Before I start, I need to mention how difficult I have found typing this. It isn't easy to recall moments that you know you will never get a chance to re-create.
I’m really looking forward to saying goodbye to 2017. I haven’t enjoyed it much at all. Life has a funny way of putting you down the path it wants you to travel. No matter how much you resist it, or try to oppose it, you’re forced down what is demanded of you by the universe. One thing is for sure, no one gets out of this life without experiencing extreme emotions. And I find comfort in knowing that all humans, at some point will have to face extreme emotions in their lifetime.
Robert Plutchik’s theory is based on eight basic emotions as outlined below. There are many other theories, but for now I resonate with this one. The inner most circle are the extreme emotions. I’m sure you can look at this and recognise where you are now and what you have felt in the past.
Looking at this image, I can easily identify the times I experienced most of the inner circle of emotions, except grief – until this year. This year was my year to face grief in the rawest form. To be honest, it’s the emotion I am finding most difficult to manage.
October 2013 my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung cancer which had metastasised to her bones ( her entire spine, shoulder and hips – to be exact). She was fortunate enough to be a candidate for a new type of drug, rather than chemotherapy. She got a good 18 months on that drug, and managed a strong and healthy life during that time. But then, as with most cancer medication, it wasn’t effective anymore, and she required more radiotherapy and a different type of medication, which did not work as well, and she lost more weight and was feeling defeated. As a Nutrtionist, all I wanted to do was nourish my mother back to health. But I knew it was a difficult battle, and not one that I (or any medical professional) could win.
By Machine Elf 1735 - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13285286
I recall my mother loving food, the flavours, textures, different condiments with all her meals. She was a fan of complex flavours and unusual ingredients. A favourite – which I didn’t enjoy much – lamb casserole with prunes and dried lemons. Trust me, it sounds hideous and tastes weird! But she loved it, and she would enjoy it with a spicy pickle of some sort. However, when she became ill, her tastes changed dramatically, and she found it challenging to eat. Her love of food was diminishing. Her love for life was diminishing. My zesty mother was fading.
If anyone has any experience with Lung cancer, you will know it can has very dramatic changes in a person day to day. From breathing normally yesterday, to laboured breathing today and requiring oxygen tomorrow. Mum was dying in front of us. I hated the way she was so emaciated and weak. You have to understand, my mum would walk around the parklands behind her house twice a day. She would even jog. She would never take time to sit and relax, she was either fixing something or out an about in the city. Whilst her brain was still sharp it was devastating seeing her bed ridden. She could not walk, 3 steps, with an oxygen tank without feeling like she was going to collapse. In hospital she remained for 6 weeks from October to December 2015. During this time, I would deliver meals to her daily. Broth and a proper meal plus a freshly mixed juice. Her oncologist always checked to see if she was eating properly to ensure she could survive long enough to receive the new drug that was on its way from the UK. Two days before her 75th Birthday she was lucky enough to receive the trial drug – one of two people in Adelaide to receive it. Within 48 hours, she was breathing normally and able to speak without running out of breath. I can honestly say, this drug was a MIRACLE. I have never seen anything so powerful. She was discharged two days later and started to get her strength and a little of her appetite back. However, in the back of all our minds, was the reality that one day, the miracle drug would no longer work. For my mother, that time was exactly 12 months later.
From the moment I learnt of mum’s disease, I experienced most of those emotions in Plutchik’s wheel. However, on the 25th of May 2017, I was to experience grief like I have never felt before. On the 26th of May, I experienced grief. On the 27th of May I experienced grief. At my mother’s funeral on the 29th of May, as I lay letters from my daughters on her grave, my sadness was taking over every cell in my body…and I’m still sad. Some days are okay, and I manage, and as the days progress I learn to live with the grief. I think about my mother daily. I have cried a few times at my local Woolies, at school drop off, at the coffee shop and many times in my car & in my home listening to her favourite songs. There were moments when I wondered how the hell I would get past the grief and when I would feel better. Well it’s been just 5 months since she passed away and it has not got any better. It’s just not as raw. The wound is not as exposed, it is slowly healing but there will always be a scar.
