2019: Looking Forward

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Another year has come and gone. I don’t know where 2018 went. It seems like I had just settled into 2018, remembering to write an 8 instead of a 7, and suddenly it’s the end of the year. How did that happen? The older we get, the faster the years seem to zoom past. It really doesn’t seem quite fair, somehow. But as they say, time waits for no one. As we watch 2018 disappear in the rear vision mirror,  2019 roars into view. What will this new year bring? Will some pleasant surprises come our way? Will unexpected challenges throw a curve ball into our plans? Perhaps you have already started to make some New Year resolutions.

  I am not really one for making New Year resolutions. Despite our best of intentions, very few of us actually manage to keep our New Year resolutions. It’s so easy to get carried away by the buzz of the New Year moment, gazing optimistically into the future through a merry alcohol infused haze and make rash resolutions with almost no forethought and maybe even less foresight.  Resolutions tend to be all or nothing. You either keep them, or you don’t. There’s often no middle ground. When we fail to keep our resolutions – and you can bet that we will, because after all, we’re human – our failure can be compounded with feelings of resignation, hopelessness or even depression. It’s a win or lose situation, and most of the time, we will lose. We get tired or busy or distracted, and before you know it, our good intentions have hit the dust. It’s all over, red rover.

I think goal setting is a much better way of initiating change in our lives, especially change that is important for our health and well being. When we set a goal, we are setting a target to aim for. It’s not something we can achieve overnight, but something that can be achieved slowly, over the course of time. Slow change is often easier to implement and maintain in the long run. Sometimes there will be setbacks. Sometimes it might feel like one step forward and three steps backwards or vice versa, but on the whole, as we look back, hopefully we will see how far we have come.

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Setting goals requires a bit of forethought.  Resolutions often fail because we haven’t thought about why these things are an issue, why we have failed to keep them in the past, what motivates us to change and what are the likely challenges we will face. When we set goals, these are the very questions we need to ask ourselves so that we can map out a plan to strive for our goal. This is where we get down to the nitty-gritty of how we will achieve our goal.

We might break our goal down into a series of steps. This is something I learnt when Dan was very young and we were trying to help him learn basic skills for school and life. If necessary, we can even break down each step into mini-steps – baby steps. Baby steps are so much easier to achieve than giant leaps. And if we get to the end of the year and we haven’t quite met the goal, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The goal is still there. We can see the progress we’ve made. We can just keep going. Besides, sometimes the journey towards the goal can end up being just as important as actually reaching the goal.

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During this last week my inbox has been flooded with posts reviewing the year, celebrating achievements and setting challenges for the next year. And it seems I’m not alone in preferring to think in terms of setting achievable goals rather than making rash resolutions. Beth at Life…Take 2 and Itinerary Planner at Travel Itineraries, just to mention two, also talk about goals rather than resolutions. Funny how we can be on the same page and thinking the same thing at the same time.

Our goals don’t just have to be about achieving things like weight loss or increased fitness or career promotions. While these are all worthy goals, as we head into the new year we might also like to think about more family and community focused goals, like having more family time, showing kindness to strangers and patience to shop assistants, respect to our colleagues and forgiveness to family. Life isn’t always about being faster, stronger, higher but also about being kinder, friendlier, happier….

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2018 has been a year of ups and downs. We lost a dear friend to cancer on Easter Sunday and a family member passed away suddenly barely two months ago. We have had to deal with the stress of moving house and transition to university life. But there has also been the joy of Dan’s life growing to include new opportunities and the satisfaction of achieving numerous small goals.

Standing on the eve of 2019, we continue to look forward to whatever joys and challenges the new year will bring. As we set our goals for the next 12 months, we hope that 2019 is kind to you and that you experience the love, joy and hope of life in abundance.

Happy New Year!

Bowling for Cancer

 

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Sporting achievement is not something that I am known for. When the sporting genes were being dished out, I was at the back of the line and by the time I finally got to the front, well… there was nothing left. I don’t mind watching it, but years of compulsory PE lessons taught me that it was best to keep my lack of coordination and general all-round lack of anything even approaching sporting ability…to myself. So when I was invited to be part of a lawn bowls team for a social fundraising day, I was a bit dubious to begin with.  I had never played lawn bowls in my life and I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except that my grandfather used to play and it involved rolling some balls down a green.  But it was a social event and a fundraiser for cancer research, so hey, why not give it a go!

