Friday, January 28, 2011

A Rose For Rose

At first, I didn't want to speak at Nan's funeral.  I didn't think I'd have the strength to say what I wanted to say without crying.  But the funeral director (who also acted as the celebrant) convinced me to at least try so I didn't have any regrets, his reasoning being I could always pull out at the last minute and that would be perfectly ok.

Here is my tribute to Nan.  I wanted to bring her back to life for just one more day.

My Nan was a special person. She was witty, she was quirky, she was one of a kind, and she was incredibly kind and compassionate. Nothing was too much trouble for her, and she’d do anything for anybody. When I was sick as a child, all I wanted was Nan by my bedside. She made me feel better just by sitting there. Visits to her house nearly always included gifts of money or chocolate accompanied by, “Don’t tell your mother.” If we refused to accept her generosity, out came the finger.

Not only would Nan talk to anybody she met, she would also talk to animals. She was kind to all creatures, including chooks. Apparently when she had her own chooks years ago, she would sit on the perch and talk to them. Growing up, I remember her always taking the time to be kind to our bantams; she would pick them up and let them perch on her hand, much to Mum’s disgust, and she clipped their wings for us so they wouldn’t fly away. Nan had a host of pets over her life including a dog, numerous stray cats who adopted her, a couple of galahs, Sunshine the canary, and in later years, Billie the budgie. Nan made a habit of regularly vacuuming out Billie’s cage, with Billie still inside, and telling the poor bird off should it dare mess it up again.

While Nan was a kind, compassionate and generous person, she could also be very, very blunt. She was never shy about speaking her mind, and if she wasn’t my Nan I don’t think I’d quite know how to take her. But Nan could take as much as she dished out, and I think I learnt a lot about bluntness from Nan; when Duncan met her for the first time, he said, “You’re going to be exactly like your Nana.” I remember once shopping with Nan when I was still at school, and she was getting some tomatoes. There was a whole pile of tomatoes to choose from, and an old man was there as well, helping himself to some. Suddenly Nan turned to him sharply as he was putting his tomatoes in a bag, and said, “I wanted those ones.” The poor man, I don’t think he knew what to think! Nan was also quite outspoken about fellow elderly people, and she’d often say quite loudly in shopping centres, “Some of these old biddies don’t wash. But me, I always smell nice.” She also had no trouble sending Jehovah’s Witnesses packing. The scary thing is that I’ve been told Nan has mellowed a lot over the years. What was she like before? When Tim and I were naughty, she’d say, “I’ll get the stick,” but we knew she didn’t have a stick, and even if she did, she couldn’t catch us anyway. One of my nicknames for her was Banana because not only did she eat a lot of bananas, I told her she was like one because she had a thick outside skin, but she really was soft underneath, and she bruised easily.

As a child, I regularly suggested to Nan that she should get married again, but she wasn’t so keen. “Why would I want to get stuck washing some old bloke’s socks? But if he had a bit of money that’d be ok. I’d just hope he’d croak first.” Nan would regularly sit on benches in shopping centres and talk to whoever happened to be sitting there. Once I found her sitting with about three old men. “Who was that you were talking to?” Mum would ask. “Oh I don’t know,” Nan replied. “But he was very nice.” Nan also thought Duncan was very nice when she met him for the first time. We were going to a restaurant and there was a hill so she asked Duncan, “Duncan, could you please give me your arm? He obliged and she later came up to me and said, “He gave me his arm.” I said, “Nan if you were 70 years younger, I’d feel threatened.”

Nan has always been a neat and almost obsessively scheduled person. She’d get up when the birds did, lunch would always be at 12 and not a moment late, and for years she watched ‘Days of our Lives’ religiously. When I lived in Perth, I called her to say I would be in Albany for a few days. She was very much looking forward to my visit, but when I asked if I could come over at certain times, she’d say, “No, I’m doing my washing then, or my ironing or my gardening.” Eventually I said, “Nan, I’m only here for a few days. Can I come at this time?” and she replied, “Oh well, you’d better come then.” But if you said you’d come at 3 and got there at 10 past, the first thing she’d say to you when she opened the door was, “You’re late!”

