Saturday, August 28, 2010

The death of a sibling and the effects........

It started in the car yesterday with Dempsey, sitting in her car seat, dripping wet from hours of swimming at Summer Camp, as she hit me with one of her question times. “Mommy, can you tell me how old I was again when Savannah died?” she asked. I turned the radio down and adjusted the rear vision mirror so I could see her.

“You were eighteen months old Precious…almost two.” I told her.

“I miss having my sister Mommy, can you tell me again how Savannah died?”

Here we go, I thought. Dempsey is obsessed with how her sister died, what it was like for her and all sorts of other questions that I keep answering openly and honestly so she can have some sort of picture of what Savannah was like.

     Savannah and Dempsey.  Savannah had just lost the ability to walk.

The conversation continued when we got home on our sofa. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her as she asked questions like……”What was I doing when she died?” “Did Savannah like me?” “What were Savannah’s last words Mommy?” I told her what a good baby she was for me when her sister was sick and I racked my brains to remember what Savannah’s last words were… could I ever forget…but time clouds your memory.

I stroked her arm and told her Savannah loved her and was so proud to be her big sister, that she would crawl over to Dempsey’s bouncer and read Winnie the Pooh to her….and pop her binky back in her mouth when it dropped out. Demps sat there smiling and staring off into space in a trance. I would’ve loved to know what was going through her tiny brain as I told her the stories, the same stories I’ve told her over and over. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, “Nothing Mommy!” With a shy smile.

Then my beautiful eight year old reached over and hugged me, “Mommy, I feel sad for you too because you don’t have your big sister here either!” I cuddled her and kissed the top of her head with a lump in my throat……”No Precious, Mommy doesn’t have her sister either!”

Suffering the loss of a brother or sister is like misplacing a part of you.  It changes the family dynamics, especially during the holidays or special family occasions. I remember my Dad and Brenda’s wedding a few years ago, fighting back the tears when I saw her twin daughters dressed in flowing lilac dresses, their hair curled into ringlets with huge smiles decorating their faces…….also, that Tarnia wasn’t there to witness our Dad so happy and in love again…and of course that she didn’t get to see her two boys looking so handsome. I will always be saddened that she can’t participate in our family get togethers. And I know I wouldn’t be human if on those special days I didn’t have that longing for my sister to be part of our family as she should be.

  Brenda's grandaughter, and Tarnia's twin daughters with Dempsey at Dad's Wedding two years ago!

Yes, Dempsey and I share a special bond that we’ve both lost our sister’s, our siblings. I was fortunate to have had Tarnia in my life until we were adults and I have a lot of memories and photos I can reminisce over. Not all of the memories are happy ones might I add, Tarnia and I being so different! :)

And I know I have to be careful when I tell Dempsey stories about her sister’s time with us as I know it’s very easy to paint of picture of Savannah or of a sibling that is unrealistic or flawless as we tend to do when people we love die. I know some people have put Tarnia on a pedestal, have forgotten her imperfections. It’s important to be honest and real, especially with children who have lost a brother or sister. My friend Dr. Philippart sent me the email below after Savannah died…..

Dear Mrs Doyle,

It is important to make sure the surviving child is not given the impression that the deceased child was such a perfect being that there never will be another sibling who could match that perfection. Two of my friends who had lost an older sibling were feeling their lives were under the shadow of that perfect sibling and were uncomfortable with their inability to compete with someone they never knew.

Sincerely Michel Philippart, M.D

His words are always in the back of my mind when I tell Dempsey about her sister. Losing a sibling creates a new identity and for a long time after Tarnia died I felt ripped off that I didn’t have her to call and talk to her about Mom dying or Savannah….. I also remember standing in a queue at the checkout a few days after she died and wondering why her and not me, guilt that I was alive and she wasn’t! I was angry at her for dying, angry that she had caused our family so much pain….”God Tarnia, how could you be so careless!” I thought to myself. Then of course I was upset at myself for thinking such a thing………

I know for me, I still have my brother Mark, whom I adore, but I do miss having a sister. I’m envious of my friends and the relationships they have…even if sometimes I do romanticize how Tarnia and I would be now. I know Dempsey gets lonely for her sister too and I know how she feels……I also know I can’t change what has happened to our family…I have to accept it, keep Savannah’s memory alive for Dempsey, continue to tell her over and over that she has a sister…its just that she can’t be here with us.

