Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eight is GREAT!

Yesterday we got home from an action packed weekend in Monterey, four blissful days of no cooking, or cleaning, laundry or blogging....so it's time to catch up. 

Dempsey's eighth birthday was more than I could've hoped for.  And on the last night of our little holiday in Monterey, Dempsey gave me an eighth birthday gift that I will remember until I'm an old lady, if I make it that far. :) But more of that later!

The morning of Dempsey's birthday I made a concerted effort to be open and conscious of taking in every second and relishing in whatever the day would bring.  It didn't disappoint, I had many moments of gratitude so I wanted to share.......

                       The birthday girl before her party!

By eleven am, the sky was cloudless, a heavenly blue like an untouched canvas waiting to be painted.  I'd organized a pool party with ten of her little girlfriends.  So, after lots of photo opp's, (which Dempsey hated!), we tied balloons to the letter box, filled pink bowls with chips and sour gummy worms and waited for the troops to arrive.

I watched nine sweet smiling faces arrive, dragging beach bags and brightly wrapped gifts with ribbons and cards for Dempsey.  Their faces adorned with enormous smiles and excitement and innocence...the essence of life itself in each tiny bikini.  All of them....with the capacity to just be happy and enjoy the moment.  They could teach us all what is important and real in life.

     Demps with Ava and Bella.

And I soaked in every second, watching them in their saggy bottomed swimmers with swirling arms and legs, splashing in the cool water.  I listened to them giggling, simply high on life and it filled me with happiness! 

     Dempsey and her ten little girlfriends...happy!

Then it was pizza and cake time.  As I placed Dempsey's Care Bear cake amongst the cold pizza crusts and spilt drinks, one little friend told me..."Mrs Doyle, Care Bears scare me!" ....and I had to smile at her innocence and honesty as I thought to myself, "Oh if only life could be that simple!"

      The infamous Care Bears!

I stood smiling like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, at nine dripping wet urchins, surrounding my baby, singing "Happy Birthday, Cha Cha Cha!"  And I wished her big sister could've been there with us, however, Savannah taught me more than anyone to apprecitate these moments and be happy with simply being alive!

And then, in the distance we heard the "thump thump thump" sound of a helicopter approaching ....a friend had organized a happy birthday fly over for Dempsey and her friends.  I watched in awe as it buzzed and hovered over the pool, while ten little girls waved madly at the big bird and I found I couldn't stop smiling......WOW! 

      The helicopter fly over...how lucky!

And that pretty much summed up the day for me...three little letters, wow!   Wow at what I have, and wow that I have a healthy, happy little girl to love!  And as I tucked Demps into bed that night, I asked her what she enjoyed most about her eighth birthday....and she said "Everything Mommy...I loved everything!"  and so did I!  I know for me, making that conscious choice first thing that morning to enjoy whatever the day brought set my mind up for a happy one.

But her birthday didn't end there for me.....like I said, we travelled to Monterey, and Sunday night, sitting in a cocktail bar, surrounded by a massive fish tank and other fellow diners, I heard the soft twinkling sounds of piano music!  Then I realized....my goodness, it was Dempsey!  She had found a piano in a quiet corner of the room and had started playing.  My heart surged with pride and love and gratefulness at how fortunate I am to have her and enjoy her and how proud I am to be her mom.

And when she finished playing, the whole room went quiet, then erupted in applause...Demps stood up, took a big bow and sat down with a shy smile.  A pretty young girl of probably twenty approached the piano, handed Dempsey a five dollar bill, and then wandered over and told me how lucky I am to have such a beautiful little girl!  I blinked back my tears as I thanked her and told her......I knew! :)

Wishing you all sunshine and blue skies ahead and hoping you can just take a moment to find and enjoy a little thing in your blue cup today! :) :) x

     The only photo I got of the birthday girl and me at the end of her day!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The road to Dempsey.....and joy!

It's three days until Dempsey's birthday.........three days before she was born, eight years ago, was a life changing day for us. One of the most important days in my life.

It's painful to go back to that, but if I could jump into a time machine and travel back to July 2002....Id like to take you there. To give you hope if you are suffering heartache that as days turn into months and years, you can learn a new kind of 'normal' and find happiness again, smile again and oh my God, even laugh again after loss. There really is nothing that compares to joy, and joy will always trump grief if you allow it to.

