Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"I am ALIVE!" ........appreicating life!


Horoscopes are funny things. I always look to see what mine says but often don’t agree with what I read. However the one below, which was in the L.A times on the weekend jumped out at me.

Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 23): The world you call normal is very different from what another person routinely experiences.

It is true, the world I call normal is different from most of my friends….and I hate that somedays….I am envious sometimes of what others have, their mom, all their siblings and of course their children, all in one piece, complete families…….

It’s helpful to be reminded over and over that there’s others who have suffered loss and rediscovered ‘life’ through grief and survival.  Other’s that also trudge through hardship some days, like a lead weight is tied to their heart.

Over the weekend, I watched a documentary on the History Channel which made me realize that what I’ve learnt through my losses has given my life new meaning……..even if it is um different. 

I wanted to share what I got out of the program to help any of you reading and searching for help….or hope!
The two hour doco was called “I am ALIVE!” It was about an Argentinian rugby team who survived a plane crash in the remote Andes mountains in 1972.

     A photo of the crash site taken by the survivors.....

With forty-five souls on board, the plane plummeted into a snowy mountainside where there was no life.  No food.  No water.  Just the survivors, surrounded by the skeleton of half the plane, death and hopelessness.

After ten days they began to eat the flesh from the deceased bodies, to stay alive…..something I couldn’t even contemplate.  But you do what you have to sometimes in order to survive.

During the seventy two days, they were stuck in freezing conditions and watched in horror as others perished from their injuries…..eight more were suffocated from an avalanche until finally, two of the remaining 16 men decided to hike out and try to find help to rescue those remaining……and amazingly they did….and the story gave me goosebumps.  I was inspired and fascinated...glued to the T.V.

While engrossed in the show, I realized that the theme and feelings of the survivors are the same for anybody….despair, suffering, lack of hope, resilience, depression…and grief, however, most important of all is how the human spirit through love can overcome….almost anything.

During the interviews with some of these remarkable human beings, are some compelling lessons and pieces of wisdom that I have to agree with.  One of the men, Nando Parrado,who walked forty miles over the desolate snow ridden Andes mountains to freedom said while on the mountain, facing death, he reflected on his life and what became important to him…… in his words…..”What simple things we need to be happy and how we demand lot’s more than we need in life!” I found myself nodding my head at the T.V.

We do sometimes get caught up in what we THINK is important, like money or possessions….instead of the little joys in life we often overlook.  Things for me like an all encompassing hug from a friend, or when Dempsey tells me with a cheeky smile, “I love you MORE Mommy!”  Yes, those things can’t be purchased. The tiny fragments of life and love…..those moments are what helps me realize how lucky I am.

     The ocean and Dempsey...two things I love and appreciate in this world!

Nando Parrado’s dearly loved mother and sister were killed in the crash.  Months after he got back to civilization he said the experience gave him a different philosophy on life because of what he'd learned through his grief…..“Rather than grieve and completely shut down, why not revel in life. Why not revel in the fact that I survived this.  I will take advantage of this life I have to do the things I love rather than not do anything at all." he said.

What an amazing outlook and spirit!  It’s people like Nando Parrado and this story of survival that fosters my spirit and strength.  Another example of what we, as survivors can do and how you should never give up or give in….sometimes we are rescued by old friends…or new, beloved family members, alive…or not.  And sometimes it’s hearing someone else’s story that feeds our will to take what we discover from grief and grow as a person to get to a place where life suddenly means so much more than it did.

I am a survivor, not of a plane crash but of losing loved ones whom I miss everyday.  And like these men, every step taken is a step…one step forward or two steps back……it IS a step.  And when grieving, that’s what we need to do, take baby steps…….forward and integrate your grief into your new life.  You've already chosen survival!

There are signposts along the way to tell you you’re on the right track.  Emotions that seem like mountains to climb and navigate through.  Brick walls you come up against.  Tears and questions you stumble through, but eventually you come to a place of acceptance, like a fork in the road, and your handicap can become an advantage….as in, you understand now how precious life is.  And like a seed that sprouts new growth, so will you.  One day you will blossom and use what you learned through your journey of survival into appreciation and love of every little thing.

I’d like to leave you with Nando Parrado’s last comment on the show, in a huge beaming smile he said “Life is simpler than it looks, love is the most important thing…love for our families kept us ALIVE!”

