Happy 12th Birthday!


On the occasion of your 12th birthday, I wanted to share a little of the many lessons I’ve learnt from you, my precious daughter.

  •  There is no point of comparison, as we are all so very different, achieving in our own allotted timeline. There is no room for envy, nor hankering after what someone else has. You celebrate your friend’s wins more than anyone I know. I have never seen you covet another’s fortune.
  • You have taught me to not fear death. Loved ones have died in front of you, and you have reached for their hands. You have insisted on attending more than one viewing  and have then celebrated their precious lives, whilst comforting the grieving.
  • You aren’t afraid to be seen, whether that be via acting in a production, dancing or singing. You stand on stage and proudly declare that you are here, staking your place in this world. You know that there is enough room for everyone.
  • Criticism doesn’t bother you. You humbly take on board constructive feedback, but discard nastiness in all its forms. It takes many people a lifetime to learn the difference.
  • You have a keen appreciation of the ridiculous, and a wonderful sense of humour. Remember when we were trying to find the hotel room I had booked? We wearily walked several blocks, because I couldn’t figure out which way was north when Google Maps told me to go that direction? I finally saw the appropriate signage on a motel building and remarked to you that it was pretty grand for a budget motel, what with its marble reception and pianist. The nice lady at the counter informed us that the budget arm of their chain was in fact a few blocks away. “Just head west,” she said, which saw you collapse into peals of laughter. We laughed some more when we read on the copious instructions in the dodgy room that if we showered, we would surely set off the nervy smoke alarm and the whole place may have to be evacuated. Being able to laugh in the face of delays, problems and a directionally-challenged mother, will hold you in good stead.
  • You have a healthy relationship with social media, with no interest in most of the platforms. You don’t need likes nor to have your worth affirmed by other people. Sensitive, you are acutely aware of the pain of exclusion, and see no need to highlight what you are doing and with whom, every day.
  • You are a loyal friend, and make no demands of those whom you love. You may not see a good friend for six months, but when you do, you simply pick up where you left off.
  • You bound out of bed of a morning, and give every activity 100%. Your enthusiasm inspires me.
  • Before you came along, I was a hermit. This world had been a dangerous, unpredictable launching pad, and I put away my rocket ship, and closed the blinds. When I started IVF, I had to travel to the clinic most days, and my engagement with life began anew. Now, I look forward to adventures and the world is no longer terrifying. This is largely due to your love of travel and new experiences.
  • You have built yourself up, and played to your strengths, letting nothing stop you. I have seen the way you deflect negativity and refuse to play small to help naysayers play large.
  • You are a savvy shopper, and hate waste. You already have a healthy relationship with money, and prioritize accordingly.
  • Life, when seen through your eyes, is blissfully clear. You have taught me to simplify rather than catastrophize. You have the gift of being able to break a problem down into workable pieces, and look to hopeful outcomes rather present calamity.
  • You are grateful for every kind action, and for our home. You are grateful for the trill of birds, the trees in the yard, the food in the pantry and for the clothes in your wardrobe. I am lovingly reprimanded whenever I have bought you something that you simply don’t need.
  • Careful with money, you proudly brought back a large portion of the spending money I had given you when you went away with a friend a year or so ago. You have a budget and stick to it.
  • You aren’t afraid of your voice, and not only do you stick up for yourself, but for those around you. You wont let certain things happen on your watch, no way. You live with integrity and won’t say anything, unless it is true. You are unafraid of confrontation, and saying what is on your mind, even if it’s a hard conversation to have.
  • You have borne witness to my surgeries, and have seen the scars. You have experienced the aftermath on a daily basis, and have the heart of a social justice warrior. You have anger at the plight of the homeless, and demand to know why resources aren’t freely available for youth, whether that be in the way of long-term housing or counselling. You find so many things unacceptable, and by this, you can help promote change.
  • You adore all things vintage! You love petti skirts and A-line dresses, record players and vintage shoes. To you, everything old is new again, apart from old attitudes (which needed to be put into mothballs). Little girls can now be seen and heard, and that aside, they demand to be respected.