Looking back, I wouldn't have believed I would've survived that day......three days before Demps entered our lives and changed everything. When everything seemed lost.......

July 19 2002, we were patiently, gut wrenchingly waiting on tender hooks for three test results that would shape not only our world but hers too. Because of an amniocentesis, we were to find out if Dempsey was a tissue match for her sister Savannah. If she could save Savannah's life with her rich stem cells and a bone marrow transplant. And, if Dempsey had the same genetic fingerprint as her sister, and would therefore have the same horrid terminal disease Metachromatic Leukodystrophy. It was all a bunch of IF's....and it was torture.

For two months prior to her birth I'd been carrying a hideous small blue cooler with me everywhere. Inside, was a stem cell kit, with glass vials and syringes and paper work in case I went into pre-term labor. So Dempsey's precious cord blood, could be collected from her umbilical cord at birth, to maybe save Savannah.  It was like something out of a movie, or a fiction novel, not my perfect life!  Oh how I hated that blue plastic cooler!

Dempsey at 6 weeks old and Savannah

Our future was so uncertain back then, our lives hanging by a thin thread of hope.  Yes, three days before Dempsey blessed our lives we learnt we couldn't save our precious first born daughter Savannah.....it was the most painful thing I've ever had to face in my life.

To sit in a suffocating consulting room, where the air was thick with anticipation to a point where I couldn't breathe, on the edge of a cheap plastic chair, waiting to be told by a doctor what fate your children would be doomed to.  And you beg God or whoever that you'll do anything if you can get what you want....you offer to sell your soul, just, anything to be able to save the life of the most precious thing in your world. I would've given anything!

We learnt in under a minute that Dempsey wasn't a tissue match for her sister so there would be no saving Savannah. No first day of school, no wedding, no watching her grow up, just nothing......we were offered nothing!

However we learned in the next minute that thankfully, Dempsey only carried the faulty gene for the disease that would take Savannah's life. She would never develop it. So that day was bittersweet, cruel and hopeless. I cried so many tears I couldn't see, couldn't breathe. Nothing mattered to me anymore. The pain was unbearable, like someone was squeezing my heart. It's still there, a physical pain, that still aches as I write this.

And I've learned through living through that hell, no-one, not just me, has control over their destiny. So we shouldn't dwell on the the ifs and learn lessons to cherish what we are in control of, like our attitude and gratitude for simply having the privilege of the little things in life.....and today mine is watching Dempsey counting down the hours until she turns eight...that in itself is a miracle....how things could've been different.

In those few days before Dempsey's birth I had to decide whether it was going to be 'flight or fight'...whether I was going to run and hide from the world and give up...or if I was going to fight to make Savannah's short life a full and happy one. It was like I was hanging off the edge of a cliff, clinging to the rocks. But I had to let go of my old life and accept whatever was next to reach the other new life that was waiting, even if it would mean falling .......or failing!

And even though it was freezing that morning Dempsey was born, with frost covering the lawn outside the hospital in Australia, she managed to warm my soul and threw me a life line the minute she was born.

                                                            Dempsey Hope...a few days old!

The second my eyes met hers, with her innocence and fragility, wondering what was to come for her and if she would ever know her sister made me sob bittersweet tears that day. When everything else in my world had gone insane and I felt there was no more hope, Dempsey....wrinkled and red, with her beautiful screaming voice changed our world into one with optimism.....and joy!

                                  Savannah giving her sister a hug......love this photo!

And one of my joys that day, was to watch her big sister Savannah slowly crawl up my hospital bed and plant a sloppy kiss on her tiny sisters forehead. Wrapped inside the pink bunny rug that morning was a tiny bundle of arms and legs, hope and joy, and nothing could take that away.

It's only a memory now, but its a joyful one, and in three days I'll have some new memories to store away that will bring me happiness. Even though Savannah isn't here to celebrate Dempsey's eighth birthday, she was....for a while, both my girls were in the same world and that has brought me to here...

On Thursday, I know I will smile, I will laugh and I will be present to enjoy the many moments that Dempsey will gift me with on her birthday...I will celebrate the simple things like seeing her eight candles ablaze, mirrored in her eyes. And listen to the laughter that will be coming from a bunch of cheerful girls, innocently enjoying the little things in life that will fill my blue cup with sunshine and bring me joy! :)

                                                       Dempsey and Savannah!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grief Minefields AND Smiles - Happy Birthday Mum!

