My ego and the death of my mother

no desires presence lotus

presence no desires, nothing left to prove lotus

One year on, and all I care about now is Being here, it seems

I’ve written in the past about the death of my mother, most recently here:

It’s now a little over a year ago and I’ve noticed that her passing from my life has had a quite unexpected impact on me.

In the weeks and months leading up to her dying I’d tried to imagine what life would look like after the event. But no matter how hard I tried to imagine that future, it was as if I was looking at a black screen of a big television that wasn’t turned on, just a big black flat nothing. My imagination simply wasn’t able to create a picture of life without my mother in it.

And then, a couple of months after she died, I suddenly realised I was now on the other side of that big black screen and that, surprise surprise, life on the other side of the television looked very much like normal, life goes on.

People asked me how I was and how I felt, and if I missed her a lot and I wondered about that myself.

And the answer I generally gave, was that I felt at peace with how she’d died and how we had been able to complete our journey in life with each other and how much time and attention I’d been able to give her and the process, and I was ok, quite good even.

Don’t speak too soon

A little voice on my shoulder kept muttering things under it’s breath like: “Don’t you speak too soon”, and “I’ll talk to you in a while, you’ll think different then”, but it all sounded fairly harmless and I didn’t pay it too much more attention.

But now, a year later, I’ve started wondering.

Most of my life I’ve been interested in doing things differently than everyone else. Break the norm, stand out from the crowd. Whatever field of endeavour I went into, I felt the urge to do things differently, whether that was in boat building, home renovating, coaching or in any of the many other things I’ve occupied myself with in my life.

It’s always been Projects (with a capital “P”). Projects have excited me and kept me interested and moving. But I’ve noticed something change inside me this past year. And it might lead one to think that the little voice on my shoulder was right to be concerned after all.

My Ego-Projects

You see, I now think of these projects as “Ego-Projects”… Projects that were designed to stroke my ego, to convince myself how special, clever, creative and different I really was.

Or …

Projects that were designed to show my mother how special, clever, creative and different I really was.

And now that’s she’s gone, it seems like I don’t feel the need to convince myself or my mother of anything anymore.

Projects hold no interest for me at the moment. All I’m interested in is Being.

Being with myself and Being in relationship with family and friends.

Tuesdays with the grandkids

I wrote about my wonderful Tuesday afternoons with my grandkids here and I get engaged when working with my clients and I love investing time in my friendships and in my relationship with Lady D, but I simply do not feel the need to go and do anything beyond that kind of Being.

For example. Some years ago I set myself a big Project, to be talking on a global TED stage by the time I was 65. (I wrote about that Project in November last year here). But now, I have zero interest in doing that anymore. Quite apart from the fact that it’s unlikely I’ll actually get to speak from a global TED stage, I’m simply not interested. I have better things to do with my life than chase after such a thing. And even if I were to get onto that stage, what then? What’s next? Election to the USA presidency? (oh wait, there’s a thought)

But it’s very strange, It’s a weird experience for me, unsettling. I’ve never felt like this in my life before.

On the one hand I think it’s actually really positive. What else could I ask for than to feel good about just Being, to want nothing else than to just Be. To be here and nowhere else with the people that matter to me? Free from striving, free from feeling pressured and free from feeling I have anything to prove.

But on the other hand, isn’t that also dreadfully close to being depressed?

Aren’t we meant to be striving, and achieving and making things happen, building stuff, creating stuff, developing stuff? Isn’t that what sets us apart from the monkeys?

Striving for Sgt Pepper’s

I suppose there is little doubt that if it wasn’t for human striving the Beatles wouldn’t have created Sgt Peppers, van Gogh wouldn’t have painted “Irises” (or cut of his ear), and Bill Gates wouldn’t have created his Foundation, but by the same token, all that striving has led to all the wars that ever were, to overpopulation and to global warming, to loss of bio diversity and to looming mass extinctions.


And then there is this little thing called: “The need to earn money” (To be honest you could easily argue, that writing blog posts such as this one, don’t fit in any kind of regular marketing strategy for my business. Maybe if my business was a meditation retreat, blogging about giving up all earthly desires might prove to be useful, but for a business coaching business?… Not so much)

So… It’s been a weird year since my mother died. I imagine the changes it’s wrought in me, will continue for a while yet.

I wonder where I’ll be a year from today?

I’ll let you know how I go.


Looking Life In the Eye

death life

death life

What I learned from my mother in the last weeks of her life.