My husband Paul was our team captain and the only player in our team with any real bowls experience. He even has his own set. A couple of friends, who had played an occasional game before, made up the rest of the team.  So essentially, we were a team of hacks, which didn’t really matter as the first team we played against were also mostly a team of hacks. One of the girls was a complete novice – like me, and the two guys reckoned they had a practice session about five years ago. So it was a very entertaining and sociable round. 

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Throughout the afternoon the club was running a competition for touches. A touch occurs when your ball hits the little white ball, called the kitty. I was using Paul’s set of bowls, which were quite biased so I had to aim for the kitty on the green next to us so that the ball would swing in and actually stay on our green, rather than wandering off somewhere else. As it was my first time, I was just concentrating on keeping my ball on the green without going outside the lines or falling into the gutter, and then … I got a touch! And the prize for getting a touch?  

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  XXXX – an Aussie icon! You can’t get better than that! Considering I am not a beer drinker, this is actually quite funny. Paul later accused me of getting rather possessive about my bottle of beer, but considering it was the first time I had ever won anything for a sporting activity, I thought I was quite entitled to be a little possessive about it.

Our second round was against a team who had a little more bowling experience, however we managed to come out on top. And again, it was another enjoyable and sociable round. I was really impressed by the friendliness of everyone. Experienced bowlers were only too happy to give a few pointers and encouragement to those of us who had no idea what we were doing. This is one of the great things about a social day. Anybody can come along, learn a little bit about lawn bowls, have some fun and be part of a community project that is focused on supporting others in need.

After the two rounds we gathered in the club house for the prizes. Being a hack team we didn’t really expect to win anything, but, surprise, surprise  – we won second prize! I’m not quite sure how that happened. It looked like they were just drawing names out of a hat. I certainly don’t think it was on merit, but the fruit platters looked delicious and were very gratefully received.

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The social bowls day turned out to be so popular, they actually had to turn people away, which is a little sad in one way, but quite encouraging in another. Sometimes we can feel quite overwhelmed by all the bad news that flashes across our tv screens, but it is good to have our faith in humanity restored when we see ordinary people leading by example, coming together to have fun, to make connections and to show their support for others.

And as for lawn bowls? Who knows. Perhaps one day I’ll follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and take it up for real. I might even be lucky enough to win another bottle of beer. Cheers!

 

Hanging Out with the Boys

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Hanging out with your friends is something that most young people take for granted. Going out for a drink, watching a movie or cheering your favourite sporting team are all rites of passage on the journey to independence. Young people meet up, hang out and bond together spontaneously without hardly a second thought.

But if you’re a young person with a disability, it’s never quite that simple.

Dan has always had a positive relationship with his peers, with or without disabilities. During primary school, the other kids accepted Dan for who he was, included him in group projects in the classroom and invited him to the occasional birthday party.

Something changed though, when they all moved to high school.

High School is a Totally Different Ball Game

It goes without saying that high school is a totally different ball game to primary school. Having one main class teacher enables a much greater focus on inclusion than the wide range of subject specific teachers that occurs at high school. But something else happens too. Adolescence. 

Adolescence is one of the most trying and challenging times of a young person’s life. As they struggle with figuring out who they are and how to fit in, the kids with disabilities are no longer cool. It’s not that their attitude towards people with disabilities has necessarily changed. It’s just no longer cool to include the boy with autism. While they mostly still had a positive attitude towards Dan, the impetus to include him socially was no longer there.

I’m not blaming anyone here. It’s just what happens. And it leaves a lot of young people with disabilities isolated.

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People with disabilities want the same things that people without disabilities just take for granted – acceptance, friendship and a fulfilling life.

Despite having autism, Dan is very social. He loves being with people. He has a very loving and accepting extended family and he is always included in all family activities, but it’s not the same as having some friends of your own.

This is where the NDIS really comes into its own. You can read about our journey with the NDIS here. 