I know I’ll always miss Tarnia and the relationship we could’ve had……I will always yearn to have her in my life. However I know I’m not alone….some people never experience having a sibling. I have to look at what I do have which is great girlfriends who are like sister’s, and cousins who I can call like I would’ve Tarnia. I have to look at these positives to survive not having her here.

     Me, my beautiful Mum and sister Tarnia, taken a long time ago! Nice hairdo's :)

I take comfort now in passing on what I do remember about my sister to her two little girls Emerald and Charlotte who never knew her, I’ve started a journal full of my memories of her as a gift to them when they are older….this also helps ease my guilt that I am still here while she is not.

And I’ll continue to answer Dempsey’s questions about her big sister with a smile….reinforcing to Dempsey how precious she is to us!

Our conversation yesterday finished with Dempsey providing me with comfort…...a hug and a sloppy kiss, as she added….“But you still have me Mommy and I’m hungry!”

How lucky I am! x

The above article was published on where there are some insightful articles on the journey of loss.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflecting by the beach......missing my daughter!

Yesterday we discovered a slice of heaven!  A magical spot nestled just off the bustling Pacific Coast Highway called Crystal Cove!

Peter parked the car….after complaining about the gridlocked traffic to get there…but it was worth every second of being stuck amongst the chaos of cars that morning.

As soon as I stepped outside the fresh smell of salt water hit me. I breathed it in….comforted by it. We grabbed our bags and the sandwiches I’d packed and ambled down a twisting track that was bordered with the sweet aroma of thyme. Down through a tunnel and up out the other side to a hidden beach cove sandwiched between two bluffs.

The sand was scorching! I noticed little kids in bright colored swimmers, dipping their toes into the ebb and flow of the water, shrieking in delight, and a father and son throwing a frisbee….while seagulls squawked overhead.  Dempsey couldn’t wait to join them as Peter and I parked ourselves on towels, alongside other parents who where keeping an eye on their precious ones.

It was then that I looked around and noticed a rare sight on the beach…..…a child’s wheelchair with big bulky wheels that looked like balloons were strapped to it. I wondered who it belonged to but didn’t have to wait long as I watched a mother take her daughter(who was probably ten) by the hand and help lead her to the cool water.

I didn’t want to stare, I know what that’s like, having been ‘that woman’ a few years ago and getting angry at people for their ignorant curiosity. However I found I couldn’t stop staring!  The little girl reminded me so much of Savannah and how Savannah was when her walking started to fade.  She looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut.  It brought back so many memories and I tried not to cry at how much I wished it was Savannah on the beach with us.

It was never a chore to do things with my disabled child, more of an honor…..that I got to witness the many smiles I did while taking Savannah on different outings…even if it was just to the supermarket!

The lady looked over and saw me gawking. She probably thought, “Look at that woman staring at me with pity because of my disabled child while she has a healthy one!” Now I had no idea if that’s what she was thinking, however I was her once….and would give anything to have had to catch the shuttle bus and have a wheelchair parked next to our towels yesterday.

I felt so emotional towards the girl who slowly made her way to the rock pools with the help of her devoted mother. And that’s what it is, devotion and love and LOVING to see your disabled child’s face when they experience a simple day out at the beach that we all sometimes take for granted.  I wanted to tell her I know what her days are like, and that I miss my daughter….but I didn’t!

                        Peter and Demps at the rock pools

After they’d past us, I looked over at Dempsey, who was jumping over a tiny wave, laughing and running towards the shore, trying to beat the surge of water quickly catching her.  I felt so privileged to be there watching Demps, alive!  I also felt almost guilty that I get to have this life I have…..and mixed amongst it is a yearning for Savannah, who no matter how she was, in a wheelchair….or not! I wanted her there.

So yesterday again, the ocean managed to have a profound effect on me. Not just in its vastness and wildness and fierceness..….like life…..but in seeing that little girl with her Mom and reminding me of my little girl who isn’t here.

