Winning and Losing
Friends, when I was a young boy my mother and father communed amongst themselves in order to devise a way in which to keep me from wasting away all my time out on the streets of Ħamrun. Sat down at the kitchen table with some tea and biscuits from the local baker and decided that they were going to get me something with which to occupy my time.
They bought me a football game, and I absolutely loved it – they loved it even more than I did because their plan had worked exactly as they had intended. I now spent endless hours inside with the game, playing the game over and over.
It was a two person game that I played by myself, so naturally I won every round, as did my favourite red and black football teams. I had complete control over the game, and so things always went exactly as I intended them. Back then I thought that the winners were the people that came first, but now I think that those who win are the ones who do whatever they can in order to move forward.
With these words I imagine life as a football game where you can either win or lose, but you can’t get a draw on. As I grew up I began to realise that life is not a game that I could win at all the time. Not everything was under my control. This was not something that I came to terms with easily. I began to accept my losses, and I began to accept the victories of others.
That is how life is, victories and losses. There are those who will tell you that the most important thing is participation, I on the other hand always played to win. Perhaps this is the wrong mentality, but that’s just the way that I am. One does not need to be perfect in order to win, I think that perfection is an unachievable standard.
When I got married I felt like I had achieved perfection. I felt like a winner for most of my life, but suddenly I felt a tremendous loss. I had to accept this loss, and I had to accept that it was out of my control, that the contrary is often more frequent than the favourable.
Some people also tell you that you must choose your battles, but in our stories our adversary is too strong and insurmountable. Nowadays I feel a sense of serenity because all my life I always did what I knew and what I could in order to win, and when I look back I don’t have any regrets.
Let be honest with ourselves, if we have never lost in life how would we ever learn to appreciate our victories? Are we not worthy of being celebrated after enduring such as great loss? Is it not a great victory that we were able to get back on our feet? Is it not a great win that we were able to find each other in the way that we did?
When we lose in life we bemoan our defeat and bad luck. We must do whatever we can in order to turn the tides on our defeat, so that we may emerge victorious in our next battle and live better lives.
Today more than ever I feel prepared for the next game that life brings along – I hope that I can defeat the adversary. I hope that I can win.
Friends, it was 2 in the morning and sleep continued to evade me. I was in the midst of a dilemma, would I remain in bed, huffing and puffing, or would I get up and try to do something around the house, risking the ire of my kids if I woke them up? I got up and decided to make myself some tea, and as soon as I finished making it my dog ran right up to my legs, almost sending me and my tea flying – that would have really made my day! I turned on the TV but there was nothing good on, so I got on my laptop and thought about what to write, while I was by myself at this early hour. I decided that while I was alone, I should write about being alone.
Being alone is a though ordeal, and I often think about those who are going through it. Early on in the summer last year we had decided that the group should keep on meeting every Friday even during summer break, because I always kept in mind those of us who are alone. If we could – at least once a week – go somewhere and do something – walking, swimming or anything else, we could alleviate this loneliness, and I could be content with doing a good thing. After all support does not come and go according to the seasons. In this aspect, even social media can be a boon to those that feel alone. What’s wrong with wishing someone a good morning or a good night on social media? Still however, I believe that face-to-face interaction is the way to go.
When we went to Għadira last July we were few, there were those of us who had other obligations – those of us who were abroad and those of us who simply did not want to drive so far out to the beach. I knew that we would be few, but we still went and we still had a good time. It was good because we were able to get to know each other, and we got to learn from one another. I also enjoyed the well-seasoned ftiras, and absolutely refused to get into the freezing water.
All jokes aside, it is very important to keep in touch with each other even with a simple phone call or text message. This makes one feel like there are others who care about them. We must help one another. My wish is that we may all get along with one another in this group, so that no one is left out. People can feel left out even when surrounded by others.
This group keeps growing, and so I feel that the support available should also increase – and it should be available not just on Fridays. I know that many of our members meet up outside of the group and this is a good thing. I am glad about these friendships.
Naturally one must keep in mind that we all have different makes. We all have different personalities and tastes. These differences are what makes this group strong. The tragic thing about loneliness is that it cannot be cured like an ordinary sickness. This is where our group comes into play. We can help each other – especially those of us who feel alone.
