Dying to Talk

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It has been a week of departure for many around me I care about. Deaths in the elderly, middle-aged and much loved pets. It has made me reflect once again about how we view death and how much the subject is still a taboo for so many.  Death is a given. Life cycles are ruthless, to be human is to witness this cycle in its many forms on a daily basis in Mother Nature; the dead fox in the road, the squashed snail on the path, the exhausted fly on the window ledge. Yet when it comes to the ones we love, there is a shroud of secrecy, an unwritten rule of not sharing how we feel, of being unable to cope, of burying the head in the proverbial sand.  

Once you have experienced the death of a close loved one, you are changed. It shapes who you are forever more.  My first encounter with the end of life was a school friend, aged 18. He was wishing everyone a ‘Merry Christmas’ from the window of his mate’s car when he fell out and hit his head. From joy to nothing in such a finite moment of time. His life lives on in another person due to the kindness and compassion shown by his family.  

My most desolate time was when my father died on 5th November 2014.  Ravaged by a fast-acting leukaemia, he went from being a tall, imposing figure of a man, to a whisper, a shadow of who he was on the outside, but the same stubborn old bugger on the inside.  We talked about death when we knew that his prognosis was terminal. I could not imagine the vast, emptiness I would feel once he had gone, even being prepared for it.  Death itself for dad, was peaceful, and I am grateful for that. I am also pleased I was with him every step of his illness until the last breath.  I found an inner strength that kept me going when many around me could not. I sought comfort in the small things in life, the glorious sunshine that summer, the outings to the pub, the humour from the transfusion nurses, the witty comments from my father.  Tiny, minuscule memories that created happiness in such a dark time.  I thank my wonderful friends who did not give me platitudes, but told me things straight.  No rose-tinted glasses were worn, this was a time to speak the truth, to be able to say all the things I needed to and a time to listen.  

After dad had died, I went to meet a wonderful lady, a friend of a friend, who, in her 70’s herself has spent many hours offering bereavement counselling to those in need. Many hours also spent sitting with those who were ready to go. She said to me that people were too scared of death to really talk about what was important.  Wise words.

What was important to me was that dad knew he had permission to go, that he was loved, that he knew we would be OK.  On seeing two friends go through the pain of losing loved ones this week, I was reminded that kind words are so special.  But any words are better than none at all.  To hide from those in pain is living in your own awkwardness.  Happiness is captured in the most bizarre ways when your world has turned upside down.  Say something…..

I champion discussing death, old and young, it is the ultimate event.  Let us embrace and celebrate a life lived, rather than hide from what cannot be changed.

To those who are grieving now, hold onto the memories, be thankful for what you have shared and don’t forget to talk …. Oh, and look out for the white feather. If you see it, it is yours, from them. No one else will notice that special white message falling for you.  Open your heart, open your eyes and open dialogue.

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

 

Unity in the Beautiful Game

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Human nature, particularly the southern-residing Brit’s nature, is to avoid talking to strangers, to avoid eye contact with anyone who looks like they may possibly want to engage you in conversation, to pretend to be in a highbrow discussion on one’s mobile…all to be allowed to get on with life unhindered.

Yesterday was different. Yesterday I spoke with many people whom I had never met and would be unlikely to do so again. It was a day of unity, a day of family, the Brighton and Hove Albion football family.   I immersed myself amongst the 6000 people who watched the most momentous monetary match ( love a bit of alliteration!) in our history at the gorgeous AMEX stadium.  People talked, had the classic ‘banter’ and togetherness that only something special can bring. I saw no nastiness, I witnessed no harsh words towards the fellow fan. It was the collective consciousness at play – the wartime spirit, the united front.

Post-match, deflated and in need of food, I stopped off at a local supermarket, only to come across other adults in BHA tops. We rolled our eyes and shared a few words. Even a small child in his top saw mine and did a sad face, thumbs down.  I accosted a lady unloading her shopping into her car, a total stranger. We stood discussing the match and our respective history of Albion support five to ten minutes. Unity.  Today when I eventually venture out into the later afternoon sun, to walk along the beachfront, once the daytrippers have returned home, I will again speak to no one. Back to normal in a very unnormal time.  The private southerner in her private world. And as for the team and the fans…As a former manager always said, “Keep the faith!”  

 

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY …. Win the PLAY OFFS!! SEAGULLS!

The Other Side of 90!