And as I was trying not to get lost in my sadness at what I don’t have….Dempsey came rushing up, kicking sand on me and dripping salty water on my legs, with a huge dimpled smile and a.....“Want to come jump some waves with me Mommy?” I took her small hand and we ran like the wind, feeling the freezing water shock me back into the present!

Wishing you sunshine and happy reflections if your cup is blue! x                                                            

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My brother in-law Tone's thoughts on Widowhood & Fatherhood after you lose a partner

Not everyone loses a sister, daughter or mom...some have lost the love of their life.  So it got me thinking.......I decided to ask my brother in law Tone if he would contribute his thoughts on grief and its challenges from a man's point of view...also as a father and widower.

The post is long and I tried to edit it, but I couldn't, everything resonated with me too.

I found his words to be sad however honest and made me look at his loss of my sister from a totally different perspective.....his!  He continues to do an amazing job, on his own of raising their four beautiful souls.  I am so proud of him as would be my sister!  Here is his take.....THANK YOU TONE! x

Try at "my perspective as a widower on grief and its challenges?"

So there are five or three stages of grief according to the 'net', and a few words only can help me set out an answer to the question. Which as me, I think it's a strange type of question, one that I don't usually want to answer. I want to avoid or dishonestly answer so not to cause hurt. But how can I get this wrong? I cannot. It is just an answer, not to be pulled apart. Truthful too.........

I am forty-nine now, the eldest son of six children. When I started going out with Tarnia we were both twenty years old, and when we married, nearly thirty.  At thirty-nine, we had four healthy beautiful children. I think you could call me a "SNAG".(Sensitive New Age Guy)

After nearly 18 years in the oilfield as a geologist, I had been out of it for 18 months because of retrenchments and scrounged menial jobs until an oil field job opportunity came past. The house she had found for us was, again, going to be paid off quickly!

My sister Tarnia and Tone

When Tarnia, my children's mum died at thirty-nine years of age, my boys were eight and five, and my twin girls six months old.  Their first teeth to erupt the day of the funeral. They were with their mum in a car accident.

When I was told about the accident, I was numb and shocked with the knowledge that nobody could be with her ever again,.....and, that the kids were okay. 

I had just started a new job two days before. We were planning many things, like going overseas while the kids were young enough, somewhere like KL or Singapore with the new position.

Did I do the right thing telling the boys she was dead that evening?

At the time it felt right, no one stopped me to think about it first.

I have never had to fire someone or break off a relationship. It appeared straight forward.

And I had to tell people. I could not let others do it, could I?

Right now that feels so selfish, telling people and not leaving it to others. I think I was trying to punish myself and others for my own loss.  Let someone else suffer right now, and I will cause it!

It was my decision to buy the passenger van she was killed in and maybe she couldn't handle the van after all.

Why why why. Anger. I don't like it. The tears of why why why?

Grief, a deep sadness, alcohol damped it down in the right company.

Expressing my grief was somewhat covered in a tough guy show no tears, dont talk about it if it can be casually brushed over attitude.

My sense of the absurd, my sense of humour, my casualness, was an armour against people prying.

Grief. Was it the feeling that I was guilty that the kids did not have a caring loving mum anymore?  They just had this grumpy selfish man getting into middle age and not sporty anymore......that would read or watch TV when they were busy doing something.

A few years after the death, I was on a medication because I felt so sad and alone at work.

Just sad that Tarn was gone forever and absence of Tarn from my life and what others were missing out on, mainly the kids!

And the grief to come as more expected unavoidable losses would be happening within the family and what was I going to do then?

I wanted the grieving, if that is what I felt, to be over as soon as possible and that life go on.  To enjoy life as it happened.

If I talked to anyone, it would have been about anything except deep down, because I don't face the grief.

At the time I was surprised that everyone wanted me to go back to work as soon as possible.

I had no idea how long I could avoid work, forever if possible was on my mind too!  Yes I went back to work, why, was it to get a sad person away from the children for a while?

Yes I let others almost take over or direct my life!

Yes I let others help me raise and care for the children too.

I felt that it must be self evident to everyone that I did care or not....or was sad, angry, and wanted not to be bothered.

I was not really asked or prodded how I felt.  I must have put up such a farcically brave face that I was not confronted and if I was, I do not remember. Or was too casual or indifferent, rude if you like.

A challenge of grief is not succumbing to it I suppose.

