Audrey, you don’t wear anything but bed socks and slippers now, so I was gifted several pairs of your shoes. Your shoes are an honour to own. They are much like you; stylish, sturdy, colourful, reliable and comfortable. I can picture your feet slipping into them, after a lifetime of wear. Running your fruit and veg shop, with its hard manual work, doing sums in your head as you do the books. Raising your kids as a single mum, with no partner to bounce ideas off. Taking care of business and taking care of your family. The feet of a legend who took her kids to a Beatles concert, and as a little girl, attended the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Welcoming grandkids in her 90s and friends since time immemorial. Wedgewood blue eyes and snowy hair, soft as fairy floss. You are on the cusp of your 101 birthday. I have big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my utmost to make you proud.
I am amazed by your fortitude, my friend. I have seen what you endure. I have seen the medications lining the bench, the order forms for a litany of tests. I see the isolation; the sense that whilst we can walk alongside you, we can’t comprehend what it feels to be you, experiencing this. I know what you go through, and yet there is something I am at a loss to explain…
Where do you find your strength? I know it waxes and wanes, like the cycles of the moon. That is natural, when under extreme pressure. Diamonds are only created through pressure, and you, my darling, are certainly a diamond. Not a cubic zirconia; the real thing. Have you ever seen a black opal? The most expensive of opals, with the most intense colours. The ground cracks over time, allowing soluble silica to flow deep into the ground and this is where the black opal forms, aged with layers of sediment, a bit like life. Some people complain and whine about the most pedestrian of things. Not you; that was never you.
I see the joy your pets bring with their delightful antics. The humour found in shared ‘in-jokes’ with your kids. I see how you relish a hug, a gift, a friend. Certain music both enthrals and moves you to tears. I remember when Haighs chocolate opened a store in Sydney. You were as excited as a child, and caught me up in your enthusiasm. You have never complained, when I’ve taken you to avant grade festivals. Remember the New York taxi driver, who espoused his wisdom, after you slid into the back seat of the cab? Remember when the kids broke away from us as toddlers and we found them nearby on a film set, where they were being fed by the caterers, their plump little hands stuffed with food? I have photographic evidence of all our misadventures with our mates. Who can forget the time we graced Canberra with our presence?
I promise you, more fun is to be had. There will be more laughter. Always remember that you are both a black opal and diamond. Borne from pressure and cracking, exploding into an exquisite array of colours and facets. After further pondering, I know where you find your strength. It was always there, within you.
My daughter was booked into her first singing lesson after she pleaded with me. She was five years old, and desperate to get to it. I had just started driving again after surgery, and that along with being directionally-challenged, saw me arriving with mere moments to spare. I heard a warm voice holler to “come on in,” and reclining like a grand dame in the living room, was Nanna Lyn. She had warm eyes, and a kind face. I was invited to stay and chat whilst my girl had her lesson with Lyn’s granddaughter, Tiah. An eclectic array of cats and dogs sauntered in and out, their cunning a sight to behold. Within moments, Lyn and I were chatting about our lives.
I looked forward to our catch-ups. This no-nonsense lady would have me in hysterics. She didn’t suffer fools, so I tried not to be one. She gave tremendous advice, and was on hand through every trial. Raising her daughter as a single mum, her home had been a beacon for the neighbourhood kids. The school of hard knocks hadn’t made her hard. Rather, it had softened her, making her receptive to other people. Our Nanny Lyn had an acerbic wit, and we often had tears rolling down our faces from laughing so much. She taught me how to program the internet onto my tv, and was much more adapt at technology than I. A paid-up member of the Barry Manilow fan club, you had me in hysterics, as you relayed some of your early misadventures.
Lyn would order melts for my wax-warmer at home, after I became enchanted with the aroma of a confectionary shop, which streamed through her screen door. My daughter attended lessons with Lyn’s granddaughter for six years. Finally, the time came when Tiah graduated from her music degree, and was offered placement at a school. We were thrilled for her, but missed our weekly sessions. They had been both instructive and incredibly social. The three women, Nanna, mum and daughter, lived together, and worked in simpatico. Christmas festivities were a sight to behold; they went all-out. It must have taken them a solid week to decorate their house. Not only did the trio adore Tiah’s singing students, but they had enough love left over to foster kids as well.
Their home was the sort of place where you felt safe. The same was true of their hearts. We kept in touch via texts and messages. Recently, I discovered that Lyn was going to be having a biopsy, and she underplayed it when I queried her. I ended up in hospital, and who happened to be in the next room, but Nanna Lyn. We spent time together, touching on some very deep subjects. We talked of pain and despair, hope and spiritual matters. I told her that I wished with all my heart that I could take this burden from her and her girls. I was lectured about taking care of myself, eating right, etc. The usual Nanna lecture. I laughed as I promised that I would be good.
