Tough Cookie Travels 🌎✈️

Tomorrow morning the Tough Cookie is taking her Dad off on an adventure to one of her most favourite, treasured and special places she has ever visited – Medjugorje.

This place I and so many call ‘Home‘, is hard to sum up in words, to explain and to understand. It’s an Experience and I guarantee you one you’ll have never witnessed before. This magical land is full of miracles, blessings, healing and light.

I’ve shared memories previously of the signs I’ve received while there of butterflies, the sun, the peace and feeling my beautiful mother close by me. For the last three years I’ve been trying to get my Dad to visit Medjugorje but one vital element was missing. I always said he’d have to go on his own with a group for his first visit. To my disgust I used to believe that we would ‘kill’ each other if we went together. How dreadful to even say those words never mind think them. That WAS the space I was in, full of grief for my mam’s death, in pain, angry and confused. Sadly I took this out on my Dad, the one person closest to me and whom I love above and beyond. It is so so true that those closest to us we can at times hurt the most.

Thank God I ‘saw the light’, I can now see clearly, I unravelled those blockages and continue to do so each moment of each day, we can be so blinded, so unwilling to go inwards, self-reflect and instead blame others around us, blame life for not working out, for feeling stuck etc

I, the Tough Cookie had to be weak, be vulnerable, to breakdown in order to rise again, to find clarity, to want change, transformation and to feel love, peace and light in my life once again.

My prayer, faith, trust and determination has helped me with this and I must add along with very special family, friends and strangers I’ve met along the way. Courses such as the Landmark Forum has helped me to take action, to create magical and magnificent possibilities for my life, my future and those BIG dreams I am manifesting into reality.

I feel fully blessed and grateful for my life, for myself ‘Deirdre Nicole Ward‘ for the first time in a long time (if not ever!!)

I am taking a well deserved break from my Tough Cookie Blog, from work, from my busy schedule to make Magical Memories with my Dad, to feel at ease and peace and to live every second fully this next week.

I look forward to sharing my trip with you all on my return. And remember you’re ‘One Tough Cookie’ 💪🏻🍪💜

LIFE 🙌🏻🌸

DEATH – it is a five-letter word with millions of emotions, heartaches, and tears behind it. Death was something that I wasn’t very familiar with in my younger years. Of course I knew people who died and had friends who experienced death in their families, but I was lucky that death never really appeared at my front door step. I didn’t know the tragic feelings behind the word. The first 24 years of my life, death was simply just that five-letter word.

September 3rd, 2016 was the day that death finally appeared at my door. Actually, it was more like death broke down my door and ripped apart my life, as I knew it. My Mom took her last breath on this earth. To say my world was shattered is a huge understatement. I was broken. I had never felt this amount of sadness and heartache before. I wasn’t prepared for how death really felt. It was an emptiness that I felt so deep into my soul I wasn’t sure how or if I would ever be able to fill it.

It’s been almost two years since I lost my mom and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and wish I could hear her sweet voice just one more time. Two years might not seem like a long time for most people, but it seems so long since I last held my mom’s hand in the hospital on September 3rd, 2016. I think anyone who has experienced death in his or her family knows that it’s not easy to fill the emptiness feeling. I have to admit that it still feels like a struggle for me some days, but there have been things I’ve done that I truly feel has helped me.

After my mom passed I started a new career. This wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I wasn’t extremely unhappy at my old job, but I felt that change would help me take my mind off of the sadness I was feeling. It created new challenges for me and also gave me the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. I continued teaching fitness classes. This would have been something so easy for me to give up on because of the amount of energy that goes into it, and after my mom passed, energy was something that I lacked. However, getting back into teaching helped uplift my spirits and surround myself with people who wanted to better their lives. I spent time with my family, boyfriend, and friends. In some moments it was hard for me to get out of the house but I never regretted a single time that I did. Of course there were times that I forced myself to go out with friends or be with family, but it was good for me to interact with others and it gave me chances to talk to others about my mom and how I felt.

I have learned a lot about myself after death ripped apart my life at a young age. I had to be strong in times I felt like giving up, create new challenges for myself to keep my mind occupied, and focus on life instead of letting death consume me.

Death is something that everyone will experience at one time or another, but it’s important to focus on the things, other than sadness, that death brings. I have 24 years of cherished memories with my mom that no one can ever take from me. I choose to live every day making my mom proud of the woman she raised and the person I have become. I am not going to let death define the person I am today because I am choosing to focus on a four-letter word that means more to me, which is LIFE.

Survivor 💪🏻

Thanks to another Tough Cookie for sharing their story 💪🏻🍪

I was asked to write this post on Father’s Day. In truth, I’ve stopped paying attention to when Father’s Day comes around each year, since I haven’t celebrated in five years now. This isn’t going to be a typical story of the loss of a father through an untimely death—indeed, my father is still alive. This story is more about the loss of innocence, the loss of youth, the loss of a feeling of safety and trust, and the loss of my relationship with my father. But more importantly, this is the story of what I gained.

My family was never wealthy growing up. We were middle-class, but it always seemed that we were on the brink of some kind of financial ruin. There were times when my parents struggled to pay the mortgage, though we always got by somehow. My sister and I were both in the honors system at our schools and fully expected to go to college, so the promise that our parents made to us was that as long as we were in school we would be able to live at home with them for free. I grew up less than three miles away from Arizona State University, one of the largest universities in the United States, and since we qualified for in-state tuition, my sister and I both saw this as our most affordable option for our bachelor’s degrees.

My sister graduated from ASU in 2010, the same year I finished high school and subsequently started my college career. For the next two years, I was studying and my sister was working. Then, in 2012, my sister applied to graduate school in Chicago and was accepted, even offered an enormous scholarship. Our mother was so proud of her. Our father was furious that she was leaving.

There had been tension between my parents for a long time. Their fights were loud and long, and almost always about money. When they fought, my sister would come to my room or I would go to hers and we would wait the fight out together. Sometimes the fights were so bad that my father would end up sleeping on the couch. The fight on April 1, 2012 was different, though. That was the day my parents’ 29-year-old marriage ended. It was the day before my 20th birthday.

