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Saturday, 11 February 2012


"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
- Winston Churchill

My Poppa died on the 20th of January. Although he took us by surprise when he left us, he had not been well for some time and I had been very involved in his daily care since we moved towns so I could start midwifery training.

His death took us by surprise because he had fought back from the brink several times in the past - and his latest health issues seemed not so serious that he couldn't have pulled through again.

As we grieved as a family, I had the chance late at night following the funeral to sit with my mum and talk about Poppa and his last few days with us. She told me how she felt his attitude to life had changed in the past month - that he seemed finally at peace with his life and that he felt it was okay to move on through deaths door. We talked about his fighting spirit over the years; how he had courageously fought through strokes, organ shutdowns, lung disease and more. Each time he went into hospital, when the admitting officer asked him about rescusitation should his heart fail, he would tell them that he indeed wanted to be rescusitated should it be required. Unfinished business and all that...

But not this time. When Poppa failed to rehabilitate fast enough in the public system and had to be moved into a private hospital facility, at the rescusitation question his answer was different. Check the D.N.R. box on the form - he wanted no extraordinary life saving measures this time.

Giving up? I don't think so.

It is courageous to be at peace with your life's journey and say - enough. I'm done. I've achieved all I need to, said all I need to. Told you I loved you and created enough memories to sustain you...

It's a humble courage to accept your life's end, don't you think?

I've thought of my Poppa a lot in the past month. I missed my first week of clinical placement to give myself time to grieve and get through the funeral. But even through this sadness - my first loss of someone very dear to me,  I can see Poppa's lesson. Because to be a student midwife, I need that same humble courage to  admit when I'm lost, unsure, or straight out wrong. It's tough to learn so much of your craft in front of the very women you are trying to serve. You can't hit the 'delete' button when you mess up something during clinical placement - every action you take is so very visible to the family that surrounds you in the labour room. And that has been a tough learning curve for a perfectionist first-born who likes to do everything well. (REALLY well!)

But if I have learned anything over the past few weeks of real-life midwifery practice it is this:

To one day be competent, I have to first accept that I will be incompetent.

Not dangerous incompetent, but that fumbling, unsure where things are, not getting things always-right-first-time kind of incompetent. I would lie awake for hours obsessing over my little mistakes thinking things like "If I can't even open a syringe without dropping it on the floor - how will I EVER be a midwife, for goodness sake!" (Can't we just be our own worst enemies?)

But making a mistake is surely one of the most powerful teachers. Mistakes equal learning, end of story. (Always make sure there is something between you and the floor when you open a syringe pack - like a trolley or the end of the bed!). Accepting my mistakes - those I have already made, and those that are yet to come requires courage, and a nature humble enough to see them for the learning opportunities that they are.

Rest in peace, beautiful Poppa.