      My favorite photo of Mom and Savannah...taken only 6 months before they both got sick.

Today is my adored Mom's birthday...so HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM!

I feel like all I've been blogging about lately is birthdays, but that's my reality at the moment.  From the last week of June until the last week of July it's an emotional minefield for me.  I feel I have to sidestep and tiptoe through mines of emotions that can blow up, ruin my day or make me thankful and aware of how precious life is.  These four weeks are some of the hardest of the year for me.

But today I'm feeling great....before I even put a foot out of bed this morning I thought of my gorgeous mom and her infectious spirit and huge wide grin.  She would be disappointed if I didn't think of her today and smile and try to do something special in her memory. 

When Mom was alive and I would phone her with a sob story, she would tell me, "Darling, go look at yourself in the mirror and smile!"  It worked every time, making me appreciate that I had the life I had!  You have to try it to believe it.....sometimes, when I attempt this, I laugh out loud at the silliness of it, but it does make me smile and put things in perspective.  However, somedays, like today, I would give anything for a phone line to heaven......to hear Mom's voice one more time, hear her laugh and listen to her great outlook and philosophy on life.  I miss her so much.

          My beautiful Mom and Dad on our wedding day in Sydney Australia...a favorite memory!

When Mom was dying, almost in a comatose state, one of the hospice nurses told me that it was nice to finally meet me. She said Mom had spoken about Savannah, Dempsey and me constantly, during her chemo treatments.  “Your Mom was the star of the chemotherapy ward,” she said. “She always looked stunning, had an incredible attitude and energy. The ward lit up on the days your mother was there. Her effect on everyone was so positive and warm.”

I was happy that one of the nurses caring for her in her last days actually knew Mom, and remembered how magical a person she was, before she had become so ill and only a shell of her former self......I once read on a greeting card, ”Some people are angels, cleverly disguised as human beings.” That describes my mother perfectly!
Mom instilled all her values, beliefs and nurturing qualities in me...it is my privilege now, as her daughter, to pass on only good things to Dempsey.  To be a happy and grateful mother and to shower my daugther with the love I was shown...in that way, my Mom's legacy will always live on. 
I remember when Savannah was born, one day in the hospital, Mom held my hand, brushed the hair out of my eyes and told me....now I have my own family, that it's my responsibility to be present and cheerful and active in my children's life so they too can survive any future challenges in life they will be confronted with.
                                                Mom and Savannah at a Park in L.A

And it brings me comfort to know I'm not the only one who doesn't have their mother physically here to hug or talk to.  Just last night I received an amazing email from a lady in Tehran who read some of my writing on www.opentohope.com.  She sent me such a heartfelt message as she too misses her mom who just died, half a world away.

And it reminded me again that grief has no borders, no restriction on cultures or customs or road blocks for other countries, no matter what the religion or belief, GRIEF feels the same.  Mitra writes a blog in Persian, which intrigues me and I look forward to reading her journey from oceans away.  Here is part of her beautiful email........"Diana dear, tomorrow is your mother's birthday. I will light a candle for her. An orange one, which reminds me of the Sun. I wish you even greater relief. And I know that when required, you will let those tears come down as well. But you know better than I do, that this may make their souls sorry as well. So, cherish the loving memory of your beloved mother in the most joyous memories you have with her and from her. God bless her soul. As I am writing these lines, my mother is smiling at me from withing the frame of her photo ... And I know that nothing can frame her now. She is now timeless... Sending you much love from a still hot Tehran!"

And I find it fascinating that Mitra wrote that her mother was smiling at her from a photo as she was writing....it's like amongst those words is a message from Mom....to go look in the mirror!  So today, I'll pick a bunch of pretty white roses from Savannah's rosebush, put them in a vase next to Mom's photo, light Savannah's candle and do something fun with Dempsey in honor of her! 

I like to believe Mom is with Savannah, enjoying her birthday somewhere beautiful.......like an endless Summer's day..............

And I hope if your cup is blue or you are missing your Mom, or a beloved one, you can find comfort in my mother's words, and go look at yourself in a mirror, really look, and turn your frown upside down and SMILE! ;) x

   Mom and Savannah on the beach near Tarnia's home...I picture them there still!