                                   The book written about the Andes Miracle

I can’t wait to read the book!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Surviving Halloween and the holidays when grieving!

Yesterday, while driving home from Dempsey’s school, a little voice from the back seat screamed, “Look Mommy!”

It appears as if overnight, the houses in our neighborhood have been transformed into grave yards for Halloween. “Please can we take a look Mommy, PLEASE!” Dempsey begged. We took a small detour and I was amazed at what I saw. (note; We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia).

Front yards have had extreme makeovers, looking more like something from the ‘Twilight’ movie than suburban dwellings. Lawns have been blanketed with creepy grey headstones, skeletons are hanging from garage doors and fake spider webs float in the breeze. Dempsey loved it!

      One of the houses in our neighboorhood, decorated for Halloween

I know it’s all make-believe stuff, however, it does make me wonder how people who are in the thick of their grief must feel when they drive past these haunted houses?

I’m sure it must rattle them as it did me, as it’s a reminder of death. I’m curious if they have to hide their shadow of sadness or if they can see it for what it is? Just a holiday…to some….an excuse to dress up and suffer from another case of a sick stomach from eating too much gooey candy.

As a grieving person, you really are a sitting duck during the holidays. You have to tackle reminders and emotions that you have no choice but to deal with. Things like those headstones and families in high spirits when you might feel down in the dumps……along with memories of past joyful occasions. These threaten to destabilize you and lure you back into a depressed frame of mind. It’s a hard time of year. And it’s normal to feel sad.

Holidays can be tough, you can’t just tick a box, ‘choose’ option number one “Be Happy!” Sometimes the multiple choices can be limited on special days.

I remember Savannah’s first and only Halloween. She only got to enjoy one during her time with us in America. Her nurse Marlene happily provided her with a witches black cloak, a massive hat and straw broom. Demspey was only a baby, but we squeezed her into the cutest orange giraffe outfit.

      Our Angel Savannah dressed as a witch

Savannah was so sick, in the terminal stages of her disease, but I still remember the gracious smile on her face as we carefully dressed her frail body in the costume. She was grateful to be just like one of the other kids that knocked on our door that night. I have that one memory…..and I find now memories can bring you comfort at this time of year. Sometimes, that’s all we have……….

The temptation is there, to give in and wallow, and sometimes it can’t be helped. But if you’re ready for it, for the emotions, you can try to embrace the day, or whatever comes with it and not be afraid….

I can try to shift my thoughts, into positive ones, and hope I will get an injection of appreciation, inspiration and smiles through the sparkle in my eight year old daughters green eyes. And not wonder what my missing child would’ve chosen as her Halloween outfit.

So on the 31st, I’ll actually look at the headstones in the yards as reminders to celebrate that I am alive…..and so is Dempsey. That we get to carve a design on a bright orange pumpkin, scoop out the sweet sticky seeds and focus on the happy smiling faces that will be parading down our street in different attire.

    Dempsey looking like the pumpkin at Halloween a few years ago :)

I think I’ll decorate our front door with flowers instead of skeletons… hope of welcoming some familiar spirits into our house instead of scaring them away. Maybe my Mom or my Sister or Savannah will be around, watching to see I’m surviving and living life the way they would want to if they were here.

I’ll raid Dempsey’s plastic pumpkin head that will be full of treats and eat too much chocolate to make me feel good!

This year I won’t wear a costume, I think I’ll just scare everyone and just ‘be me.’ Happy, sad, glad or wherever the mood takes me……holidays can be like that!

     Peter as the Joker, me as Catwoman and Demps as Little Bo Peep at a Halloween party last year....I think there is a clear ORB near Dempsey's heart and I think it was Savannah's spirit captured on film, wishing she was dressed up with us as a family!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another's perspective on multiple loss and learning to live!

It’s funny, but after you lose loved ones you become somewhat hungry and obsessive for other people’s stories of survival through grief.

I’m inspired by others who’ve walked in similar shoes to me…..down this lonely road, in bright red stilettos, or dirty work boots, scuffed runners or flip flops.  I listen to their journey with a heavy heart as I pick their brain.  I hope to discover some magical device to hide in my tool box, to help me on my hard days.