Nan’s garden was as immaculate as her house. She was a magnificent gardener, and her roses were beautiful. She took great pride in showing them off. But if a leaf dared make its way onto her driveway, it was the worst for the leaf. If a neighbour had a tree which dropped leaves into her yard, they could expect the leaves to be tossed back over the fence. To this day, Nan is the only person who I’ve ever heard call her plants, ‘little blighters’ for not growing the way she wanted them to.

As the years went by, Nan wanted to keep her mind active and she did this by playing Scrabble and doing crosswords. She’d often ask me for help with her crosswords, and when I told her I didn’t know what was seven letters long, started with a P and was a city in some random country, she’d say, “You’ve got a university degree and you can’t do my crosswords.” During Scrabble games she liked complaining that I ‘took her spot’ – which meant she had basically reserved the whole board for herself and I wasn’t allowed to make a word anywhere. When she lost (which was most of the time), she’d blame her loss on her lack of vowels, or ‘bowels’ as she called them. If she didn’t have any bowels, she’d be in real trouble.

Over the years, it was often hard to watch Nan grow older and no longer be able to walk up hills, go bushwalking and play table tennis with us like she used to. Although I knew she was older than most of my friends’ grandparents, it seemed like she would always be there. As Nan no longer liked going out as much, and eventually had to use a walking stick, I realised that though her mind was willing, her body was not although she did turn back the clock at Mum’s 60th – dancing and staying up to 1.30am. In the end, it was a privilege to sit by her bedside and bestow a little of the care she gave to us back to her.

I will miss Nan terribly. It doesn’t seem right without her, and I will be forever thankful that I had her as my Nan for 27 years. She was such a good Nan to Matt, Brad, Tim and I and was even a great great Nana in the end. We will never forget her. Not that we ever could anyway because she is unforgettable.

I could write a whole book of Nan’s memorable quotes, but I will finish with just one. We had a family dinner at a restaurant for Tim’s 21st a few years back and Mum told Tim as a joke, “We’ve organised a cake and a stripper.” Nan overheard and said indignantly, “I’m not stripping!”

The photo board I made which was displayed at the wake.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Thoughts of Nanushka by Nan Witcomb

I asked the celebrant to read this poem at my Nan's funeral.

To mourn too long
for those we love
is self indulgent –
but to honour their memory
with a promise
to live a little better
for having known them,
gives purpose to their life –
and some reason
for their death….

Nan and I on my 1st birthday.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Marriage 101: Movin' On Up

When you're single it seems to be perfectly acceptable to have non-matching cutlery, wobbly furniture from the op-shop, and shabby decor.

When you're married, it's not!

I found that out pretty quickly, and to tell the truth, it shocked me.

The question we got asked the most, besides the kids question, was when were we going to buy a house.  When I answered, "Possibly never," the shocked expressions astounded me.  Is buying property what all married couples are expected to do?  We get our house rent-free as part of Duncan's job.  We have never had high enough incomes to seriously consider buying a house, and even if we did, we're not sure if we want to get tied down with a mortgage.

I'm not saying it's wrong to buy a house, but I have noticed how when you get married you're expected to get in line and plod along in trying to keep up with the Joneses.  It creeps into the church in subtle ways.  Suddenly fellow Christians are giving you advice on investment properties and new furniture.  I get tired of speaking to married people who constantly talk about renovations (that are done in the name of trends rather than necessity), private schooling, and trips to Ikea.  I've had fellow Christians laugh at me because I don't have a iphone, ipod or iwhatever.  No, I'm not joking!  Maybe they assume that now I'm married I should be putting my cash towards that stuff....upgrading.

I think married couples should be using their money for the glory of God and not to keep up with peers.  Buying a house has the advantage that you can plant yourself in one area and use your house as a base to reach out in hospitality and build relationships.  Renting has the downside that the owner may decide to sell without warning, or put the rent up and you are forced to move away from your church, friends or workplace because of a lack of available properties in your desired area.  But who cares if a married couple has op-shop furniture and a 3x1 instead of a 4x2.  You can't take material stuff with you when you die.

