Thursday, March 31, 2011

The difference Hospice can make......

This post is for every Hospice worker and pallative care nurse...and to our earth angel Julie who made such a differnce.....THANK YOU seems such a small word for the dedicating care you give.......

We’ve just bought a brand spanking new bedroom setting. Its towering wooden bed head makes me feel so tiny…but like a Princess! :)

Anyway, yesterday, while clearing the space for our new bed, I found hidden under the old bed, a book!  A very very special book.

I held it in my hands like a newborn…..and I considered not opening it because what’s on the pages makes me cry. But I had to as the written memories inside are a treasure trove for my soul!

The book is from Hospice…..from the saintly staff that cared for Savannah in her final months. Each person, even her Doctor wrote a tribute to Savannah about how she touched their life.

Inscribed inside its blue covers are words that have been carefully penned through tears and truths. Composed with an intimate understanding and involvement only those of us would recognize having had the extraordinary privilege of caring for someone in their final days.

I almost passed up the opportunity and honor of having Hospice in our house, making a huge difference to our daughter’s comfort in the days that mattered most.

When Hospice gracefully entered our home, things were grim. I had a broken leg, Savannah’s feeding tube was leaking, her pain was increasing and her health was deteriorating. Deteriorating like everything in our lives...Savannah...our marriage….and Dempsey’s patience at the lack of attention she was getting as a one year old. It was like a pressure cooker….we were almost at breaking point…..the whole family!

  It was around this time Hospice came into our lives...I had my hands full.....

But I was a nurse…couldn’t I do it all…as her mother, shouldn’t I have been able to? No! I finally admitted I needed help…and lots of it.

Hospice wasn’t a foreign concept to me. They’d cared for my adored mum in her final days. They took control of mum’s pain with morphine. They showered her in a chair so I didn’t have to compromise her dignity and fed her spirit with cheerful chatter each day while they made her bed.

However, I had a hard time handing over the reins of Savannah’s care to an unknown organization….to strangers. I was scared. Our 4 year old daughter was the most important thing in my world, and like a lioness, I was protective.

Looking back, I wish I had of let them into our world sooner. So I could play the most important role in Savannah’s life…simply being her loving mum…nothing more than that! And hospice allowed me that honor in her last months.

They are such a dedicated group of people, like a team of vigilantes who do a job that requires extraordinary compassion.  To me, hospice staff have invisible wings. They are earth angels that give so much more of themselves than what is ‘medically’ required of them.

They provided not only a hospital bed that we put in our lounge room, but oxygen tanks, an air bed that circulated around Savannah’s fragile limbs to help prevent more bed sores…and the icing on the cake…liquid med’s..that was FedEx’d to our door. Before Hospice, I had to stand in long queues at Rite Aid for Savannah’s medicine, then crush them and add water, mixing the different potions that were assisting in keeping her alive. Their rolodex of priceless medical help was just that to me…priceless!

Then there’s the emotional side. These wonderful people became like family to us. One nurse, in particular, Julie! She witnessed the raw pain, the gut wrenching torture of Peter and I having to watch our daughter struggle to die…. When I was at the lowest point of my life, when I didn’t think I could take any more, she would wrap her arms around me and allow me to sob and let out my grief.

I couldn’t have made the impact to Savannah’s final days that Hospice did.

This was taken a few weeks before Savannah died..the photo of her on the right just a year earlier...

The gift they gave me was time…to sit with Savannah, to smooth her forehead and hold her hand and not leave her bedside. The gift they gave my child was a peaceful pain free passing to the other side…where there’s no more suffering for her.

And the book…well, sitting on my dusty carpet yesterday, reading the Hospice staff’s memories brought my daughter back to life. Amongst their words I found Savannah and what she meant to others…..and it was like a warm hug. I closed the book and held it to my chest…just like I would if she was here.

I’d like to leave with you with Julie’s words, her nurse, from the book, to help you understand…...the impact Savannah left on them and the comfort Hospice have given me............

"A letter to Savannah”

My dearest Savannah.

What I learned most in life was from your death. You taught me to appreciate life, and my family.

I savor every small thing, things like the sound of cracking from a bat when my son hits a ball, or my older sons snoring…which means his breathing.

 I learned to relax and let all the chips fall as they may, and knowing not all is in my control.

Your bravery taught me not to fear death; it has helped me do better at my job. I believe that because of you, I have been able to handle many situations, many families and make their passing smoother.

I believe when you were born there was already a plan for you. In that short amount of time that you were on earth, you probably enriched more lives than an elderly person.

Your passing brought about pain that I never knew. In my selfish way, I wanted you to stay. I wanted to be able to see your beautiful face, your eyes….. Savvy you taught me in a short time without speaking even…..what some people take a lifetime to learn.

I hope your smile will light the way for me when it’s time to leave here.

I hope I find your strength, your courage, your bravery when I am faced with any challenge.

I loved you the moment I met you and I miss you everyday –

God Bless –

Julie -


Monday, March 21, 2011

Eleven years ago, we celebrated!

Today, my beautiful twin nieces Emerald and Charlotte turn eleven years old!

My sister Tarnia holding one of  the twins the day they were born!

I wanted to blog about them today, to celebrate not just their birthday and how special these girls are to me…but also to celebrate life, my sister, and that the human spirit can survive grief or any challenge we are faced with.