2012 and 2013 were two of the hardest years of my life. My mother, my sister, and I discovered things about my father that we’d never known: trauma from his childhood, the depth of the history of mental illness in his family. And we uncovered things that he’d hidden: an emotional affair with another woman, though he swore he had never been unfaithful to my mother; secret credit cards in his name that my mother didn’t know about. To me, though, the worst was the secret that he had kept about the house. For several months even before April 1, 2012, he had stopped paying the mortgage. By the time he had moved out, the house was in foreclosure and the rest of us didn’t even know. The house had originally belonged to my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and both my sister and I had lived there all our lives. The bank took possession of it in December 2013, just a few days before Christmas. By that time, the divorce had been finalized and none of us had spoken to my father in months. I was on my last year of my bachelor’s degree, and my sister had moved to Chicago for grad school.

I graduated from ASU in 2014, on-schedule and with honors. I lived with my mother the last two years of college, and in spite of the foreclosure on the house we were able to avoid homelessness and even keep all of our pets. We had been living in survival mode for two years, and finally we had a bit more space to breathe.

I never cease to be amazed by the things that hindsight can reveal. I had a happy childhood, but it wasn’t until after I was away from my father’s influence that I saw many of his behaviors for what they were. He never hit me or did anything physically inappropriate, but there was no way for me to deny any longer that there had been emotional abuse. His favoritism of my sister got more and more obvious as we got older. I had loved my father, but it had never truly occurred to me how much I also feared him. I feared his temper, his disapproval, but perhaps my biggest fear was just that he would never notice me. Acting out was a sure way to bring down his wrath, so instead I tried to model myself after my sister, since she seemed to enjoy his unconditional approval. It wasn’t until I no longer had a relationship with my father that I felt free enough to try and be something different. Now, five years later, I can be myself.

I don’t regret my decision five years ago to stop having a relationship with a man who was a toxic influence in my life. I don’t believe that my father ever intended to hurt me, but the fact is that he did. Maybe someday I will make the decision to allow him back into my life. I don’t know that yet. What I do know is this: the worst time in your life can turn out to be the best thing for you. Survival mode is temporary. All bad times eventually come to an end. Sometimes we have to make choices that cause us as much pain as the circumstances that led to it. Nothing gives perspective quite like hindsight. I wouldn’t trade the things that have happened in my life in the last five years for anything, the good and the bad.

The good things have given me joy. The bad things have given me strength.

The ‘Mind-Gym’

Take a look around you, how much longer can you live this way, trash on the floor from weeks before, just gets deeper by the day,
Can’t let go of that foolish pride, you keep it locked up inside,
time to face the pain, stand up and cry like a man.

(Song by Christy Moore)

 

As an Irish male, I can’t say I have had too many conversations with friends exploring inner pain or insecurities. These areas were never discussed when conversing on the sporting issues of the week, gym memberships and female troubles.

This changed for me when I decided to take a trip to what Ireland rugby head-coach Joe Schmidt calls the ‘Mind Gym’. I felt I was fairly content in my life, I had a job I liked, sporting pursuits and an active social life. I was content. I had no reason to believe otherwise but I had a nagging empty feeling inside me that just wouldn’t go away. Behind the short term euphoria of alcoholic beverages and winning sporting bets, I was left with a sense of exclusion from the world and a rhetorical question playing in my head “life, is this it?”. I was far from depressed but I just wasn’t happy and hugely unfulfilled.

I couldn’t put my finger on why I had these feelings but I took the decision to pursue a course of therapy. My first few sessions were intimidating as I was unaware how to approach the process of dissecting my life events with a stranger. This stranger has since become a very close confidant. I stated my fairly moderate achievements both professionally and socially in my opening session,unaware of a deep hurt which lay much deeper inside me.

I slowly began to realise a lot of the anger I had in my life was as a result of hurt and pain I had experienced in my youth. When it is not properly managed, hurt turns to anger. This anger can lead to anger management issues for some or in my case suppressed anger with an inability to fully express emotion. My hurt came from certain elements of what was in many ways a mundane childhood. Some of the hurt revolved around a serious illness suffered by a family member. The sickness was long term but thankfully not terminal. It was harrowing and led to one of my closest relatives defying the odds of doctors’ opinions on a regular basis throughout long hospital stays. It was difficult for the family unit to accept or understand why sickness had visited our doorstep. It was incredibly traumatic for everyone.

It was difficult for the sick person, it was difficult for my extended family and it took me a long time to realise it. . .but it was difficult for me too.

I was left not knowing if a cornerstone of the family would be taken away overnight. I had anxiety issues which I didn’t share with anyone as I didn’t want to cause additional stress for anyone close to me who had enough to deal with. I didn’t behave like most adolescent boys who often seek to break rules or physically express themselves as I feared it would cause more heartache to a strained family unit. I felt a huge sense of pressure not to cause any upheaval. I struggled with self-confidence and felt the ridiculous male social pressure to ‘toughen up’.

I found it difficult in later years to build and sustain friendships with males,and loving relationships with females. I couldn’t understand why I had this deep protective mechanism to stop myself getting close to others. I seemed to associate closeness with sickness, anxiety and hurt.

I am emotionally wounded but it is healing,I am still a ‘work-in-progress’ but I am a much happier ‘work-in-progress’ and it has certainly given me a more positive outlook on life and a ‘fuller’ experience of those I care about and love.

I write this as I feel most, if not all men have a similar hurt inside them from the different life scenarios and family situations they have encountered and through no fault of their own, carry these wounds. Developments in our youth can halt our growth and often give men a fear of bonding and commitment later in life. In a ridiculous alpha-male culture where the nonsensical ‘big boys don’t cry’ mantra reigns supreme, men have never understood their own hurt and the major shame is that they have never taken the time to examine this hurt either. It has led to major issues of immature behaviour, addiction and failed relationships.

I call all men to action and encourage close females and males to support other men in this attempt to locate the hurt which will take these painful shackles off and allow males to become more emotionally available to those close to them. The hurt is there in some way for all of us and we need to tend to it as if were a physical wound.

Sticks and stones may break your bones. . .but words will help to heal your inner wounds.

 

(Extract from poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all about you,

are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

but make allowance for their doubting too,

if you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,

if you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,

if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

and treat those two impostors just the same.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,and—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

A Mother’s Mission 💜

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The Tough Cookie has opened up the Blog for other Tough Cookies out there to share their stories. Thanks to this mother for sharing her Story about some of the challenges that face her as a mother, her daughter and whole family unit.

My Story:

I’m not going to lie to you the past couple of days have floored me but I have to believe in myself and do what’s best for my child. If I don’t fight for her and be her voice who else will? So I’m educating myself so I can be a better mother to her and be able to stand up and say hold on- “Just because they don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist” I have never seen a billion euro, yet it exists!! 😂😂

I’ve come to the conclusion that they are inexperienced in picking out the signs of ASD within their school for one of two reasons, girls mask their needs. They imitate their peers so that they fit in **We are a very clever gender**!

Girls don’t tend to have behavioural problems in school as they again don’t want to stand out and be different from their peers. School is a safe place for them as it’s a part of their daily routine. They may not be coping very well underneath the surface and once they leave the premises of the school they are fit to burst. It’s like a balloon filling up all day, eventually there is no more room for air to go into this balloon. It can only mask the symptoms for so long until finally it goes POP. That is normally at home within their home settling where they are most comfortable and able to be themselves. Then take the child out of the home and try and get them to do an extracurricular activity while this balloon is ready to pop the result being that they are over stimulated ready to fight. They will shut down, not engage and lash out. We are parents, who know our children best and I have always known that something in my gut told me that my daughter’s behaviour wasn’t normal behaviour. ❤️❤️❤️

I don’t blame the school for not recognising the symptoms as it’s not very common for a girl to be diagnosed at such an early age. Its nearly always presents in preteens and early teenage years. Most girls will be diagnosed with depression and anxiety first before they will be diagnosed with Autism. So for me to recognize my daughter is different at 6 well really at 3years of age as my concerns started then. It took me three years of waiting for other people to recognise the signs, I was waiting for approval and acceptance that something wasn’t right but I didn’t get it from anybody apart from one doctor who suggested we get her assessed. That was last September. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and explore all avenues.

Did I think we were going to come to the conclusion of Autism? Not at the beginning but I had some suspicions over the past couple of months as she wasn’t engaging or expressing herself in certain situations and she would pick and choose who she would speak with.

I knew selective mutism and autism didn’t go hand in hand but I have asked my OT since December do you think it could be ASD after 6 sessions and an assessment with her, she agreed yes there is something more! To hear it from a psychologist that I am very right and on the button with this at this very early age I should feel like I have achieved this mission but instead it had the opposite effect – the realisation that it’s true and it isn’t just me.

So here is my story and I’m not finished this journey I’m only at the beginning. I know,we will have to conquer challenges on the way and meet some unsupportive people.

My new motto is: “just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean is doesn’t exist”

 

Dear Mam 👼

Dear Mam,

I can’t believe 3years have passed since you left your Earthly body here with us. It seems longer but also just like yesterday. Time is strange. I know you are right beside me each and every second of each day and for that I am truly grateful. I know you have not and could never leave me or any of your friends/family. 

Thank you for all the little and ‘big’ signs you have given me and continue to bless me with. The feathers, the light/sun, the moon/stars, the songs, the phrases/quotes, the people and so many other signs you grace me with. I’m sure there are plenty more at times and I haven’t my eyes fully opened! They always bring such peace, comfort, love & happiness to me. Yes I won’t lie at times sadness comes along with them and that void within my heart aches. Sadness because I miss your Earthly hugs, your voice, your smile and love. 

I was so very lucky to have you as my mother. I wouldn’t change a single day and it’s very strange but I know that I had to loose you here in this life for so many personal, important life lessons and special reasons that have been invaluable and you know as well as I do why this had to happen. Of course it was the scariest thing and at the time the most horrendous experience but I’m so grateful for the time I did have you and for all the gifts/happiness/love you brought to my life. 

The memories that are most prominent in my mind are those of basketball matches. You were mine and the girls number 1 supporter and would never miss a match if at all possible. I will always remember you standing up on the balcony in the tech in Killybegs shouting “Yes Deirdre, go go go!” Cheering us on and encouraging us always. Maybe I didn’t tell you enough back then how much it meant to me and how proud I knew you were of me. You believed in me. 

Memories of family holidays to France will always remain in my mind. We had such fun exploring markets, towns and enjoying the sunshine. You loved to relax and read a good book. Our holidays always had sporting activities and a sense of fun/excursions. You loved keeping active and fit/healthy. Holidays were always  relaxed, family orientated back then. You really instilled in me the importance of family time, talking and enjoying other’s company. Seeing as one of the rooms in our house is called ‘The Family Room’ where I remember playing board games and card games, it was always an important aspect to have in our family. Thank you for teaching me the value of family time and the importance of it. 

I loved being off school and being sick! Those days I loved because you took extra care in looking after me! You made sure you went above and beyond to add simple little gestures of kindness and love e.g. My favourite food, extra hugs, cosy blankets etc I miss hearing your term of endearment “Dote” every day. You always expressed your feelings & love each day and again thank you for showing me the importance of being open and honest. 

You were such a wonderful daughter to Granny, caring for her for half of the year in our home for many years. You never once complained and even when Granny developed Alzheimers and didn’t recognise us anymore you never grew tired/weary or became fed up. You showed what true love is like and you taught me compassion/empathy and tenderness. You gave your whole life to everyone around you out of love. 

You were such an intelligent woman especially with a mathematical/scientific mind. One I definitely don’t have!! You helped me study for my exams and made my work easier to comprehend in a simple way. You had bucketfuls of patience and just wanted the very best for me. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time!! 

Some of my fondest memories in more recent years are of lying in bed beside you helping you with your crosswords, sudokus and wordsearches. Even when you were so sick you still exercised your brain and wanted to keep learning! You were one Tough Cookie ( as you always called me!) I’m sorry that at times I refused to listen to your worries and fears during these special moments about dying. I was too afraid to listen and didn’t want to face up to the reality of loosing you. I also wanted you to keep fighting and not to be afraid. And fought to the very end you did! 

Thank you for shaping me to be the woman I am today. I see so much of you in myself and I am so proud to be able to say that. You’ve taught me love, honesty, integrity, faith, compassion, determination, the value of struggles/pain, tenderness, selflessness, the importance of friends/family and to enjoy my life to the full/be grateful for the simple pleasures in life. 

You have been and always will be my inspiration. I had to loose you, my best friend, my mother, one of the people whom I love the most to really open my eyes to WHO I AM, to really begin LIVING the life I want and to see how precious life really is and the little time we spend here. 

Love you Always, Until we Meet Again. 💓👼🌟💓 

‘Your Deird’ x x 

‘I Want To Take You To The Island’ 


Yesterday I took a trip with my Dad into his homeland that is the picturesque Island of Arranmore off County Donegal. I hadn’t been in on the island for quite a while and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. 

The ferry from the mainland/port takes roughly fifteen minutes to reach the island. From the moment we walked onto the ferry we bumped into two first cousins of mine whom I had not seen for a few years. It was heartwarming to see the joy that my dad felt having the ‘craic’ with his nephews, reminiscing and laughing about older days gone by and the usual chit chat about certain islanders dead & alive! 

We were blessed with the weather and got to spend some time on the beach, strolling around meeting people and taking a drive. My dad wanted to visit the graveyard during the trip yesterday. We visited those graves of loved ones passed over such as granny, grandad, aunts and uncles. My dad pondered at various graves of people he had fondly known and I sensed a deep sadness within him to see so many names on graves of these certain people he had grown up around. 

We took my niece and nephew on a drive around the island and on route we got a ‘tour’ of whose house was who’s, how Dad walked across a lake that was frozen in his youth, pointed out the memorial that represents all the islanders that emigrated to Canada years ago etc We went to see the lighthouse and the beautiful rugged cliffs along the coast. It felt like I was on the edge of the world and that America would be the next stop! 

In my opinion it’s so unique and refreshing to go to a community/place and to know most people you meet, to make connections with various generations and to be well known wherever you wander. My dad doesn’t take frequent trips but this fact always remains. I can always see a change that comes over him whenever he is back on the island, he has more life in his soul and a sprightly step to his walk! 

At times I feel ‘out of place’ on the island and feel that few know me/recognise me. This is no fault to anybody but my own. My sister has always loved the island, going in most summers and being the fun loving, energetic and occasionally ‘loud’ (she’ll kill me for saying that!) personality that she is everyone knows her and who she’s connected to! (She also married into a family that have big island connections!) 

For some it’s an island of partying with plenty of pubs and no sign of the guards to ‘shut’ them down. The partying can go on well into the ‘wee’ hours! I feel I viewed it as just that for so many years and for me, (not being a big drinker) that is why I didn’t visit more often. 

Yesterday changed my view. I now see it for being full of family history, an idyllic place for some R&R, when the weather is good there’s no better place for a family to come to be beside the sea and enjoy the simple way of life. 

I want to hear more stories about my Dad’s youth, see the various places around the island that hold dear memories for him, meet more of the islanders, hear their yarns and appreciate this simple way of life more. Our lives are full of technology, stress, big expectations and it can be a very fast paced way of life. Go into Arranmore to reconnect with nature, with the beauty of this Emerald Isle, with hard working islanders and to escape the ‘madness’ of our world for a while! 

“Appreciate your past & your family history, because one day it may be too late to ask & all will remain a mystery” (Deirdre Ward) 

Happiness Is…


What makes YOU happy? If we don’t identify all the various things, people, experiences etc that make us happy how can we possibly just feel happy sitting around WAITING for happiness to come knocking on our door? 

If you haven’t been feeling happy in quite a while and you want to change that, take a few moments today to sit down, quieten your mind and identify those things/people that bring happiness into your life and make you smile. 

Before, I would have searched for happiness in materialistic items and in various ways that had little meaning or significance. Thankfully my eyes were opened and I now have a much more lasting and more effective ways of gaining my sense of happiness. 

I have shared some of the people/things/routines that make me smile and fill me with happiness in the collage above. To explain a few: 

* Family&Friends – first and foremost it has to be those special people that are in my life both past and present. Without my friends and family I wouldn’t be the person I am today. These people are always there for me when needed and have a deep understanding of me. We have a great balance between fun and meaningful more serious conversations. 

Memories – I treasure and remember fondly such special and loving memories I have had in the past. Some days that I find I’m not feeling very ‘happy’ I try to think back to those moments where I was doubled over laughing with a friend, a special moment shared with my lovely mam or any other experience from the past that put a smile on my face. It’s important to pick yourself up, look at some old photos/videos to bring that happiness surging back! 

* Signs – As most of you are aware I have a great faith and feel I am quite a spiritual person. I believe firmly in signs sent from heaven and things always happening for a reason. In my opinion we don’t just ‘bump’ into people, connections aren’t made by chance and if something doesn’t go to plan it is for some unknown reason that usually will unfold in the future. I have been really lucky to receive some really special signs in the form of feathers, butterflies, written signs etc If you believe enough, these signs are very believable!! 

* Sunrise/Sunset – I feel we take for granted the little things in life at times. Something so simple that occurs every day – the sun rising and setting. Such a beautiful daily occurrence. I love to take the time to watch the sun and appreciate those brighter days filled with sunshine. No two sunsets are the same. Since moving back from the UAE I appreciate nature a lot more and the ‘green’ landscape and rugged coastline that I have at home. Be grateful for the beauty that is around us every day. 

* Books – I love nothing more than to take a break and get lost in a book. I love to read those books that have depth and meaning. Personally I love spiritual, motivational and biography style books. We can learn so much from those great people in the world. Take time to reflect on your life and what beliefs you hold. 

* People – Tell me your story! I used to be quite a shy person and in social settings at times would have been quite reserved and withdrawn even. I am still shy and need to ‘suss’ out certain situations/people before I can fully be ‘me’! I guess that is just my cautious side coming through! I love meeting new people and learning about each and everyone’s personal stories and experiences. This is what makes us all unique after all! I enjoy sitting having these conversations and love learning new things about myself and others! 

Your challenge today is to identity all those things that make YOU happy! Happy Weekend! 😊💗

Interact in Person, Not just Virtually! 