I can honestly say that I don't care whether Duncan and I buy a house or not.  We won't be swayed by pressure from others because God has already given us what we need in order to be hospitable.  Although I do wish married Christians would share God's Word with each other more than Ikea catalogues.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bible Verse of the Day

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise I may have too much and disown You and say, "Who is the Lord?"  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:8-9

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Funny

I feel like a laugh.  Duncan took this photo on our trip to Tom Price.  Apparently the cows don't usually come this close to town so someone with a sense of humour put out the sign.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why 2011 Won't Be 'The Year of the Pessimist'

You may not believe it, but I really am an optimist...and a realist.  I get my hopes up.  I like to believe the best of people.  Maybe that's why I get so crushed; your hopes have a lot further to fall when you're an optimist.

But I'm also a realist.  I believe that all things are possible with God, but in His sovereignty, He won't always answer prayers the way we would like.  So I sit on the cusp of optimism/realism.  Hopeful, but not unrealistic.

By the end of 2010, I was feeling somewhat disillusioned.  Although there were some highlights, it was generally a stinker of a year - especially the latter half.  Here's what went wrong:
  • I have had an agonisingly painful lower back since February courtesy of sleeping on a dodgy mattress at a holiday house in Jurien.  Chiropractic and Bowen Therapy have offered temporary relief, but every time I thought it was getting better, it would seize up again and I could hardly move.
  • My Nan's illness and the stress and hardships that brought on my family, particularly my parents.
  • Duncan's brother's battle with Bipolar Disorder and the stress that brought on Duncan's family and some of our mutual friends.
  • Many of my friends had a tough year suffering from illness, stress, unemployment, harsh treatment from others, death of loved ones.
  • I was forced to seriously re-evaluate some so-called friendships which appeared to be very lopsided.  I felt like I was pouring myself out for other people (as much as you can from a distance), and some were happy to take, but not give in return.
  • The event organisation side of my job was stressful.
  • I was sick more times in the latter half of the year than I have been in the previous two years combined.  Illnesses/accidents included the flu, a chest infection, nausea, diarrhoea, concussion (and resulting vertigo).
  • Moving house was stressful, and four of our hens didn't make it.  When we arrived, our house wasn't really fit to live in.
  • In general, I felt like I had lost my groove and didn't really fit in in Buntine/Dalwallinu.
As 2011 drew nearer, I didn't hold out much hope that it was going to be any better than its predecessor.  After all, how was 2011 not going to be the year when I had to say goodbye to Nan?  Eight days into the new year, my fears were realised.  It's tempting to be a pessimist.  After all, isn't the attraction of pessimism that you'll never be disappointed?

Two days into the new year, God spoke to me in the form of a sermon we heard while visiting a church in Albany.  The pastor said that our hope as Christians is not in the past, but in the future.  We look back at the past and see Christ's death on the cross in our place, but our hope is in the future when Christ comes again and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain  for those who love Him.  This really helped me not to look for solace in the past, but to keep my eyes fixed on Him, no matter what the immediate future may bring.

My plans of being a pessimist have been disbandoned.  I cannot help but look to 2011 with hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson

Moving is scary, and this became my ‘theme song’ when I first moved to Buntine. Sometimes you need to have the courage to follow God’s leading by taking a chance, making a change, and breaking away.

Wanted to belong here
But something felt so wrong here.
So I pray,
I could breakaway.

I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly.

I’ll do what it takes til I touch the sky.
And I’ll make a wish, take a chance, make a change,
And breakaway.

Out of the darkness and into the sun.

But I won’t forget all the ones that I loved.
I’ll take a risk, take a chance, make a change,
And breakaway.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Longest Week

It has been six days since Nan passed away. Her funeral is tomorrow and I’ll be speaking on my memories of her. Please pray that God will grant me the strength to do this without crying.  I don't mean to sound like a cheesy Christian greeting card, but the Lord really has been my strength and comfort this week.

This week has crawled by. I constantly have to keep checking what day it is because I have never known such a slow week. I have been busy preparing the order of service for the funeral home to print, writing my speech for Saturday, and putting together a photo board of Nan for the wake which will be at my parents’ house.