From my perspective, grief is a smell, or sound, or taste, or sight of something that lets/makes me remember how it was, and what could have been, and bad luck, at least I am alive!

If I went through it, I would not nor know. Has it ended?

Without a partner, raising two boys and two girls was only going to be difficult, definitely not impossible!

I knew I could do it.....Tarnia had given me her favorite menu and methods to look after a household. I was raised to be able to do it as well, which may have surprised her.....or not.

I would just impart my ideals and Tarnia's to the kids, and hope that they will turn out all right.  My 60 year old in-laws, and my parents too possibly did not think I could do it.  But I was chafing at the bit.  Circumstances allowed me to show them, even if I do have help offered I accepted it then and now.

Dealing with the kids problems were easy.  I only had to think about it and deal with it, or call someone, as kindly instructed by all close to me. "anytime" was a good thing.

Another challenge is new relationships.

I made a mistake by throwing out lines like, "I think I need a secretary so I don't forget things!"  Apparently it drew in a friend, too close.  I was still on the medication.  I tried, and failed.  I believe the meds allowed me to start it off, the warning signs over-ruled, new love might strike. No. Too many differences and arguments.

Six kids were to be involved, not just two adults.

I was told, "I should stop comparing to what I had. That I was in a different kind of relationship, a new one. Forget and catchup...get a job.....feel better. Talk things out!"  I could not do that- speaking was so difficult.  That did not help.  I could not let it go on, redevelop, or change.

I went to a counsellor to see how to get out of this situation. Her methods did not help much, and I really felt a heel. Even talking about was not real.

So in Conclusion............

My grief is that she is not here.

Ruling my conscious anyway but ever more faintly? Probably until I die.

Challenges? What Challenges. I do the right things in my mind. Nearly all the time.

Just need a steady job that lets me make a few human mistakes and doesn't sink the ship.

My children have afforded me many compliments from others, which is a comfort.  Knowing that what I have been through, what I have achieved, more or less alone, can be acknowledged by strangers and friends and family.

How does it feel to be a widowed guy?

I am a loner in any case. Also a Gemini type, two-faced in that I hide my feelings.  And can be so sidetracked and one-eyed that things slip a warm kettle sitting waiting to be boiled yet again as I fix something up or hang out the laundry......or the cold coffee waiting to be finished while I finish this.

Being who I am, I do not feel the need for a constant companion ship. But I would like a companion like Tarnia was, same loner type I guess.

I enjoy being the house dad, the cook, the cleaner, taxi driver and candlestick maker. The brewer, the cordial maker, baker and host. I may need reminding of things all the time, that's okay I reckon.

I feel so sorry for those that cannot leap into it as I have.......for those that do not have the help I did, and have still.

I think people are so prejudiced against single dads too. That annoys me. Which reminds me, have I told the world how much I appreciate all that looked out for us? I would like to think so, but being a loner, possibly not.

There were times when I was scratching all this out, but right now the tears well with sadness, and I want to do something else.......


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A new experience! :)

Well Tuesday I had a new experience...totally foreign to me, however, exciting!  It got the old adrenaline going, my heart pumping fast...and also a few more wrinkles I think as I cringed quite a few times at what came out of my mouth! :) :)

Tuesday I did a radio interview on my experience with grief.........OMG!!!  What a way to make you feel alive that was!

The night before I had nightmares about it and woke up from a restless nights sleep, hoping I wouldn't sound like an idiot, forget questions or just blah blah blah on.  I ended up doing all three. :)

Tuesday morning before the interview, I'll admit, I was a nervous wreck so I fuelled up on a vanilla latte from Starbucks with a tripple espresso shot and a Rockstar energy drink, took a shower then blasted the cold water at the end in hope of waking myself up enough not to sound like a crazy grieving person.

When my cell phone rang right on one p.m the adrenaline kicked in...I almost needed a paper bag to breathe into as I heard the DJ tell me..."10 seconds Diana then we're on.  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, was showtime!  I held my breath and the phone with sweaty palms and for the next sixty minutes, answered Rob McConnell's questions about grief, survival and I paced my kitchen floor!

If you are interested, here is the can be the judge, I repeated myself, lost myself,  however answered some questions that I hope will help anyone travelling this lonely, sad, life changing and often empowering journey of grief.