I will stop now, as it is time for me to get to work – remember friends, do not waste your energy on death, but focus it on life.
Friends, have you ever woken up in a bad mood, not knowing why you’re in a bad mood in the first place? Have you ever been struck by a dip in your disposition throughout the day because you suddenly remember something that has been worrying you? It happens to me sometimes, and that’s when issues begin to crop up. Those around you take notice of this change, and the questions start coming: Are you ok? Have I done something to upset you? Did something happen at work? Is something wrong? These questions are asked among many others. Many times words do nothing to soothe us, but a tap on the shoulder, or a smile that means ‘you can talk to me about anything my friend’ is all we need.
We live our lives on the fast track. We work, we go home, and we do a thousand things a day. This take away from the time we can spend on ourselves. I for one like to watch movies, I like to read books and to listen to good music – sometimes classical, sometimes movie soundtracks, sometimes music from the 70s, 80s and 90s – it all depends on my mood. This is how I like to spend my time to myself.
Last summer I decided that I should go for walks along the ocean again. Once I went at five in the morning, when everything was dark. Everything was close to still, people were just staring their day – the employees of a particular restaurant were setting up for opening time. The air smelled of coffee. There were men who had come to get a good spot for fishing. There were no cars on the road.
One starts to appreciate a different type of living – a quiet way of live that has been lost. I walked up to the point where I knew I needed to turn back for home. The sun was beginning to rise and a new day was born. The roads started filling up with cars. People started to rush to get to public transportation. Coffee shops started to fill up with customers. People began coming out to work on their boats along the coastline. The everyday fast life began anew – I too had to hurry up in order to get ready and get to work.
It is so important to find time for ourselves. We cannot make excuses – we cannot say that we don’t have time. We must make time. We as widowers must carry an increased amount of responsibility to our children. We live our lives for them – and this is not a bad thing, but we cannot lose ourselves along the way. We too are important. We cannot help our moods, both negative and positive – they come and go at a whim, however we can help ourselves by finding time for ourselves. I have noticed that mood improves when I improve myself.
Life, as I see it
Friends, the more I read about how others try to define and explain life and existence I become simultaneously more informed and confused. Some talk about destiny, some mention luck, some mention free will while others speak about the intervention of God, science and many other factors. Everyone interprets life through their own opinion, and therefore so do I interpret life through my own experiences.
I think that our lives are already determined from birth, and we have no choice but to drive along the path that has been set out for us. Some people get to walk along a freshly asphalted, green and floral road, while others have to go through a rough ride on a broken down road, where nothing grows. We drive the vehicle of our life, a vehicle not of our choosing, one that we can only modify and never change.
Some have good and solid cars to drive down this road, some have normal vehicles while others may have fragile, broken down machines – these vehicles come in an infinite diversity. Each one is different. Some even go faster than others.
Some find a lot of traffic, while others cruise a smooth ride. Some may encounter difficulties along the way – a punctured wheel, or a car that needs to be towed away and be repaired before it can go on along its journey. Along this voyage we may encounter others that join us on this ride, who may end up leaving, even though the memory of their presence never leaves our hearts and minds.
Our voyage is never linear, we find difficult uphill journeys and rides downhill. The uphill battles require us to press down on the gas and fight harder, while the downhill journeys require us to hold on to our breaks. Sometimes we have sunshine, and sometimes we have rain – even in these times we have to drive carefully.
In our group, our lives have reached a point of uphill battles and rainfall. We met many vehicles from different roads – different roads that have brought us to this specific point. We are however, very good drivers, and we keep on moving forward even though the road of our life has blindsided us by taking away our beloved passengers who have accompanied us so far. Our purpose as a group is to keep on going even when we encounter bumps along the way, to go to where we need to go.
It’s Christmas time
Friends, December is my favourite month. It’s a time when I can feel something special in the air. Naturally this is because Christmas is around the corner, and I happen to love Christmas. I take joy in the Nativity Scene and the new-born Jesus. Years ago I decided to forego the Christmas tree and the ostentatious Christmas décor, as I decided that the birth of Christ should be the centre of the celebration.
History tells us that in 1223 St. Francis of Assisi built the first Crib, when what he had seen at Bethlehem had left an impression on him. Pope Honorius III gave him permission to leave his convent in Greggio to visit a nearby cave, which he decorated as a stable. He had a cow and a donkey, but not the sacred family. He preached the Nativity story to a great crowd.
