June 16, 2015

Dreams of the Dead

Shortly after my sister died I had a dream. It was unlike any dream I’d had before, or have had since. It was crystal clear and in full colour, with none of the sepia fuzz or blurred edges of regular dreams. It was absolutely indistinguishable from real life.

I was in a corridor at a party, surrounded by people, with music blaring. I looked up and I saw my sister dancing toward me. Tanya had been ill for years before she died, but in the dream she was healthy, beautiful, and radiantly happy.

She smiled at me, and we had a brief conversation, too intimate to be repeated here. But I said what I needed to say to her, and her reply was just what I needed to hear.

I woke up with an absolutely overpowering sense of having just had a conversation with my sister. Her voice rang in my ear, as real as the sounds you can hear now. It was odd and unsettling, but incredibly comforting to me.

I am not a spiritual person. I have never believed in the spirit world, or in life after death. I never for a moment imagined that I could communicate with my sister, and I’m still not sure that I did. But the dream felt like I had communicated with her, and it gave me the closure that I so desperately needed. It gave me a final conversation with my sister that I did not get a chance to have in real life.

Tanya has appeared in my dreams many times since, but never again in that same way. My dreams of her are often distressing; she is there, but I know that she shouldn’t be there because she is dead, and my dream self is confused trying to work it all out.

I asked friends if they ever dreamed of their lost loved ones and, overwhelmingly, they do. Some like D, whose husband died suddenly last year, have profoundly upsetting dreams in which their loved one is lost over and over again.  

“I'm always chasing him, begging him to come back, to stay with me and our three sons. He never answers my questions, never looks at me in these dreams. He just walks away and ignores my pleading. I hope to one day have a comforting dream with him in it.”

Others find their dreams to be uplifting, offering another glimpse of that deeply missed person.
“I recently renovated and moved into my late parents’ home,” says M, “and they visited me in a dream – they were so happy to be at my housewarming. I believe they were just letting me know they approve.”
And C, who dreamed of her late father when she was pregnant. “He came and sat next to me in his favourite tennis shorts, put his hand on my belly and told me we're having a girl and she will be fine. Two weeks later we found out we were having a girl and she is now almost seven. I believe dreaming of our departed is them coming to say hello.”

And yet many others, like me, feel bereft when they wake, as their conscious mind remembers what their dream state did not.

“It is comforting during the dream,” said S, who lost a parent, “but achingly sad when I wake and have to process the loss again.”

Of course it is sad. There is always going to be sadness in death. And I wouldn’t wish my dreams of Tanya away, not even the ones that cause me pain. It is okay for me to feel pain when I remember my sister, or when I conjure her in my dreaming. She was in my life for 37 years, and she will always be part of the fabric of who I am, whether or not she is still alive.

I’ve long since stopped wondering whether my initial, hyper realistic dream was anything more significant than just my brain grieving a loss. I know now that it really doesn’t matter. Whether it was my sister visiting me from beyond, or my subconscious being super kind to my conscious, is irrelevant. It helped me more than any grief counselling or sympathy. At the time it was just what I needed.

My sister is gone, but she lives on in my dreams. And I cherish that. It means she is still with me, that she is not forgotten. I hope that I dream of her for the rest of my life.

This column first appeared in Sunday Life magazine

June 12, 2015

Ask Me About Dating!

So... a couple of weeks ago I was approached by eHarmony to participate in a series of videos about dating and relationships. At first I assumed I was chosen because I am such an expert in matters of love and sex - after all, I have written extensively on the subject and been on about 17,000 dates with 16,999 different men.

As discussions continued, however, it became clear that the videos would feature a REAL expert in love and sex, and that I would be there as an example of someone who needs help.

Which is fine. Really. I'm totally cool with that. As is my cat, who will probably eat my body after I die alone....

Anyway. I like eHarmony. I've actually met a couple of really nice men through eHarmony (and one dude who turned out to be a complete and utter nob, but that really wasn't the fault of the website). And I'm excited to be meeting Melanie Schilling, the Proper Relationship Expert. I have all sorts of questions for her, like:

1. How long should you chat to someone before you actually meet them?
2. Do you need to give someone a reason why you don't wish to see them again?
3. Why was that dude such an utter nob?