My mother died in July last year. I spent the last few weeks of her life with her every day. She knew she was about to die and what’s more she was looking forward to the journey. A couple of months off her 90th birthday, she’d had enough of the medical efforts that were needed to keep her alive and she believed that there was a new adventure waiting for her. As she said a few times to me: “I have packed my backpack, it’s sitting near the front door, all that remains is for me to take off this coat I’m still wearing and then I’m off”.

The last weeks of our lives together were incredible. Many people have come up to me since her death and wished me strength and love in these tough times and offered me their shoulders to cry on. And it’s lovely that people have, but I wish I could explain to them how I don’t feel the need for sympathy. I actually feel relieved, content, satisfied and lucky, grateful even.

Feeling emotional

It’s not that I didn’t love my mother, and that I’m glad she’s gone, far from it, we were very close. No doubt I’ll miss her in the coming years, probably for the rest of my life. I feel emotional from time to time, I feel sad sometimes, and confused maybe, unsure what’s going on, all of that, but none of the emotions I feel are negative.

Nor were the last stages of my mother’s life easy, not at all. There was pain and suffering and in the end my mother died from suffocation. I can assure you there’s nothing fun in that.

But it was all good and it still is.

Death’s cliches

It’s a cliché and it nevertheless bears repeating: We are all going to die.

None of us can avoid it.

And that fact is neither good nor bad, it simply is.

Yet we spend so much of our lives pretending that this fact relates to other people, not us.

We avoid thinking about death and dying and we don’t plan for it and we don’t talk about it and we don’t let the fact of our death and the process of our dying interfere with the pursuits of our lives and our bucket list.

Let’s Organise a Death Shower

death life And then when it does happen to us, we act as if we never saw it coming. We spend 9 months or more preparing for the arrival of a baby, from organizing support during and after the birth, to organizing our work life, to getting the baby’s room ready. How about holding a “Death Shower” to balance out the saccharine sweetness of the “Baby Shower”?

I am in awe of how my mother prepared and planned for her death. Not just in the last few weeks, but over the past 30 years. She looked the facts of life right in the eye and didn’t shy away from them. Her greatest fear was that she’d end up in a hospital bed in a nursing home. And she realised that to avoid the nursing home, she’d need to organise her life differently.

Getting involved in the community

She set about doing exactly that. She sold the house she’d lived in since 1957 and found a house that she’d be able to manage when becoming increasingly decrepit. She also got involved in local neighborhood services and volunteered in the community. Part of her motivation for doing so was to be well connected when the time came for her to need that community herself.

She did these things and various others and she was very clear and open about them. For her it was all part of the process.

And the thing is, she succeeded. She died in July in her own cozy home, looking at her beloved garden, cared for by her local community and with the people that mattered most to her around her.

And she was content, and she felt good and so did we all.

Pain and suffering is part of the process.

It was a truly special experience for me. I actually have a lump in my throat as I write this, not because of any negative sense of sadness, rather because of the beauty of it.

We are all going to die, and pain and suffering will probably be part of the process. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. The GP who looked after my mother said at some point in one of our conversations: “You know I often think that we get too fixated about wanting to avoid suffering at the end of life. There is a lot of pain and suffering in child birth and maybe at the other end, it is also rightly part of the process”.

I’m not sure of course, one death hardly makes me an expert. What I do know is that the process of growing old and dying fully scares the Living Daylights out of me, but I am nevertheless going to face the facts of life and think, plan and talk about my death.

Just like my mother did.

#Death #Dying #LifeAndDeath

I’ve zest for life and a passion for all things business. I’ve spent many years consulting, designing and building solutions for small businesses. For more of my thoughts and musings on life and business, subscribe to my blog below:

Death is the Big Event — The Most Important Party in Your Life

dying death life choices coaching

Death is the Big Event

How we ignore the most important event in our lives


A few weeks ago, back in Holland, I had a meeting about planning for a big family event with my brother, my mother and a consultant who is going to help us put it all together.

It was a good… effective meeting… well run and facilitated by the consultant, who was incisive, experienced, empathic and understanding

Nevertheless it was a pretty odd experience… Because you see, the event we were planning for is my mother’s funeral and the consultant was the undertaker….

The fact is my mother is going to die in the foreseeable future… so the meeting was about making arrangements for that event…

And the oddest moment of the meeting came right at the end of the meeting: The funeral director got up to say goodbye to us and he shook our hand in turn and he said: “It was really lovely to meet you and I look forward to seeing you later”…He will indeed see my mother later…

But she will not.

