You never forget where you were when you get a call to tell you someone has died! I remember every detail from the day my only sister Tarnia was killed....the day seems to be trapped like the snowflakes in a snow globe, one that's shaken up occasionally bringing everything back.
I feel I need to tell you my sister Tarnia's story, to help those of you on your journey of loss. To give you hope that grief can be a catalyst for change if you let it.
Not a day goes by now where I don't appreciate the little joys in life like when my daughter Dempsey giggles as she gives me a sloppy kiss, making me laugh......I now embrace everyday with intention and passion to meet any challenge, good or bad and to try new things. In that way, Tarnia continues to remind me how precious life is...that I get to enjoy things that she no longer can.
My sister died at the age of thirty-nine. She left four beautiful children, Alexander, Fraser and twin girls, Emerald and Charlotte. All are like my own and radiate sunshine in my life....my sister will always live on through them and for that I am forever grateful!
Where were you in September 2000? We were living in Sydney Australia back then. In my dream house, with my curly haired girl Savannah who was fifteen months old. The Olympics were in full swing, Tarnia had given birth six months earlier to identical twin girls, it was her dream to have a daughter, so you can imagine how besotted she was when two arrived. I was living the life I'd always dreamed of and sharing baby stories with her.
September 20, was a glorious spring day......I was curled up on my favorite sofa, Savannah sat at my feet emptying the contents of a cane basket of toys onto our wooden floor while I chatted happily to a girlfriend on the phone. As the call waiting tone broke into our conversation I had no idea, that after I answered THAT call, our family would never be the same again!
I smiled as I heard Mom's voice, but my smile soon turned into shock, Mom sounded terrified.
"Diana, are you sitting down, something terrible has happened........Tarnia has been killed in a car accident!"
When you are told something so shocking your brain finds it hard to process. I remember standing up with the phone and instantly dropping to the floor, my legs giving way under me. I kept repeating over and over to Mom, "Are you sure that's right?"
Of course it was right, as if my mother would say such a thing.......Mom couldn't believe it either. My mother told me Tarnia had been taking her kids (Alexander 8, Fraser 5, and twins Emerald and Charlotte who were just six months old) to a picnic at the beach and had rolled her car. She was killed instantly!
I felt helpless, in shock, denial and felt I was going to throw up. My surroundings became hazy and distorted and I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to phone Peter who was at work and tell him to come home, that I needed him.
My sister Tarnia was in essence a mother. Nothing gave her more pleasure than her four children who defined who she was. Like me, she had married her childhood sweetheart Tony and was happy with life. She was six years older than me and opposite in everyway. She liked the fine things in life like classical music, old worldly things and vintage clothing. Her hair was the darkest of brown like rich chocolate and I never heard her diss or say a swear word....unlike me, who loved loud rock music, all the modern things and the latest fashions. However, we had bonded over the birth of our daughters and our relationship was one I always thought a big sister/little sister should be. I wasn't aware then how much I would miss her in the following years.....
Tarnia lived in a small country town of fourteen thousand people, eight hours drive from us. So we only got to see each other at Christmas or once or twice during the year. Be it fate or something else, I had only visited her two weeks before her accident. I am grateful for that last visit and thank whoever or whatever gave it to me. When we hugged and said our goodbyes that day, I had no idea I would never see Tarnia or hear her voice ever again.....I've learned a valuable lesson from that last visit, and I do my best to pass it on.....ALWAYS validate friendship and love with those we care about. Always tell them you love them as tomorrow isn't promised to anyone!
When I arrived at Tarnia's home the day following her accident, my Dad was waiting for me at her old wooden gate. We hugged and he patted me on the back. His eyes were filled with tears as he said, “I’m so glad you’re here. Everything’s going to be okay...Mom’s waiting for you.” But we both knew everything wasn’t okay and wouldn’t be. Nothing was the same. It never would be again.
The week following Tarnia's accident, Mom and Dad decided to move into Tarnia's home and help Tony with the care of the children. There really was no other choice. The twins were only six months old and still needed around the clock care. I wasn't sure how my parents, who were in their sixties would cope with their new roles. But they would hear of nothing else.
Peter, Savannah and I went back to Sydney and tried to pick up life after Tarnia's death. I cried everyday for months after she died and wondered when my grief would stop overwhelming me. After losing Tarnia there were some days when I was afraid to leave the house or drive a car, for a long time the old me had disappeared and I didn't know when or if I would ever feel like normal again. However, I've learned that you can choose to look at the positives in every loss. My sister had left four beautiful children behind....who'd luckily, escaped the accident unharmed.
Tarnia's husband Tony and two boys seemed to be grieving terribly for Tarnia and I wish I could've helped them more.
My parents embraced their new roles with everything they had......Mom becoming the babies surrogate mother. I also saw a new side to my Dad, washing bottles and changing diapers, something he'd never done in the past. I didn't know it then but my mom would be the next loved one I would lose.
Within months of Tarnia's death she was battling Ovarian Cancer, chemotherapy and all the horrid things that cancer brings. But my mother was an amazing woman and never complained. She set such an amazing example through the grace she showed, handling the death of her daughter and living day to day with her cancer that she would be, and continues to be my inspiration and bring me sunshine when I think of her.
I wouldn't have believed back then that within three months of losing my sister, Peter, Savannah and I would pack up our lives in Sydney, move to Tarnia's tiny town and be watching my mother fade away, losing her battle with life....but then that's another story............................
Note; I've been given a wonderful book on 'A Guide to Children and Grief' by Miri Rossitto. You can contact Miri at http://www.valleyoflife.com/ to purchase your copy for $4.99. Miri has worked and talked with others who have lost a loved one, the topic of children and grief has come up often.
This book is intended for those that were looking for help and couldn't find it. I wish I had a copy after my sister's death for her children. Check out her site....there are some wonderful resources there. :)