From the time you were born (four weeks early), you have always had your own timetable. Walking before you crawled, climbing structures before you had ever played in a sandpit. I could only watch with admiration. I am doing the same now, as you cartwheel into your teenage years. I love you, sweetheart.

Yours Always and ever,

Mum xxx

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Happy Birthday, Raphie!


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The anniversary of my fall happened recently. I consider the date to be my actual birthday. It could have been the end date between the dash, stating when I was born and when I died. If he had his way, it would have been. I have done everything I could think of to get through this particular day. I recall one year, I visited a dentist, and wept uncontrollably in the middle of Bondi Junction afterward. It was only when I looked at a newspaper, that I realized it was the anniversary of the fall. It convinced me that we have a powerful subconscious reaction to anniversaries, even if we don’t consciously dwell on them. This year, I took my daughter to lessons by a beach. On the bus, a brilliant stream of sunshine pierced through the windows, bathing me with soothing honey and saffron light. I closed my eyes and smiled, just as I had done the morning after the fall. Sunlight had broken through the clouds, and reached its honeyed fingers through the hospital window. Tears poured down my face at the sensation.

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I sat on the beach whilst waiting for my daughter and watched the waves crash in and then be pulled back. I was asked to hold close the following in the aftermath of my fall; ‘It came to pass…not to stay.’ For years I had imagined the waves crashing in, and then receding, taking with them all the challenges and pain. It was a marvellous saying, and an inspired piece of imagery.

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There were many ways I could have died that particular night, and he spoke aloud all the possibilities. I was strangled into unconsciousness at one point, before being pushed after I regained consciousness. I was then dragged across the ground, my survival having been an affront to him. The people on the waterfront looked at me curiously as I grinned maniacally from sheer joy, incredulous that I am still here. I talked to strangers, and patted little dogs wearing winter coats. I pulled out my key chain; I had found the perfect reminder for this date.

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I spent the rest of the evening looking through old scans, deciding what to take to my appointment at a pain clinic. I was of course, asked what had happened, and my throat grew dry as I revisited the trauma, trying to provide a recap in an hour. It is a saga that goes on, year after year. It demands time spent in surgeries and in surgery. Doctor’s surgeries tend to have the same inane and dated sporting, golfing, automobile and real estate literature, though if one is lucky, you may come across an old Reader’s Digest. I find it all laborious and tiring, and frankly can think of a million better uses of my time. However, I have an eleven year old daughter to whom I am the epicentre of her busy world, and I need to be on my game. I have to think of the future, and all I want to do with this kid. Spending time and money to maintain the wonder that is this vessel; well, it has to be a priority.  On a positive note, I have reached the Medicare Safety Net for the year! Go me! My daughter and I were having a girl’s night recently, and she tried to teach me some of her dance moves. She did so slowly, and we were in fits of laughter at my uncoordinated efforts, until I fell to the floor in pain. She kept apologizing and my heart broke. It is always there, demanding to be acknowledged. Each time I require my girl to do things I can’t do without extreme pain. Each time I have to explain how I was injured.

After my daughter bid me goodnight, I did what I do most years on the anniversary. I poured a glass of red wine, lit a candle and wished myself a happy birthday. It is always a birthday party for one. That bitterly cold evening, I imagined I was covered in a blanket, a pillow underneath my head. I imagined I was safe. I sipped my wine, then blew out the candle. I tucked myself in, and fell asleep. Another year passed.

