Serena

It was the second anniversary of Serena’s passing this week. I just wanted to get off this crazy ride, for one precious day, but that isn’t how life works. There was an eight-hour school day to attend to. Serena was never far from my thoughts. Even now, I see women who look like her, and have to stop myself from calling out her name. Her legacy is infused within our everyday life. In her last weeks, she would ask about my plans to home school, and would insist that it was the right decision for my child. As a teacher, I valued her input. My daughter loved her ‘Auntie ‘Rena,’ and as evening fell, we lit a candle within the holder I had bought at a party with Serena. It offered the light filtered through trees. She had loved trees. Her mother has planted a Great White Cherry tree (Tai Haka), in her back garden, in tribute to Serena, and it is growing splendidly.

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Whenever I got my knickers in a twist about a mean person, or some trivial matter, she would smile wryly until I too saw the folly of giving the issue such importance. She was practical and no-nonsense. She would just get on with it, and continued to do so until the very end. I learnt so much from how she went about life. Her eyes would light up when she talked about her travels, regaling me with her stories of what she had seen and whom she had met. I swore I saw star dust in her eyes at such times. A scientist once told me he finds it miraculous that we are all made of stars, and is incredulous that we fail to acknowledge it. Serena, you were certainly made of star dust, and are now the brightest star in our galaxy. img_9511-0

Serena’s Anniversary

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Another year has passed without you. Always remembered, treasured and in my heart. X

November has been tough this year. Now that Facebook offers daily memories, it has been quite harrowing. I have been able to revisit my status updates from November 2014, which were all updates on Serena. They reveal the confusion, fears and hopes as they occurred. Today is the anniversary of her passing. I can’t believe it’s been a year. I don’t feel as though I have scratched the surface of the cacophony of emotions her passing has proffered. This year has seen me stretching myself, and becoming more adventurous at a time when all I hankered for was to be found in retreat. She was an explorer, having travelled by herself many times. She would have been devastated at what has transpired in this world the past 12 months.

I have seen so many women who look like her walk by, little boys in tow. Her long auburn hair and steady gait has been replicated many times, and its all I can do to not tap these women on the shoulder. I expect to see her waiting at the bus stop; run into her at the park. I expect that she is visiting family in the UK and shall be back shortly. I am comforted by the fact that her dulcet voice is still in my ears, and her memory hasn’t dulled. It never will. Serena taught me to be ever-vigilant when it comes to my health. She has taught me to do what floats my boat, and also to be aware of the machinations of those I let into my boat. Are they helping me paddle, or drilling holes when I’m not looking? I had a dream about her a short while ago. She was teaching me how to fly. She surely is.

Grief and Homecoming

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Today was your birthday

The 15th May was your birthday, Serena. You would have turned 41. This time last year, I was wrapping your gift, and my daughter was writing in your 40th birthday card. Tonight, we were getting ready to take you out for dinner with the kids. There was no indication that you were sick at all. Six months later, you were gone. I wish I had told you how much I loved you, how valued you were. I hope you knew. What would we do differently if we had known? I was grateful that my daughter had a science workshop. It meant getting up early, and taking a train and bus to Balmain. It meant escaping. 

We had breakfast in a dear little café.

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I had wilted spinach and mushrooms on sourdough bread. It was spectacular. Serena, you loved Balmain. You loved the city. I took my daughter to her workshop, run by a wondrous educator called Luisa. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki was going to answer the kid’s pressing questions. My daughter gave me this look, as she ushered me out.

"You can go, mum!"
“You can go, mum!”

I was left to wander the streets of Rozelle and Balmain. It is such a happy place, filled with beloved dogs, families, musicians and art. When I was eighteen, I lived here, in an old stable. I  lived close to the wharf, and remembered my first home fondly. There I was, living in a stable, and my landlord was named Moses. I wondered what it was like now? I walked down Darling St, until I came to the series of stables.

My home.
My former home.

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A beautiful idea for the base of a tree in Rozelle.

I moved one cold winter night into Balmain, and our neighbours greeted me the next morning with coffee and toast. They leant me furniture, and were so very thoughtful. I shuddered when I thought of the neighbour who had died after I moved out. She had been sitting up in bed, playing a computer game, when a person unknown had shot her through the window. I was devastated when I learnt of her passing. She had loved Balmain, been there all her life. She was her husband’s sweetheart, and he unabashedly told everyone he met. Grief, there it was again. Sorrow as I looked at the home in front of the stables, where she had lived for twenty years in a quiet street in a leafy suburb. She left a lasting impression with her kindness and warmth. I have told my daughter about you. Another neighbour, Sid, had hidden about ten wild cats in his stable, despite the fact we weren’t allowed pets. He gave me a television set he had fixed up because I was kind to his felines.
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I wondered why I had ever left this gorgeous place. It still feels like home. I was uncovering parts of myself when I lived here, my fingernails cracked and dirty after digging through shattered fragments of my psyche. I remembered when I sat in the park, elated, after having gone to the shops by myself. It was a very big deal. Living in this little village had made me brave. I walked for hours, up and down Darling St, and through laneways groaning with greenery and flowers. I was trying to escape the heaviness in my chest. I knew it was only a matter of time before the heavy clouds released their burden.

You Sent Butterflies.