My friend Heidi has given me food for thought. She’s an advocate for ‘living and loving ‘life!’ This is her story………


I still remember the first time I met Heidi.  I’d been told a lot about this pretty petite honey blond who drove big rig’s for Peter’s company for a living.

How you can often find her at a testosterone fuelled truck stop, with her cab door open, quietly turning a box of beads into a new bracelet.  She must be a sight…….amongst the sweaty, greasy men that usually drive these road dragons.  I bet, actually, no I’m sure, most people look twice when they see her.  I can picture the men falling out of their chairs in the roadside diner’s when she wanders in.

    Heidi in the drivers seat of her big rig!

Heidi has worked as a prison guard on death row and lived in Japan as a charming hostess.  And as intriguing as all those things are, the reason I was excited to meet her was because we share a common bond. Heidi, like me has lost quite a few family members.

You wouldn’t know she’s been through a heat breaking childhood.  She has a magnetic personality, someone who makes you feel good about yourself…that you want to be around and call ‘a friend’.  With a thick smoldering southern accent that’s as warm as a cup of hot chocolate on a freezing night…..that first night I met her, we created our own magic little bubble, oblivious to anyone else.

We talked non-stop about life and those we’ve lost….and I learned back in 1985, Heidi’s adored Mother, who was only forty-two, and her twenty year old brother were killed in the Aerlex Factory Fireworks explosion in Tulsa. Heidi had only left the factory ten minutes before…..she was fifteen.

She told me one thing that stuck in her mind from that day was bright yellow curtains.  It’s funny how we remember the tiniest details isn’t it?  She recalls being inside her school, about to paint the walls for some pocket money during Summer break.  She remember’s the sheer yellow curtains being blown open from the force of the explosion miles away.  And she says, like a sixth sense, she just knew what had happened……in that instant her life changed.

      Heidi's adored Mom!

The next few years Heidi went on a downward spiral, angry at those around her after the deaths.  She longed for her Mom and hated people saying “God must’ve needed her” amongst other things.  She said it took years to get over her bitterness that her Mom wasn’t coming back!

Its’ been twenty-five years since her Mother and brother died tragically, and she says she still misses her Mom.  She wishes she could remember what she smelt like and that she could picture her without having to look at a faded photograph….however, she told me with a shaky voice, that she does remember how soft her hair was…….

And just a month ago she lost her Dad to cancer.  Heidi and her sister Hazel nursed him until he died, holding his hand as he left this earthly place.

                                       Heidi's Mom and Dad...

She said after he died she grappled with the fact that no matter how hard she had tried to keep her father alive, encouraging him to eat, giving him endless massages etc, he lost his battle.  In the dead quiet of the night, on her own, she realized she had been defeated.  That she is alone and that no-one will ever be there to have her back like her Dad did…… look out for her the way a parent does.

Her words and opinion made me reflect on when my Dad dies….she is right.  A parents love is unconditional, every other relationship can be severed….except for the love of a mother or a father. Heidi broke down when explaining this part of losing her Dad to me.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since!

So I asked her, what helped her become strong… she converted her anger and sadness into appreciation and survival?  I had to smile at her answer, "Well Dee, my Mother was an amazing woman!  I believe its how I was brought up, how she raised me.  That you don’t dwell on the bad things. You deal with the cards you are dealt with and make the best of it.”

And after sharing a raw, real conversation about loss and life with her, where all bullshit had been abandoned at hello….I asked her through my tears, “Do you still get sad Heidi?”

She said she does…..maybe ten times a year now, however, if she picks at the scab she can make it bleed again….it’s all just below the surface.  She told me “Life doesn’t care Dee, it will drag you along with it….you might as well be happy.  You have to do it youself” (She has my kinda attitude! :))

We both agreed that we grab the good out of life now.  That even though we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, it’s made us aware of just how important it is to celebrate ‘today.’

Talking with Heidi made me realize there’s others out there like me, that I’m not alone….there are people that struggle some days to walk through the dark tunnel grief creates…however she left me with some powerful thoughts to ponder over.

“Dee, when you turn the lights on, the monsters are gone! They only live in the dark……….”

                            Heidi holding the sun :)

Love you Sis and thanks for sharing!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A special place where you can escape, meet Jackie Collins or John Edward and learn about LIFE!

Do you have places you go sometimes to escape life?  Like an empty chapel, or a deserted park where it’s quiet and you can mull stuff over?  I do!