She was excited that my daughter and I were flying to South Australia for my friend’s wedding, and her last text message consisted of her wishing the couple a happy life, and ourselves a joyous time away. “See you when I get back,” I replied. Sleep came fitfully upon our return. I had a dream about Lyn. She looked radiant, as though lit from the inside. She was talking to me, but I can’t recall what she said. I woke with a start and looked at my phone. It was 4am. Later that morning, I received word that she had passed, at 4am.
If you had been granted another twenty years of life, it would still be too soon to say goodbye. You came into this world like a comet, and then quietly crept out in the wee hours. It was typical of you to be unassuming, preferring the spotlight be on others. The end was painless and peaceful; you deserved no less. We will love you all our days, with the same ferocity with which you loved musicals. I wish everybody could have met you, and basked in your attention. To have known you was to be gifted care and warmth and love. As you flew away from this place, I can envision you hearing Tiah singing ‘Songbird.‘ You had shown me a video of Tiah, performing it as her HSC piece, and your eyes pooled with tears at the viewing. Fly free, little bird, unencumbered by worldly nonsense.
To the newly-minted couple,
You have made me believe in love again. I have long-admired the ease of your conversations, your encouragement of one another and your kindness to all within your circle. The family game and karaoke nights, the adventures and the hilarity. When I was first introduced to you as a couple, it felt as though you’d been together forever. The fit was perfect; meant to be. My friend with the finest collection of avant -garde shoes I have ever seen, and her beau, with his dress shoes and wool suit. He and I introduced you to Feargal Sharkey (you’re welcome). Who could forget the train carriage full of commuters on Christmas Eve, singing along to this song?!
You were the most chilled-out bride and groom; everyone from the flower vender at the markets to the hairdresser was blown away by your zen attitudes. Having a leisurely breakfast the morning of your wedding, the day seemed unhurried. When your guests saw you being escorted to the venue by your fiancee, we all gasped. You both looked sublime; elegant. It was an image that will be imprinted on my mind all my days. Your dress had sustained a few dirt marks on your way up the hill, and rather than fret, your beau got soda water and a towel, then lovingly wiped your wedding dress clean. Another thing that I love about the both of you is your ability to find solutions together.
Dancing and singing with your guests, you were the last to leave at night’s end. This is the start of the rest of your life, and it was done right. Leading up to the day, you both showed kindness and love to all you came into contact with. On the day it was the same. The detritus of disappointments and angst have been swept away, and all that remains is love. I believe in love again, because I have seen it’s transformative power with my own eyes.
The unbearable news broke on Friday, regarding the massacre by a white supremacist at mosques in Christchurch. It is crucial to squash racism and hate speech, wherever you find it. My daughter recently spent time with kids of every religion and race. They had an absolute ball together, taking photos and playing charades and UNO. They broke bread together over lunch, and shared jokes. We were onto our second week in this joyous atmosphere when a new mother joined us. We exchanged pleasantries, and all seemed calm, when suddenly, bile dripped from her tongue. I won’t repeat what was said, but I am sure you can imagine, her gaze steadied on my daughter’s new friends and their mothers. I was horrified, and got up and moved away from her. She assumed that because I was Anglo-Saxon like her, that I would be bound to agree with her warped views.
Every time she approached, I moved away. I will not give hatred the time of day, nor listen to it’s uneducated ramblings. Racism is poison, infecting one’s soul. This woman watched as I hugged my Muslim friends and exchanged details when it was time to leave. I messaged these families on Friday, telling them that I loved them, and that I was so very sorry for what had transpired in NZ. They told me that I was loved in turn and that love will save us from all the hatred in this world.
I hope it will…
I know it will.
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.
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.
I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on physiotherapy in the twenty-plus years since my fall. I have done weights with physiotherapists, been placed on stretching racks, been in body braces, calipers, body casts, had my muscles shocked, been in hydrotherapy pools, and so much more. I still have the initial regime on paper, that I was instructed to do ten times a day, on top of swimming, hydro and physio sessions. It went on for years. To be honest, I was now full of hubris, believing I knew all there was to know, and could do the required moves in my sleep.
When my doctor set up a health plan for their physiotherapy department, I procrastinated. I was too busy for such indulgence, and besides, I knew everything there was to know! In spite of myself, I made a booking. My, how I laughed at the new patient form I was required to fill out, with minimal space in which to answer how many operations I have had, and what my injuries were. I had to resort to miniscule writing, to make it all fit.
The physiotherapy department really knew their stuff, massaging and kneading and coaxing trapped nerves to yield with subtle movements. They explained how the various muscle groups had compensated for my injuries, and what the plan was. Of course, they asked how on earth a teen had managed to obtain such injuries in the first place, and I told them in a matter-of-fact manner about the abduction and attempted murder. There was shocked silence, until I broke the ice, and then we all laughed as I regaled them with tales of the characters I met throughout the months I was in the rotor bed. It is a hell of a tale to lay on a stranger!