Nowadays, Christmas is a commercial holiday, and has lost most of its original significance.
When I was little I used to attend the Ħamrun mużew where I won a small papier-mâché crib. It wasn’t a particularly stunning crib, it only had the baby Jesus, the Madonna and St. Joseph, the donkey and the cow in it, but for me it was something truly special. It was where my love for the Nativity began, I gave strict orders to my mother to not touch it, or even dust around it because I was afraid that it might break. I remember that my father put in a centre point in the living room.
As wondrous as Christmas can be for some, it can be a time of great sadness for others. While everyone seems to eat, drink and laugh as much as they can, one can still find people who are alone. Gifts, cards and well wishes abound, and yet some people are still alone.
I wouldn’t leave anyone by themselves if I could especially during this time – isolation is a particularly pressing issue to me. In the Decembers after my father died, my mother would spent almost the entire month at my place – and she would be truly happy. The other eleven months of the year, however, my mother would spend alone.
Nowadays I realise how insensitive I was when I didn’t visit my mother nearly as often as I should. I would excuse this by telling myself that life went by very fast, that I had a lot to do. Each time I would find a different reason not to visit. I wonder now how many widowers will be spending the holiday alone, maybe some of them will even be members of this group.
Let us all enjoy the company of our relatives and friends as long as we are in this world because at the end, only the memories of the celebrations will remain.
For this month we have issued a program so that we could meet at least once a week including on Public Holidays, we will have a traditional Christmas party and dinner to celebrate the coming of the New Year together.
On a personal note I would like to thank all of you for your friendship and support that you have given me. I will leave you by wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year on my behalf, and on behalf of the members of the Committee.
Life as a Widower
Friends, thank you for giving me the opportunity that you bestow upon me each month, that you allow me to share my writings with you. Each month the inspiration to write rises again, even though I’m not a writer. I write not to teach, because I am not a teacher, but I like to share my thoughts with you, thoughts about the things I like, and the things which I do not like, and especially on things that relate to our lives as widowers.
As I stich these words together I imagine myself as though I am speaking to each and every one of you over a cup of coffee and some dessert.
In this modern day and age the keyboard has replaced the pen.
This month marks four years since the passing of my wife, and four years since people continuously keep giving me condolences, telling me how good of a woman my wife was. Undoubtedly, their words come with good intentions, however they do not realise that they’re throwing you to your grieving past.
Sometimes you encounter people who are astonished at the choices you have made for your life.
A frequent question that one is asked is, “How long has she been gone for?”
The thing is that when you become a widower, people will never stop reminding you that you are a widower. I’m now accustomed to the situation, and it no longer bothers me, because after all I know that I am a widower without the need of anyone reminding me.
I’m certain that the situation is common to all of you. Pity to those who pay mind to the speculations of others. Words are cheap, that’s why they’re so common.
I feel that there is a lack of resources and assistance available to those who become widowed, and there is room for us as a group to do more. Widowhood is not an ailment that can be cured. To be widowed is to experience a significant change in your life that you must work to accept each day. I know that it is difficult, but I am convinced that we are all strong swimmers especially against the current.
Nevertheless, our lives aren’t only characterised by sorrow, we as widowers have as much right as any other person to smile, and to do the things that bring us fulfilment. We have the right to be happy. Sometimes I feel like people expect us to be constantly sorrowful.
I’m very saddened for those who think this way, because they will not see me sorrowful all the time. Among my happiest times are when we are all together, and we joke, and we laugh and we make noise (as long as it’s not during the meeting).
Therefore my friends let us not waste away thinking of the past which is still written and that cannot be changed, but we must focus on the things that bring us joy. Do not forget, do not waste your energy on death, but use it on life.
Today I will write on a personal matter, if you permit me to. My parents.
My father Manwel from Rabat spend approximately 40 years working in the hospitals of the time as an SRN. He toured all the hospitals. He moved to Ħamrun with his family to be closer to the San Luqa hospital. I remember how my father used to take me to Anton Buttigieg, where poetry was always read. I remember when my father would ask Toni to send over his driver, who would come in an enormous black car, and I would be taken on a tour of the Presidential Palace because I had told him that I was interested in the History of the Knights of Malta.