This is the special candle Mithra in Tehran lit for my mum...thank you Mithra xx

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Joy mixed with sorrow mixed with joy!

Eighteen years ago today I was lying on a sun lounge around a sparkling swimming pool in a quaint little village in Germany named Friedrichsdorf. A place with cobblestone streets and a busy market, and the best pizza restaurant I've ever dined in called 'Mario's'. We lived there for four years because of Peter's work. I remember it like yesterday. You see eighteen years ago today my only sister Tarnia gave birth to her first child, a son, Alexander!

I remember the Fraulein from the hotel dashing out to the pool waving a phone, telling me there was a call from Australia......I remember my Mom's excited voice exclaiming Tarnia had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. And I remember how carefree and easy my life was back then, when all those I loved were still in my world.

So today, I'm feeling mixed emotions, I'm excited that my nephew whom I adore will become an adult, that he can do all the things he has been waiting to do. In Australia, at age eighteen you can vote, legally drive a car and most important to him, enter an establishment that serves alcohol.

     Alexander at the back in blue with my sister, Tony and bubby Fraser

Alexander was eight when his Mom died. He and his brother Fraser, who was five and his twin sisters, who were babies of only six months old, were all strapped into their car seats for what should've been a lovely trip to the beach near their home on that fateful day. We'll never know what happened on that windy deserted road that leads to a magnificent stretch of beach in Australia, where there is seashells scattered everywhere on white sand and wild rolling waves, adding to its beauty.

What we do know from Alexander is that when Tarnia's car rolled over and over and finally smashed into a huge gum tree, the car ended up on its roof. I try not to think of the chaos that would've been going on in the car with all four children hanging upside down.....the twins screaming, Fraser crying, how terrifying it would've been. Also, how brave Alexander was at such a young age, courageously kicking out the car window and running to the road , flagging down the first passing car. What an amazing little boy he was!

He hasn't changed, over the past ten years I've watched him grow and mature into an amazing young adult, seemingly unaffected by the loss of his loved Mom and grief!

Alexander worked hard and entered an exclusive private school in Australia with a scholarship and went on to become an honor student. He diligently works two jobs, delivering medications on his pushbike around his town for the local pharmacist and washing dishes, as a 'dish pig' as he says, at a local restaurant.  He's been like another adult in his family after Tarnia's tragic death, caring for his little sisters and showing such responsibility the past ten years.  And at the end of this year he'll be off to University somewhere......

I can only conclude that his strength of character is because of how amazing the human spirit is. That we can seem to bounce back and strive to be better, even through such a significant life changing loss. Along with a supportive loving family and the counselling he had through his school after Tarnia died, leads me to believe he will continue to thrive and accomplish great things in his life and meet any challenge he is faced with in the future.

    My dad with the my sister's kids and Dempsey, taken Christmas Day 2009. Alexander in blue!

I love him like my own son and feel happiness for him today, swirled and mixed around with a sadness that Tarnia isn't here to hug him or tell him how very much she loves him as she always did.

And usually, when I phone him on his special day, I remind him where I was was when he came into this world, of the pool and Germany and how besotted his Mom was when he was born....and every year he laughs and tells me "Yeah, yeah, I know, you were sitting around a pool in Germany right?" And we both laugh!

But today when I call, on his eighteenth birthday into adulthood, I'll tell him the things his Mom can't. Like how special I think he is and how if his beloved Mom was alive she would be just so so so proud of who he has become. He's never talked about the accident with me, just of how he misses his Mom some days........

I'm sure if she can, Tarnia will be sending him some sign from heaven to make him aware, that somehow, she knows and misses him too! x

      Tarnia and Alexander..........

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grateful in grief!

My new year starts today!  Yesterday was Savannah's birthday and I cried enough tears for the rest of the year, so I'm stating a fresh this morning...the 1st of July.

Special days are always tough and today I woke feeling like I had been rolled through an old fashioned wringer washing machine.  My whole body aches and my eyes feel like they are hanging out of my head.  Savannah's eleventh birthday was one of my hardest yet, it's not getting easier as time marches forward.  I thought it would by now.

However, yesterday, amongst all MY sadness and feelings of longing for my baby were feelings of gratitude, love and support.....and I have to be grateful for that.  I'd like to share my day and share how my friends, who are like family to me, made Savannah's birthday almost as special as if she was here. 