My mother said to me,
You water the garden when there are plants and flowers to enjoy; for once they are dead you will be wasting the water.
I can’t tell you how true that is. While she was alive, I did as much as I could for mum, even though we lived in different states. When I was with her, I was 100% with her. I would return home to my own family exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally for days, and then I’d repeat the whole process again weeks later. I went to many oncologist appointments with her, held her hand as I tried to re-explain what the doctor had mentioned. I would take her where she wanted to go, we would sit in the sun together, I would cook for her and shower her. I would massage her every night I was with her. I can actually take myself back to those moments and feel her skin, her bony back and my fingers pressing into her flesh. Her warm smooth skin, drinking the oil as I helped relieve the tension in her lower back. She whispered, “I feel so safe with you Vicky”. It was like looking after a child, and I’m sure she felt like one in those moments.
As I write this, with my heart open to you, tears streaming down my face, there is an upside to my grief. You see, a few months before mum passed away, I told her I was working on a new business idea. A business that involved using my knowledge and experience in nutrition. What good is it having knowledge if you can’t share it with people? So instead of spiralling into depression from my grief, I decided to move it into a productive form of serenity and love (see Plutchik’s wheel).
I have written a recipe book for patients suffering from diseases like cancer, patients who have had surgery or those living with chronic side effects from medications. This book, Stairway to Health is available from my site, and it's loaded with easy meals that are nutrients dense, designed to help the body repair and return to some state of health and wellbeing. The book is categorised by side effects of illness/surgery/medication to make it easier for patients to navigate and find a recipe suitable to them. All the recipes were trialled by my mother - and she provided feedback in the nicest possible way.
I have started a catering business aimed at delivering only nutritious and organic meals to people who need good food. No disrespect to other companies in the market place, but my mother would gag at the sheer sight of their meals. My specially designed organic meals are delicious, highly nutritious and use ingredients that assist with particular side effects, ranging from nausea, change in taste, loss of appetite, dry mouth or difficulty swallowing. Vegan, Vegetarian, FODMAP, sugar free meals are available, as well as meals for those who can’t chew or have a dry mouth; those who need low sodium, high calorie and much more.
I do need to mention that while nutrition alone is not enough to cure a disease like cancer, it is essential that the body receives the right nutrients to assist the body while it is undergoing cancer treatment. Gone are the days where people can turn a blind eye and say ‘Nutrition means nothing” or “Food plays no role in a positive outcome”. Doctors are not even saying that. My mother’s oncologist was a huge supporter for proper nutrition. There’s a plethora of research that advocates proper nutrition during cancer treatment. And if a doctor suggests that nutrition doesn’t play an important role, I suggest finding a new doctor because they’ve just failed Biochem 101.
My mother’s initial prognosis back in 2013 was 3-6months. Because of her optimal nutritional state, and her cancer type she was a successful candidate for medications that helped prolong her life – for an extra 3 1/2years. To the doctors that helped my mum, thank you – to the pharmaceutical companies that provided the medications, thank you, and to my mum, who ate everything I prepared and kept her nourishment up, thank you. Ultimately, the disease took over but I know that mum amazed a few oncologists with her longevity of life.
Finally, as I have found a positive outlet for my grief, by helping provide meals to those who need it, or educating people on what to prepare, there are still times when I lapse into sadness. There’s a wonderful poem written by Rumi that does help to realign my emotions a little and force me to recall how this grief has made way for better things.
The Guest house - Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
My grief has violently swept my "house" – but it has definitely cleared me out for a new delight - by helping others have more time with their loved ones. I hope to move towards serenity in the near future.
For mum…I think of you every day. At night I dream of hugging you again. My success is for you.
September 2016 1974 1977
I'm a lover of fine food, amazing cheese and sharing with people I love.