When life hands you lemons…..

images-26One of my supervisors said to me: In the time it takes to do a PhD, statistically, one or more major life events are sure to happen to you – births, deaths, marriages, relationship breakdowns, moving house, etc.

I got the second one. Twice.

So, for the last three months, my PhD has been put on the back burner.

Despite this, the PhD still travels along. Albeit at a slower pace.

I had a paper due the same week my mum died. I managed to get it finished. It was a welcome focus actually. The rest of the time I was wandering around the house like a old mole at a christening (as mum used to say).

My daughter was completing her VCE exams. There was all the end of year activities with the other two. Life was busy. I was distracted.

Four weeks later, I went to a conference in New Zealand. Great conference. My paper did really well. I still felt a bit like I was underwater. Took the kids. Did a few touristy things. Saw Germaine from Flight of the Conchords in the gift-shop at the museum. So, by all accounts, the trip was a great success.

I came home. My mum was still dead. And I fell apart.

But then, I re-drafted the paper, co-wrote a feature length screenplay, applied for teaching work. Got a flash fiction published.

Swings and round-abouts.

Christmas. Then New Year.

I won a prize. And my mother-in-law died. The same day.

It is not just me in all this. I have a husband, children, a sister, her family, my dad, my in-laws, friends. All grieving in their own way. All needing attention.

Before all this, I was finally starting to feel like I would get my PhD finished. This year. My PhD was important. To me. It is more important now. It is a focus. A direction forward. I am worried that when it is finished, I will start grieving all over again. Worse.

It is also less important. More a task to be completed. Less an all-consuming being.

I have a new perspective.

I was reluctant to share all this in such a public forum. But it may just be the most significant part of my PhD journey. It felt wrong to leave it out.

exps40736_CFT1437882D14C When life hands you a bunch of lemons, everything you write, read, touch seems lemon-flavoured. But I am not trying to make lemonade. Because I have a PhD brain, I analyse the lemon. I try to detach. I look at its composition, its effect, its relationships.

It gives new meaning to the word Bittersweet.

I am still very much in the middle of all this, so I don’t know how it will go, but my PhD is about the stories we tell ourselves. About how we make sense of our world. I hope it will help me make sense of all this.

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13 Responses to When life hands you lemons…..

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I just saw a tweet of yours and thought to check in on your blog. So sorry to hear your sad news. Well done on staying on track with the PhD and the fiction though, and the best of luck with the last leg.

  2. oxforddphile says:

    Thanks for writing this great post! I am very sorry for your losses but it is also consoling (in a terrible way) to understand that lemons are part of the PhD and life. I sometimes feel like the PhD should be all about focus and doing one thing and only that one thing but life just keeps throwing shit I have to deal with. It is inspiring to know that lemonade is possible – that you can write a PhD despite life being what it is.

  3. Pingback: When life hands you lemons….. | To Teach Is To Touch Lives Forever

  4. Condolences from Vienna, Lisa. Congratulations, too. The stories we tell ourselves are important for others to hear. Wishing you all the very best. Onwards!

  5. Sarah Gibson Yates says:

    yes congratualtions on making it through all that – although i know it’s still ongoing. grief goes on of course life does too. I can see how having your phd might have helped. good to focus on what you can have an effect on in times when you are being deeply affected by life.

  6. Carol Mills says:

    We all get lemons, I guess some of us (like you) decide to make lemonade… thank you for sharing

  7. I’m adding my condolences and also my congratulations. I have noticed your name popping up in various places with your successes but hadn’t realized what a complex time this was for you. Wishing you a great deal of strength, and also comfort.

  8. Olga Walker says:

    I too am sorry to hear about the lemons in the PhD journey and the death of your beloved Mother and Mother in Law. Sometimes life hands us too many character building experiences it seems, and yet we are still able to stand back and look at the bigger picture. Good luck with the rest of your journey. My PhD journey with a new uni starts in a few days and I am scared and excited worried and happy…how to get used to all of these emotions…

  9. sifdal says:

    So sorry to hear you mother died, and then your MIL as well. As much as these events are inevitable, they hurt. Congratulations again on the award, and on publishing a flash. Be gentle with yourself and do what you need to to. xxx

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