A girlfriend of mine, an old school friend, whom I've reconnected with read my blog about Savannah and how I don't know what it is that eleven year old's like these days....her daughter is the same age as Savannah, so she emailed me................."I've just finished reading your articles and I often think about the things that you are missing. Rather than feel sorry or guilty that I am experiencing all the wonderful and sometimes annoying parts of living with an eleven year old, for better or worse I wanted to share with you some of my experiences." 

Vicki wrote the most beautiful long email about her daughter, what books she reads, what TV shows she watches, what music she listens to and how messy her room is, amongst other information that is so priceless to me.  I cried as I read it, tears mixed with sadness and fascination and wonder at a little peek into what Savannah might be like if she was here.  It was difficult to write a thank you note back.  It was hard to convey in words how much her email meant to me and how grateful I was she took the time to write it.  How very very special of her and something so simple! :)

While eating my breakfast my neighbor Renee stopped by, giving me the biggest hug and a beautiful frame about mothers.....I gave her a wet shoulder from all my tears.  Then after breakfast I took Dempsey to our local park where we raced each other on the swings, Demps giggling the whole time at how high she was going, with the wind whipping her long hair....and I felt grateful.  Toys R Us was next where she picked out a toy for her big sister.  I let her roam the aisles until she found the perfect gift.  "I think Savannah would like this Mommy,"  she told me....and I had to smile when I read the tag hanging off it's ear......it almost sounds like heaven I thought to myself. :)

                                  Dempsey's gift for Savannah

Then it was off to Von's Supermarket to pick out Savannah's balloons.  Dempsey drove the florist insane with her constant changing of balloon colors......but then hey, she's a female right :)  I carefully drove home with a trunk full of helium balloons and Dempsey itching to get in the door and draw pictures and a note on them for her sister.  I wrote on them too, with love from mommy and daddy.......

                        Demps drew a different animal on each balloon and a message to Savannah 

A friend arrived with a cheerful bunch of sunflowers and and a letter about physics and how there's a concept about Energy.....how it's believed that someones energy is not lost after they die, just transformed....how my angels energy is probably creating miracles everywhere, along with others who have passed.  It was beautifully written and so heartfelt, I was grateful that this friend took the time!

Then Peter arrived home to an impatient Dempsey at the door, eager to send the balloons to heaven to her sister.  To me, letting go of the balloons symbolizes her soul being freed from her body.   And so we stood in our yard, watching the balloons float away higher and higher, blown this way and that by errant winds, until we couldn't see them anymore.

And I imagined that Savannah was waiting for them, up in heaven where there is no pain, with my adored Mom and my sister Tarnia and I felt grateful for Dempsey’s ear to ear grin as she loudly yelled “Happy Birthday Savannah!”

Peter and I shared a quiet dinner, he, not sharing his thoughts as usual with me, and me accepting that was OK, even if it is painful on special days.  And then our doorbell rang and we received the most delicate bunch of pretty pink and yellow roses for Savannah from a special family in Australia who send them every year.....again I was grateful and cried reading the message they had sent.  I rang my Dad in Australia and for once, he got emotional, and we both cried, then he told me he loved me and to take care.  It meant so much to me.

            Savannah's shelf with her candle lit yesterday and the beautiful flowers she received

We got emails, texts, cards and phone calls.....and I survived the day the best way I could, which is all we can do really on those terribly hard days like birthdays.

And this morning after re-reading all Savannah's messages it occurred to me one emotion, apart from the tears and sadness and heartache, that was present in abundance yesterday, was a feeling of being so so GRATEFUL.  I know I can't bring Savannah back, I can't change what happened to her, but I can choose to be grateful for my beautiful friends who made her day special for us.  I can't imagine her birthday with no-one acknowledging it....how painful that would be.

So today is my new year!  I'm going to take the energy and love and strength that my friends gave me yesterday, from all those who are important in my life who made a difference to us on Savannah's birthday, and be happy and grateful for what I do have right here in front of me. 

And as I'm typing Demps is giggling in the background with a friend as they play our Wii, the birds are chirping, the sun is shining.....and thanks to my friends support, so am I today!  My blue cup is sunny and overflowing! :) :)


This article was published on the website http://www.hellogrief.org/grateful-in-grief-reflections-on-my-daughters-birthday/  Hellogrief has some great articles that can help anyone travelling through the journey of grief. x