I do feel mostly at peace, but I’m still not ready to see hoards of people yet. I’m imagining the wake will be quite difficult and I’ll have to leave the room occasionally just to stay sane. At the moment, the beach is proving to be a place of solace. Strangely enough, after struggling with fatigue recently, I suddenly have so much energy, I’m doing some kind of physical activity every day – walking and swimming mostly. In fact, I feel like I could walk all day. I wonder how long that will last.

But by far the hardest thing this week has been living in a house with people who are grieving for the same person. Mostly I’m content with my own silence. I don’t feel the need to talk about Nan all the time, but my Mum does so I’m needing extra doses of patience to deal with her incessant chattering. Even though I don’t feel the need to talk, I’m trying to be understanding with her way of dealing with things. But on Sunday night, she started yelling at me because I was struggling a bit, and I was told that she didn’t want to hear about how I was feeling. So basically I have to be there for her when she wants to talk, but otherwise maintain stoic silence and be there to help practically. It took a few days for her to realise that was unreasonable and apologise. I think I need someone who wasn’t as close to Nan to talk to when I do feel the need to talk – not someone who’s grieving themselves.

I really have to say that I have some fantastic friends. Thank you so much for all you’ve said and done. Of course, as with most sad occasions, you find out who your true friends are – the ones who go out of their way, instead of saying nothing.

If you’re the praying type, please chuck up a prayer for me tomorrow as I prepare to officially say goodbye.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I've been staying in Albany for a week now.  I came down because the renovations were due to commence on our house, and I don't have the patience to live among mess!  Kudos to people who manage to renovate their house and live in it at the same time.  The house needs new carpets, lino, painting, curtains, and there are many things that need to be fixed such as broken windows, busted taps, and cupboard doors.  Plus the lounge room ceiling needs to be replaced, and there is a hole in the kitchen ceiling.

I thought I'd post a few photos of the house so you can see what it is currently like.  Hopefully the 'After' photos will show a stunning transformation.




Main bedroom.  Who in their right mind would paint it that colour or do such a shoddy job in closing up an old window?

Dining room.




The pictures don't show the dirt....or the insects.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

Grief is the price we pay for love.
- Queen Elizabeth II

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Battle

I wish I had happier news to start 2011, but it's not to be.

My Nan passed away in the early hours of Saturday 8th January.  She was 97 and less than two weeks shy of her 98th birthday.  Not quite a century, but still a very long innings.

I wrote in my post Friday Focus - But Even If He Should Not about how my Nan was flown to Perth from Albany on Sunday 25th July suffering a blood clot in her foot.  Miraculously she survived surgery (which was a success) after being willing to have her leg amputated if need be.

But as the months wore on, she faced battle after battle after her stay in hospital revealed a host of other health problems.  One of the valves in her heart wasn't working meaning her heart wasn't pumping oxygen adequately, and she had difficulty breathing.  Further tests revealed she had cancer although the type was never determined due to treatment not being an option.

In the end, Nan had to go into a nursing home which she hated.  She always said she'd rather die than go into a home.  In the end, she became very depressed and lost her will to live.  She passed away peacefully in her sleep.

I tried to share the gospel with her and in the end I could see that her attitude towards God was softening a little.  She told me she wasn't ready to die at first, and I tried to tell her how she could be at peace with God through Jesus.  As the months went by, she said she just wanted to die, but whether she turned to Jesus or not, I'll never know in this lifetime.

I miss her terribly, but I can still smile at all the funny things she said and did.  I feel very blessed to have had her as my Nan for 27 years.

Nan at 17.

Nan in the nursing home wearing her Christmas antlers.  I'm surprised she agreed to it actually.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Small Groups: Head and Body

Whoa, long time since I have updated this series!

In my previous two posts, I discussed that groups need to lay down some ground rules when they commence meeting so that expectations are clear, and that there are advantages and disadvantages in single gender and mixed groups.

Another obvious question for a newly-formed group is: Who should lead?