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Farewell, young Prince


Once upon a time, an effervescent soul joined the theatre in her native England. Oh, what fun was had in the halcyon, carefree days of her youth, treading the boards. She eventually emigrated to Australia, and joined a local company, befriending a gent with a twinkle in his eye and wicked sense of humour. Life provided the pair with many twists and turns, including marriages to other people, but somehow they found each other again. The lady was in demand as a singing teacher and also as a performer. She smiled a lot and her love of sequins befitted her seemingly extroverted self. Yet, I recall bumping into her at the supermarket, one bitterly-cold evening. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I saw the look. The look that betrays the dimples and smile, and  speaks of pain that the eyes can’t hide, no matter how trained in the theatre one is. She was lonely, so lonely, and needed everything in her contracted world to expand. She ultimately needed to see the fellow from long ago. He had since divorced as had she. She attempted to explain who he was and what he could possibly become in her future, but there weren’t enough superlatives on earth. Complex, bitingly funny, sensitive and much more. I truly couldn’t wait to meet him.

A medical professional, biker, guitarist and intriguingly also a plumber, he greeted me warmly. My friend had come back to life with his presence and they married. He had an horrendous, abusive upbringing which had scarred him in ways only she knew how to soothe. Over the next few years, they built a life together. He was spiritual, more than religious, as he had witnessed his share of hypocrisy and one thing he couldn’t abide was cruelty, nor fools. He had already endured several agonizing illnesses, and numerous surgeries. Trying to keep life and soul together was proving too much.

A sandy-haired medico/biker, with an impish grin and wicked humour made the choice to not continue. I will think of you, my friend, whenever I open a decent bottle of plonk, hear the engine revving on a motorbike, listen to proper music and look into your beloved’s eyes. Those eyes which once contained an Olympic pool filled with tears, are now twinkling. You conjured hope into being, and so it remains.

Women and Heart Health


I had an operation at seventeen to save my heart and lungs from being crushed, after my initial bone grafts crumbled and weren’t able to keep my spine straight. It remains incredible to me, that my chest was opened- floating ribs removed- and someone massaged my heart for many hours during the mighty surgery. I guess I became cavalier about my heart as a result. After all, the amount of times I thought this heart was incapable of any further psychic injury, and yet it still kept beating, is incalculable.

Four years ago, I lost my dear friend, Serena, and my attitude toward my heart changed. She had a family history of cardiomyopathy, with both her father and aunt dying young. She went to her GP, complaining of exhaustion and a nagging cough, and it was put down to a virus. She ended up collapsing at home, and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where it was discovered she was in heart failure. She was put on the transplant list and transferred to St Vincents. She died that evening, leaving us shocked. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause, and yet we are reluctant to seek help as a matter of urgency. One reason for this is that the signs of heart disease are often vastly different than for men.

A few months ago, I went to see a new doctor, as mine was on holidays. I told him that my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and that I felt like I had indigestion each night, with a weight in my chest. I was also breathless, nauseous, dizzy, with a tight neck and was exhausted all the time. My symptoms were worse when laying in bed. He took one look at me, 48 kilograms, a vegetarian with low blood pressure, and reached for the obvious. I had gone into premature menopause in my early thirties, and it seemed that my symptoms were caused by the lack of hormones. He suggested I go back onto the patches, but something didn’t feel right. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ problems, so I put a lot of the symptoms down to these conditions, and the stress of dealing with such.

Meanwhile, I felt ever weaker, and had to grip onto furniture to stop me falling over. I was in bed early each evening, completely spent, and my heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my body. I ended up losing consciousness a few weeks ago, and an ambulance was called. When I came to, I felt silly causing all this fuss, and apologized to the two women taking my vitals as I lay on my bed. After doing an EKG, they said that they were worried about my heart, and took me to hospital. Another EKG was taken, and it was alarming. My heart was beating way too fast, signalling a problem. Another EKG was taken by my regular doctor, which showed the same. At this juncture, I took the advice to rest as much as I could.

My doctor organized an emergency appointment for me with a cardiologist, and it was found that I wasn’t breathing from the base of my lungs, and that I had chronic pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac that envelops the heart. Shortness of breath, fatigue and coughing are common symptoms. It feels as though I am being stabbed through the heart continuously. I was put on three medications, which will hopefully ease the symptoms, and told to rest. No exercise. I have to be careful to avoid the flu, as I can’t have a flu shot when my immune system is weak. I am going for review in a week’s time and undergoing more tests.