I hope if you decide to listen it will help at least one of you....even if its only one, then the stress I self imposed on myself will have been worth it.  :)  And if I'm ever given this wonderful opportunity again I know I'll be better, hey, it's all experience right???? :)

ps; today I enjoyed just water...I think my caffeine intake for the whole year was used up on Tuesday :)
wishing you sunshine today............Diana x

pss; my name should be on the left hand side if you arrow down...if you choose to take this mission, this message will self destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Honoring those awkward moments!

Today's post is for Crystal and her beautiful butterfly Taylor....I was thinking of you Crystal while listening yesterday x

Are you ever offered a box of chocolates and asked to choose one without knowing what you'll get? You pick one and you think you know what to expect, but when you taste it, it's not what you thought it would be.  Yesterday, I had one of those days......where I went out anticipating something, however got something entirely different.  But then that's my life these days. 

I had one of those days where my grief appeared suddenly, like an intruder, stealing my emotions away and there was nothing I could do about it except to let it happen.

Dempsey was invited to a friends house for a musical play date. I was looking forward to the lunch that was going to be provided as I knew there'd be cake and cookies and a catch up with some other moms.

                                                 The Girly Girls live in Concert - August 5 @11:30
                                                                Come for a musical play date

                                                              Bring your best rock star moves

We wandered into her friends house which had been turned into a stage, with a big black curtain backdrop, five microphones set up on stands, flashing disco lights, drums, guitars, tambourines and a video on a tripod to capture all the fun stuff. The whole room was beamed live onto a huge flat screen TV in the middle of the room. Wow, I couldn't wait to get lost in the magic five little girls would create with all this 'stuff.'

What I didn't know is that feelings of longing for Savannah would hit me! You see one of the mother's had her older daughter with her....amazingly enough, one who played with Savannah at a mommy and me group way back when Savannah was two and healthy......and it just so happened it was this girls eleventh birthday the day before.

Now I know it wasn't this mom's fault, or the girls, it's my demons that invade me, not their problem.  But it's a problem of mine that won't go away. I wonder if it ever will?  And I try not to allow my mind to go 'there.' To that place where I wish it was my daughter standing beside me, beautiful and alive!

The other mom's made of fuss of this eleven year old, and rightly so, it was her birthday!  But I couldn't get past how cutting it was to me and how I felt picked on by life that Savannah wasn't there. It was all too close to the bone for me and I felt trapped. I could feel the unwanted feelings start, I had to walk away, escape, but I could still hear their chatter.......there was no escape!

And then the host of the party picked up a guitar and started filled the air and blocked out the conversation I was trying to avoid. Oh how grateful I felt, phew, I'd dodged a that was aimed directly at my heart.

All the girls stood patiently in front of their instruments waiting, with great big grins and enthusiasm, watching themselves on the big screen in front of them....I had to smile!  But, wait, oh no, the song, the song, I was back to where I had been a few minutes throat clenched up and my eyes swelled with burning tears as I couldn't escape the song!

It was the Miley Cyrus song "Butterfly...Fly Away," nothing was going to rescue me now!

                                    PLAY ME!

Five little voices filled the was magical and painful, beautiful and overwhelming!

What I wasn't expecting was that my grief would blindside me and I would feel trapped, awkward and embarrassed at something I simply couldn't help.  I wanted to run and hide.....and it made me question "How should someone act when these moments hit? Was it appropriate of me to be crying at a happy occasion?" But I couldn't help it shadow of grief that follows me everywhere is sometimes in control and I knew I just had to suck it up, swallow my tears and try to pretend it hadn't happened....hoping no-one else had noticed!  And I thought I'd got away with it. 

I was rescued by my friend Sandra and her infectious laughter at the girls trying to be 'rockstars.'  I inconspicuously wiped away the tears that were threatening to burst out of my eyes and took a big breathe as I got my grief under control!  Thankfully, the moment had passed.

I enjoyed the next few hours sitting at the kitchen counter, with pizza, brownies and indulgent freshly baked, warm, macadamia cookies...and laughter, the best medicine of all. 