One of my special places is the library… has many memories attached to it…..both in the pages of some classic books like ‘Courdroy’ and of the times Savannah and I would visit for hours on end.

Corduroy, Savannah adored this book...I have many special memories of her giggling to it.

All the librarians would dote over Savannah.  They'd tell her how cute she was or pinch her rosy cheeks.  So it was difficult to go back and tell them she’d died. 

And for a long time, I couldn’t muster the courage to see the friendly librarians…..or face the covers of Savannah’s favorite books like ‘Goodnight Moon’ or “The Hungry Caterpillar,” that seemed to have turned into horror stories, haunting me….staring out from the shelves.

Two of Savannah's and now Dempsey's favorite books

And like anyone nursing their wounds through grief, it took me a long time to be brave enough to attempt a visit without being bombarded by heart palpitations.  I know this is common when re-visiting somewhere that has special memories attached to it.   However, I’m glad I persevered, as it's one of my favorite places in the whole wide world.  Its like religion to me…..and now Dempsey!

Every Saturday afternoon, we fill our ‘crate on wheels’ with books we’ve devoured from the week before, then head five minutes down the busy road to my therapy session.

As soon as we wander inside the atmosphere has an instant calming effect…like inhaling some anesthetic gas before an operation.  Its quiet, oh so quiet!  Usually, all you can hear is the whisper of teenagers and the gentle tapping of keyboards coming from the tech area.  My mood transforms instantly!

I'm formerly known as a ‘Jackie Collins’ kinda girl or a ‘Betty Crocker’ fan, where I would lean in an aisle and salivate over the cook book section for hours.  However, I’ve morphed into a metaphysics  I stalk the self help shelves, death and dying section and read greedily……hoping to learn a snippet from a book that will help me heal more.

My crate on allows us to gather up to 32 books :)

I trawl the aisles with my crate dragging behind……fellow patrons always look at the plastic collapsible box (the only one I’ve seen by the way), then up at me with a blank stare.  I’m not a mind reader but I’m guessing they think of me like a ‘bag lady’ and probably wonder if I fill the box.  Well I do, or we do......Dempsey and me.   She always rushes off to the children’s area, running her hand along the spines of bright caricature books, all neatly filed in row upon row on metal shelving.

We choose our books for the week and I hope I’ve found one with some lessons inside.  It has been one of my survival tools….the library, the books…reading other peoples journeys…..learning what helped after someone dies….also what doesn’t.  It confirms to me again that the tears and ache I get is normal and needed, for me to keep going through this chapter in my life… a book!

And I hope one day soon to have my book on a shelf.  That can help another mother, father, brother, sister or friend get through one of the most extreme experiences in life.

When Savannah was sick, so sick, that she would need constant watching throughout the night, I would write until I had blisters on my finger….Tarnia’s story, Mom’s and of course Savannah’s story.  It was healing and I found the words poured out of me.  It’s one of my dreams to have my manuscript published and tell their stories… that others don’t feel isolated as I did when trying to find books on grief journeys….and ultimately survival.  I know if my beautiful Mom was alive she would encourage me to chase my dream……as the library does!

I have many new memories too, like watching Dempsey lie on some soft pillows and read a book to Harlie……the fat, old therapy dog, who slobbers over the pages and makes her believe he’s listening……….


And on the way out, we stop at the large print section, grab a mystery novel for Peter, (who now prefers big bold type as his eyes aren’t what they used to be.)  :)  We wave at the librarians and they always smile and say “See you next week Mrs Doyle!”


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Another Trip Around the Sun!

Today is my birthday!

I hate my birthday. It has little importance to me anymore. I know I shouldn’t feel this way but I can’t help it. That feeling of sadness and wishing for things that I can’t have are permanently embedded in me….like the brown birthmark on my neck.

I know today will be one of those bipolar days where my emotions are up and down like a yo-yo. Taking me from smiles to tears in a heartbeat….as they have already.  It’s the same every year…..and I’m always ready for it.

                               My calender with Dempsey's reminder on the 5th

I don’t mark my birthday on the calendar anymore, however, last week as I turned over the new month I noticed my beautiful little girl had scribbled it in.