The most important event

But I think it’s really strange: There are all kinds of important events in our lives… being born, turning 21, getting married, having children, turning 50 or 60; 25 years of marriage You could argue that dying is actually the most important of all of those events, or at least as important as being born.

And we go through enormous contortions to prepare for all of those events. We might be planning our wedding day for years even and the planning that goes into getting ready for having our first child especially… wow… babyrooms, new car, baby equipment, prenatal yoga classes… you name it

But preparing for dying?

We don’t really even talk about death, let alone preparing for the actual event

Last minute panic

We just don’t do it, and so when we die, it’s is this incredible and enormous panic that we put on everyone else around us and they have to rush around finding the right photos and write the right text for the card; suddenly they have to make decisions about coffins, and speeches and music and endless other stuff, all in the space of a couple of days and then there is potentially one of the largest parties we’ve ever been part of and it’s all about us, (it’s certainly the last party we’ll ever be part of) and we’ve just left it all up to the poor suffering kids, relatives and friends.

death and taxes As they say: you can be sure of only two things in life: death and taxes (and even taxes I’m not so sure about sometimes), but death is gonna come around, no matter what you do, we will all die and there will be a funeral and there will be a party and people will say things about us and there will be a heap of stuff to organise.

As sure as God made little apples, this will happen to each and everyone of us

Yet we walk and live and breath and talk and dream and think in absolute denial of that death most of the time. As if it doesn’t concern us.

Why is that?

I think it’s because we think it’s all too scary. We just don’t understand. We can’t comprehend what it will be like this death thing and so no matter what we really think about death and what we really feel about dying, we just use the time worn clichés to talk about it: “Well she had a good innings didn’t she”… “At least she didn’t suffer at the end”… “She looks like she is at peace now”…


The clichés around death and dying are incredible and I also have noticed myself struggling to avoid some of those clichés when trying to say something meaningful to friends who are going through the journey of Death. But clichés are a topic for another newsletter.

I want to tell you a bit more about the meeting instead.

It was actually a really good experience having this meeting with my mother and brother and the undertaker and talking about death

It brought us closer together

For my brother, who is the one who lives in Holland, it’s going to be much easier to make those initial decisions and get things moving, when she actually dies

Joint decisions

For both of us it it will be easier to make joint decisions, because we have a sense of what is important for my mother around dying and her last moments amongst us

For the funeral director it will be so much easier to give us what we need, because he has met her and got to know us a little

And for my mother? Well she feels loved and cared for and, most importantly, she feels that she is still a little bit in charge, which, if you knew my mother you’d realise is right up there with breathing for her.

Funny moment

One of the funniest moments in the meeting with the funeral director came when we were talking about the party/ wake afterwards.

We were brainstorming about the kind of gathering we had in mind… the venue… what time… what drinks… how long and how many people and at one moment my mother was getting all fired up about how at parties like that she hates that kind of stupid finger food: The sad sack sausage rolls and pathetic party pies; The kind of horrors that get handed around at standup parties: “Those things make me make me physically sick” she said… It all went silent for a moment and we all looked at each other … and my mother said… oh yes… that’s right… i’ll be dead anyway


When Death Enters the Room Everything Changes

grim reaper

A quick dash to Holland

Musings on Death and big questions

I flew to Holland about 8 days ago. Family affairs… aging single mother… I needed to be there.

grim reaper I flew to Holland about 8 days ago. Family affairs… Ageing single mother… I needed to be there.

I hadn’t planned to go to Holland this time, I am actually booked to spend 5 weeks with family from Christmas but my mother who is 88 is going through a pretty tough time at the moment.

She is most likely in the last year of her life and possibly the last months. Growing old sucks… in case anyone was wondering, it’s not fun.

Death makes a change…

Personally I think I am reasonably calm about dying (at the very least it’s something new, and as they say, a change is as good as a holiday), but the process of becoming more and more decrepit, becoming dependent on the goodness of others and slowly losing all capacity for making your own decisions about your own life… that scares the bejeesus out of me.
I’ve thought that before, but it’s well and truly confirmed for me again being in Holland with my mother.