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With the Queen turning 90, it made me think about longevity.  She is still looking good, active and working for the realm. In a position of privilege, it is perhaps no wonder that she is able to maintain and sustain a life of duty, not having to do the everyday chores that the rest of us have to endure whatever the weather and how we feel.  My thoughts turned to my own grandparents. Both well into their 90s and both with health issues. One had a stroke five years ago, one lost an eye. With my grandad currently in hospital, my nan is at home.  She is not alone, there are carers and family running shifts to keep her company and sleep over.  Whereas grandad is on a ward with five other gentlemen of varying needs. A ward that is understaffed. A lack of people to cut up and assist with feeding the patients, maintaining dignity through even putting false teeth in for them. This is the reality of our 90s. My grandparents have celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary this year. They are lucky in so many ways that they are still together, getting by in their bungalow, with the support of their extended family – immediate family who themselves are now past 70. But everything is a fight. A fight to get help, a fight to get appointments, a fight to get heard. Far removed from the life of our Queen.  As our population ages what does the future for those of us in the boom years. It is a scary thought.

My hope for this week is a small one, I hope that someone can spend a little time with my grandad helping him get out of bed and walk again ….so that he can go home and continue life with nan. All the time he is bed-ridden through lack of staffing, he will seize up and the vicious cycle will continue. NHS staff deserve better.  Our nonagenerians deserve better too.
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

A Happiness Fund!

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So the UAE, the happiest nation in the Arab world,  has a Charter for Happiness and Positivity.  Stemming from that their theme park has recognised that staff work better when they feel happy and positive about life and have set up a Happiness fund which will offer support for major life events of the staff. A downside maybe that it is to be funded by the employees themselves rather than handouts from those in power. Nevertheless, any initiative to promote well-being can only be a good thing.

With the UAE launching its Ministry of Happiness earlier this year I do wonder if any other countries will follow suit! I can’t see any of our current political stalwarts fronting such a chamber when the mere word ‘politics’ drums up other words which are far-removed from positivity!

Something needs to change.

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

The Sound of Silence

 

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In our modern world, in our modern daily lives, who experiences silence? It is very easy to avoid that space in our world that promotes quiet, a stopping time where we are left alone to our thoughts and the inner workings of our minds. For some that is something to avoid, a place best left hidden as it is too difficult to face and embrace.  We can be silent, but the world around us has always something to offer, something to tune into, albeit manmade noise or the natural world. My favourite place to be to gain some semblance of peace is by the sea or the river. Watching the ebb and flow of the tide is my relaxing space, but it is far from silence. The noises of nature have a profound impact on my emotional and physical well-being.  I enjoy being still at home. A contemplative stare at a naked candle flame or a glance out of the window at the garden all give peace, but are we ever truly silent?

I am guilty of living too much in my head. A criticism I give myself, thinking too deeply about things, a constant mull of my virtual reality mind. Some people talk to their pets, I jabber to myself!

In a  Lifehack article, Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think,  by Rebecca Beris, it states that consistent noise can elevate our stress levels. Children can suffer from reading, attention and memory deficit due to noise pollution. For those kids who plug themselves into tech, music and television, where is the escape into silence? With experience in the developmental changes occurring in pupils over the past 20 years, I can see the huge impact our thirst for outside stimuli has had on minds and attitudes.

I fully advocate the need to introduce some quiet meditation within schools to teach a different way of being, to incorporate stillness into a very transient and busy world. We all need stillness, we all need silence. With no access to a truly silent world, learning how to switch off and cut off the outside world is a must. We have become so far removed from the world of our ancestors that I can only hope we find a pathway back to the simple, the free and just be.

Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything. John Grossman
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Spring Forward ZZZ!

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The usual ritual of clock re-setting occurred with gusto on all floors of the Hasted residence yesterday evening…about 8pm! In my head, I had given myself an extra hour in bed that morning to counter-balance what I was about to lose last night. There is logic there, promise!
I was surprised this morning when I woke about 8am, that I didn’t do the normal…ooo well, it really is 9am mental calculation in my head. I just thought, hurrah…it won’t be dark until later this evening. THAT is the joy of BST. The realisation that I can still do things in the evening without feeling like it is time to roll into the duvet womb as soon as I get home from work.
With that feeling of night-time hibernation at 5pm, our bodies are purely responding like our ancestors to the phases of the moon and sun. It is a natural process in our unnatural way of life. We have altered the timing of our body’s rhythm and we wonder why we have problems sleeping! I noticed that there has been research into how the change to BST impacts our well-being.
In an article from the Mail Online today, it says that research has shown that heart attacks increase during the spring time change, as well as more traffic incidents, injuries and general grumpiness! Ouch…..
It is not rocket science to understand that however we try to alter our lives, the pull of Mother Nature will always override the human need to control. With the joy of longer evenings comes the penance of feeling out of kilter for a while. On balance, I’ll take it! Welcome to happiness….spring is my time of year.

Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’ Robin Williams

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Mental Health of the Young

 

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It was interesting to read the article from the BBC News site that stated in its headline that we are in need of improving the mental health of children.  Who knew? After being amongst the teaching profession for the past 20 years, I have seen the impact of the modern world on staff, it is no wonder that now the attention has turned towards the pupils.  In highly pressurised age of data, league tables, budgets and expectation the teaching profession is in danger of losing those who joined for the love of imparting knowledge to the individual; of nurturing young minds to develop to be their best selves. Those teachers can see that the sheer enjoyment of being in the classroom with their class has been hijacked by the bureaucracy and heavy-handedness of an education system that is past its best and is in need of an overhaul to meet today’s way of learning.

It is this age of being accessible 24/7, of being accountable to everyone through technology, of having a more fragmented family structure that impacts on the children of today. Where can they get any peace? Where can they gain a sense of perspective when life gets so hard? Far too many people are there to offer an opinion, to wound and hurt via social media – it isn’t just adults who suffer the indignity of the keyboard troll. At least as adults we have built strategies to deal with all of this. We can turn off our tech (well….) we can retreat for some solitude, even if it is in our heads, whilst locked in the bathroom having a well-deserved soak.

What price do our children pay for the world that we have given them? There is less independence, more pressure to achieve, greater fear of encountering a huge debt to enter the world of further education – all things that I did not have to worry about.  With a nation who rely on drugs to try to regain a sense of equilibrium is it any wonder that this culture has fed down to the young people of today? I cannot see how this is sustainable moving into the future.  There needs to be a shift.

So what can we do for the next generation, the millennials? Well, I think that we can take a leaf out of the past. It is time to teach happiness, as this is one thing I genuinely feel is lacking within many of us.  We are more robotic in our habits and the work / life balance for many is totally skewed.

Imagine a waking unafraid of the day ahead, imagine being happy and content and knowing how to harness fear, use simple strategies to change your mindset. How powerful would that be? What if this was taught in school from an early age? What if we could re-shape the future generations to take control of their wellbeing?  Change moves us out of our comfort zones, it moves us on to better. But change is what we, as humans fight. I am worried about what comes next if something does not shift. Consciousness is happiness.

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Social Media – Happy Talk?

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With the increase in popularity of social media for those of a certain age, having an online presence is paramount. Whether it is new business, established bastions of the high street or just plain old Gordon Bennett ( one for the oldies!), being active on Facebook, Twitter et al is a given. But does this access to the world and its wife mean that we are seeking some kind of instant gratification? Is our inherent need to be liked further compounded by whether someone has liked / shared  / retweeted what we post? Is it bad for our health – ultimately, is it bad for our happiness?

I would like to think I retain a measured approach to the big business of social media. I do what I should for work and peruse at leisure for pleasure – mainly anything related to football and my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion. Even I, however, cannot resist an air punch if someone of note responds or retweets something of mine. It is like an acceptance. I am suddenly part of this gang, the online family that grants closer access to the rich, famous and infamous.

I have also seen the damage that can be done via posting online. The keyboard warrior who gains joy inflicting pain upon others through the vitriol of their words can create havoc and damage in a second. Their comments wounding a stranger without thought for the person involved. Of course there are those that court this kind of interaction and thrive on the ‘banter’ that ensues.  I have witnessed those who perhaps seek something else from their online existence, a cry for help, for friendship, an escape from their external world. When life is not in balance, when your core is not happy, social media can be both supportive, but also a dangerous attempt at self-medication.

As with all relatively anonymous offerings, posting can be cathartic to those in need, but also can compound the unhappiness in their lives. Why does everyone else seem to be having such a great life, yet theirs is so bleak?  Why does Joe Bloggs have over a thousand friends, yet they have just a hundred?  It is a facade and one that does not help those who crave a need to be wanted.  Sometimes, the only thing to do is to revert back to the good old days. Be friends with people in the real world and don’t worry about things beyond your control.  

Happiness cannot be found in others, it is within you!

 

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY