Sunday, 28 March 2010

In Loving Memory

Tomorrow is the funeral of my cousin’s young son. It is to be a time to remember him, to celebrate his life. Life is about creating special memories. Tomorrow is going to be a very emotional day for so many reasons.

His close family have asked for the funeral to be very formal, everyone attending has to wear black. This was requested by R and for a very informal fun loving guy with lots of young friends was something of a surprise.

Sadly our small family only ever seem to meet up at funerals in recent years. None of us are going to find the day easy but for my Cousin and her Mum it is going to be particularly hard. No Grandma expects to out live their Grandchildren. My Auntie the Grandma I refer to also has dementia. Her memories of long ago are often very sharp but those of the immediate recent times are often very confused. Any change is very unsettling for her. Her constant daily phone calls are heartbreaking to listen to. One time in tears, the next temporarily oblivious to the loss of her beloved Grandson. My cousin was at breaking point a month ago before the tragedy, trying to decide how best to care for her Mum.

When we informed my cousin two years ago about my need to transition she was very supportive but had asked us not to try to explain it to my Auntie. She was concerned it would only make her worse or possibly lead to her being abusive towards us. My parents were against this and I was not happy but understood my cousin’s feelings. This caused difficulties between my Dad and his sister which was the last thing I wanted. Some very cruel comments had been exchanged. I have been asked by my cousin never to appear as myself in front of my Auntie. It seems such a simple price to pay for family unity and peace but having to compromise myself now seems terribly unsettling which in turn makes me feel selfish. It made me feel quite ill having to comply with this at the previous Christmas but the funeral is far harder. We used to have much larger family gatherings, of which we have many happy memories of these times. Sadly our family are now nearly all gone.

For the funeral tomorrow I have to try to dress up androgynously and be referred to as Bob so as not to upset my poor Auntie. My heart goes out to my cousin and her Mum. Tomorrow is for my cousin's son "R" and for them; our feelings are very much secondary. My Mum and I find loss very very hard to cope with. She feels sorry for me having to compromise but she should not have to. I have never been a man but I know what it will feel like to put that mask back on, and it feels a million times worse having lived truthfully to myself for over two years.

We are all going to be emotional tomorrow, all our thoughts will be for my cousin's son "R". I know we are going to cry our eyes out. My Mum has gently reminded me to remove all traces of mascara, which seems so superficial yet….We must get through this together, as a family. I want to pay my respects to "R" and support our family, without letting anyone down or being a source for any family disharmony on such an occasion.

Since I last posted here so much has happened. My Mum has been very ill again but thankfully she has been stable for a few days now. I had to rush her to the doctors after she came off the tablets which had been causing her to wheeze. They did lots of tests but she just could not get her breath properly. They concluded it must have been a major panic attack as most of her readings appeared fine.

One test result was very worrying. An ECG revealed that unknowingly to any of us my Mum had actually suffered a heart attack at some point since her last test four years ago. My biggest fear was that the strain I had caused in needing to transition would harm her health in any way. The guilt of hurting those we love is for me far more painful than any of the physical challenges of the surgical changes we may feel we need to make.

Last Friday I had to rush home from my voluntary work at the hospital as my Dad had fallen over in the shower. He was bruised and a bit shaken but nothing more. Today he kicked every ball watching his favourite team play in a cup final on the television, which he shared with his daughter, while Mum slept peacefully with our corgi curled up on her lap. A treasured memory.

I am not sure quite how all our family are ever going to get through tomorrow but I have to keep my faith that we will.

May tomorrow be kind to you.


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Our "Brave Heart" has gone to heaven.

My cousin’s beloved son R, has tragically collapsed and died. At the tender young age of 29. Our small family has lost a hero and heaven has gained an Angel.

His Mum told us the awful news we were all dreading, today on Mothers day in the UK, of all days. She was understandably devastated and said she will never ever get over his tragic death.
How she is going to be able to break the news to her Mum who has dementia and dotes on her grandchild I cannot begin to imagine, the pain they must all be experiencing.

He had been through so many challenges in his short life. I wrote about him and his dear Mum in my previous blog “A Mothers love”, we were all praying for a miracle, now he has gone and his family are completely shattered. Our tears feel like they will never stop.

He had Leukaemia at the age of 9. He received the most wonderful care and he and his family were supported brilliantly by “Leukemia Busters” the children's leukemia research charity

The life saving therapy and medication he received as a child unfortunately had many terrible side effects, some of which had weakened his heart. At 18 his heart become so bad he was advised he needed a heart transplant. He agonised over the difficult decision. In the end he had little choice but to agree as he had become so seriously ill, he was given only a short time to live. How difficult it must have been for him to decide what to do. How would he feel having another persons heart beating inside him? I digress but I think about how I have found my journey very spiritual and what happens to our soul if we find ourselves going through such a process and wonder if this played a small part in his concerns. His biggest worry must have been that in agreeing to the heart transplant they were all made aware that the new heart would only have a limited life span before it would become very tired, a period of approximately 10 years. Life is so precious.

For him to have a chance of extending his life at that time, another family had suffered a terrible loss. It must have been so hard and so brave of the family of the donor to agree to the life saving organ donation in their hours of grief. If you have not joined the organ donation register you can apply here for the UK

"R" survived the heart transplant only to have the leukaemia come back once more. Again his spirit and the brilliant medical care he received pulled him through. He and his family cherished each day never knowing what might happen. He loved playing sports with his Dad. He gave up his job in a shop and followed his dream of becoming a DJ. It would have been understandable had his parents become over protective but they allowed him to flourish. He lived life as best he could, to the full. He had lots of friends. He had the most amazing smile and was a big hit with the girls and had many admirers.

When I think of those who are sadly rejected by their family, their loved ones, over needing to make life saving / life changing decisions or are shunned for following their dreams, I think of the courage Richard and his family showed by living each day to the max with complete love and support.

Sadly last week he became ill watching football with his family, something he always loved doing. He was rushed to a specialist hospital only to collapse once more. His brave heart could take no more. His life which began only a short time ago in 1989 has been tragically ended. He will never ever be forgotten. He truly touched so many of our hearts.

My thoughts are with my beloved Cousin's son "R", my devastated Cousin, her husband and his brother at this time.

Rest in Peace dear R.
Today heaven has a new Angel, a true Saint with the bravest of hearts

Debbie xxxxxxxx

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A Mothers love

I would like to dedicate this posting to my Cousin who is a wonderful Mum whose love knows no bounds. She has a husband and two boys who are grown up now and looks after her Mum who has dementia. One of her boys health problems have been a constant worry to her.

On Tuesday we received the news my Cousins son had been rushed into hospital again. He has been through so much in his young 29 years. His Mum has been under so much strain. At 9 he was diagnosed with leukaemia. After lengthy treatment with terrible side effects he somehow found the strength to pull through. He lost all his energy; all of his hair and an important part of his childhood, that he could never get back.

At 18 his heart became too weak to keep working, it had been damaged by all the chemotherapy and prescriptions medication. At first he refused a transplant. He had already suffered enough at this stage in his young life, at the time he felt like he could not face any more surgery after all he had been through. Eventually at the 11th hour his will to live; much to the relief of his parents caused him to agree to the heart transplant that miraculously became available out of another poor persons tragic misfortune.

With his immune system so susceptible to illness his nightmare and that of his loved ones came true, the leukaemia returned once more. Again the brilliant medical staff and his incredible courage and spirit saw him through another life threatening challenge. As a result of going through all the treatment and terrible side effects once again the poor love was also told he would not be able to father a child.

Eventually he found the strength to try to return to a normal life. At first he had a 9 till 5 job working in a shop but this was not enough for him. He and his family have been living one day at a time for so long. His dear Mum put on a very brave face. She knew that the new heart would only last for so long. They have all had to live with this time bomb.

He had always loved music and sport. He was a very handsome young man and very popular with his many friends. He pursued his dreams of becoming a DJ which he became very successful at. He had several girlfriends but alas he knew his health would always be a problem and did not want to have them go through what he had already experienced and put his family through. Recently he sadly split up with a girl who appeared to be the love of his life. This week he attended a sports event and collapsed. His mum and Dad are now by his bedside in a hospital in London hoping for a miracle.

My thoughts and prayers are with them. I hope his dear Mums love will find a way to heal him and her prayers be answered this coming Mothers Day.

I have been having a really difficult time and had to stay off my voluntary work in the last ten days or so I thought until the news we received put it all in perspective. I had written several therapeutic pages to get it out of my system. They were full of self pity which I stopped short of blogging about. I felt guilty letting everyone down. My parents, the people I should have been working with, the doctors who had helped me get this far and the kind friends who had supported me. I had perhaps been doing too much, trying too hard and felt like a light had gone out inside of me. Balancing my life as a carer and trying to find work alongside my heart telling me I needed to be there for my Mum and Dad as they are becoming increasingly frail had left me shattered. As my health has improved so much it feels a little like role reversal in my relationship with my parents. They still need their independence but they need my help more and more. It’s a two way thing in which we both have to be careful not to Mother each other too much as it can be unhealthy. As much as we love each other there is a fine line between Mother and smother. I would love to have been a Mum. I will never know but I feel sure I would not have made a very good parent. I have so much respect for all the good parents out there who are simply amazing.

I had been having insecurities about my appearance as a working woman ,as I began to increase my working hours, some out of vanity, some still dysphoric, some bordering on body dysmorphia. I have also experienced distressing reminders those that transition often get jarred with as well as how impossible it would be for me to deny my mental health history when applying for any position of employment. For a time depression engulfed me and I thought this must be simply post op blues. It was only while visiting my GP for more post op treatment this week that he discovered from some blood tests I was actually anaemic which explained my tiredness. Having a label, a reason in this case helped make sense of how tired I had become.

I know how lucky I am and at the same time I know this life would not be easy for my loved ones or for me. My dear Mum had worried every time I visited London once a month for almost twleve years that her biggest nightmare would come true, that I would one day need to transition. On Monday she will see her daughter travel to see the gender specialist, probably one last time for her post op appoint, with her blessing and unconditional love.

Sometimes we need to see our worries in relation to others to appreciate just how lucky we are.

To all of those Mums out there, God bless you all. None of us would be here without you. To all of you lucky enough to still have your Mums, treasure every moment and build as many happy memories as you can. For those of you who have lost your beloved Mums my heart goes out to you. I am so lucky to still have such a special Mum. For my dear Mum I just want to finish with these humble words.

I love you Mum, so very much.
Happy Mothers Day
Debbie xxxxxxxx

Please say a prayer for my cousins dear Son. May all your worries be small.

PS I would just like to thank my dear friend Julia whose timely phone call this afternoon really lifted my spirits.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Face values

How we see our selves and how others see us are two different things. That perception can sometimes make or break our lives and have a great impact on our self belief.

I recently completed the commission shown here for a friend. She had asked me if I could do a pencil portrait of her granddaughter from a small photograph. I usually only paint animals as they do not seem to have the insecurities we have. For many years I had found animals much easier to relate to than people.

The last portrait I did was a painting for my parents golden wedding anniversary. It was based on a treasured sepia photo of them both when they first met in their early twenties. Dad loved it, Mum hated it. I was not even a twinkle in their eye when it was taken. After my Mums severe critique I vowed never to attempt another portrait.

With convalescing and now my attempts to gain further work experience and hopefully a paid job I have not been able to paint since last July. A mixture of a lack of confidence, time, the cold in my studio(converted small bedroom) and my parents conservatory where I could use oils and feelings of guilt that I should be using my time more fruitfully had temporarily cut off my creativity. With a very exiting creative project producing murals, I have been asked to do at my local hospital, looming, I had to drive my butterflies away. If people ask me to help I always try to say yes and it felt nice to be asked. I offered to produce a sketch rather than a detailed portrait as I felt I lacked the skills to produce a professional portrait. I got some great advice from some artistic friends who specialize in graphite pencil work.

I used very thick water colour paper 638g Not rag paper from Paper works and Derwent water soluble Graphitone pencils light and medium pencils together with dark and very dark non soluble derwent graphitone. I was given the following useful tips by an expert graphite artist. You can use blue tack to lift many light unintentional marks on the paper. You can also use cotton wool pads to blend. Fabrino Aristico paper is supposed to be very good for pencil work. Faber-Castel Graphite pencils and or Grafwood Carndache pencils which are Swiss made and cost £1.99 each. For beginners Derwent Graphite approx £6 for a tin are a good starting kit.

Saturday I nervously arrived at my friend’s door to meet her and her daughter. As I walked in there was a young child who looked somehow familiar from the photo. I had never met the granddaughter or her Mum before. I was not 100% sure if it was the grand daughter I had just drawn or another member of the family. I had asked my friend tell her daughter to be totally honest and been assured by my friend that her daughter would certainly say if anything was wrong with the picture. The image in the photo was quite small but the child was clearly beautiful, absolutely perfect in her Mums eyes. The difficulty as an artist doing a portrait is to decide how honest you try to portray an image and how much you subtly change before it no longer captures that person’s uniqueness. Thankfully her Mum was thrilled and her daughter recognized herself immediately. The innocence of youth. Out of the mouth of babes. I was so relieved although my humble picture could never do her justice. Her name is in the title of // I love the cute mouse in the video.

Like many artists I am uncomfortable with pricing my work or knowing what to ask for a fee especially from friends. In the end I asked them to make a donation which I could use towards the materials for the murals task at the hospital. Afterwards my friend said I looked very anxious when I first arrived, which I was and so I explained the story I have written here. We were all happy with the outcome. They were happy with their gift, my creative confidence was restored and I had learned a lot more about myself and also artistically.

Today 2 years into my new life, two years on from my facial feminization surgery with my GRS healing well I shared a magical experience with my Mum at our doctors surgery. We had both arranged to have blood tests at consecutive times. The kind nurses had seen both of us in very different circumstances over the past few years. I had at my darkest hour suffering from a breakdown been carried in to see them totally broken, drugged up on prescribed anti depressants unable to function any more, tears flooding down my cheeks at my lowest. The strain of living a lie; feeling as though I had been sacrificing my life for my loved ones, who had been in denial for 11 years, too much for me, at a time when in truth I had not been ready to transition, until I sank to this point. Only recently my Mum had been so ill they would not let her leave the surgery until they helped her to breath properly. To see the smile back on my Mums face was priceless. Today we were in a different place.

Mums asthma is under control and her blood pressure lower than it has been for years. I have put on over a stone in weight since my surgery but thankfully I needed to and it has all gone mainly in the right places. My face is much less gaunt and the answer to "does my bum look too big in this?" is now approaching Yes lol but I am soooo much happier.

"You both look so well, so much better now" said the nurse which was sweet of her. "Debbie you look just like your Mum, your smile, your eyes, I have never thought of you as anyone other than Debbie, a female. You are in the right place in your life now".

My loved ones and I have all been across a mythical river that often threatened to sweep us away under a torrent of conflicting emotions. We are now on relatively dry land on the other side, enjoying the view while we can. Nicky has made a great song about waving from the other side a phrase created by a special friend. My thoughts are with a very dear friend, an inspirational dear friend whose friendship I value so much who is about to undertake FFS across the pond in America. She is in a place that used to have a well known TV series called Cheers

All of the challenges posed by FFS were for me very much worth it, I hope and pray Jo gets well soon and everybody knows her name for her wonderful kind compassionate many many talents.

Cheers to you Jo
May your FFS bring you everything you wish for.