Prior to the NDIS, for Dan to participate in social activities, I had to tag along. Now that’s okay when you’re young. But having your mum tag along when you’re 20 something is not cool at all. Yet this was the case for many young people with disabilities.

The Boys Group

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With this in mind, families and Yellow Bridge got together this year to create opportunities for a group of young guys with disabilities, like Dan, to be able to socialise together informally. For want of a better name, we currently call it The Boys Group. Over the last few months, the guys have met each month and just hung out together. They’ve had dinner, played laser tag, watched footy, been to the circus and, later in the year, will be attending Shrek the Musical at the Empire Theatre.

Without the NDIS, this would have been impossible.

Without the NDIS, these guys wouldn’t be able to socialise together without having their parents tag along. Now they can hang out together with support workers, who are also young guys, just like them. I can never emphasise enough just how impressed I am with the number of young people I see choosing to work as disability support workers. It really warms the heart and instills pride in our young people.

The NDIS has come in for a bit of criticism of late, and sometimes, rightly so. But, it is early days. It was always going to be an ambitious undertaking to provide the financial support so that people with disabilities can lead independent lives full of meaning and purpose. There were always going to be teething problems and we just need to keep moving forward, working together to make it a reality.

For now, I am just grateful that Dan has the opportunity to be a typical young guy and hang out with the boys.

 

Walking Together in Grief and Love

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Our friend Barry passed away in the early hours of Easter Sunday. After a remarkably swift battle with cancer, we mourn his passing, yet at the same time, we are relieved that he is now at peace. We knew that the end was near. We hoped that his suffering would be over sooner rather than later. Yet now that it is here; now that he has left this life; we still feel stunned.

It feels almost inconceivable that we will not see his smile, or hear him laugh or see him tending the gardens of his hometown.

There are so many emotions swirling deep inside us – sadness, grief, pain and disbelief. We find it hard to adequately express all that we feel. We struggle to find the right words.

The Path of Grief

I ache for my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, for I know the path of grief all too well. I know the pain of losing your life partner, the one with whom you thought you would grow old and welcome grandchildren. I would change things if I could, turn back the clock, take away the pain, make everything better again. But all I can do is be her friend.

Every person’s journey of grief is different. The circumstances of every loss are never quite the same. Some know and have the time to say goodbye, while others reel with a sudden and unexpected loss. Yet some things remain the same.

We nurse a deep sadness in our hearts. We grieve the loss of the one we loved so dearly and who loved us too. There is a hole in our heart that can never really be filled. Every person in our life is unique. They each leave their own individual mark upon us. Other people will come and go in our lives. They will love us too and leave their mark upon us, in their own special way, but it won’t be quite the same.

The path of grief is hard.  There will be sad days when just the mention of their name will bring forth tears. There will be days when your heart will feel so heavy you can barely breathe. And there will be days when the pain of their absence will cut like a knife. These days will pass. There will be happy times too, when we reminisce, and laugh and remember all that they meant to us and we will treasure those precious memories in our hearts forever.

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I don’t believe we ever truly get over our grief. Life goes on – true. And we do go on, carrying our grief and loss with us, wherever we go. We go on, living and loving, because we know that is what they would want us to do. We go on, even though our lives will always be tinged with bitter sweetness. Every celebration, every anniversary, every special day will be happiness mingled with sadness as we remember the one who is not here.

The loss of a loved one becomes a defining moment in our lives. There is our life before, and then, our life after. Our life is different. We are different. We are changed forever, but we step forward into this new life, tentatively, sadly, but with hope because this is what life is – happiness and sadness, love and grief, hope and pain. To live a full life, we must experience it all – one day at a time.

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But we do not walk this path alone. No matter how sad and broken-hearted we might feel, we are loved more than we can ever know. Bound in love and friendship, we walk beside each other, sharing our joys and sorrows, wiping away each others tears and  holding each other tightly. We know that no words are needed, because a hug says more than a thousand words ever could.

Barry’s physical journey in this life may be finished, but he lives on in our hearts. We remember him with joy, give thanks for his life, and slowly step forward, to go on living in love and hope.

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