Even more excitingly, as the video won't be shot for another couple of weeks, I can ask any questions that you have for Melanie. You can write them as a comment here on the blog, in Facebook or on Twitter, or email me directly if you want to remain anonymous, at k.sack@live.com and we will address them in the video.

For those of you who do not require dating advice, after you finish celebrating your paired-up status, feel free to ask me about my own dating experiences. I have some super interesting stories to tell.


June 10, 2015

12 Reasons An Electric Blanket Is Better Than A Man

  1. It heats up super quickly when you are in the mood.
  2. It never gets hot for anyone but you.
  3. It gets turned on even when you're in your old pyjamas and bedsocks.
  4. It exists purely for your pleasure and seeks nothing for itself (except power, which is kind of attractive).
  5. It doesn't complain that its legs have fallen asleep when you lie on it.
  6. You are its first. The warranty says so.
  7. When you need a break it will sit on the shelf and wait for you indefinitely
  8. It will never get you pregnant.
  9. It gives you exactly what you need when you are sick or cranky.
  10. It is adjustable.
  11. It is only very rarely combustible.
  12. It will keep performing for you until it dies.

June 1, 2015

Divorce. Marriage. Does it even matter?

Yesterday, I heard that two more couples I know have split. In that past six months, there have been five separations in my wider social group; in the past year, nine.

Now, you'd think that as a divorced woman I'd be delighted to hear of more women and men joining my ranks. More people like me! We're everywhere!

But in fact it deeply saddens me. I still very much want to believe that relationships can last the distance, that some people are gloriously happy in their marriages - or, at least, happy enough.

It's strange that this is so important to me. I am someone who fiercely believes that the value of relationships is not related to their length. A relationship is not invalid because it doesn't last forever. Some of my greatest friendships, and indeed my greatest romantic love, did not last forever. The fact that they had a shelf life doesn't at all change the profound impact those people had on my life, the tears and the laughter we exchanged, the support we offered each other, the experiences we shared together.

And yet I still want to know that some loves can last forever. I adore the idea of friendships spanning an entire life. I feel happy when I see an elderly couple holding hands and learn they have been together for seventy years.

I know some very happily married people and their happiness really does elevate me. There is something almost magical about a couple happily in love after twenty, thirty years. They are like a touchstone, proof to me that love can endure over time.

And every time I learn of another separation I feel pained, particularly when they are a couple I had thought were well suited. I feel sad for the kids, I feel sad for another lost touchstone, and, most of all, I feel sad for the partners. I know what they're about to go through. I know how rough it is.

Sometimes I even feel frustrated. When a person tells me that their ex is still their 'best friend', I don't quite understand why they would split. Wouldn't it be brilliant to be married to your best friend? Isn't everything else fixable? But I know - or at least, I remind myself - that separation is never the easy alternative. It comes at a huge price - socially, emotionally, and financially. No-one chooses separation without very good reason.

So tell me. Are you in a long term happy marriage? Do you know someone who has been happily married forever? Is there hope for marriage? And - most significantly - does it even matter???

May 29, 2015

Do you want to truly SEE yourself? Try this.

A few days ago I had dinner with a girlfriend who is also a single mum. She's recently starting dating a new man, and when she described him to me alarm bells started ringing. I could read between the lines, I could sense her tension and uncertainty, it was so clear to me the way she was compromising.

I didn't say much. It's not my place to challenge her. But it got me thinking about the numerous times close friends of mine challenged me when I was dating someone who wasn't good for me. The guy was a million shades of wrong, and was making me far more miserable than happy, but I couldn't see it.

And why not? Because it is almost impossible to see ourselves objectively. We are too caught up in our own heads.

Many of us are tremendously emotionally intelligent about other people. We can deconstruct their spin. We can analyse their motivations. We can cut through their bullshit. We can give advice! Fabulous advice! We can show them the way forward!

But when it comes to helping ourselves out of a quagmire, we are completely stuck. We can't see our own patterns, because they are the veil through which we view ourselves. It's like discerning the Matrix when you're living in it.

You can't know what you can't even perceive.

Recently I discovered a trick to help me see myself the way I can see other people. I've found it to be incredibly useful during those times when I have found it difficult to be objective about my own situation, in regard to a relationship, my career, a parenting issue or a personal decision.

I write down how I feel, what has happened, what I need to decide. I write it down in detail, in the first person, for example:

I'm sure I did the wrong thing. I'm sure this is going to ruin everything. I spoke to her, and she told me it won't, and so far nothing has happened, but no-one can come back from a mistake like this.