But it’s also a really interesting time for me. My mother and I have struggled with each other in some form for most of my life. We’re very close, but maybe we have always been too close. An older brother of mine, who died a couple of years ago used to say: “There’s a good reason you moved to the other side of the earth” … and it’s true, always when I go and see my mother or stay with her when I am in Holland, it’s great to see her… for about the first 2 hrs and then I start to climb the walls. I’m normally a relatively stable and fairly well adjusted human bean (remember Roald Dahl?)… But after more than 2 hrs with my mother, I turn into some weird kind of Jekyll and Hyde monster…

It’s different this time

This time is different though, surpisingly.
My mother is in such a difficult final stage of life that it seems that she is entirely focused on herself and hasn’t got the wherewithal to look at me and push some of my most exposed buttons. Well either that or I have recently reincarnated as the Dalai Lama and my buttons have all suddenly fallen off… It would be nice if they were, but I doubt it.

But It is fascinating this whole process of dying, I had a therapist some years ago who I saw regularly for a long time and I remember her saying: “Everything changes when Death is in the room”… and she’s right. Death is clearly in the room now… it might be a few months or it might be today, but my mother will die and there is nothing anyone can do about that, and everything has changed.

We all suddenly feel helpless, we lose a sense of control over our lives, my Jekyll and Hyde monster seems to keep it’s head down… It looks as if I’m ok with just being with her, people behave differently everywhere. Some people stand up and get involved, others hide, I’m interested to see how I will be changed by the process over the coming months. At this point I don’t feel sad so much, hard to know what I’m really feeling… I’m starting to stress about the funeral, and the fact that it will likely be expected of me that I do a Eulogy (I am clearly and sometimes frustratingly a son of my mother… all that worrying!)

The cliches of dying

The other thing I find fascinating and also frustrating is that we have no language to really express our feelings around the process of dying. We don’t seem to be able to get past the well-worn clichés and platitudes: “Well we all have to die one day”… “She’s had a good innings”… “All you can do is accept”… All the statements we make around dying are so meaningless. Saying them doesn’t make anyone happier or feel better. But what do you say to someone who’s definitely dying? Or to someone whose nearest and dearest are dying? Few people are even able to use the word dying. We talk about people passing on, as if there is something nice and gentle about dying.
Let me assure you… there isn’t… more often than not it causes intense pain, intense fear, intense discomfort and intense sadness. Nothing nice and gentle about it. I love the line from Dylan Thomas (and I’m hopeless about quoting poetry): ‘Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.’

Years of preparation

My mother has worked at preparing herself death for a long time, many years, and she had thought (naively) that she was as well prepared for it as anyone could be. Years of studying eastern and western philosophies and religions, and she had even created her own way of talking about the process, she referred to it as “removing that last coat”. Now that Death is pulling at the sleeves, she struggles against it, she panics, she is extremely scared and anxious. She’s also feeling quite disappointed that all those years of preparation seems to count for so little right now, but more than anything she hates that she’s not in control anymore.

I am really happy I made the snap decision to come over now and not let it wait until Christmas.
I had a realisation 2 weeks ago while on a Skype call to my younger brother… I was actually trying to give him some advice about this whole situation… He was struggling to decide how much support he could afford and wanted to give my mother at this at this time, and how to balance his own, his family’s and his business needs against those of being a dutiful and loving son.

A once in a lifetime experience

I said: ”Well you know I think that the only thing that matters is that how you yourself will feel, looking back on this time a few years later. We only get given one opportunity in our lives to be part of the death of our mother… it’s a once in a lifetime experience… All that matters is that you do what you need to do so that you give yourself the best chance to look back on this time in a few years and feel comfortable, proud, calm, ‘right’ about how you balanced those different needs.”
And as I was saying this to my brother, I suddenly thought…”wow, actually that means I ought to jump on a plane myself next week”.

And so, right now, I feel good about myself. I’ve been able to give her some attention and a sense that I care about her, I’ve been able to lighten a bit of the load on the people round her for a few days at least, I’ve been able to make a few arrangements that will hopefully make things a little easier. I am forever grateful that my brother suggested I rent my own apartment while I was here instead of staying with her… The Jekyll and Hyde monster might not have been so quite otherwise.

Business class

Tomorrow I’m flying back to Australia again. I’ve just played celebrity son for a week and then the weight will be back on the shoulders of my younger brother and my mother’s bossom friend.
I do think I’ve deserved a business class upgrade on my flights home, don’t you?…
Anyone at Singapore Airlines listening?… Yoohoo!

Image credit Monty Python, The Meaning of Life