I’ve been a fool

By on Jan 30, 2018 in Blog Posts, Cancer, Summer | 9 comments

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Years ago as I was taking my first, tentative steps into the world of consulting I had a crisis of confidence. It was during a tea-break from facilitating a session with a group of senior and surprisingly clever executives. They’d spent the morning asking the kind of questions I didn’t have a quick answer to. My co-facilitator and friend, Serena, turned to me and said, “You don’t have to be great all the time. Only in the moments that count.”

Thursday was Joshua’s memorial. It was, for me, a moment that counted. There were many, many people who got that but also – and this is why I feel like such a fool – many people who had sent me “anything you need” messages through the year that were missing. 

I have spent the last five days feeling hurt. Feeling angry. And mostly feeling like such a fool. Many of the people missing were people who, over the years, I looked up to. They seemed more worthy than me with their flexible yoga stretched legs and their clean eating and their reading lists comprised entirely of worthy non-fiction.

What I putz I’ve been.

In my anger and my self-pity and self-flagellation I missed some things. Like three friends who made copies of Joshua’s eulogy to share with their daughters who are entering the time in their lives when they are beginning to care what people think.

Or the friend who kept running today when the vision of Josh reminded her to dig a little deeper.

Or the friend who’s taken on a truly courageous private health-journey that she’d previously given up on.

The parents who’ve made a pact to skip shouting when dirty towels get left on the floor.

The friend who’s picked up the novel she’d given up writing last year…55 000 words as of last night.

Or the mountains of food and drink that has arrived and will keep us fed for months to come.

Or the friends who are simply trying different things, inspired by Josh.

The friends and family who gathered around us, distracted us, who organised a wonderful memorial that truly honoured Joshua's life.

And especially the many, many friends fighting this beast of a disease and who fought on for another day encouraged by his spirit.

I know I’ve forgotten loads more.

Joshua said he wanted his life to matter and as I reread this list I realise I truly have been a putz because all through the last five days the people who I’ve been giving airspace to are the people who don’t count.

I'd forgotten the people who count.

I’m changing that.

A memorial with unplanned pyrotechnics.


  1. Shannon Hummer

    30th January 2018

    Post a Reply

    I am a relatively new member to the support groups. I have gained much encouragement and certainly a swift kick in the rear that has picked me up when I was beginning to linger in my woe is me pity party of knowing I am losing my 55 year old husband. I can never imagine your grief, we as parents aren’t designed to lose our children. I have read, and re read Joshs story. He was a treasure as are you. I wanted to let you know that he is still encouraging people all over the world. With much love from Atlanta, GA USA

    • Penny Castle

      31st January 2018

      Post a Reply

      This cancer is a beast – there is no good time to get it, Shannon. I’ll be keeping you and your husband in my thoughts and close to my heart.

  2. Georgia

    30th January 2018

    Post a Reply

    I didn’t understand this when I first read it. But now I found a moment and read it calmly. I just wanted to say, you are not a putz. Those moments when those people you put energy into let you down are perfect. Perfect to let go of the dross, and to remind yourself not to spread yourself too thin. Thank those ‘friends’ for showing themselves the door and saving your precious energy. 😉

  3. Cheryl Kimmens Franke

    31st January 2018

    Post a Reply

    You are such an inspiration! You are so honest, kind and thoughtful. I feel very blessed to sit thousands of miles away and be able to read your words and be a tiny part of your garden. Thank you. You, your family and Josh continue to set an example for all of us struggling through.

  4. Lee

    31st January 2018

    Post a Reply

    It’s one of those things that I’m not sure I could easily let go of (I feel hurt for you…) But yes, at the same time I am amazed and in awe of how you and Josh have lit the fire in so many people around the world, including within me and mine. We talk about Josh all the time – he is a stick to keep us active and engaged, a sparkle to keep us inspired and reaching for more. Penny, your Josh has already had an impact on this world far greater than many who spend longer here.

  5. Alma

    31st January 2018

    Post a Reply

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. You still have a long road ahead of you and your wounds are raw. I’m unfortunately one of those that would send a message to meet up later. Why? Yes, because I’m a coward and I know I will upset the people in need more because I would be too emotional. But there’s another reason: when most friends have continued with their normal routines, as they have to, I step in. That’s often when people need just a little bit more support and a shoulder or ear. I’ve realised that this is probably my role in life – not the immediate support, but when others think the difficult time has past – but it sure as hell hasn’t. Thinking of you.

  6. Sne

    31st January 2018

    Post a Reply

    I love how you open your yourself up … unapologetically so. I was one of those pedantic mums who used to fuss about the smallest of nasty habits. They seem so insignificant now. The story of Josh has completely changed my perspective and absolutely shifted my focus. He is truly a light that will keep on shining brighter and brighter. You’re always in our thoughts!

  7. Debbie

    31st January 2018

    Post a Reply

    Pen, your talent for expressing the raw truth of how you feel in your writing has and continues to wow me. I feel hurt for you too that you felt let down by some people, but really admire your changing your perspective and focusing on the amazing people in your life and that’s what really counts. I don’t have your gift of putting my feelings into words, and feel uncomfortable doing so, but time to brave up and try and say what’s on my heart… Like many of us, at this seasoned age of the wrong side of 40, I have known people who have suffered great loss and always say and mean at the time ‘ really puts things into perspective, live life to the full etc.’ but soon after revert back to being a bit of a ‘special snowflake’ 🙂 Throughout Josh’s illness I of course felt tremendous sadnesss and empathy for Josh, you and your family, but at the memorial I felt such a sense of ‘knowing Josh’ even though I never met him and in doing so learning so much from his attitude towards life, albeit a short one in his case. The sadness somehow shifted to a quiet sense of amazement. I found myself wishing I’d been more like him at that age or at least had him as a friend. I am not making any big changes in my life, in the ‘doing’ sense, but there’s something that shifted in me, which I can’t really explain, like I said not too good with putting feelings into word, but probably doesn’t really matter, it just has. All I know is that I will try to have more of his incredible courage and positivity and sort out the ‘special snowflakes’. I will fail sometimes, but I’ll keep trying. Stuff the yoga and clean eating, if it works for you, good, but we are all just trying to muddle through this life in the best way we possibly can. I say let’s just be who we are, and stay true to that and try and be better in whatever way that we can. Josh said that he wanted his life to matter, he can tick that box! You and Shannon created and influenced an amazing soul. May he not rest in peace, but have a party in his green tights wherever he is:).

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