None of my friends believed me when I told them about this grand adventure. They thought that I had made it all up!
At just over 50 years old, my father lost his wife, who left him with two young women and two young men.
To pass the time and to find some peace and quiet, Manwel would go to the Barrakka ta’ Fuq.
My mother Polly was from Valletta, from Strada San Paolo. A large family required my mother to leave school at a young age so that she could help out her mother at home. Her sisters had all left to Australia so she had to take care of her brothers. She had a hard and trying life.
To pass the time and to find some peace and quiet, Polly would go to the Barrakka ta’ Fuq.
I think by now you must realise that my mother and father met at the Barrakka. Time passed and they got married, and eventually they had me. I was a rambunctious child, and my mother was always worried that I would hurt myself. I was always out and about on the streets in Ħamrun. When the Spartans used to play, or during San Gejtanu feast her anxiety would double. She would always wait for me on our front door, worried that my dinner would get cold.
I had a more easy-going relationship with my father, I could be more of myself. My father was 30 years older than my mother, and after a 30 year loving marriage with my mother he passed away. He was 84 years old.
My mother stopped living her life after that. She locked herself in and no longer wanted anything to do with the outside world. I was as though she had died too, she existed, and she did not live. She stopped going out, she almost stopped cooking. Everything stopped. She was widowed at 54.
She passed on the same day she turned 68. I was left without the two greatest pillars, the greatest teachers I have had in my life.
I am writing all of this because when I lost my wife, I remembered and practiced that which I had learned from my mother and my father. I did not want to be like my mother and lock myself inside to simply exist. I wanted to live.
I learned from my father that for all its brunt, life continues. I wanted to live.
The aim of our group is for us, the members, to help each other live even despite what we have been through, and despite the difficulty of our lives with the waves always beating against us, we still say that life is beautiful.
We want to live, we have the right and the duty. Don’t forget my friends, don’t waste away your energy on death, but use it on life.
Life is full of decisions. Small decisions like what’s for dinner, what to wear, or if to send that message, or big decisions about family, work and the direction of our lives. All those who are responsible for the direction of a group, or any other entity in their diversity all know the weight that these decisions can carry, and do wrong in thinking that everyone will always agree with their decisions.
When I decide something, either my daughter or my son will disagree – my dog intercedes with her barking as well! I’m worried when all three of them agree, because it’s nearly impossible to please everyone – there’s always something!
In the group, the need to take decisions arises often, and neither I nor my friends on the committee expect to agree with each other every time. That is the beauty of this group.
A while back I was reading an interesting article on this subject where the author argued that a person makes hundreds of decisions a day. I don’t know my exact number but I know for certain that everything is a decision. We decided to join this group, we also decided that we should help others in this trying and delicate time. The respect we show one another is also another decision.
The unique scope of this group is to offer support, and this is what we will always remain. We will also continue to obey and abide by the regulations of our statute and in the coming times we will together be re-evaluating the statute in order to change it to reflect the ever-changing realities of modern life and recent laws. We will discuss it when the time comes.
Last but not least, I would like to thank you on behalf of myself and the committee for all your positive comments, as you all know our family is growing. I don’t rate our success on the number of our members, but on the progress of our members, and the difference the group makes in their lives.
Do not forget my friends, do not waste your energy on death, but focus it on living.
The White Flag
Have you ever felt like flying the white flag and giving up? I have many times felt like throwing in the towel like they do in boxing matches when one can no longer bear the blows of daily life – because life is rough, and life as a widower is even rougher.
The White Flag saying dates back to the Roman Empire, when the first people to use it were the Carthaginians on one of their naval vessels during the second Punic War against the Romans. They used palm tree branches covered with white fabric to signal the laying down of arms.
The fact that you have lived with a person for many years, and then knowing that they will no longer be physically present in your life is an exceedingly difficult prospect to bear and to accept – but, as they say life must go on, and I decided to live. Spending our lives yearning to change the past is wasteful of our lives, the past is after all already set in stone and can never be revised. The present is far more important in this life, more so than the future as some people say because there are no guarantees in the future.
