Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It all depends on YOU!

Do you ever long for a date or a special occasion to be here sooner that it is?  I used to do this, all the time....wish Christmas would hurry up and get here, or a party, or something I was looking forward to that was circled on my calender.  I would wish away my days.  I try not to anymore.

After my sister died I started to realize how special each day can be...if you want it to all depends on you!  Time is precious.....I learned that the hard way through nursing our terminally ill daughter.  

When we found out Savannah would only live for a few more years, as heart wrenching as it was, I tried to make every day special.  Create some memory each day, even if it was just a little thing like reading a book to her and savoring her smiles she would reward me with.

Lately however, I've been homesick.....for Australia, for my family and friends across the pond...for a traditional, succulent roast lamb with roasted pumpkin and Aussie meat pies that ooze scalding delicious meat down your fingers......leaving you wanting more.  For my Dad's shy smile and little pat on the back he'll give me when I throw my arms around his neck.  And then there is my sisters four children who will have grown so much, both in their height and attitude.

     A famous Aussie Meat Pie......delish!

We have to wait until November to board the big bird that will transport us half a world away....and I'm finding it hard at the moment not to wish my days away.  But when I start to do this I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that there will be many days ahead that I can cherish instead of longing for a day a few months away.

When the jumbo finally descends into Sydney, Australia, its exhilarating, the pilot always dips the wing and all you can see is sprawling suburbia with the bluest ocean surrounding the city...the Opera House and of course the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge with bustling traffic moving along it.  Over the P.A system on the plane they usually play "I still call Australia home" or some other ballad that makes me cry and long for my family.  And when the big bird touches down and screeches to a halt I smile amid my tears, knowing it won't be long and I'll see my Dad...and my friends.

         The view of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and the Bridge we call the coat hanger! :)

So I'm struggling at the moment to practice what I preach and make each day count until then.  There really is no place like home and loved ones.  The simple pleasures of enjoying a meal together...or a hot cup of tea around our kitchen table now, makes me consciously stop and absorb the moment....and focus on being grateful for the special time I've been given.

So until November, I'll have to say a daily mantra to myself to focus on the here and now, the present day or moment and not wish I was elsewhere.  I know the weeks will fly by as they do and I also know there will be lots of fun times here before we leave.

Just last night I watched Dempsey in her funny little ways teach a thirty-five year old how to play made me smile and my heart fill with pride at how everyday can be all depends on you!

     At "home" last Christmas in Australia....Me, Dempsey and Peter

PS;  Maybe I'll purchase some red patent leather shoes...close my eyes, tap my heels together and say "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home........."

Hoping my blue cup will be filled with sunshine for the next forty-two days...but hey, who's counting! :) x



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The first clear day without rain....ten years on!


Over 5 million!

That’s the amount of minutes since my sister died…the minutes and moments she has missed out on in these past years. That’s a lot of time….ten years worth to be exact.

Ten years ago yesterday my only sister Tarnia was killed in a car accident.  It was the first clear day without rain, the last few days of the school holidays in Australia.  My sister had decided since it had stopped raining she'd take her kids to the beach.  That day, my sister's destiny was decided.  I often wonder if it had of kept raining if she'd still be here.  I will always wonder.............

Tarnia in the long black dress talking to Mom at my wedding.  I wish I had more photos of us together

I’ve been watching the date creep up, knowing that it’d be a hard day. It was. One of the hardest of her anniversaries. It’s been 3650 days that she has failed to enjoy things that I’ve been lucky enough to have been part of.

Things like watching her twin daughters grow into some frilly dresses she’d put away in their closets, ones I had the pleasure of admiring with her on our last visit together. Their first teeth…and steps.

Fraser’s first day at pre-school……it was my Mom’s hand he clung to as he shyly walked through the pre-school gate instead of hers.

And of course her eldest son, Alexander, graduating from Elementary School.

I got to witness all those, not her. I feel so privileged as an Aunt to have been a bystander in the crowd…proud, however sad that Tarnia never got to enjoy these things.

