Hope


How do we survive what life throws at us? It is miraculous, indeed, that a broken heart keeps beating. Hope is found in the friend who has retreated- missing from all social media-and  whom reappears after their dark night of the soul. It is the dawn we thought we may not see, and waking after major surgery that we were warned may kill us. It is the rescinding and rebuttal of bottles of booze and cigarettes after being warned of the inevitability of an early grave. It is continuing in the face of grief, and the exercise we partake in, despite wanting to stay in bed. It is a mindset that urges us to keep going, and keep alive, despite a downward turn in fortunes. Hope has no need for evidence, it is timeless and often without basis in facts. It stands alone, without anything to cling to, as ephemeral as a cloud, and as mighty as a gladiator. I have strolled through areas of Australian bush, which had been decimated by fire. Hope is found in the green shoots and new foliage on charred trees and scrub. You only need a small area which is undamaged to cultivate new life, it turns out. img_1550

You can have it all, and then lose it all. Enjoy today whilst it is here. The one thing that you cannot lose is yourself, a fine purpose-built instrument ripe for remodelling. Soaring above the decimation and loss is a feeling of hope; that you have it in you to rebuild. The hour is not too late, nor are you too old. We are somehow driven to grow in mud and rise from the ashes, again and again. Hold onto hope, no matter what circumstance you’re in.

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Grief and the Seasons


I spoke to a friend on the matter of grief, and she said something profound. She mentioned that those grieving would be best to give themselves a year before making huge changes. “They have to endure the four seasons…when you think about it, each season contains first’s. There are birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The list of first experiences without their loved one is excruciating. Enduring those four seasons will take all the strength in them.”

 

Grief can be felt in a myriad of ways. There can be grief for what was left unsaid, and for what was spoken in haste. It can present as regret for what never was and for what had been. The relationship you wished you had, compared to the one you experienced. The pain of an empty chair at your dining table, or felt after reaching for the phone to call. It can present as it’s twin, anger. You may be so bloody angry at everything, not least what others concern themselves with. Don’t they know that an angel just died?

Grief is complex; one moment you may feel fine, and the next be in the foetal position on the floor. It is not a linear journey, rather it is a mass of swirly pathways. Grief is messy, it’s trajectory launching you into a future wherein you have to leave the fallen behind. You take only the memories, and the love, with you. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies escorting the bereaved as they rest in a cave. The walls perhaps lined with glow worms as they sit and weep. It can be a lonely journey, and certainly a puzzling trip, for which nobody wants a ticket.

Piercing through the hymns, the eulogies, the visual displays and the flowers, is the love you hold in your heart and the promise of what might have been. It sears through the ICU monitors, silencing the alarms and machines. At the end of it all, we leave with only love; that which we gave and accepted in turn. If you can endure the first four seasons of bereavement,  hope and love wait on the other side.

 

Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

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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The Travelling Life


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A homeschool mum made contact with me in the holidays, telling me that she was going to settle for a term in my hometown. She mentioned that she had a daughter,the same age as mine. We arranged to meet at a local park, and as soon as we met the pair, we were in love. Both presented with the broadest smiles and the girls went off to play, becoming instant friends. As I was offered a plum, the lady told me of their life.

A single mum, she had once had a mortgage and a life overseas, but when her daughter was born, realized that things needed to change. She sold everything, and they began their travelling life, living out of one suitcase each. Her daughter is so unattached to possessions, that at free craft days in libraries,she routinely gifts her creations to the teacher, so she doesn’t have to carry it! The experience of creation enthralled her more than the end result. The mum produces work on the internet, so can move anywhere in the world in a beat. They mind other people’s homes, cars and pets whilst they are away, thus cutting their costs.

When they arrived in my town, it was during a heat wave, and they sought refuge at the local club, sipping iced water and enjoying the free WiFi until the kitchen opened for a cheap meal. The daughter told stories of staying in an Italian village, and could recall the history of the cobblestone streets. They have been on discount cruises, and travelled the globe. The mum said that ditching her possessions was freeing, and I have no doubt it was. She expects things to work out, and they do! I recommended a dance school, and the mum contacted them, and next thing, her daughter was cast in a production! The next issue was locating cheap dancing shoes. A shoe shop was closing down, and everything was heavily discounted. She was able to buy a few pairs of shoes for $9 a pair (that were worth far more), the last of the ballet and jazz line. She said that this sort of luck occurs regularly, and they never stress about opportunities, money nor anything else.