IMG_6205 Serena, I remember when you won the pair of purple boots. You were so thrilled. You used to win everything you entered, though in the end, you lost your life. You had an eventful life, and some parts of it were bitterly unfair. You found comfort in butterflies. They were your totem, fluttering about  whenever we walked or sat at the park. I  gave you a purple butterfly mobile on your last birthday.

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Every year we did the Challenge Walk together, me complaining as we reached the peak which held a painted blue tree. Dead, yet alive. You would laugh, and point to the wrong flag, convincing me that I had done more km’s than I had. I fell for it every time. 2014 was to be our last year together on the walk. If I had known that, I would have hugged you tighter upon meeting, shouted you lunch afterward and organized a band. This year, one of our beautiful friend’s and her girls joined us. We acutely felt your absence, and I kept looking for you. So many  women with cedar hair looked like you from the back. The girls and I chatted, and we laughed. We fell silent and then talk turned to you. We were followed by butterflies the whole 6km’s. I wanted to cry, and scream at the unfairness of a young woman leaving this earth halfway through her life. I did so inside my mind; silently, respectfully. As long as butterflies remain in the world, so shall you. I anticipate bumping into you wherever I go. Instead, I am surrounded by butterflies and memories. I signed up for 12km’s by accident. You would have found that hysterically funny. When the time came to continue on, or pull out, I hid my registration details under the bag I was carrying, so I wouldn’t be forced to go around again. I had seen my butterflies and that was enough.

We came home and put our blingy slippers on.
We came home and put our blingy slippers on.

Kindness.

There has been grief, deep and all-consuming. In the midst of sleepless nights and exhaustion, Serena’s loved ones have also been gifted kindness. There was the little lady-a friend of mine- who cooked a wholesome meal, and took it around to people she didn’t know. Messages from people desperate to help in any way that they can, and gifts left on my doorstep, along with cards beautifully scripted. The day of the funeral, a friend put together five platters of sandwiches and wraps and delivered them to the house, so the mourners had nourishment at lunchtime. Cupcakes in Camden baked this beautiful cake.

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The mother bird cake topper was made by Jan Wallace and shall be treasured forever.

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Cupcake’s little girl did this picture for me, complete with my now-departed pink walking stick.

A lady from school gave me these two bags for Serena’s little boys.

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Another dear lady came to my door with this angel. I showed Lizzie at the school gate and she ran home to put it on the tree. She knew it represented Serena.

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The school which Serena’s eldest son attends sent this beautiful tribute, with each child’s name placed on the display.

10846646_873263932707453_1770918831_nSo much kindness. People who never knew her are grieving. They want to reach out. They need to. It helps. Darling girl, I hope you can see how loved you are. Always were and always will be.

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Serena.

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I haven’t been on my blog (or planet earth), for several weeks. It is due to my dear friend, Serena. Before I tell you what happened, let me tell you how it all began. I was at a local park with my daughter eight years ago. The Jacaranda’s were out, and the rose gardens in full bloom. A lady -with hair assembled from the shavings of fragrant cedar- was at the playground with her little boy. She smiled as I approached, and spoke in a delicate English accent. I fell in love with her on sight. Her son and my daughter would hold hands in my car as I drove us around. They did gymnastics together, celebrated each other’s birthdays and local festivities. Serena was a teacher, who had changed children’s lives in the small county from where she came. She had squirreled away her money, and travelled the world. Oh, the adventures she went on, and the beauty she saw! She went around Australia, finally settling in Sydney. She had her little boy, then another blessed bub. She wrote stories, dreamt, and was loved by all who met her. She didn’t take life, nor herself, too seriously, and marched to a different beat. Her dance had an elegance to it, and was certainly independent of choreography.

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We shared many wonderful escapades, drinking cocktails with friends, seeing shows and movies. I would usually smuggle in a flask for us to share. She earthed this flighty fairy. She loved this country, though gravitated to New Zealand more than once. I think it reminded her of home. We shared our hearts, our homes, our lives. A month ago, I received a message that she had been rushed to hospital. It was her heart. I knew this was perilous. Her father and aunt had succumbed to a rare heart disease, and we all prayed Serena wouldn’t present with symptoms. Even in hospital, she was directing us all not to make a fuss. There was nothing she needed. When talk turned to a heart transplant she was as brave as she had always been. I had some marvellous talks with her. She was always interested in your life, asking how you were, what the children were up to. It wasn’t surprising that her heart worked too hard. It overflowed with love and compassion.

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Our darling fought, my, how she fought. She was transferred to St Vincent’s, and had a wondrous visage from her bed of our beautiful city. She was relieved. One step closer to a transplant. To having more time. It was after midnight when her beautiful heart stopped. The staff did everything they could. Serena was gone… She had taken off her glass slippers, teetering out of the room. Gone in the small hours, not wanting to make a fuss. You will always be with us. You changed us, putting everything into perspective, especially the holiday season. It is about holding your loved one’s close, comforting your two little boys and your beautiful mother, who has flown over from the UK, and understanding what a tenuous grip we have on this precious, painful, wondrous life. I am finding it hard to catch my breath with the burden of grief I am left with. So many share this grief. Our town holds so many memories. Wherever I go, there you are. You will always be there, my dear, sweet friend. You lived a full life, the half you were allotted. I will complete the journey on your behalf. When I am eighty (twice your age), I promise to imbibe Bailey’s and raise my glass to you.

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To make a donation to the Victor Chang Institute, which is doing extraordinary work in the fight against heart disease, please click on the link above. xxx