And there will be plenty more firsts to come as the years roll on, birthdays and Christmas and weddings……yes, there will be a lot more bittersweet days ahead. And that’s the realization after someone you love dies. Death is final!

There are no more goodbyes…or hellos. No more hugs or hostilities to deal with. No more memories to create or photos to capture moments in the future. However still questions with no answers as to ‘why?’

     Mom, Tarnia, the oldest, my brother Mark and I'm the baby at a favorite Summer spot we'd visit

I thought I’d be able to write this yesterday, but yesterday I was so down in the dumps, depressed and cried on and off all day. I couldn’t bring myself to string a few words together. I felt exhausted.

So today, instead of rambling about sadness and what I don’t have and more importantly, what Tone, Alexander, Fraser, Emerald and Charlotte don’t have either, I decided to write what “I’ve learned from her death”….I hope it helps someone, they are just my thoughts however………………

*Always validate your love for someone, tell them how you feel about them as you may never see that person again.

*Don’t let little arguments grow into big ones……please, please don’t hold grudges over silly stuff with family. You can’t go back and apologize once that person is gone….forever is forever!

*Create memories and soak in the times you are together with people you love

*Take photos, lots of them. My Mom would say “Diana, at the end of the day, all we have is our photos and memories.” That’s all I have now, some have the corners curled…or stains on them. But they are priceless.

*Don’t let money issues come between families and love, no money is worth a friendship or a family member. Money can only buy you materialistic ‘stuff’.

*Always, always wear a seat belt – Tarnia saved her children’s lives by strapping them in so carefully. I would whinge if I was waiting for her in the car, she always took so long. In hindsight, they are here today because of her careful, meticulous ways.

*Communicate….if there’s an issue with a family member. Tell them! And be honest. And then forgive them and move on.

*Spread happiness and love around. It costs nothing to be kind and has a way of coming back to you.

*Be there for the people who need you.

*Appreciate EVERYTHING you have or are gifted with.

*Don’t sweat the small stuff

*Never make promises you can’t keep. I still remember some people, even family, ‘promising’ to do this and that for Tone and my parents after Tarnia died. And I still remember they let my mom down when she was sick, so sick…….If you give your word, follow through with it!

*Be present and aware of all that you have, AND enjoy it!

*Slow down and simplify your life....take the time to smell the roses! :)

*Find your passion, or a passion.  It will give you a purpose in life.

*Find your comfort things, or things that help you get through the tough days.

*Choose a to have a good attitude each day....before you even put a foot out of bed.

*Regret nothing, don’t look back, always forward.

*Sometimes life is not fair....."It is what it is"

*Live as if today is your last…it may be.

*Do things that make you feel alive….dance on that table at least once in your life! :)

These are just a few that I practice because of Tarnia’s death. I have a new guide in life now. One that’s come from experiencing the loss of loved ones.

The last time I saw my sister Tarnia she was laying in a white coffin, her beautiful dark hair fanned around her face. The image haunted me in my dreams for months. I never thought it would leave me.

The impression her death has had on me is forever….like death. And it’s through this lesson that I’ve learned to live! I am grateful to her for that. And will always miss what could have been……..


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Look around you...LIFE and grief really is like a carnival! x

One of the many things that sticks in my mind after my sister Tarnia died is frozen chicken!

In the hours after her death, the chicken she’d taken from her freezer to turn into some culinary masterpiece was still on her sink, defrosting…..waiting for her to come home. She never did!

None of us ever wake up thinking “Today could be my last day on this earth!” Do we? To be honest, I do sometimes, especially when I get a tray of chicken thighs out of my freezer to thaw. I bet Tarnia never imagined it to be hers.

We always believe there’ll be a tomorrow, maybe I’m a fatalist, but frozen chicken always reminds me to enjoy today as it could be my last! Sunday was one of those days.

We’d promised to take Dempsey to the Los Angeles County Fair. I had this weird feeling that something was going to happen, on a carnival ride…or that Demps may get lost in the crowds……or stolen. I can’t help feeling this way sometimes, it’s the chicken thing! :)

The day turned out to be picture perfect, the experience reminding me of the smorgasbord of life…..and every now and then we need a little chicken reminder to stop, smell, listen and look around. To take in the simple joys in life. Just in case……………..

