"Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can also be delightful"
This George Bernard Shaw quote, which I heard in conversation at a friend's birthday party, helped to inspire me to start this blog back on 1 September 2008. But this year, the quote has become more of a personal mantra. You see, 2010 has not been a good year for me and my family...
I have hinted at these difficulties in a few recent posts, but now I have decided to reveal what has been happening, for several reasons. It would seem to go against the gleeful grain, but bear with me.
OK. This is what happened (deep breath): my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness in early January and he passed away yesterday. His doctors had given him a life expectancy of five years, but he was gone less than five months later, just making it beyond his 60th birthday. My quiet, funny, strong but soft-hearted, capable Dad...gone. Just like that. I still can't believe he got sick, let alone that he isn't here anymore.
This is the most difficult thing I have ever gone through in my life. After Dad was diagnosed, I was tempted to take a break from writing Gleeful. I thought, "How am I ever going to be happy again?" How would I find anything gleeful to write about, much less the enthusiasm to put fingers to keyboard?
But I soon realised how wrong-headed this was. I had a stern word with myself: Jayne, that is not the way we do things here, I said. If you stop writing now, you will be abandoning your faith in the idea that underpins this blog, that you can make yourself happier by being more mindful and appreciative of life's simple pleasures even when life isn't going your way. If you really believe this is possible - and you do, dammit - you can't stop now. This ordeal will put that idea to the test like nothing else.
And it has. And let me just tell you, this idea rocks (I can't claim it as my own). The past few four months - particularly the past four weeks - have been scary, emotional and exhausting, but they have also been delightful, in ways small and not so small.
The big delightful stuff
* It's empowering to face adversity and get through it. I was continually amazed at my ability to cope with things I never imagined that I would be able to get through. You just do what you have to do. I feel like I can face almost anything now. New York on my own for my first overseas trip? Pah! Piece of cake, baby. (Less than three weeks away now!)
* It's pretty darn nice when people tell you they admire the way you're handling things, that your Dad would be proud (even if you think they would probably do the same thing in your shoes).
* It brought me closer to my Dad and other members of my family. It also created a bond with my step-family, which didn't really exist before.
* It's strengthened my friendships and also brought me closer to people I've just met - or never met, like a legion of Twitter friends, who have supported me through this, particularly in the past few weeks (Twitter really helped get me through the nights on my own at the hospital with Dad). Times like this make you realise that people are actually wonderful. Not that I'm a misanthrope, but sometimes we all need a little reminder. Every day lately I've been moved by the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers offering both practical and emotional support - or just a distraction. If any of you are reading, you are awesome and I'm so glad to know you.
* It's made me appreciate (all over again) how lucky I am. Yes, really. I'm lucky I got to know my Dad as an adult, unlike a lot of people who lose a parent when they're young. I'm lucky I got to say goodbye. I'm lucky I've made it to 37 before going through something this tough. I've led a charmed life, really. There are so, so many people far worse off than I am.
Even in the past few days, I've continued on my glee-spotting way. I honestly think I can't help it now. It's second nature. I'm inveterate. Here's some of the things that buoyed me up:
* On Friday, two books I ordered from Amazon arrived unexpectedly early. One was the Book of Awesome, which I blogged about recently. It is indeed awesome. I adore it. I started to read it while sitting at Dad's bedside. I laughed out loud. I smiled. Its bite-size chunks of text made it perfect reading for the circumstances.
* The other book was the pop up version of my favourite Dr Seuss book - Oh, The Places You'll Go! I read this at Dad's bedside too and it was also very fitting, being about getting through life's ups and downs, as it is. And the pop-uppiness of it is fantastic. Very detailed and intricate and just all round awesome. I'm very taken with it. I will post some pictures of it later on.
* Music. The CDs I bought last week (or whenever it was - time has passed in a blur) have really grown on me. The Angus and Julia Stone CD is heart-achingly, simply, delicately beautiful. The White Stripes live CD rocks - I love it more than I expected. Florence and the Machine is fantastic. All of them will remind me of this hard time in my life and I'm OK with that.
* One day last weekend I was walking down the steps of Flinders Street Station to the sound of a busker playing the bagpipes. I put my earphones in to listen to my iPod and...all I could hear was the bagpipes! What the dickens! The busker is in my iPod! What's going on!? As I crossed at the lights, I realised it was the bagpipe introduction of the White Stripes' live CD! The music was exactly the same (but then it was the bagpipes...).
* Last week I went to Myer to buy some travel accessories and a backpack for my trip. I arrived there to find 40% off travel goods. All right! Good timing, me! I got about $140 worth of stuff for $80, and I used a gift card to pay for $70 of it. I also got a $20 voucher for spending more than $75. Sometimes things just fall into place...
* Made up words. I made up a new portmanteau word - evilsome, which is awesome and evil at the same time. One of my Twitter friends used the word "whimmy" - in the mood to do something on a whim.
* Twitter helped me procure a gluten-free pizza while I was at the hospital. I idly tweeted "I wonder if I could get a gluten-free pizza delivered to the hospital?" A Twitter pal (the whimmy one, who is coeliac) replied with the details of a nearby place that does GF pizza. I rang them up and got it delivered. Never let it be said that Twitter is pointless.
* My friend's three-year-old son Nathan. He is such an adorable little boy. My friend told him I might be visiting and that I might be sad, and he replied with: "But Jayne is my aunty and I love her. She can't be sad if I love her." Aaaaws. My heart went melty. My friend tried to explain (as much as you can to a small child) why I was sad and he said that he would call Spiderman and ask him to look after my Dad. Gorgeous.
* Silly (and pleasantly distracting) Twitter conversations. I've been engaged in an ongoing exchange of words that sound dirty but aren't necessarily with one Twitter friend (eg flap, spatchcock). It's gone on for days and occasionally drawn in other participants. Juvenile, yes, but fun. I'm also constructing a Twitter fantasty in which I am Bionic Librarian, a cardigan-clad superhero fighting ignorance and stupidity with my trusty sidekick, Mysterious Library Aficianado (whose catchphrase is, "If you'd only read more books, I wouldn't have to kick your ass"), my Pearls of Destruction and Forcefield of Silence. Heeee.
* Saying "Laffter through tears is mah favourite ee-motion" (that's a Southern American drawl), a line from the movie Steel Magnolias, which I always think of when I laugh while I'm sad. There's been a bit of that lately, as you can imagine.
Last night I decided that I would write a post here every day until I leave for New York on May 14. And that's what I'm gonna do.