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.
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.
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.
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,
I thought I may have finally got the balance right regarding social media and the internet. Refraining from oversharing, and pulling back from the dreaded Fear of Missing Out and understanding the truth behind a cultivated snap and status. Seeing who the fearsome Wizard really was behind the curtain in Oz. A house move saw me taken off the internet for the term of my natural life (okay, it was a month)! A fibre optic cable below my house was damaged and needed replacing. It was a month filled with highs and lows.
- My daughter is enrolled in some excellent classes, which can only be accessed online. This presented a problem.
- No Netflix, Stan or Apple TV!
- This led to no The Handmaid’s Tale for four weeks!
- I couldn’t complete research for my upcoming book.
- I couldn’t write on my blog.
- Our many groups sent out invitations and vital information, via Facebook, which we couldn’t access.
- We missed hearing loved one’s news, and knowing what was going on in their lives.
- A strange feeling of isolation, of being on an isle by ourselves, took place.
- Paying bills and keeping informed about payments was a hassle.
- We missed opportunities only presented online.
- We certainly missed the feeling of connectedness.
- We craved the immediacy of being able to put a query into a search engine.
- When we woke, the first thing we did was not look at social media. We chatted over breakfast instead.
- My daughter rediscovered workbooks and the joy of reading novels.
- We played board games after dinner.
- We found ourselves having early nights and waking refreshed.
- We were so busy setting up house (and our lives), that we rarely thought of social media.
- We found out who we were and where the internet left off in its cultivation of us.
- We rode out the listlessness and found a contentment with being without our devises.
- There was time to potter, to read, play and rest.
- We found that if we took a photo and couldn’t upload it to Instagram, it would still exist and bring joy.
- We brought out our old DVDs to delight in.
- I lost a large chunk of anxiety, being offline. I sometimes felt as though social media were a beast that demanded to be fed and acknowledged. Once you were on Facebook, for example, it would feel rude to answer one or two messages, and not the rest. The same feeling applied to going to one or two groups and not the others. So many invitations and details to remember!
- We needed this month to reflect and replenish, and we did just that without the sensory overload.
A lovely fellow came over and fixed our NBN connection, once and for all. Sure, it was a relief to be back online, but there was also a feeling of wistfulness. You know the feeling when your phone has been off and when you switch it back on it lights up and buzzes with numerous notifications? Whilst we enjoy being back online, with all that it entails, we are also wary of getting sucked back onto the digital highway. You know how one moment you are answering a Facebook message, and the next you are looking at Meerkats on YouTube? You don’t know how you got there, nor are you adult enough to switch off. Before you know it, its 2am and you have to be up in four hours. The IPad and laptops may be fired up again, but we have kept the board games and novels out, as a pertinent reminder that we are more than an avatar, and we need to regularly switch off.
Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.
I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals for those that need them.
Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.
This is a great picture, taken many years ago at The Grounds at Alexandria. Rich in symbols, such as the door handles and the bucket waiting to be filled. The mirror is beautiful; it is whole. Not a scratch nor crack. I thought it was perfect, until I realized how beautiful broken could be. Shards of mirror and glass shatter to the ground, and as you try to scoop them up, you are pierced and you bleed. It hurts to clean up what was broken. Even with a dustpan and broom, you are likely to step on minuscule fragments underfoot.
It seems to be a waste of something that started whole, and yet if repaired with gold leaf, and lovingly reassembled, it can become not just beautiful, but astounding.
It is the same for us. I have friends who are refugees; who have been through wars and endured the unimaginable. I have friends who have been broken and abandoned. There is always enough remaining on the ground to work with. There is always a little left of which to rebuild. Rather than a perfect round mirror, the broken human has the potential to become a sparkling temple. You will be pierced and there may be blood. It will bring you to your knees, but the spectacular reassembling is worth the time and toil. I once lay on the ground, a discarded girl, ground into the earth. My bones were broken and I was bleeding. A dyslexic, I took on board what my teachers had said, and wondered if I was in fact, stupid.
Over the years, the shattered parts were rebuilt and strengthened. I had a child. I uncovered the reservoir of wisdom that had been filled with muck inside my soul. I learnt I could write, and I learnt I was smart. If not for the fall I would never have been shattered. If not for the fall, I would never have had the chance to rebuild.
Today, we remember the two beautiful lives lost at the Lindt café in Martin Place on this day, a year ago. I was going to go in with my daughter, to meet a friend and her child. We were going to meet at Martin Place, and would have been in the café that very morning, but my spine was playing up. I stayed home instead. Life can be so indiscriminate. The survivors have been so very brave this past year, as have the families of those who didn’t make it out. How they have carried themselves is awe-inspiring. I pray for you all today. Anniversaries are so very hard.
Life is outrageously busy, with many things demanding our attention. You need to escape once in a while. My daughter and I travelled to Martin Place a few weeks ago, to see the Christmas Tree lit up. Light rain tapped onto our faces as we watched the concert, my daughter dancing and cartwheeling throughout. The tree was switched on, and fireworks rocketed into the sky. Elves arrived, cycling a sleigh as Santa and the City of Sydney Mayor, Clover Moore, reclined.