We arrived at the fairgrounds with a multitude of other families, with strollers and wheelchairs, sunscreen and smiles. Dempsey’s rush of energy was palpable…and contagious.

The dull grey concrete of the fairgrounds had come to life. The giant Ferris Wheel was turning and the sweet aroma of kettle corn mixed with the pungent smell of cooking oil for curly fries saturated the air. Loud bursts of compressed air coming from the carnival rides prompted Dempsey to let out an eager, “Let’s hurry!”

And as I watched her run up to the first ride….”The Ghost Train,” it hit me that this carnival also reminded me of life!

The distant screams from inside the Ghost Train ride reminded me of how life sometimes scares us…with our unknown fate, or our awareness of it.  How we often fear stuff we can't control……….

The monster slide was next, with its bright pink green, yellow, blue and orange bumps, Demps couldn’t help but get airborne as she flew down the slide on a dirty hessian bag…..reminding me of the peaks and troughs we tackle in life………………..

We wandered on and stopped to take a quick look at some of the local cuisine. Plump turkey legs sizzled and smoked in the hot sun, filling my senses with mouth watering delight.  And they reminded me of how life is full of flavors and that we should savor every experience.

Dempsey rode the old fashioned carousel next, the wooden pig she parked herself on went up and life.  Sometimes you want to get off but you can’t, and sometimes you don’t want the ride to end….like some days we go through.

We strolled down the alley of games where loud music and a scruffy looking man entertained children with a bubble machine.  Dempsey raced around trying to catch the bubbles, giggling and popping the cloud of glistening bubbles that surrounded her.  The tiny bubbles reminded me of life….in their beauty, simplicity and vulnerability.

We stood in line for the massive Ferris Wheel.  Dempsey was on cloud nine, literally!  As the giant wheel took us up to great heights we could see all around the fair.  I looked, really looked out the carriage and beyond at how beautiful this world really is.

Then we went round and round and round and round, the ride becoming monotonous.  I thought we were never going to stop or be allowed off.….……like life!

Onto the big red barn of Fairview Farms where there were pink piglets, lambs, yaks from Tibet and curious goats.  Amazingly a cow had just given birth a few minutes before we wandered up to the metal railing.

Dempsey was fascinated as she watched the mother lick the after birth off the calf.  And it reminded me of how fragile and precious life is. That it’s a cycle and that a mother’s love is instinctual and protective, no matter what the creature.

Dempsey spotted the Roller Coaster that was almost submerged in water. After a lot of nagging I was the lucky bunny that got the chance to get soaked.  And like life, the roller coaster got the old adrenaline going, it was exhilarating as it sped along a tight curvy track then plunged down into the water, drenching us both and making us laugh.  Like the twists and turns of fate we all experience. The rush was overwhelming!

So after four hours of fun, aching feet, stuffed toys and full bellies, we made our way to the Exit. But not before we stopped at one last food truck for my favorite…Cotton Candy (or Fairy Floss as we call it in Australia).  You haven’t had the whole experience until you pop that luscious sweet tang of pure sugar in your mouth and relish in it.

It’s sweet and decadent, delicate and leaves you wanting more……A LOT like life!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The magic of the Worry Dolls!

We all worry.

I worry about mindless stuff like “What will I cook for dinner tonight, should we have pasta or BBQ steak? “Should I cut my hair, how short should I go?” Or other more significant things like “How can I keep Dempsey safe? or “What’s going to happen in the future…where will we be a year from now?”

After my sister died I made a promise to myself I would try not to worry about the little things….not to sweat the small stuff!  I do make a conscious effort most of the time, but hey, I’m only human right?

Thursday night Peter was away so I tucked Dempsey into bed, kissed her sweet cheeks, turned off her light, then poured myself a delicious glass of Merlot.  Remote in my hand I was ready for a night in with the TIVO.  I’d just got comfy when I heard Demps yelling, "Mooommmmmyyyy!"