I am telling you all this, because I was cavalier. I drink my three litres of water each day, live on a plant-based diet and exercise daily. It still didn’t protect me. Issues with the heart can have so many causes, including genetics and stress. I have had enough stress for a few lifetimes, though I had thought I was managing it. If you are experiencing any of the above, please, go seek medical advice. The longer a potential problem exists, the more damage can be done to your heart.

I was strangely calm after these recent experiences. I had to stop and reflect; I didn’t have the energy for much else. This numinous child of mine took precedence in my thoughts, as did my determination to see her flourish as an adult. Having no time to waste has also taken priority. I have often said that you know when something is right to do because it takes nothing from you. Rather than feel drained, you feel replenished afterward. I had begun spinning out of control, like a crazed sprinkler, flinging my attention every which way. It is time to get back to basics; to have fun and do what doesn’t create such exhaustive spillage. This was my warning to do what I can, and then rest from the day’s efforts. We are only given the one precious heart, and boy, does it go through some trauma over a lifetime! Somebody once massaged my beating heart. It is my responsibility to take as good of care of it as I possibly can.

ANZAC Day


The past week has been a whirlwind of epic proportions. My daughter and I went on the RSL Rural Commemorative Youth Choir camp, which was extraordinary, in and of itself. The choir was kindly hosted by Concord RSL, a friendly little club with a community emphasis. We pitched tents out the back and were supplied with a food van, BBQ, showers and the auditorium for practices. We were made to feel welcome from the moment we stepped over a pond housing gold and orange koi fish, and into the entrance.

The kids played barefoot bowls in between rehearsals and services. Speaking of services, last Friday the choir sang at the Anzac Field of Remembrance Service at St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. Gwen Cherne spoke about her experience as a contemporary war widow, and there wasn’t a dry eye afterward. Real and lasting change is being brought about as a result of brave soldiers and widows/widowers speaking out. You can read her speech here.

The choir was also honoured to sing at an Anzac dawn service at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord, organized by Concord Repatriation Hospital. 3000 crochet poppies were lovingly pinned on a giant cut-out of the word ANZAC. A grand lady of 94 and her daughters had knitted 900 poppies alone. I had the honour of meeting Albert, a 102 year old veteran with twinkling blue eyes. As we chatted, he talked of his teenage years in the employ of Farmers Department store in Sydney, and of the mischief he would get up to. He spoke of dances and hope. He made me promise to never lose my smile, as he believed that a part of humanity perishes with each down-turned mouth. If he can still smile radiantly at 102, I think I can manage to keep grinning!

I talked to another veteran about what ANZAC day meant to him. He replied that to him, it wasn’t about particular battles, but rather the spirit, which must be preserved. It is a holy essence containing mateship, dedication, freedom and the hope of peace for all humanity. Every veteran I have ever met has expressed the fervent wish that the past shall never be repeated. War is hell, of that they can assure you. My Canadian Grandfather was in the Army during WW2, and I have been surrounded by those in the armed forces. I have had the pleasure of loving friend’s children who serve as medics, peacekeepers and whom are there to help out in natural disasters. I was in that clinic at fourteen with veterans suffering what is now known to be PTSD. The conversations we had were among some of the most meaningful of my life.

This Anzac day, I am grateful to be a part of the RSL Commemorative Youth Choir. The kids are able to learn from and interview older people, which is a real privilege. They also step up to be leaders, gifted with many opportunities to speak up and speak out for causes they believe in. They are taught about fairness, discipline and mateship. The future of the Anzac spirit is in good hands, with unprecedented numbers of young people attending dawn services across Australia. The hard work of honouring the sacrifices of past generations has only just begun. At its core is a plea for peace, the spark of which is in all of us. We can start where we are, in our communities. ‘Lest we Forget.’

