the exchange that I cannot now remember his name.

Yesterday I was pulled over for running a red light. I am usually a very careful and slow driver, and so the fact that I managed to do this shows just how disordered and upset I was.  For context, in the last two weeks I have experienced the deaths of a family member and a friend, was still recovering from a ten day flu and had learnt that I have developed complications from the chronic disease that I have.  Ironically, when the policeman pulled me over, I was actually on my way to the chemist to get some Rescue Remedy.

I was already shaking when he approached me and he asked me if I could explain what I had done. I fumbled some pathetic reply about still not feeling well and was on my way to the chemist.  He took my licence and went back to the patrol car.  I erupted into tears.  Trouble was I was still an eruption when he came back, a totally uncontrollable outpouring of anger, sorrow, frustration, and fear all mixed up together.

He very gently asked me what was wrong, and after some minutes of attempting to answer, in between hyperventilating, coughing and crying, I managed to get out about the complications and the deaths. He offered me his condolences on the loss of my uncle and my friend, then offered to organise counselling for me, saying that the police have people on call if I didn’t have anyone I could turn to.

This stranger offered me more acknowledgement, support and kindness in that tiny moment than most of my friends and acquaintances had. I’ve been shocked all over again by how people are so effing useless at talking about death.  Even when I went to the three different medical types, who I thought would know better, to get help with the illness symptoms, not one even acknowledged the fact that I had used the words ‘funeral’ and ‘death’.

And so, the actions of that young policeman yesterday truly mattered to me.  I can’t begin to express how much his kindness and gentleness mattered right then, when I felt like the whole world was against me.  Nothing changed, of course.  I still ran the red light and have a huge fine.  I still have health issues and my uncle and my friend are still dead.  But for just a fraction of time when I most needed it, someone was kind to me and it buffed off enough of the jaggedy edges to make me think that things might possibly get better.

I will be sure to pass it on when I am in his position.

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Roses for revelation

Adoption, Diabetes, Family, Health, Roses

If only all revelations were as beautiful as this rose. Like many roses, she has multiple names. I found her by searching under the term ‘revelation’, with her full name of ‘Sweet Revelation’. She is also known as Chimene, Sue Hipkin or Hipken, and as Lady Jane Grey. She was bred by Harkness, and released in 1998. Harkness describes this rose as growing a metre high and sixty five centimetres wide, with a powerful scent and a unique bronze colour. In their catalogue, she is Sue Hipkin.

Photo by George Seguin, photographed in the Bagatelle Garden, Paris.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Rosa_%27Chim%C3%A8ne%27#/media/File:Rose_Chimene_20070601_2.jpg

Photo by George Seguin, photographed in the Bagatelle Garden, Paris. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Rosa_%27Chim%C3%A8ne%27#/media/File:Rose_Chimene_20070601_2.jpg

This post started because I’d had an unwelcome revelation relating to my diabetes. While researching something that I thought was entirely unrelated, I discovered that my risk of developing diabetes had always been higher because I had never been breastfed. Children taken for adoption in the secret era usually weren’t.

Add another black mark to the experience of adoption.

What really astounded me was the coincidence between this rose’s names. When I was in primary school, I would often stay at my grandparent’s house where I liked to read their old books. That was how I discovered the story of Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for a mere nine days. With ruthless manoeuvring, her parents put her on the throne following the death of Henry VIII’s son Edward in an attempt to keep Henry’s Catholic first born daughter, Mary, off the throne.

My grandparents were fiercely Protestant, or fiercely anti Catholic, and Jane’s story has been largely cast against this political background religious hatred and intolerance. This is not what struck me as a kid. I was being brought up to be irreligious, and the words Protestant and Catholic were just that, words.

Through her mother’s family, Jane had kinship with the Royal family. She and Henry VIII’s heir, Edward, were cousins. This lineage of hers turned out to be deadly. Jane might not have been beheaded if it were not for her father, in particular. His refusal to give up his ambition for power is what cost his daughter her life. It was the first time that I truly understood, with both my head and my heart, that family can indeed be dangerous.

While I was troubled and fascinated by the story of Jane all at the same time, the revelation helped me. It gave me a safe historical context to think about the purpose of families, and about how parents were supposed to behave. Not that this is a topic which I would ever have aired within my adoptive family. The subject was strictly verboten, and as the Australian research shows, those children who did not feel encouraged to talk about it, were more likely to have mental health issues later in life. So I struggled to find a way to come to terms with the knowledge that my parents had given me away. The concept that ‘family is dangerous’ that I formed after learning of Jane Grey’s fate helped me to understand that maybe the fault wasn’t with me. Just maybe, I was the innocent party instead of fault laden, defective child that I thought I was.

Was it a sweet revelation, as this rose’s name suggests? Ultimately, they both were. For the first, I feel more exonerated of the shame of having developed a chronic disease at so young an age. For the second, I remember the relief of my child self. It didn’t solve the situation I was in, and remain in, but it gave me a different, and more positive, perspective.