Image by Gael McKenzie Photography
Juxtaposition is the noun that somehow best describes my “middle years”. Middle years, that is, in what is only assumed middle, due to my family’s ancestral longevity.
A couple of days before my 50th birthday, I left my job in a private mental health hospital in Sydney having worked there for a few years. The day after leaving, I boarded a plane to Johannesburg to start a new position with a non-profit organisation supporting impoverished children and young adults in the townships of South Africa.
What’s memorable about that birthday though, is not so much the celebrating of such a milestone with strangers on another continent, but the thoughts going through my head about what it meant to now be at this stage of my life. More so than at any other birthday. Was I half-way? Was it ridiculous to even contemplate another 50 years?
I can clearly remember thinking there was no way I felt egoically ready to be a grandmother yet, even though my son had by this stage been in a relationship for 6 or 7 years – and I could have been. I recall beating myself up about even having such thoughts. Surely it wasn’t that I was afraid of growing older?! Was that what my resistance was about? I had no idea.
And yet something extraordinary happened just 5 years later when my first grandchild was in utero. The minute I heard the news that my daughter-in-law was pregnant, I completely and utterly fell in love. My mind and heart were consumed just as when we meet the first love of our life as young adults. I felt like I already knew this little soul waiting to be born; such was the profoundly deep connection.
So even though I was only 5 years older, I was now 100% ready to be a grandmother. I have often looked back on that period with amusement, asking myself, how on earth did you go from “I don’t think I’m ready” to “I’m totally in love with my unborn grandchild and cannot wait for us to meet” in such a relatively short space of time?! And what I was left with in response, was so much more about the human embracing of the miracle of life and so much less about what age I was and whether I was ready. When the next generation of my blood line was about to come in, there was a biological shift beyond words.
I have 3 beautiful grandchildren now and I’m immensely grateful for the love I feel for them and the precious times we’ve spent together. Whoever would have known that just hearing the sweet sound of the word “Grandma” out of the mouths of babes could illicit such exquisite joy.
During the same period, my father was declining in mental, and eventually physical health. Many, many trips between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast eventuated in me becoming my parents’ primary “go-to”, even if none of us were ready yet to embrace the term “carer”. A significant five-year period once again, witnessing Dad in and out of hospital, and Mum becoming more and more distraught as she observed the man she’d loved since she was 16, deteriorating before her eyes. So there came a time when the roles felt reversed. I was called often when Mum was struggling to cope, and I jumped on planes regularly (and willingly) when I knew that just being there would somehow add value to my parents experience of Dad’s end of life process. They asked me to manage their finances when it became clear they no longer could – and everyday decisions, medically or otherwise – were overseen by me.
Eventually Dad was transferred from hospital to an Aged Care Home at the recommendation of doctors. Dad was falling often, and Mum could no longer support him physically at home. I had never envisaged this for either of my parents and the day Mum and I visited three Aged Care Homes to choose where Dad would now live, stands out in my memory as a shocker of a day. The silver lining was finding a home that was brand new, friendly and professional and Dad moved in a few days later.
That was Dad’s last house move. He passed 6 months later, and I remain eternally grateful to have been a part of Dad’s dying process. Towards the end, Mum and I stayed with Dad in his room morning, noon and night. While Mum slept on a camp bed, I slept in a chair by the side of his bed and when Dad opened his eyes during the night, somehow my eyes received the cue to open too. He would look directly at me, sometimes muster a half or quarter smile and then drift off back to sleep. On one of the nights that Mum and I were convinced would be his last, we quietly played his favourite music whilst we held and kissed his hands right through the night. Mum and I cried, we quietly chuckled at Dad’s resilience and we were all three together in this profound process of meeting death.
The peace surrounding Dad’s body when he passed was one of the greatest gifts ever. A lifetime of struggles vanished into thin air that morning. Finally, it felt like my Dad was free and I felt eternally grateful to the Great Spirit that embraced him and carried him home.
So the ancestral line continues… the elders passing on, the younger generations coming in. And I experience the “middle years” I referred to earlier, as juxtaposed between the absolute pleasure and pain of the birth/ life/ death process. Holding my eldest grandson’s hand as we walk and I introduce him to one of my favourite pieces of local land and we talk about the aboriginal people that inhabited the land so many years before us. Holding my father’s hand as he was entering another realm and wondering together who might be there to greet him; and hearing him call out to his mother. These are beautiful gifts beyond measure.
I’ve been photographing natural beauty for some years now. I share what I see through the lens with others via my photography website www.gaelsphotography.com.au and via social media: on my Facebook page – Gael McKenzie, Instagram @gaelsphotography and via my photography blog where I pair my pics with quotes of others that I aim to inspire with – https://gaelsphotographyblog.wordpress.com
I share what I see as my way of expressing thanks for what is in front of me. Life, through my eyes, is an absolute miracle and I humbly and naively express my appreciation through my photography.
Many moons ago I believed that life was all about setting and achieving goals. And that if I didn’t achieve my goals I was “failing”. Now, thankfully, I perceive differently. Having trained in Ontological Personal Development Coaching, I support myself and others to observe. To become curious. To invite. And also to surrender to Great Spirit. Ontology is the philosophy of the nature of being. Who am I being in this present moment? How am I showing up in the world? What support can I invite and from where? What can I change about myself? How can my “goals” then evolve naturally? And what can I let go of and surrender to a Power much greater than my mind? Please feel free to explore my coaching website at: https://youinsideout.com.au
When I’m not working, I’m often walking with my camera out in nature somewhere, which also brings me inspiration for contemplation, reflection, writing, creating aesthetic home space and connecting with like-hearted souls on this magical mystery tour we call LIFE.