One of the fellows has a partner, and this week, I asked what they had done for Valentine’s Day. I was expecting the usual; that he had ordered red roses and chocolates and that they had gone out for dinner. Instead, he replied that after work, he had met his partner in the city, and they had purchased crates of fruit and water. They had then handed out bags to 200 homeless gathered near Central Station. “We don’t need gifts,” he explained. Apparently, they did this every birthday as well. “We don’t spend money on useless stuff, we buy things that will really help someone else.” I said in reply, “that my friend, is real love.” Not only have he and his colleague gifted me with their knowledge regarding my spinal column and neck, but he also revealed what real romantic love can be in this world. Sacrifice, kindness, humility. I could picture this gentle man and his equally lovely girlfriend smiling as they handed out water on a blisteringly hot evening in Sydney. We talked of the lack of affordable housing in our city, and wondered aloud how greed has been allowed to become master and major consideration in all things. If he were to run for office, I would be his campaign manager. Imagine if everyone repurposed a fraction of their wants and put those resources toward others. Miracles could happen, just as surely as muscle groups yield to a physiotherapists’ masterful hands. I left buoyed with the thought that hundreds of people in this city felt loved on Valentine’s Day because of this dynamic duo.
After more than twenty years, I still have a thing or two to learn from physiotherapists. I rediscovered the difference they can make as to how I manage my pain. I have also rediscovered the gold one uncovers when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but be in the moment.
What is Galentine’s Day, you ask? It is a celebration of friendship. Read more here. Those precious souls who call in when we are at our lowest, make us laugh and cheer us on. I am blessed to have many gorgeous friends who do the above. This year, I have been remiss, as life has been busy. I have to attend to a few medical issues (boring and laborious), but next year I vow to get together with my tribe to celebrate how awesome they are. Love is a precious gift, not found in red roses or a giant teddy bear. It is found in the everyday overtures of affection, given without condition and with joy. Thankyou to all who make a difference in someone’s life.
If you are alone today, know that you are a miracle and are loved. The odds of you being on this planet were against you, and yet, here you are! Make yourself a pot of tea, have a luxurious bath, listen to your favourite music. Above all, be kind to yourself. Fill your cup today.
I met the most extraordinary lady a few years back, from the USA. Tall and elegant, with twinkling blue eyes and a mischievous sense of humour. This lady had seen it all. She had been beaten up and had her face broken. She had experienced homelessness and then employed as a cocktail waitress. She had her own graphic design business, before coming to Oz and travelling to the Far North. On her return, she taught troubled kids, believing in them until they could believe in themselves. Starting another business, she lived on two-minute noodles and water whilst ploughing away. She endured more heartbreak and found salvation in riding her motorbike and attending Cosplay events. Beguiling and independent, I had never met a more free spirit. She raised her daughter single-handedly, something to be immensely proud of. No family to back her up nor support her. Now, her daughter is grown, and my friend is leaving to be nearer her. It happened within weeks, and not only did she notice the signs that it was time to move on, but she listened. She heard loud and clear through the notes that were left in her building, neighbours abusing one another over minor infractions. She heard it through her listlessness, and when she added up what seven years of rent had cost her, in a place she didn’t love. It had been the longest this free spirit had stayed anywhere.
We arranged to meet with her, shortly before she left. She gave my daughter this ring, saying that if she wore it, it would remind her of her worth and strength, just as it had her. It is Lapis, and fitted her perfectly. My friend didn’t have anybody to buy her jewellery, and so she bought it for herself as a young woman. I love that she didn’t wait to have it gifted her.
To me, she gave her Cosplay belt, fitted with pockets, so I could travel lightly. She made me promise to go to festivals in her place. She also gave me a gift which reduced me to tears. One evening at her place, a glass heart I was wearing slipped from the cord around my neck, and smashed on her tiled floor. Picking it up, my friend vowed to fix my broken heart. I had forgotten all about it, until the moment I opened the hessian bag and saw this:
My new rose quartz heart and my old, shattered glass heart.
It was quite simply, one of the most poetic and symbolic gifts anyone has ever given me. There was my old heart, shattered and black with all it had absorbed in the past. Here was my new heart, bigger though lighter, and certainly untainted. I shall keep both, as a reminder that one can heal with the right people around you. My friend has taught me many, many things in the past few years. She has taught both my girl and I to always believe in our dreams, to rejoice in being independent and free-thinkers. She has shown us how to survive on very little and how to celebrate when fortune enters one’s life. She has taught us how to be brave, and how to have fun. How learning never ends and what a joy it is to study new things. She has taught us that when life kicks you into the dirt, you can not only survive, but thrive. This woman had nobody to help her, nor cheer her on. Whatever she has accomplished has been done with determination, self-belief and a will of iron. My darling friend, the Lapis ring and my brand new heart can’t wait to bask in your glow upon our next meeting. xxx