I climbed the stairs and entered her room only to see her sitting up in bed, surrounded by her Webkinz with tears rolling down her face.  I sat on the edge of her bed, wrapping my arms around her.

“What’s wrong Precious?” 

Her tears kept filling her eyes then dropping like big raindrops onto her cheeks...…she was genuinely sad.

“Mommy , I can’t get to sleep because my worries are keeping me awake and I can’t stop thinking about them.”

She told me she worries all the time, that something will happen to her…or me and how a boy at school upset her, calling her an idiot.  I tried not to laugh, and told her not to think about them, to try and think happy thoughts.

“But I can’t sleep Mommy because all these worries worry me!”

We’d read a book the night before called “Silly Billy,” about a boy who worries about practically everything….a bit like all of us. :)   Anyway, in the book his mom buys him Guatemalan Worry Dolls.  They are tiny dolls that are decorated in bright festive clothes, standing about half an inch tall.  The legend says at night, you tell them your troubles and hide them under your pillow and in the morning all your worries are gone.  (If only!)

So I tried to reassure her that we all get upset sometimes by things in life.....that its important to try not to let these things bother us.

“But I can’t stop thinking about them all Mommy!  Maybe if I had some of those Worry Dolls I would be OK.”

I stroked her hair and told her....“When I was a little girl, Nannie would tell me that if you can’t change something, there’s no use worrying about it.”

I also told her about one of my favorite books, by Katie Byron where she states, "If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark"….no matter how hard you try you’ll never make this happen.  This applies to worries too.  I think of these things when I start to obsess over something that I have no control over.

Our chat finished with Dempsey smiling, her tears finally just a dry streak down her face as she snuffed her runny nose on her pillow and gave me an extra tight hug.  Her smile surfaced after I promised to see if I could find her some Guatemalan Worry Dolls…..and I did, on Amazon for only $4.99.

I ordered them online then snuck back upstairs, listening at the door as she read a book out loud to her Webkinz.

"Guess what Precious....Mommy found some Worry Dolls."  Her face lit up with an ear to ear grin. 

Needless to say, everyday since, she’s been religiously checking the letterbox for her package of dolls!  Well yesterday they finally arrived.  Dempsey couldn’t wait to get home from school and rip open the bag.

They came with a tiny box and a small letter of instructions.

Dempsey happily went to bed last night, thrilled that she could tell the dolls her 'worries' from the day……I wished I was a fly on the wall! :)

We all have things that we worry about, that we can’t change.  If we can’t do anything about these problems they become wasted energy, they steal your focus and weaken your spirit.

Worry is an extension of fear and it takes a lot to stop obsessing and devote your time to what is really important…..the things you can change, like attitude and gratitude.

I also ask myself “Will this matter anymore in a few months, or a year?”  And I keep reminding myself of my Mom and Katie Byron’s words constantly……..

And as for the legendary worry dolls…….well this morning I watched Dempsey skip through the school gate….she even did a little twirl on her way in.

Not a worry in the world! :)

Maybe tonight I’ll tiptoe into Dempsey’s darkened room, reach under her pillow and steal the dolls.  I'll whisper my worries to these tiny wooden toy scraps........and let them work their magic! :)

Wishing you Sunshine if your cup is blue and a worry free week! :) x


Thursday, September 2, 2010

What is the appropriate amount of time to grieve?

Yesterday I read a blog about grief after child loss.  It was an interesting article and it made me wonder about my opinions on grief.  I must tell you before you read on, this lady hasn't had to bury her child.......thankfully.  The blog mentioned...."everyone I've interviewed about losing a child agrees, it takes five years....and.... recovery from the loss of a child is a five year process."  That's right, after FIVE years, if I am to believe her, I should be through the worst of my grief over Savannah!

As soon as I read it, the hair on the back of my neck prickled.  I'm afraid I have to disagree.  I thought to myself, "Well I must be abnormal!"  In spite of grief is still there, like an unwanted guest who arrives unannounced.