Then, when I thought I had camouflaged my sadness, the host of the party hooked up the video of the girls to the TV in the kitchen.  And there it, captured on film forever, probably spoiling their home video, wiping my tears away and looking sad in the background of the happy moment he'd filmed!

Oh no, I wished a big black hole would appear and swallow me up...that I could yell, Stop, Rewind, Erase!  However, I sat there saying nothing, cringing and hoping that nobody else had noticed.  It was weird....sad, watching myself, but there it was, unavoidable, on a huge flat screen TV for everyone to witness.  A moment in the life of a grieving mother!

If anyone else noticed, they didn't say, which I appreciated.  I know I have to honor these moments.  It's who I am now.  And I know that the other people in the room are great people that appear to accept me for me, battle scars and all. 

It confirms to me again, that friends, good times and laughter....and tears, are part of this big ball of life we all bounce along with.  That we have to take the sad moments with the happy ones that can suspend these difficult unavoidable times.  To embrace them, and be thankful for what the gift of grief sometimes brings....a jolt back into feeling appreciative for what you do have....which for me yesterday was a reward of being entertained by five little girls having fun, singing out of tune and filling my blue cup with sunshine!

I hope I'm invited back! :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Oh the Places You'll Go!

I've been thinking about the people who are reading my blog....I wonder who you are and what battle you are fighting, and whether your are winning your fight with grief or some other challenge in life.

I've had over 3,646 hits so far....which I find amazing, THANK YOU to all of you who are reading and supporting me, I hope my blog helps.  I also find it sad, but not surprising, that there are so many others like me who are travelling the same journey of grief or some sort of struggle.   It makes me wonder what other things I'll have to face in the future.........and that brings me to last night and the book Dempsey and I read, it was so symbolic to me.......also, to anyone travelling this unknown, crazy ride called life so I wanted to share.........

Every night, before Dempsey goes to bed we read three books on our sofa.  We cuddle up and I love listening to her comments and laughter at some of the stories...."David gets in trouble" is a favorite and she always laughs and points at the part where he forgets his undies!  She tries to con me into four books, but we settle on three.  I usually have to sift through an obstacle course of TV or Wii remotes, or a Pokemon toy as we squeeze together on a cushion, open a book and enjoy some simple time together.  I cherish these moments because I know in a few years she'll possibly grow out of this, so I make sure I relish in every second.

Anyway, last night we read the book "Oh the places you'll go," by Dr. Seuss.  A simple childrens book!  As I turned each page, the words had so much meaning, so much significance to me.....about the ebb and flow of life, the highs and lows, good and bad times we experience along the way.

And after suffering my tragedies, I know that life really is a lucky (or unlucky) dip, like when you were a child at a fair or a fete, and you are excited to reach into a barrel of prizes and pull out a brown paper bag where you hope you've chosen something you want.  And sometimes you get something totally unexpected, however, sometimes you are surprised and you learn to love and appreciate what you've been given.

Yes, random things happen that are out of our control, like losing a loved one.  However, we do have the power to choose our attitude and appreciation for what we do have in life.  And over time you do begin to realize that you can get through any hardship you meet along your journey.....and find within you a strength you didn't know existed.

"Oh the places you'll go" is about life lessons, and how challenges can be overcome.......even when times are tough and you can't see past your sorrow and tears and frustration and how finally you'll come to a place where you feel you can move mountains with determination and support.

 And I think that's one gift grief does give you....the ability to know that anything is possible and that you have to accept that life isn't a dress hurry up and do the things you want to do, follow your dreams and try new things.  And this has helped me grow into a new person, almost like I've shed my old shell and become someone else....and I have, at the expense of travelling to places I never dreamed of.  But it has made me a better person, even if it has come at the highest price.

So go out and borrow or buy "Oh the places you'll go!"  Put it away somewhere, and when you have a hard day or start to see light at the end of your tunnel, read Dr. Seuss's words and know that one day, maybe not today, but one day in the not too distant future you will have sunshine again in your blue cup and that you can conquer any mountain!  That you will grow and realize that life is a mosaic of colors and experiences that over time will mould you and teach you that success in life sometimes means simply being able to survive adversity and smile again!

PS;  Believe it or I was outside taking the above photos a fluffy white feather floated down from the sky....I grabbed my camera and took this photo.....I like to believe its a sign from one of my loved ones today!