Strangers need to gather together. We have a yearning for connection. It felt like the beginning of Christmas on this evening. By returning to Martin Place, people heal it. We honour those who were lost, and remember what the survivors endured. In a world gone mad, watching a child dance is an act of sanity.
Christmas can be tough. I have personally heard stories of alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, poverty and estrangements this past week. I wish I could banish all the agony, but I cant. I can provide a listening ear and what resources I have. I can love and extend myself. Everything is made larger at Christmas. Overtures of kindness and gatherings of loved ones… Loneliness and pain. Always look for the helpers. Those who listen and smile. Those with kind eyes and warm hearts. That is where hope resides. I hope that you get to attend a free gathering, no matter what your spiritual leaning. It gets you out of your own head and into the world of people and connection. May you have a peaceful season, floating on a calm and azure-blue sea. I pray that if you need help, you receive it. Let people hear your voice. For some, it has been silent for too long. You have been invisible for too long. Let them hear what you need. If the first person doesn’t get it, blame it on a faulty connection and try again with somebody else. Keep going. I am so glad that I did. I got to see my daughter dance in the light rain. I got to see people smiling and hugging in Martin Place. I got to see hope.
My little girl attended a Christmas party hosted by her singing teacher, Tiah. This young lady has brought our children the gift of song, and our little people have gained not only their voice, but confidence. She is studying at university, and I know she shall make a fine music teacher upon graduating. I am so thankful this whacky, quirky young lady is in our lives.
We went to an event to benefit the MS society the next day, cornflour mixed with a rainbow of colour.
Messy and chaotic, vibrant and as joyful as life itself. We were scheduled to be at Martin Place a year ago, but at the last moment, we weren’t. I remember resting in bed, my spine in spasms, when I heard what had happened. More responsibility to live a good life in honour of those who were there. Life is precious, and can end in an instant. The trick is to fully live whilst you are here.
It was my friend’s funeral this week. My little girl sat beside me, holding my hand, and whispering, “I love you mummy.” Two funerals for two young mums is two too many. Life is an excruciating mystery. Would we dare open our hearts inviting others to view the contents if we knew we could lose each other at any moment? Would it make life more precious or less bearable?
I was due to have a mammogram, and intended to do so. Life got busy, and I put it off. Then, I felt a lump. I had a few tests done the other day, including the mammogram. When the technician came back and said that the doctor wanted more images of one side, I felt some anxiety. I was there for a few hours, and you know what? It ultimately felt empowering. So much is out of our control, yet when a doctor advises you to have certain tests, it gives control back to you. I felt that my life was valued, and that I was honouring my daughter by having these tests. I wasn’t frightened. Rather, I knew I would cope if anything was found. Fortunately, the lumps turned out to be cysts. I will be monitored regularly, and I know how blessed I am. If you are putting off having tests, or burying your head in the sand concerning a worrying health issue, please don’t. Dealing with it is such a relief.
In the midst of all the sadness, there was the light of my child. We watched A Midsummer Nights Dream, as she is playing Titania in her drama class, and she made art and delighted in the novelty of finding a telephone booth at The Rocks.
Life is such a funny thing. Heartbreaking, mystifying and everything in between. At the end, only the good stuff ends up on the cinematic reel of your life. I reckon it’s a bit like being presented with the big red book from ‘This is your Life.’ The pain and sickness, the suffering and strife dies. Your unencumbered spirit remains. That is what I like to think.
I heard last week that a friend had passed away. She was a mum of three and had fought cancer with grace and might for a number of years. I had only seen her recently, giving her a hug at a local fair. “I would love to catch up soon,” I said, and she smiled her radiant smile. I felt numb with shock when I heard the news. I wanted the world to stop spinning for a little while, but it refused. I had to take my daughter to an art workshop early the next morning. After I had ordered breakfast at the art space, I turned around and saw a hearse. Here I was, trying to distract myself with business, and death was all around. I couldn’t escape it.
A death exhibition had just opened. I couldn’t avert my eyes, so decided to embrace it. This feared wild state called death… The cessation of all that was and all you were prior, leaving lasting memories and the love you carried in your heart. A gift to those who love you.
I viewed the exhibition, the works using a myriad of mediums. Photos of those who looked asleep, a TV set to distribute white noise. It was peaceful. It wasn’t morbid or frightening, just silent and respectful. I don’t understand why people die, particularly the young. Two women I adored have died the past six months, and I have raged and wept and reminisced. I now found myself ensconced in a death exhibition, as though it were a preview of coming attractions. It is my duty to live a good and full life, in tribute to those who only had half of their expected years on earth. When I pop off, I want to leave my daughter enough wondrous adventures and memories to last her all her days.
My daughter decided to dress up in one of her classes as a pilot bride. Just before the actual wedding, she leapt out of her plane and parachuted to earth. I thank God for each day I get to spend with this exquisite little girl.
On behalf of my late friends, I promise not to take this painful, ecstatic gift of life for granted. Just a few weeks ago, my friend was working, helping an elderly lady in her home. She wasn’t dying. She was living to the end. Every second was accounted for and respected. Now is all we have. Let’s make it count.