Talk 

(Deirdre Ward)

Have we lost old, simple traditions? Have we become too consumed by social media? Have we time to talk properly to one another anymore? 

In my opinion the art of holding a deep and meaningful conversation is dwindling. Young people don’t appreciate conversing with one another like older generations did. I-pads, I-phones, PSP’s and other gadgets have taken over. Yes they do (myself included) have plenty of discussions and ‘chat’ on social media – updating a status of what exciting event we are at, sharing a photo of oneself that we actually do think is ‘decent’ and beautiful! Is this the ‘real’ you being displayed and conveyed? Is one able to get the whole picture and to see the real, authentic YOU over Facebook, Wats App, Twitter and so on? 

Don’t get me wrong, Social Media and technology are wonderful inventions and are extremely powerful and beneficial, let’s just not forget the more simple ways of expressing oneself, building relationships with others and having simple fun. 

Life can be extremely challenging and tough at times so let’s not make it more difficult than it has it be! 

“Talk, 

Listen 

And see how enjoyable it is 

To open up 

And allow yourself to Glisten! 

(Deirdre Ward)

A friend shared this interesting quote with me yesterday which I absolutely LOVE: find meaning in books and interacting with those people that add substance and meaning to your life. 💗🙌🏻


Serious Fun

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I have just returned home after a weekend volunteering in Barretstown. For those of you who have never heard of Barretstown you are certainly missing out!! Barretstown is a non-profit camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses located in Co Kildare, Ireland. It was founded in 1994 by Hollywood actor Paul Newman and is a member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network of camps across the world. The children, aged from seven to 17, come from Ireland and more than twenty other European countries to take part in the wide range of activities the camp provides. Paul came up with the simple and unique idea to have a camp that involves endless fun, opportunities to succeed, grow in confidence and to see that dreams and miracles really do come true. There are approximately 30 camps all over the world from India to Israel, Connecticut to Cambodia. In 2015 Barretstown had 2,700 campers visit, 11,336 volunteers and also 2,500 children in their Outreach Programme. The camps are free medically endorsed camps and programmes for children and families living with cancer and serious illnesses.There is 24hour on site medical and nursing care. It costs €4.8 million each year to run this therapeutic recreation programme. The Government only fund 3% therefore fundraising is crucial and necessary.

I arrived at Barretstown on Thursday night around 8:30pm. My initial reaction was one of nerves and to be honest I felt quite uneasy as it was so quiet around the building I had wondered if I had come to the wrong location! My nerves were instantly erased once I was greeted at reception by Becs (head of Volunteer support). Her warm smile and friendly demeanor made me feel at ease and comfortable. She answered any questions I had and made me feel excited for the morning to arrive to begin camp. I also met many of the fantastic Activity Leaders (some of whom are on placement from college) in the Staff Lounge and that also made me extremely excited and enthusiastic to begin the following day. Most of the volunteers arrived the following morning. After breakfast we had a training session that lasted approximately 3hours. During our training the video above was shown and it really struck a chord within me – So many of us feel inferior to others, labelled and lack confidence in someway. We can feel this without any serious illness hitting us. It made me think about the impact that a serious illness must have on one’s self esteem, confidence and self image. This training helped us gel as a group and meet the other volunteers. What was really apparent for me was that everyone was so friendly, enthusiastic and had boundless energy. Everyone was ‘buzzing’ to meet the families. We were all assigned two families (as each cottage caters for two families) and waited ‘patiently’ for their arrival!

The two families I had ranged from ages 8 to 12. One family consisted of a boy (12) and a girl (10) and the other family consisted of three boys ranging form 8-12 and a girl who was 11. We were not told which child was ill and were told very few details about the condition. I think this is fantastic as it makes us treat all children equally the same and this is what is central to Barretstown – it is inclusive. All children and adults are made to feel included and equal. It brings back a sense of normality to the lives of each family as their lives have felt somewhat abnormal and difficult since the time they faced a serious illness.

There are numerous activities open to parents and children around the castle from climbing to horse riding, canoeing to arts and crafts, music to baking, archery to lego. It caters for everyone and all interests. Each family are assigned three ‘Caras’. This is where I came into the equation. I was essentially a friend for both the children and the parents – a helping hand, a friendly smile, a silly face releasing my own inner child, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on – the job description varies and one adapts from family to family.

The changes I saw in children and adults from the beginning of camp to the end was amazing. One might find it hard to believe that in three days a child or adult can be transformed. Go volunteer/visit Barretstown and you will be proven wrong! Anxious and worried looking children and parents entered and they were unrecognisable leaving! For one of my families it was their first experience of camp. In my opinion they were amazed at the fun, happiness and energy that radiates from every single person at camp. One of the children in my group had leukemia and had been up since 7am on the Friday morning for chemotherapy. That child did not allow tiredness or sickness to stop them from taking part and trying every activity that was offer. At times I was concerned about the pallor of the child’s face and exhaustion which was evident however that did not stop the determination that he/she had and happiness that was also evident. These children and parents are truly inspiring and such special people.

Personally I found the whole weekend reawakened a spark within myself and definitely unleashed my own inner child. From ‘Grooving for Food’, to dressing up as a minion, to baking blindfolded, to singing at the top of my voice etc It was just the tonic I myself needed in life. At times we all feel life is unfair and feel struggles. This is unavoidable. However, what we sometimes forget is that no matter what life throws at us if we have a positive outlook in life and try to have an ‘attitude of gratitude’ we can pull through these hard times and it will make us stronger people. I myself had first hand experience of what a serious illness can do to a family. I was not the person with the illness however it affects the whole family dynamic and each member involved. I think Barretstown made me more aware of this. I feel that I don’t give myself enough credit at times to see what I have gone through in the past 10 years of my life. My mother’s illness and death definitely affected us all and what is important is to realise that that is OK. At times the attention and focus is predominately on the person who is ‘ill’ and that is normal however it is so important for all members to feel able to express emotions, to see their fears and to know that it is ok to feel scared and worried. While talking to a father this weekend I could feel and see the extreme pain and feeling of helplessness he has. He stated how his daughter was initially very angry and they had to leave the other members of their family for 3 weeks to attend hospital. This is huge and definitely impacts everyone involved. This is why Barretstown is so unique and special – it makes families forget about medication, needles, hospitals, sick siblings, worries and stress. Upon entering the gates of Barretstown people’s ‘baggage’ consisting of worries, fears and stress remains at the gates while happiness, laughter, fun, special memories await them. Barretstown normalises life again and reignites fun and laughter within everyone.