Its six years since Savannah died, almost ten this month since my sister was killed and it'll be eight years in November since my beautiful mom passed away, the grief from all of these losses still affects me.  In my experiences, grief doesn't have a time limit, and neither should it. 

Grief is defined in the dictionary as "keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret."  And that's what it is, mental suffering, torture sometimes, a physical pain......some days I wish so much that I could take Savannah shopping, or watch her and Dempsey play...or fight together.  It's distress that we searched the world for a cure for her but couldn't save her life and a sharp sorrow that I can't simply kiss my child goodnight anymore.  It's also a painful regret that I should've taken her to more places and made her days more special....and taken more photos of her and her sister together.  How can there possibly be a time frame to when I will no longer feel these things for my beautiful girl who is no longer here!  No, grief can last a lifetime, in my opinion. 

How do you define grief anyway?  Especially over the loss of a partner, parent, sibling, friend, or god forbid, a child.  I think its irresponsible of anyone to say you should be healed or that your grief goes away.  I think everyone's grief is different and we shouldn't tell people HOW or WHAT they should be feeling after any length of time.  Grief is like an amputation of a limb, although other people can't see where the limb is grieve for that loss every single day.

The relationship you had with the person who died will sometimes define how intense or how long the intensity lasts.  I think the person who wrote the blog should've said that the intensity of grief changes over time (not put a limit on it).  Just because someone isn't crying everyday or finding they can laugh again doesn't mean they have moved on (hate that saying) or have recovered from a death.  I don't think you ever recover, you just learn to incorporate your loss into the new person you become......I know that to be the case with me.

I don't usually like confrontations so I commented on this lady's blog, however, wrote a comment not to upset her.  What I should've written is that I think that particular article was a load of crap and it worries me that some people may read what she wrote and think there is something wrong with them if they still feel a deep sadness over a loss, yes, even after FIVE years!

My cousin Heather grieves terribly for her son who died eight years ago this month.  He left behind two beautiful little girls and a young wife.  Heather not only grieves for him but for his children who no longer have a daddy.  At a party a few years ago, one of her relations cornered me and asked "So Diana, you've been through so much loss and you seem to be doing OK....why can't Heather move on from Paul's death?"  I again held back from saying what I really wanted to say....instead I tried to put it in a way that she could relate to as she hasn't lost a child. 

  My cousin Heather and her son Paul who passed away at 32.

I told her with a smile, "Do you think Heather wakes every day and chooses to be sad?  Do you think she wants to feel the way she does all the time?"  No, its more like she can't help the way she feels, its called GRIEF and as far as I can see there is no miracle band aid you can stick on to cure it, more like the band aid gets ripped off sometimes, revealing your wound that simply doesn't heal.  There is no magical timer that 'dings' when a certain amount of days...or years, has passed to say when that overwhelming feeling of sadness goes away.  That your child or a loved one isn't here to share your life ever again. 

Yes, you do learn to laugh and enjoy life again and time can sometimes be a buffer against that profound crushing pain you feel in the beginning......but the grief is always simmering below the surface. 

It's doing things like NOT putting time limits on yourself and honoring your grief that eases the sorrow a little and allows you to heal so that intense pain turns into an ache.

For me, life is richer than before as I've had  the gift of doesn't mean however that I am over the death of Savannah...or my sister....or Mom!  I don't think I ever will be.  I will miss them and think of them every day until I die.....or maybe like I said, I'm abnormal!

         Dempsey on her 1st day back....

Monday was Dempsey's first day of third grade and as I stood at the side of the playground and took photos of her, I couldn't help but be swept up by all the kids rushing around me, with their shiny new backpacks and chatter about their vacations, swept up too with a longing for Savannah, who would be going into sixth grade, her last year at elementary school. 

As I looked around at all the other girls her age, dressed in the tulle skirts and trendy runners...I wondered what Savannah would've chosen to wear, and how excited she'd be to see her friends.  It is the first year I didn't cry amongst the chaos......maybe this means my five years are up...the timer has buzzed....and I'm over the death of my child.  If only wishes were pennies! x