In my experience, groups work best when there is a leader. It seems very nice and egalitarian to attempt a group without obvious leadership, but whether a leader is chosen or not, dominant personalities with leadership gifts tend to rise to the fore. In my opinion, this is a good thing, because if the group consisted of shy, compliant people, no major decisions would ever be made (democracy at its worst).

Even when I have been meeting in a small, small group (two or three people, including myself), someone always becomes the leader. This is natural.

However, people have busy lives which makes it hard for the leaders to pour their efforts into the group and prepare material to study. Our Bible study group in Dalwallinu went into recess during seeding and harvest because the majority of the group members were farmers. This is why it is ideal to have several leaders who can share the load, and for the established leaders to suss out who would like to have a go at leading.

Of course, those members of the group who don’t lead still have a role to play. I know I shouldn’t, but I do wonder why some people never contribute in groups; they come, they don’t say anything, and then leave, almost like they don’t really want to be there, and are coming out of duty. It takes a while to become comfortable to speak up in a new group, particularly if you don’t already know the group members well. But like the church is a body, quieter group members still have a role to play, whether it be bringing food to share, offering their home as a place to meet, following up with other group members during the week, emailing prayer points for various group members (if a Christian small group) to remind the group to pray for each other continually, and many other acts of service.

I know when I’ve had a go at leading in small groups, I’ve really appreciated those who are encouraging and tactful, and felt intimidated by people who want to ‘test’ me. Offering opportunities for budding leaders to be trained is vital to keep the group healthy in the long-term.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Quote of the Day

I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.
- Kurt Cobain

Monday, January 03, 2011

From Head to Hand: Tall Poppy Syndrome

As I continue to edit my first novel, and interested family and friends ask questions about the storyline and characters, I am becoming more and more aware that my book will not appeal to everyone.

And that’s ok.

Seriously, who can write a book that will appeal to everyone? Nor do I want to attempt that feat. I am writing, first and foremost, for myself, and if others like it, great! If they don’t, too bad. Of course I am hoping for a considerably large readership so that my first major writing venture may be successful, but I will not compromise my own passions and interests and become a slave to the ‘audience’.

I also know that some of my friends and family will have no qualms with letting me know all about it should they dislike my book. Not only do I seem to be a magnet for such outspoken people, I’m already aware that some people consider themselves designated literary critics. I often hear them complaining about the latest bestseller, lamenting how such a lame piece of work (in their eyes) could have become such a hit. “That author can’t string a decent sentence together,” they complain.

Then there are those who automatically loath anything that becomes popular and mainstream – simply because it is popular and mainstream. The Harry Potter series seems to be on the receiving end from these critics who prefer the quirky, offbeat, and ‘undiscovered’ pieces of literature. Then when the alternative becomes mainstream, they either don’t like it anymore, or claim loudly that THEY were the ones who discovered it first. When I ask them if they’d actually read something popular, such as Harry Potter, they reply, “No, why would I waste my time?”

Hmmm don’t judge a book by its cover.

As my book has edged closer and closer to being submitted to a literary agent, I am becoming increasingly aware of when I ungraciously spit out my own destructive criticisms on other artists. It’s easy to wonder how exactly some Hollywood celebrities did manage to grace the red carpet when they seem devoid of talent, but it’s also easy to be an armchair critic when you have never actually attempted any creative work yourself. Now that I’m attempting to become a published author, it sure would hurt if some of my loved ones hurled the same contempt at me and my book that they reserve for Britney Spears. We really do need to ask ourselves, “What have WE done that’s better than them?” Have we got a bad case of the green-eyed monster? Is Tall Poppy Syndrome coming into play?

I know some people will be less than gentle with my creative work because they are less than gentle people with their words full stop! But it won’t stop me asking for people to be gracious and tactful. I’m not writing this book because I want to invite everyone to give an opinion; I’m writing mostly for myself, and to tell a fictitious story that I hope will bring much entertainment.

If you’re an artist of any kind, then you’ll probably be able to relate to this. It’s a scary process putting our work out there because often we’re putting a part of our heart and soul out there. Please don’t be discouraged. Critics will come, but it’s also an opportunity if they don’t like it to dare them to do it better.