“Barretstown refills lives with fun & laughter so that they have happy and loving memories forever after” (Deirdre Ward)

I couldn’t possibly sum up the experiences from the weekend and it is too difficult to try to describe the magic that is Barretstown without actually going and experiencing it for oneself. I am already seeing when I can volunteer again! Take the plunge today and sign up to volunteer or inquire about attending a camp. There are sibling camps, family camps, bereavement and summer camps. There is also an Outreach Programme that is within schools and hospitals where one can volunteer for a day. They are continually needing fundraising and volunteers to help at fundraising events. Check out https://www.barretstown.org/ for more information.

To conclude Barretstown for me stands for: Fun, Laughter, Peace, Energy, Smiles and the opportunity to be YOU.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the lovely mammies out there! I essentially became a ‘mammy’ for the weekend where I looked after my two and a half year old nephew Shaunie and my six month old niece Annie Rose.

I love children and I think they bring out the best in everyone. They take delight in such innocent fun and seem to not have a care in the world. Throughout the weekend I enjoyed various discussions with Shaunie about certain topics that fascinated him – rainbows, crabs, feelings and much more. He is also at that stage of asking ‘why’ continually so at times it was rather quite difficult to answer ALL his questions! One needs a LOT of patience for this stage of questioning!

“Why oh why? Don’t respond with a sigh! Try to answer those little minds so they will grow up inquisitive & kind” (Deirdre Ward)  

One thing that did interest me was at what stage do children start to have worries about the world and at what stage do they begin to feel insecurities etc. From being with Shaunie and Annie for the few days I believe that children have worries and fears from an extremely young age. I am not quoting any facts here, I am just basing it on my own evidence and personal interactions with children. Also these two particular children come from a very loving and sheltered family so I am not making any statements about children in general. After all we are all unique and no two children are the same!

What was really significant from my observations was the need for a lot of one-on-one attention and stimulation that each child craved. I was lucky in that I had plenty of time to give to both, to play with each and to give my full attention to them. I was also very lucky that I had my Dad around to help out. Papa Joe is a very popular man!

I really believe that full time, stay at home mothers or fathers don’t get enough credit at times for all the hard work that they do and for the difficult ‘task’ they have each day. I don’t like using the term task as it is not and should never be a ‘task’ to look after a child. I feel sometimes people disregard the fact that a stay at home parent doesn’t mean that the parent has no career or work. This is in my eyes a lot more difficult at times than having a 9am-5pm job at the office!

I had been based at home in Ireland when my sister’s first child Shaunie was born and I travelled frequently over and back to Glasgow (where my sister lives) to see them. My eyes were definitely opened as to how much time and energy is involved in feeding, soothing, loving and nurturing a child. It is most definitely not an easy job. Early morning feeds, sleepless nights, cries of hunger, regurgitation of food, not understanding why the baby is screaming, bottle making etc There is a continuous ‘TO DO’ list. At this early stage however at least the baby sleeps a lot during the day and at those times a mother/father can try to get a little rest. Then there is the stage of when the child starts to crawl and eventually walk. They gain more freedom and start exploring the kitchen presses, the TV cabinet, the shelves and so on. The home has never seemed like such a hazardous place before! All of a sudden there is padding being placed on all edges and corners that are visible! The fun is only beginning! Mothers/fathers/guardians need eyes at the back of their heads!

When a second or third child comes on the scene the situation can be very different! I witnessed this first hand at the weekend. When one child was finished breakfast, it was then time to feed the second. I seemed to be constantly changing nappies, wiping up spillages or trying to reason/calm down an upset toddler/baby! It amazed me that Annie (at only 6months of age) cried when she would be left in her jumparoo in a room on her own for five minutes. She does not like to be alone for even one second! Once someone would enter the room she would be back smiling and jumping up and down! Shaunie is great for occupying himself and for playing imaginatively with his trains (he loves Thomas the Tank Engine!) but also there comes a point where he too craves for one-on-one attention and some company. This is totally normal as we all like a bit of our own space but also a balance of other’s company & love also!

The children typically woke up around 7:30/8:00am and went to bed around 8:00pm. It can feel like a very long day especially if it is raining outside and one cannot get to the park or go for a walk in the fresh air. It is also not an easy task to have all children dressed and ready to leave the house! Have you got the baby bag? Have you got their bottles/food/dummies packed? It is not so simple to go to town!

I seem to be painting quite a negative picture on my weekend babysitting my nephew and niece and that is not the impression I want to portray at all. I love being an auntie very much and I adore these children. I had so much fun and happiness the past few days being with them. My main reason for this blog today is to acknowledge how wonderful some parents are and how we need to give more credit at times to parents that ‘stay at home’ and look after their children as their full time ‘career’. It certainly opened my eyes as to what a constant list of duties there are, how much energy and zest one needs and also how parents can very easily struggle at times. It is ok to struggle and to find motherhood difficult at times. Try to remember there is always someone out there to help you and to ask for that help if needed. I know I am not ready to have my own family yet but I do know that when I do, I hope to be as amazing a mother as my sister is to these two children.

“Cherish each day with your children as you never get to relive a single day” (Deirdre Ward)

The day that is in it is also quite sad for me as I remember my own Mam. There can be something so special about a mother’s love and if you are lucky enough to have had it or are lucky enough to have it in your life now, always treasure it. Sometimes a strong, loving and close bond is not always present between a mother and a son/daughter. This is life and we must accept this. However we must remember that we would not have entered this wonderful world had it not been for our mother.