Many times we spend our time thinking on the past, and on how our lives may be if things had not happened in the way that they did. In the roadmap of our lives, we must not dwell on what was lost, or what we had to leave behind, but we must instead look toward how far we’ve come and how much further we can go.
Despite it all, I still see life as beautiful with all its ups and downs. We the members of this group all traversed different roads that lead us to the same destination of losing our loved ones. Therefore we must be the ones to understand and support one another even with our differences, as support remains always the principal value of this group, and through it we help each other to avoid the white flag.
I wish you all a pleasant summer.
Thank you all,
Do you consider yourselves to be patient?
Certainly at some point or another throughout your life you have had the urge to burst out all of your anger or frustration. It is important for one to understand that in order to be patient with others, one must first practice patience with oneself.
With our patience we must accept our own flaws and mistakes, after all there is no use crying over spilt milk – the error has already happened, anger and frustration will not turn back time! Our energy is better applied to avoiding the repetition of the error in the future.
It would also be beneficial for us to try our utmost to understand ourselves, and our shortcomings in order to address them and improve. This is after all a lifelong process.
To be patient means to be able to exercise self-control in situations that do not turn out in the manner that they were planned, be it your fault or the fault of others – this is not always easy, especially during trying times. Therefore, it does not make sense when you lose your patience on insignificant things – like a person having an opinion that opposes yours, or a personality that does not mesh with yours.
We cannot expect things to always turn out in our favour – at some point or another we will encounter people who will wrong us. We must understand that we are all individuals that differ from each other, and we all navigate things in our own way.
One may ask themselves if there is anyone in particular that makes them lose their patience, perhaps because of the manner in which this person speaks or acts, and if such an individual does exist, how will one control themselves?
When you lose your patience, your emotions take the better of you and you will almost always end up saying things that you may later regret.
I was always taught that when I am about to lose my patience, I should limit my words and leave decisions to the times in which I am calmer. Therefore it is my wish that we all practice more patience, tolerance and acceptance with each other through our positivity and negativity.
I hope that you have not lost your patience while reading this.
We have a good program set out for this month. I thank you all for your cooperation, while encouraging you to continue attending our activities.
Thank you all.
I have spent some time thinking about this first article. I must confess to you – I was going to write about death and how it has brought us together. After a while, my thoughts went in another direction, and I decided to write about life. There are those who say that we only have one life, I think that we only have one death, while life is something that we have to do every day. Therefore I think that it is for the better that I write about something that we go through so often.
When one goes through what we have, the truth is that we are then left with very limited choices – either to close yourself off from the world and from your loved ones, to the detriment to them and yourself or to do the courageous thing and to try to move forward, little by little. It is not easy, but this is where our group comes in. Our purpose is to support one another, and this will always remain our purpose.
Watching the progress of our members through this difficult road brings with it a great amount of satisfaction. This happens through the joint effort of everyone, through the way that we welcome new members and though the way in which we do our utmost to assist others through the sharing of our experiences.
We need to understand and appreciate our own individuality, we are unique in our dispositions and temperament, and we have to understand that sometimes it is better to omit words that we would regret later, because we do not always know what other individuals have been through – no one can benefit from judging, or judging others.
Our new Committee will continue to build upon the good work of our previous one. There will be new ideas, which when necessary will be discussed with our members. Do not hesitate to come forward with your suggestions, we will try to implement them when possible.
I will close by wishing all the best to our new Committee in their work for our members and thanking Louise and Mark for their work in the previous Committee.
Now I must address Maria Borg – I am certain that I can speak for everyone when I say that we are all indebted to this woman, who has dedicated so many years of selfless work toward the growth and unity of this group.
Thank you Mark, Louise and Maria.
Do not forget my friends, do not waste your energy on death, but focus it on life.
I want to share with you the experience that I had three years ago that changed my life overnight. I was a regular housewife, with a vital and healthy husband and two loving kids and suddenly everything turned upside down when we found out that my husband was sick. I felt the world begin to crumble around me.
I became enraged, to the extent that I deeply questioned my faith and felt a great resentment toward God asking him, ‘why him?’
My husband was a good man, beloved by many. He was a man that always worked hard for his family so that we wanted for nothing. He knew that I had taken the news of his sickness tremendously poorly, he would tell me that we would fight it, and that we were not so special that we would be exempt from struggles.