Dempsey’s handwriting was scrawly but oh so special to me. I cling to these little moments now…..they top up my heart with appreciation at how lucky I am.  I consciously squirrel them away, stockpiling them for a day like today when I feel sorry for myself.  They are great little reminders and help to keep my mind where it should be.

On a birthday years ago, when I was earning a good wage, I bought myself a special birthday present.  A chunky, heavy gold bracelet.  Something I always wanted…back then!  It has big gold links and a heart shaped shiny gold locket.

After Savannah died I couldn’t bring myself to wear it….to even look at it.  Anything that was so materialistic and over indulgent made me feel sick.  That I had this thing, this chunk of metal that I once thought was important made me feel ugly and shallow.  I have worn it a few times since she died but it reminds me of how unimportant and worthless that ‘stuff’ is. It means nothing to me now.  It sits in a box, wedged at the back of a shelf, collecting dust.  Hidden from where I can see it.


I know these feelings I have on what should be a special day for me can be the same for others who have lost a loved one.  Things like….I won’t hear my Mom’s smiling voice saying “Happy Birthday Precious girl!” And my sister Tarnia’s card hasn’t arrived as it always did a week early with her beautiful cursive handwriting in old fashioned ink from her fountain pen. And of course there’s Savannah…… …… one birthday wish that I know as hard as I wish when I blow out my candles won’t materialize before my eyes. So yeah, birthdays suck these days.***

    My Dad and Brenda's birthday package all the way from Australia! Yum!

I am thankful for my Dad’s package of delicious rich Australian chocolate that arrived on Saturday(that sat on our table and took me an hour to get the courage to open) and his hand picked card that made me cry.  I love my big brother Mark who sent me a special email today…” A big hug an kiss for you Mop. Have a great day .Hope you get nice presents from PD an Demps. Love you lots Moppy xxxxxxxxxxxxx

                         Peter's lovely gift :) Maybe for him more than me!

I am eternally grateful for my friends that have texted, emailed and called, made me laugh and generously given me presents.  Who make me feel loved.

But on days like today it’s hard to celebrate and not reflect on who’s missing from my life…and who may be gone by the next birthday.

                       This beautiful boquet of roses just arrived from my friend Trishie in Oz

I can hide from my birthday for a while. Choose to not answer the phone, or read emails.  I know that’s silly but it’s a coping mechanism.  A survival tool that gets me through some hours until I feel strong enough to face reality and my dark mood lifts into one of being appreciative that I am still here to mark another year off.

I don’t take for granted that I am alive. Or that I have a happy healthy little girl who blessed me with a home made card hidden behind her back this morning, with a beaming smile and a “Happy Birthday Mommy” hug. Or Peter’s present of a pink bag from Victoria Secret filled with a bottle of Moet and chocolates….and underwear :) all needing to be enjoyed.

I will do my best with the rest of the day to be enthusiastic, not to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ or a ‘Negative Nancy’… answer the calls from Australia with a cheerful “hello!” and hide the sting in my voice.

So I know my pity party today isn’t a permanent state of mind. 

I’ve made another trip around the sun……this years tour filled with highs and lows, happy and sad days that happen to everyone.  However, through all those important to me and have let me know how important I am to tank has been topped up today with strength to face and plow through the hard days ahead.

Already I’ve been interrupted at least five times to answer the phone or read a text…already the day is looking brighter….and as I finish this off my phone is noisily ringing off the hook…….Happy Birthday to me!

                      Dempsey and me with her card...taken an hour ago!

My Signs today from Heaven today....coincidence????

***As I was writing this part of the blog outside in the quiet a tiny hummingbird flew in under our patio, hovered for at least 5 seconds in front of my face, then fluttered off…..I wish I had my camera handy! I HAVE to take comfort that is was a birthday message delivered to me from Savannah, Tarnia or my beautiful Mom…..after that I just know their souls are around today!  You can believe that or not but I was in awe and wished someone was by my side to witness the miracle… life!

                                 and then......just a while ago, if you look at the photo below....

I took 3 different photos of Demps and me to put here on my blog....if you look at this one (which I didn't like of me) you can see in the upper left hand corner a clear ORB......they say ORBs in a photo are spirits captured on film....dust or specks look different as they don't have the core and swirls true ORB photos do.  I think this one is clearly a true ORB....or maybe its just my wishing another wish on my birthday! :)

                                        I believe there's a spiritual ORB in the top left corner for my birthday!