And then I go through what I've written, give myself a new name, and change it all into the third person.

Amy was sure she had done the wrong thing. She was sure it was going to ruin everything. She spoke to Sarah, who told her it wasn't going to affect anything. And, so far, nothing had happened. But Amy was sure no-one could come back from a mistake like this.

Then I leave it. I file it away and ignore it for a day or two. And then I come back to it, and read it as though it really was the reflections of someone else.

And I can see it for what it is. I can see that Amy is worrying over nothing. Nothing has happened, she has been assured nothing will happen, and yet she is still worrying. Clearly, her anxiety is the issue and not the mistake.

Then I realise, Amy is me. And it is me who is worrying over nothing. It gives me the perspective I could not possibly have about myself. It gives me the emotional intelligence, the insights, that I can only have about other people.

Next time you're stuck, try it. And for my friend the single mum, I hope you try it too. I can see things that you can't, just like everyone could see things about me. Now we just have to learn to see them about ourselves.

May 22, 2015

A Definition of Resilience

I started writing this post the other day. Usually I write posts in a few minutes in one go. If ever I don't finish a post it's because I know it's not working and I trash it.

But this post just sounded.... too depressing. And it's not meant to be a depressing post. It's an insight into something I've been thinking about a great deal: what it actually means to be resilient.

So I'm trying again, whilst I'm in a cheerful mood (coincidentally after a cup of tea and a slice of cheesecake).

To me, resilience is the effort it takes to keep pushing through when times are tough. It is the ability to get up and keep going instead of letting the difficulties beat me. I don't need to be resilient when things are going well. Right now I feel happy and relaxed and am not consciously calling on any coping mechanisms or willpower (other than resisting another slice of cheesecake).

I need to be resilient when I am sad or anxious or scared or exhausted, when I don't think I can cope but I don't have a choice.

And I don't have a choice. Very few of us do. There are days when I'd dearly love to just get back into bed and stay there, and days when I actually do hop into bed for an hour or two. But I always get up. I have to.

I'm sure you have to, too.

But as I said, resilience is an effort. It requires great energy. And anything that requires great energy is exhausting. Running a marathon is exhausting. Cleaning the house from top to toe is exhausting. And pushing through when times are tough is exhausting. Sometimes just getting through my regular routine on a day I feel particularly lonely or burdened takes a huge amount out of me. I collapse into bed feeling like I've competed in the Resilience Olympics, where the challenges are emotional rather than physical, and the only prizes are getting through the day.

I've been depressed in the past and, to me, being depressed is to lack the energy it takes to be resilient. When I've been depressed, I can't compete in that Olympics. I can't push through. I can't get through my tasks and win that prize.

A lot of us need to have a great deal of resilience. People all around you are pushing through their days instead of sailing through. Life is tough, and that's just the way it is. But let's all remember that being resilient takes a huge amount of effort, and to understand their exhaustion and to nurture them that little bit more.

And if they struggle, be there to help them through. Because no-one can compete in an Olympics without a support team, especially an Olympics of the soul.

May 21, 2015

Do You Know The Stuff I Don't Know?

I'm a reasonably bright girl, but my general knowledge is woeful. The stuff I don't know could fill an encyclopedia, though obviously someone else would have to compile it because I don't know very much.

I know a lot about certain things. I know pretty much every detail of my kids' lives, and that is a lot of detail. I know about my friends' marriages and my parents' friendships and why Simon Baker is currently in Australia. I know how to get burned soup from the bottom of a saucepan, what hair products are best for curly hair, and how to write a good circular conclusion to a blog post.

I know about social media and 19th Century literature and how to compose a haiku. I can recite the raps of Eminem and poems of John Donne and the entire script of Grease including musical numbers.

But I cannot name the capital cities of half the world's countries, and when I say 'half', I mean 'much less than half' because I'm so ashamed about how little I know.

I'm fascinated by people with tremendous general knowledge. I want to be them And I try, but the information keeps slipping from my brain. Interestingly, though, the names of every celebrity baby ever born are wedged there like blu tac.

But are certain types of knowledge objectively 'better' than others? Is my father the smartest man alive? And why are we wearing scarves?

These questions and so many more could fill an encyclopedia, but they are answered in the five minute video below:

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