He passed on 2 years later, with the last year seeing him in a near constant decline, something which caused immense heartache – to watch the man you love dying slowly. He passed away at the age of 56. I had spent most of my life with him from the age of 16. We had known each other for 40 years.
I eventually found out about ‘Minus One’. It was still difficult at first to take the leap and begin to attend, but from the time that I did I never looked back. I was welcomed from the first time that I went there. Nowadays I look forward to every Friday night, when our meetings are held.
My advice to those who go through this experience is to take the leap, and find the courage to attend, because you will feel better. The fact that there are those who share your experience and are willing to listen to you and to understand what you’ve been through is the greatest help.
I was born in Bormla, on the 8th of March 1962. I was 10 months old when my family went to live in Paola. I lived there until I was 22 and had gotten married to the most beautiful woman that I had ever met – I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with her.
Margaret was my world, we had 2 sons together, but this happiness was not to last, as she became sick at the age of 28. She spent the next 13 years of her life battling her illness before she passed away. Our sons were 18 and 14 respectively.
Next April will mark the 16th year since her passing.
I work as a printer at a private company, and 2 of my friends had experienced this tragic event before me, and they had sometimes mentioned the group – and it was thanks to this that I knew of the existence of ‘Minus One’ for widowers like myself, and I was soon invited to join.
At Minus One I found my second family. Sometimes I feel more understood there than I feel with my own family on the simple matter that these people have experienced what I have. I found kind and compassionate people. When one of us needs help, everyone does their best to step up and land a hand.
On a lighter note, the 1st thing I learned was how to avoid washing all of my clothes into a single colour, as for a long while all of my clothes that I put up for drying where all either red, green or blue. I feel like my neighbours must have thought that I was some sort of Caravaggio – or that I was a man who obsessively colour – coordinated all of my clothing down to my underwear!
The group offers friendly companionship, be it a walk, or a day visit to Gozo or Comino. I always do my best to attend. My favourite outings are the mass that we hold on the 1st of November, and on Mother’s and Father’s Day, as everyone listens with rapt attention to Father Saviour’s sermon. He knows us, and he knows what we have been through.
Everyone in the group’s committee plans meetings and activities to help us toward finding a happiness in our lives – laughter is never absent. There are also the times when we cry together, when we remember the loved ones that we have lost on days such as birthdays or the anniversaries of our loved one’s passing. We understand each other’s pain on these days.
I enjoy talking with the others, and I always suggest that discussions do not last more than an hour – we have to leave time for coffee and cake, after all.
When you lose someone with whom you have spent the majority of the best period of your life with, the loss is so great that it changes your life completely. You feel empty and aimless, we have all experienced this tragedy, but we also know that we have to move on, whether we want to or not. Everyone finds their own coping mechanism, most people look for support from their families and friends, and even from support groups. There are some that prefer to fend for themselves like I myself did in the first six years.
My cousin tried to convince me several times to go with her to support group meetings at ‘Minus One’. I was resistant, I thought to myself that I was already in a struggle enough as it was – I didn’t need to surround myself with the struggles of others. I made up excuses time and again to avoid attending – until I couldn’t come up with anymore, lest I embarrass myself in from of my cousin, and so I went.
The first time that I did go felt disastrous. I knew no one, and to the already established circles of friends I felt like a fish out of water (like the ones in Xemxija after the storm). If it were not for my cousin and her efforts on my part, I would have left within the first 15 minutes. To cut a long story short, slowly I began to become accustomed and integrated into the group – I even ended up on the group committee twice. From that day on I realised how useful it is to involve yourself into a group such as this one, and that by helping others you also help yourself.
As time progressed, I felt more and more accepted into the fold and I begin to appreciate the good that this service did to others. Every time I was asked to lend a helping hand, I would to it enthusiastically, because it gave me great satisfaction to share what kills I have with the rest of the group. I learnt a great deal from the others – everyone has something to offer, and this group is not lacking in varied talent.
The emptiness left by the passing of my wife is still, and it can never fully go away, but thanks to the group I am able to begin to heal the pain and the solitude.
A single living flower is still fragrant, but when there are others in the bouquet the fragrance is stronger – and it is the same for this group. There is strength in numbers, and the more we are the more good we can do, as long as we are true and sincere to one another.