Her daughter is resourceful and curious, open to new experiences. The girls are going to do a kick-boxing class together after my new friend found a cheap class in my town (which I knew nothing of)! They create wonder and community wherever they go. They are two of the funniest, life-inspiring folk I have ever come across. Things I have learned in the three weeks I have known them:

  • We talk ourselves out of travel and grand experiences the moment the delicious vision enters our minds. We don’t have enough money… We can’t do it…It would be too hard…
  • You can do anything you set your mind to, even with limited resources.
  • Decluttering is the go! Aim for experience over stuff.
  • Once something new comes in, an old piece of clothing etc, must leave.
  • Enjoy the thing whilst it is in your life, then gift it to someone else. We are doing up an old bike for the young girl to ride whilst she is here, and when she leaves, we shall gift it to someone else.
  • You are going to be alright, and everything will turn out okay. Trust yourself and the universe.
  • Have faith in your abilities and resourcefulness. You can cope with anything that life throws at you!
  • There are far more wondrous people in this world than bad. Take it from these travellers, who have stayed in scores of places throughout the world and met hundreds of strangers that have become friends.
  • Kids don’t need stuff in order to have a secure childhood; they just need you.

I feel stronger and braver since meeting this family, and am looking forward to shaking up my world. They seemed to blow in, like a leaf shaken from a faraway tree, brushing my shoulder and garnering my attention, admiration and love.

A girl called Sam


It was a blisteringly hot morning, but we decided to go anyway. We were meeting a group of ladies for a walk along the river bank. Half-way along, we encountered a majestic horse and his petite rider. My friend Karen not only smiled as they approached, she went up and asked to take a photo. The rider was happy to oblige, and said her name was Sam. Sam told us that she travelled to South Australia to gain her handsome companion, mentioning that she has joint issues, so needed a calm horse. She trotted alongside us in the heat, and disclosed a part of her story. Sam is twenty-five years old, and autistic. She had endured leukemia and a car accident in the past ten years. Her dream is to take part in a big fundraiser in the city later in the year (I will post details at a later date).

She has known more pain than many other young women, and yet still she rises. I asked what keeps her motivated and she pointed at her dancing horse. “Him.” Children approached and adults stood in wonder on their approach. It was obvious that he knew how handsome he was. The love between the pair was heartwarming; they were in complete symbiosis. It were as though they were an extension of each other.

This young woman’s dreams shall come true, of that I am certain. She deserves them to, after the long and hard road she has travelled. I am grateful to my friend for reiterating that when you feel an urge to approach a stranger, it is the right thing to do. Sam was gracious and I think, grateful to have people to chat to by the river. Her strength and courage shall stay with me throughout the year ahead.

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Christmas comes early


Throughout the years of infertility, Christmas had been a lonely time. I made the best of it, putting on a coat threaded with stoicism.  However, when I was decorating the house, wrapping gifts or shopping, there was an acute sense that someone was missing. I couldn’t bear to see children posing with Santa at the shops, and the Christmas music seemed  intent on mocking my friends and I. I joined an IVF support group online, and we talked of how confronting Christmas was, and how we were dreading all the reminders. “Bugger it,” said one lady, “let’s get our trees up early!” She demanded to see photographic evidence, and we dutifully complied. There was magic in the way this act lifted our spirits; we were showing that we were still holding on, to both our sanity and dreams. Some of the ladies tragically lost babies, and others didn’t end up conceiving. Still, we all held faithful to our tradition.

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Late October, my daughter discovered the decorations in the garage and pleaded to be let loose with them. I held her off until November the 1st. Bless her, she counted down the days, and on the first of the month, she ran in, reminding me that it was time.


We played Christmas carols as we unpacked the tree and decorations. As I looked around at the assembled baubles, a lump gathered in my throat. Each represented a time and place, a year or a particular person. We talked of what each piece meant to us as we worked. ” I need to put all the Christmas things up early, like you did when you were pregnant with me,” my daughter laughed. Oh darling, it started way before I was pregnant, at a time when a precious group of ladies met on the internet to give comfort to each other. We still provide a photograph each year, to assure the others that our job is done.

We need sparkle to lift us up. We need to get out the china and silver, the candles and bling. We need to create beauty. It is akin to standing on a mountain top and shouting that you are here. The more personal strife befalls, the more we need to decorate. It was worth all the work to see this little girl beam with excitement. The season of hope is starting. 

Raphaela’s Picks of the Week


Here is what transported, transfixed and transcended the everyday this past week.

A hummingbird dress. I want one!

We are in the midst of floods in Sydney at the moment. The following advice is important if one finds oneself on a flooded road!

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Vintage Clothing and a Ballerina!  https://www.buzzfeed.com/xmonix/this-ballerina-is-mixing-ballet-with-vintage-2efu6