About two months ago, mid-August, a series of events happened which meant that my husband and I would suddenly be moving in two weeks’ time. I already had a fair bit on my plate at the time and moving was going to be another stressor. A week later, mid-move, I got a phone call that my grandmother who was in hospital in Canberra was doing badly and that my mother was getting on the next plane to see her. I panicked, and with everything else that had been piling up on my plate, I had my first anxiety attack in years.
Over the next days I was reassured that Nanna was doing better than we thought and that although she had work ahead of her she could get well again. Relief. Moving. My bleed. Two of my children’s birthdays to plan. When an opportunity to go on a women’s retreat in October came up I jumped at it. I booked and paid for it right away. I knew I was going to need some recovery from a stressful time.
On Thursday 24th September I rang my Nanna to gauge when I could come down to see her. Life was getting busy. Could I come down perhaps first week of November? I could hear in her voice that she didn’t think she would make it that long. I booked flights for first thing Monday morning. Saturday I got the call that she would be expected to be dead by Sunday. She wasn’t taking any more calls. I hadn’t had a proper conversation with her since June, and on the previous Thursday she could scarcely hear me or speak, it was a short phone call. I sent a text message written to her to my uncles to read out as my final goodbye. I was told she read it herself.
My mum called me early Sunday morning. Nanna had passed. I cancelled my flights and waited until I would hear about the funeral arrangements. Tuesday afternoon I was told that the funeral was planned for Friday morning. I flew out Wednesday night. Thursday was busy. Friday was fraught. It was the hardest day of my life to date. Saturday we began going through Nanna’s things, holding onto keepsakes, sorting other things into sell, donation, or bin. We were finished by Wednesday night.
I had been staying in my Nanna’s house with my mother that week. That was nice. It was a long, slow goodbye to the place and her things and the smells of my Nanna. I have two boxes of keepsakes still left there to collect at Christmas. My mum was leaving early Friday morning and I didn’t want to stay in the house by myself, so I left Thursday afternoon in tears to stay with a sisterfriend. I knew I had to buy a ticket home now that the work was done, but I also knew I needed some time to myself before I stepped back into the chaos of young family life. I booked a flight home for Saturday night, and booked myself into a five-star hotel for Friday night. I ordered room service, I watched a movie, I had a bubble bath, I read one of Nanna’s books. The next day I got a one hour massage and went shopping. Then I went home. I wasn’t ready, but I went. Straight back into it. A flat, depressed week where I could scarcely peel myself from the couch or bed. But I knew I had something special coming: the women’s retreat that I had booked a month earlier was that coming weekend.
I left Friday and I returned yesterday. It was a very much needed weekend for myself. Necessary. The first night I asked what I could do to contribute – washing up? I was told that I needn’t do a thing, everything would be taken care of. I could do whatever I wanted to do. Sleep, read, swim, hang out with other women, whatever. I did all of those things. I swum naked in the pool. I napped. I did yoga. I made jewellery. I ate the delicious food lovingly prepared for me. I sung with other women around the fire. I took an open air shower amongst fluttering rainbow lorikeets. It was bliss.
I made a bracelet to bring back with me to remind myself to make self-care a normal, natural part of my life. Not as a tickbox on a to-do list that will always find its way to the bottom of the list never to be ticked, but for it to be as normal as taking time to mow the lawn or plan the next family holiday. Self care needs to be seen as preventative to stress, and not just for when things get really bad. I am planning to work in some regular care for myself because it is essential to my wellbeing and by extension the wellbeing of my family.