“Our mother gives her love by helping us enter into this world for the first time” (Deirdre Ward)

Even if we don’t have a good relationship with our mother always remember this, that we would not have entered this world otherwise! Try to feel some ounce of gratitude today for this little fact no matter how difficult it seems. Being adopted and not having made contact yet with my birth parents means that I do not personally know the woman that helped me enter into this world. Does this mean that I didn’t cope? Does this mean I did not feel a mother’s love? Does this mean that I did not have a close bond with my mother? Certainly not. Mother can be defined as

“A woman in relation to her child or children”

I could have quoted a more decorative and flamboyant definition but I did not want to as I am aware that not all ‘mothers’ are loving, kind and affectionate towards their offspring. This saddens me as I cannot imagine how a child in that particular situation must feel and it causes a deep hurt within me to think of how a child and later on an adult will be affected by such a relationship.

I was extremely lucky and I feel so special to have had the mother I had. She was one who radiated unconditional love, honesty, happiness and warmth. In essence what a mother should be. I will forever remember her and be grateful for the close bond we had and still have today.

“Love cannot be washed away or disappear. Sometimes we cannot see it but if we close our eyes it will be felt forever in our hearts” (Deidre Ward)

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO THE BRAVEST AND MOST LOVING MOTHER I KNOW –

THE ULTIMATE TOUGH COOKIE

I hope one day I can be just like you and be a wonderful mother ❤

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Honesty is the Best Policy!

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Honesty really is one of the best policies to have in life alongside being a loving person and other important virtues. I don’t believe it is possible to live a life entirely being honest. Especially as children we learn to tell some lies usually to ‘avoid’ hurting someone or to avoid getting in ‘trouble’ ourselves! I don’t exactly know how or where we begin to learn the art of ‘lying’, I believe it is inevitable in life but the important question is whether we choose to keep on living a ‘lie’ and being dishonest or whether we begin to speak the truth to ourselves and others.

Growing up I certainly was not a very open and honest child. I would rather have kept things ‘inside’, would have been ‘sneaky’ at times in my actions and occasionally would have lied out of fear of getting in trouble and for fear of hurting others. The predominant word here is FEAR. Again, we live our lives and let our lives be controlled too much by FEAR. Perhaps we need to try to eliminate this fear in our lives starting today and begin trying to live an honest and truthful one.

As I am writing this piece, I begin thinking about how children from as young an age of two seem to have ‘mastered’ this art of lying! I am by no means blaming parents for this. Again, I feel we all just somehow ‘learn’ how to lie to somewhat benefit us in ways! I feel it is our responsibility as parents/adults/guardians to explain to children at this young age the difference between a lie and the truth. If we can mould a child’s brain early in life into seeing how lies can hurt people, get us into trouble and cause no good then it will help that child develop into an honest and truthful being. Children can also be brutally honest and this is such a raw and flawless trait but again when does this disappear and why?

Lying constantly in life, in my eyes is too much hard work and it is exhausting. How can one possibly keep track of all the lies he/she is saying? Surely there comes a point when these lies (that you can totally make yourself believe because if you say something enough in your mind and to others you can even fall into the ‘trap’ and begin believing your own lies!) become too much to remember and your story falls apart.

“Lies lead to Bye Bye’s” (Deirdre Ward)

If we live a life of lies I believe the people in our lives will quickly get fed up and will leave our lives. It is up to you whether you value the people in your life enough to want to make them stay?

I believe that it is OK to tell a ‘white lie’ to people at times if it means that it will avoid that person getting hurt or to avoid a situation escalating into something bigger and causing more problems.

I am now trying as best as I can to lead a life of honesty with myself and the people in my life. I read a lovely book recently by Don Miguel Ruiz called ‘The Four Agreements’ and the very first agreement is to

“Be Impeccable with your Word” (Don Miguel Ruiz)

I feel this is so important – try to speak only words of truth to yourself and to ALL around you.

“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use your power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” 

(Don Miguel Ruiz)

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Should’ve Gone to Specsavers!

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One of my favourite things about people are their eyes. I am always fascinated to see the huge spectrum of colours and unique differences everybody has in their eyes. As mentioned before I believe that somebody’s eyes can tell their whole story and how that particular person is feeling inside.

“One’s eyes reveal how one’s soul is feeling” (Deirdre Ward)

I also never thought about the quote above i.e. that when we do these various actions, a lot of the time it is with our eyes closed! However my question is what happens if our eyes are constantly ‘closed’ even when we are trying our best to keep them ‘open’ and SEE our lives with more clarity? At times we can be blinded and physically ‘UNABLE’ to see, even if we go to Specsavers and pass the eyesight test with flying colours!

This happened to me last night! I would have thought I was very aware of how I feel, what areas of my life I need to improve on, who I need to look after and help out etc I do still believe I have a lot of clarity about these things however I identified last night, along with the help of someone else’s vision that I was totally blinded by my own eyes.

Since loosing my Mam two years ago I feel I have been quite strong, coped with her loss well and that I am healing my life on a daily basis. I am very grateful for having had her in my life and for all the special moments I had with her. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a partner to loose their ‘other half’. Yes I lost a part of me that was massive but my Dad had many more years with this exceptional lady. I have always tried to help him grieve, help him to express his emotions about loosing her and essentially help him to heal. For anyone that knows my Dad knows that he is such a quiet, private, strong, caring and honest man. He does not find it easy to express or open up about his emotions. I believe a lot of men feel this way and in my opinion it is quite sad and somewhat ‘unhealthy’. For one’s mental mind it is much more beneficial to try your hardest to open up to others and more importantly yourself about how you are feeling. Some say it is all to do with EVOLUTION but I believe it is all INDIVIDUAL.

To make a long story short, I was trying my hardest to help my Dad to heal with this loss in his life. So much so that it was causing a lot of frustration and even anger inside of me! I felt I didn’t know what else I could possibly do to ‘fix’ him. I do realise you cannot fix anyone else, that the only person who can fix themselves is that person. It didn’t stop me trying to help with his healing. Since moving home again, I have re-established my sessions with my councellor. I don’t like referring to her as that as in my eyes she is more like a really good friend that I can open up to and she in return helps to advise me and see with what areas of my life I need to work on! Last night as we were talking things through about my relationship with my Dad and how I am trying so hard to help him but that I feel he’s not taking my help a really hard hitting but also magical moment happened. The revelation came as a complete SHOCK to me and it felt so extremely scary and uncomfortable but at the same time so elevating and positive.

As I was explaining some things to her about our relationship and she was asking me some questions to ‘press’ certain buttons, I started to think and see the situation in a very different light. She told me that at the moment this ‘PROFOUND’ message was revealed to me, that my face looked like a frying pan had hit it!! The lesson I learned was that instead of trying to help my Dad heal and ‘fix’ his heart, I was blinded by the fact that what I really need to do is help myself to heal and ‘fix’ MY OWN heart. This might sound so simple to you reading my piece but I genuinely thought that I was coping ‘just fine’ and that it was the others in my life that needed help!

I totally view the situation now in a different perspective/light. It took the vision and perspective of another to help me ‘SEE’ more clearly. I know too that at times other people’s judgments, viewpoint or opinions might not be wanted and at times we have to be very careful about expressing what we feel another ‘SHOULD’ do or what is positive/negative in another’s life, however sometimes it is exactly what we need to see more clearly. I needed someone on the outside looking in to notice what I could not see. Be gentle giving your opinion and approach matters with caution and care but if you feel another person really needs to hear something to be able to ‘see’ something in their life don’t be afraid to express it in a loving nature. I also think a good foundation in a relationship needs to be established first before we have the ‘right’ to do this for one another.

“Sometimes we all need a helping hand and a new set of ‘lenses’ to see through (Deirdre Ward)

  

Fix Yourself First

Don’t try to ‘fix’ everyone and everything else before you essentially ‘fix’ yourself. For too long I always went about trying to fix others – my mam’s disease, my boyfriend, my sister’s life, my friends, the children I taught etc the list goes on.

What I have now come to realise is that before you can even give to another person you must give to yourself first. It’s too difficult to fix anyone if you yourself have

‘little broken pieces that need mending or parts of your life that need to be put together’ (Deirdre Ward)

It might sound selfish especially if others around you need your support and help. I’m not saying to ignore these family members or loved ones, all I’m saying is not to neglect yourself in the process. My passion in life is ‘reading’ other people and trying to help them especially in an emotional capacity and I believe I get it right a lot of the time. I do feel I get it right though because what I see in others I have seen in myself at one stage or another or in somebody else I have met along the way! People say I am a ‘sensitive soul’ but I wouldn’t want to be any other way!

From reflecting on my relationships in the past, I give my love totally and I feel I am very good at showing someone how much they mean to me and how much I love them whether that be with a friend of mine or on a deeper, more intimate relationship I have had. The people in my life mean a lot to me, everyone I meet means a lot to me and I’m a true believer that everyone you meet can teach you some sort of a lesson, whether it’s a reflection of something in their life or something they do or say that causes a trigger to go off in your life.

‘It was worth the encounter no matter how brief or long, if you learn a lesson about YOU’ (Deirdre Ward)

I am not an expert as to why relationships break down or friendships fall apart but I do think it is because of a lack of communication on both parties involved and also due to ones fears. Looking back on my life so far, I can see why a certain friendship broke down in my life. Why do certain people get on for a period of time and then all of a sudden it falls apart? I believe it is because of our emotions. Generally the emotion of FEAR. I was the type that very much did what ‘pleased’ my parents, tired to do the ‘right’ thing in life based on the judgements of my parents.  Is this wrong? Absolutely not but if I could change something it would be to live the way I saw right and fit. Maybe at 16 one is too immature and one needs guidance as to what is best. Yes for sure, but guidance is what the youth of today need, not judgements from their elders as that is not that person’s true unique opinion or view, it is somebody else’s opinion being relayed to another. I firmly believe we need to STOP telling children what to do, guide them but ultimately let them decide for themselves and shape them as their own unique person with their own thoughts/opinions.

Likewise in a romantic relationship of mine in the past, one in which I would have tried to shape that person in a particular way. I expressed my views on what I felt he should have been, acted, views he should have etc What I was doing was wrong as again they were MY views, thoughts as to how one should be. Why do we feel the right to do this to ANYONE? The only person we are allowed to act this way with is OURSELVES. Instead anymore when offering any advice to anyone, I say, this is what I think etc but I’m very quick to add ‘But that is just my opinion, it is of course your decision to make and do how you see fit’ etc.

‘Let’s help people, especially the youth of today create their OWN thoughts and beliefs in life, instead of imposing OUR beliefs on others’ (Deirdre Ward)

‘If we all thought, acted, spoke, lived in the same way, life would be very mundane and boring. Life is full of characters, colour, variety and this is what makes life so wonderful and interesting. As I said before, leave your legacy in this life, so that when you leave this life your name lives on’  (Deirdre Ward)

Lastly don’t try to FIX people because what I have learned is that you cannot fix anyone who is unwilling to change or fix themselves. If someone is willing to change and fix their own life that is great and you can help by being supportive, an ear to listen, offer your opinion/advice if asked for it and most importantly be a LOVING person towards them.

Christmas Cuddles 


Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones and spreading the Christmas cheer with everyone you meet. Yes it can be a very sad and tough time for people as we remember those who are no longer with us physically. I can honestly say I know these special people are with us even though we may not be able to see them. Talk to them, ask for little signs of comfort from them and maybe mark their memory in someway on Christmas Day (light a candle, play their favourite card game, retell a story etc)

If you are lucky enough to spend this special time with children it is so magical. Cherish this time with them and bring out the ‘inner child’ that is within you also. It does us all good to reconnect with our inner child! Get down on the floor and play with trains, dress up, play games, go to the playground etc! No one will judge you especially not at Christmas time!! It’s your perfect excuse!!

Christmas time can also be stressful for parents, they are trying to get the dinner ready, visit people, keep the house ‘tidy’ all while looking after the kids. I’m no expert as I don’t have my own family yet but from looking at others and being around my own niece and nephew I feel it is so important to try to remain calm, use positive language and rephrase things to how you want children to behave. Children are so receptive and pick up on everything that is going on/dynamics in the house.

“Let your inner child escape so your children won’t want to escape you” (Deirdre Ward)

     “Be the person you want your children to be” (Deirdre Ward)

If you want your children to be loving, you must show love. If you want your children to be kind and gentle you must be kind and gentle. If your children are acting up or not behaving the way you want them to, take a look in the mirror and see how you too are behaving!

Happy Christmas everyone I hope Santa is good to you all! 🎅🏻😊