Moving and Reframing


My daughter and I are moving again, into a lovely friend’s home. She is travelling to Europe to go exploring with her little family, and we shall be minding her Chinese Crested dog. She looks like this:

This little dog is a great escape artist, notorious in our town. She has an elderly boyfriend who happens to be a Chihuahua with no teeth, as well as another suitor around the corner. She actually helped dig this terrier out of his backyard so she could play with him!

At the moment, I am sorting through what is going into storage, and what needs to be brought into the house. I have already donated/given away quite a bit. Honestly, when you start decluttering, it is akin to falling through a worm hole; limitless! I have no idea why I kept all manner of items, including clothing and shoes that were ill-fitting. Perhaps it was in the back of my mind that in order to feel safe, I had to hold on. Maybe it was in case I couldn’t  obtain more shoes and clothes, books and nick-nacs? This move has been hard physically, as I am not supposed to lift anything. Even the process of filling boxes has been excruciating. Somehow, I am managing. This move is getting me closer to feeling secure, with a forever home; I can feel it.

My friend has a yoga studio in her home, imbued with years of people relaxing and letting go. It hangs around in the ethers, and makes you sigh with relief upon entering. For several months, I shall be able to breathe in and exhale heavily, laying my head down and resting. It will be a welcome relief, even if I have to keep a watchful eye on our little Chinese Crested friend!

To those in permanent housing, I highly recommend clearing out your home, as if you are moving, only bringing that which you need or love back in. It is cathartic! The thought of moving twice in a year is overwhelming, and so I won’t think about it for the time being. This move sees me  being transient, a roamer without a base. It is both thrilling and frightening. I remind myself that we are all transient in the end. You have to shake up your world sometimes, or else you stagnate. As I light candles and incense in my friend’s home, and leave my shoes at her front door, I will be honouring the home’s history, and waiting with eager senses to receive what it has to teach me.

Word Play and Giggles


I adore plays on words, and am also fond of the whimsical and absurd. As I lay in bed with an appalling migraine, recovering from my occipital nerve blocks, I discovered the following bouncing around the internet. It probably wasn’t the wisest of times to imbibe in such hilarity, as boy, did my head hurt! Without further ado, may I present, the following:

In Australia, our National Anthem is Advance Australia Fair. We know the first verse by heart, but begin humming by the second. The majority of us also have no idea what the line, ‘Our home is girt by sea’ means, until now!

Mystery solved! You are welcome!

Spice Alley, White Rabbit Gallery and Neurosurgeons


Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my new neurosurgeon. Indeed it was a privilege, to meet such a humble and kind man. I presented a selection of my favourite scans from the past two decades, and as he studied them, he asked how on earth I had managed to inflict such damage. I tell you, after a lifetime of answering this question, you get quite nonchalant and so I muttered something about a bad man, my falling, and things of that ilk. I should have just brought him a copy of my book. Once he was over the shock of that discovery, he examined my head, neck and shoulders, all of which contorted in pain. I was booked in for nerve blocks and associated tests, and bid him farewell. My morning had required me to be a patient, vulnerable and hurting. The following part of the day would see me reclaim who I truly am, which is somebody who gets transported by beauty.

My daughter and I took off on a grand adventure, firstly to the White Rabbit Gallery at Chippendale, a magnificent space that used to be a luxury car showroom. The exhibition The Sleeper Awakes had started that day, and we were so entranced by the colours and symbolism that we forgot to take photos! It would have seemed almost rude to have not been in the moment. Trust me, if ever you are in the city, it’s worth a visit! I did however, manage a snap of the glorious tea room. The best cages are empty ones; beautiful in their emptiness.

We walked with our lovely friends to Spice Alley     at around 5pm, before it got busy. There was a wild variety of vendors, and the difficulty was deciding! There was plenty for a vegetarian like myself to choose from. I settled on the best vegetarian fried rice I have ever had! The heady spices were combined in such a way as to delight the taste buds. As we ate and drunk our bubble tea (and wine), we talked about everything from Nikola Tesla to Facebook, movies and authors.

