Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Giving to Charity

snowdon_challengeThe Snowdon group seen from the east; the highest point, seen above,
is known as Yr Wyddfa with an elevation of 1,085 m (3,560 ft).

A couple of days ago I was sat at a public spot in the virtual world that is Second Life, the location was one aimed at helping newbies, and someone brought up the topic of giving to charity. I don’t know if they were trying to be offensive and intentionally trolling but they were making various points about scams that have occurred online and in Second Life in the past where, for example, an individual has conned people out of money by making them think the money would go to charity, and he was also asking if we all give to charity whilst insinuating we were just sitting around helping people use the virtual world rather than helping starving children in Africa, for example.

When people start throwing accusations around, intentional or not (they can be received as such), it’s hard not to react, either by speaking your defence, or quietly thinking it to yourself, with things like “well, what do I give to charity?” or throwing out some things you do or have done for charity as points of self-justification.

For various reasons I rarely give directly to charity, I’ll not get into that here because it’ll just be me trying to justify things, either to any potential readers, but largely to myself. However, I think one reason I rarely give is because it has become a reaction to the request – once you start saying no it becomes easy to stick to that – it becomes an automatic response, whereas if you sometimes give or sometimes don’t then you have to justify your reasoning in order to come to a decision, no or yes, and if yes, how much. It actually makes me feel awkward to be asked, like, you feel obliged to give, or guilty for saying no. Sometimes it can feel offensive to be asked, or you feel like you’re being offensive for declining.

Someone who was a friend of mine a while back in Second Life, although we had talked less and less up to this point, sent out messages to all her friends asking if we would donate to some cause, something to do with a friend or family member which I had nothing to do with. I thought at first that her account had been hacked and it was a bogus message, but when I asked her about it she said it was genuine, and so I took offence to this (I think my initial reaction was one of offence but I chose to give her the benefit of the doubt), it struck a nerve – like she was guilt-tripping me about something to do with someone I knew nothing about, and I used that as my reason (to myself) for removing her from my friend list shortly after. To be honest we had talked less and less so I would have cleared her off my list sooner or later – that sounds harsh but some of us keep these social networking friend lists relevant and she wasn’t a close acquaintance any more, which is always a shame.

Then the table turned. The day after that confrontation in Second Life I received an e-mail from a charity website – a message and request sent out by my mum. The cause was very personal to us both and not only did I want to donate but I also wanted be involved in some way other than just donating some money and so that is why I wrote this post to put the story here in the off chance that some people in my small circle of followers or perhaps casual visitors may have taken it to heart and feel compelled to donate too. I immediately realised this was somewhat hypocritical of me, but I not asking, because I know it can be offensive to be asked, and I didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I just put the opportunity here because I felt compelled to do so. I didn’t want to guilt-trip anyone, I just wanted to put the story here for the sake of sharing it.

Edit: I’ve edited this post a little so that it’s worded after the event.

I call it a story but it is true.

It turned out that both my brother and sister had put out ‘similar’ requests in their own social networking circles, although their approach was a little different to mine.

The story:

Last year my dad died, actually he was my second dad – I was unfortunate to loose one at a very young age, but fortunate to have a second. He had various things wrong with him in the end, a lot of which had just been compounded from issues he’d had all his adult life – I’m not sure what actually popped-him off, so-to-speak, a heart attack caused by lung problems I think, but he was also developing dementia. I didn’t really acknowledge this at the time – the signs were quite gradual to me I think and what in hindsight was deterioration I just thought was depression at the time. But it wasn’t all so bad, some aspects seemed to cause him to say funny things which just seemed to be part of his personality. My mum saw things a little differently though, again in hindsight for me because she understands dementia and Alzheimers better than me, having had other relatives have it. I think, in hearing about other people’s cases, we were lucky the dementia hadn’t got to too low a point when he died.

“Dementia Is a Group of Symptoms. Dementia isn’t a disease. It’s a group of symptoms that affect mental tasks like memory and reasoning. Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.” – www.healthline.com

My parents were both assisting with research into dementia up until that time and my mum has been further active in her help since. Now one year on and she has felt compelled to take part in a sponsored walk, although it’s a little more than a simple walk – it’s a trek up Mount Snowdon in Wales and back, at Midnight, called the ‘Snowdon Midnight Challenge’, which takes walkers 7-10 hours to complete.

So this was the e-mail I received out of the blue from her, asking me to donate. I followed the link to the website where I read my mum’s words – words which were very emotional for me to read and the message contained things she had kept quietly to herself because it’s a topic that is just too emotional to talk about (although it is getting easier). I’ll share her part here, in case you choose not to follow the link below:

When my late husband Bob was diagnosed with dementia, there was no help or advice available. The Alzheimers society are building up a network of advice and information centres, support groups and activities in your local area. This will help carers and people living with dementia to live full and happy lives. I have a back problem which has limited my physical activity in recent years. I am now going to the gym and increasing my walking gradually. I have stopped smoking … The Snowdon Challenge will be a massive accomplishment for me and a  positive way of remembering my wonderful husband Bob.

[Update] It is now February, I haven’t updated this page before now because it makes me cry. Feb 14th, valentines day was our wedding anniversary. We were married for 30 years. Alzheimers disease and other dementias can effect young and old. My grandma and my aunty had Alzheimers disease. It is heartbreaking to see someone you love living with dementia, but so much can be done to improve people’s lives. I am a volunteer with the Alzheimers society and see first-hand what is being done to fight the disease. I am doing the Snowdon Midnight Challenge to raise awareness of dementia and in memory of those I have lost…

[Update April] Only a month to go. My training came to a bit of a standstill as I had an operation on my toe … Back to the gymn and the dog walking every day now… – www.justgiving.com

The line about her wedding anniversary was such a strong one for me to read. I knew that day would be a hard one for her but we never spoke about it. Of course I am obliged to donate, but I don’t feel obliged, I feel compelled. It is really only over the past year that my mum has taken up walking since my dad wasn’t capable of participating, but it’s still only a casual thing for her, and she may have walked up Snowdon with my first dad, now, even though I had no doubt she would succeed in the challenge she needed all the support she could get… and she deserved the support – it was such a beautiful and heart-felt reason for her to take part.

My initial reaction was to consider throwing a lump sum at the donation box on the web page, even though I’m not a wealthy person myself – it would show the support she has. My second thought was that I need to give her some of the money she has put forward to take part in the event – a lot of money by her own standards. My other thoughts were to write about it here (which I have done, as you see) but also to take part in the event in my own way, but how? I’m not sure.

I thought about other ways I could help out but in the end I made an early donation, the largest one on the online list, and I felt that helped get the ball rolling and encourage other people to donate similar amounts. I can always remember years ago when I was at high school and would cycle for charity, but most people I asked to sponsor me either had very little money to give or was a stranger to me, inevitably once the first few people wrote small amounts on the sponsor form everyone else followed suit. Really I just enjoyed taking part in the bike ride and that it was for a good cause made it more worthwhile.

Anyway, my mum’s walk/climb was a big success. She raised hundreds of £££s and she completed the walk. The weather wasn’t brilliant for her but the experience was very special.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowdon

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