When we boarded the train for home, I felt exhilarated, as one does at the end of a fruitful and satisfying day. I was exhausted and in pain, yes, but the over-riding emotion was gratitude. Gratitude for caring specialists, good friends, art galleries, delicious food, a new hangout and a happy child. My body feels frail; in need of reconstruction, and the pain is merciless. I was a patient, scans in hand. For the most part, I was still Raphaela, an irrepressible spirit who will not have her life dimmed. You can be both, and balance it well. The next day, I was in bed, but never mind. Last Friday, I was both a patient and healed.

Bree’s Army


A beautiful 21-year-old dancer fell to her death a few years ago on the Gold Coast. When I first saw the news, there was a cacophony of feelings. Sunday Night screened a detailed segment regarding this tragedy on the weekend. They showed us who Bree Robinson was, who her remarkable family are, and certainly who her boyfriend is.

It is astonishing that a certain individual has gotten away with so much, for so long. If you know a little of my history, you will understand why this is personal for me, and I take it very personally indeed. I was hoping that over twenty years since my fall, the legal system might have caught up to public expectation.

Bree’s family and friends have started a Facebook page, Bree’s Army , to collate information, support, and to demand justice for Bree and for many other women. Please like and share the link. This young lady’s family deserves  justice, and her life deserves to be remembered for bringing about lasting change.

 

International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day started way back in 1909, and grown into the massive celebration as seen today. My daughter and I attended a wonderful 30th birthday celebration of a womens’ hub this March 8th. The womens-only centre is the only one of its kind in an area whose population is growing rapidly, and it is very much-needed. Not only does it provide free counselling services, a nurse, doctor and legal advice, but also workshops and groups, caseworkers and a referral service.

We listened to eloquent speakers, and were asked to reflect on the women whom we have loved that are no longer with us. Those who passed after a life of service, and those whom we have lost in tragic circumstances. Suddenly, the wind picked up, and caressed our faces, as though our ancestors and friends had been summoned.

Last year on this date, a doctor I had been seeing was arrested for the sexual assault of several patients. Today as we rode to the women’s centre in a bus, a young mother struggled on with a double pram. She managed to fit the pram into a corner, but the fellow sitting near her refused to tuck his legs in so she could sit comfortably next to her young ones. He had a look of scorn on his face as he deliberately stretched out further, and she struggled to shrink herself into less than half the leg space she should have been allotted.

We got home a short while ago, and I was looking forward to a rest. There was no sleep had last night, due to pain; the result of violence suffered long ago. As we alighted our bus, I sighed. Our neighbour was with a group of men smoking and playing loud music out the front of our place, at the same time as they were revving a chainsaw. They saw us, and continued chopping down a shrub, watching it fall onto our driveway. They then walked over and stood in our drive, ignoring the fact that we were there and had to walk around them. We weren’t even greeted, just glared at, as though we were unwelcome intruders. I was too wary to ask questions, and it can be rather intimidating to have six burly men on your property. I just wanted to get inside, away from them. The irony of it being International Women’s Day wasn’t lost on us. We hadn’t even been informed that they were planning on doing what they were doing. In my room, the music from their van was streaming through the closed window, and so I put on an ambient CD at full blast, resplendent with harps and harpsichords. I can imagine it delighted them, as much as their actions delighted me. Is there any noise more hideous than a chainsaw or leaf blower?!

We still have a long way to go, women and men and together as a community. Attitudes must be checked. Women are allowed to take up space! In fact, we must! As I watched my daughter drumming this morning,  my heart swelled. Here’s to women and girls, and here’s to friendships and the future. May our girls grow into women without shame, unafraid to speak their truths. May they have equal pay and equal rights to men. May old paradigms be vanquished and may we be able to stretch out comfortably in our seats next to men; afforded equal space. May we be able to walk into our front yard unabated.