Emerald in green and Charlotte in pink....Mum and Dad were living with them when this was taken......

I’ve tackled different thoughts over the years about my sister’s daughters. Thoughts as to why their mum died so young at 39? Why she was taken from them when they were just babies of almost six months old? And I can’t find an answer, or not one that makes any sense anyway. The only cryptic conclusion I can come up with is that maybe Savannah needed her in heaven…to be there when she arrived a few years later…..

That may seem totally crazy or ridiculous, but so is taking a mother from her four children and husband in the prime of her life…..

It seems incredibly surreal to me that I don’t have my daughter here, who would be almost the same age as my nieces…..and they don’t have their mum.

It’s weird, bizarre, whatever you want to call it…but I take comfort from these thoughts. It’s almost like my sister Tarnia is in heaven or somewhere, loving Savannah…..and they are here on earth with me. It’s like we’ve swapped…..

Emerald, Charlotte and Fraser....

I spoke to them on Skype for their birthday in Australia..….Emmy had her hair drawn back in a ponytail, reeling off what loot she got, squashing her ear into the camera on my screen so I could see the pretty earring’s she’d been given. While Charlotte sat on a chair next to her, brushing her hair until it was smooth and shining…..oh how Charlotte reminded me of my sister who did this almost in identical fashion! And that made my heart twinge that Tarnia doesn’t get to experience any of this.

But I don’t want this post to be about sadness….I do feel sad for them that they don’t know a mother’s love, that all consuming adoration that only a mum can give….

Dresses I sent them for their 5th birthday....

Their Dad, Tone, does an amazing job of showering them with love. Apart from the two years my parents helped raise them, he’s done all the hard stuff mostly on his own. He’s nurtured them, kissed their scraped knees, wiped away their tears and prepared nutritious meals for them every night. He does both jobs, Mum and Dad!

Tone, a devoted dad with his beautiful daughters..........

And while I try not to wallow in the fact Tarnia is missing out on these birthdays, where she’d be loving being able to cook them a delicious birthday cake, or trolling the stores for their presents….or just being able to hug them and reminisce about the day they were born……her girls seem unaffected by not having a mother….and this floors me…but it’s true!

I’ve never heard them say “I wish Mummy was here!” Or “What was Mummy like?” And I tell them all the time about their mum and me growing up…how she was the sensible one, and how if she was here she wouldn’t cut their hair…amongst other things. However, they seem like any other ‘normal’ little girls that enjoy the comings and goings of being an ‘almost’ teenager. And who have a messy room! :)

Sometimes, my heart gets squeezed by moments, like watching them at a band concert play their instruments, or listening to them encourage Dempsey with homework.  They are always happy.   They seem seriously okay…and that is comforting.

Special memories of Dempsey and her cousins.....

I’m not sure why they are like they are. Maybe it’s because their Dad is a huge force in their lives, or because they don’t know what it’s like to have a mother around who'd love them with a fierce force….all I can put it down to is the human spirit is bigger than grief or loss…...

Emerald and Charlotte are happy, well adjusted, affectionate girls! Their spirits are sunny and cheerful and I put this down to their environment.  It’s evidence to me that even with the ever present shadow of grief; you can endure losing a loved one and grow out of any tragedy.

However, I know one day they will ask questions, I give them opportunities now but they don’t ask much. And I’ll always be grateful that my sister has left TWO slices of her for us to adore.

I hope they never lose their sense of happiness or become a statistic of grief in the future as they grow into women.

And Dempsey is fortunate to have found sisters in them; they make up a huge hole in her life for the sister SHE is missing.  They smother her sometimes with affection which makes my heart swell!

I love the girls like they are my own….I appreciate that while I don’t have Savannah here, I have a small piece of her in watching Emmy and Charlotte bloom into girls who will always be of similar age to my daughter who’s missing. And I hope in time, when they need it, they will feel they have a small piece of their Mummy in me…..

The girls birthday party last year...and I'm sure a spiritual ORB right over Charlotte's face...maybe my sister, their mum, was there after all!

Love you! XX

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thankful for............

Watching the horrific goings on in Japan, with the massive earth quake and tsunami has had an enormous emotional impact on me this week.

And I haven’t stopped thinking of the many families and friends all over the world that are currently being affected by grief this monster has created.

It reinforces to me yet again how our time should be cherished as we never know what an ‘ordinary’ day can bring.

It also draws my attention to ALWAYS being appreciative of the little things we sometimes take for granted. Especially when there are people struggling to survive in nature’s aftermath….half a world away.

For me, this week, these are a few things I’m thankful for……

This has been our sky in California this week!

A lush shade of blue, like a canvas that’s waiting to be painted. I’ve enjoyed sitting outside, with the sun’s dancing rays warming me through to my bones…while listening to the birds chirping that are oblivious to the stresses in the world……

And with the onset of ‘almost’ spring, one of my favorite things has sprung to life.  My jasmine vine!  It’s sprinkled with delicate clusters of sweet smelling gems, huddled together beneath the bushy green leaves, just waiting to burst open and fill the air with its sweet perfume.

Jasmine to me is like an antibiotic…it reminds me of my mum and also of my sister’s house in Australia which is dripping in the sweet smelling vine in springtime.

Tarnia’s coffin was laced with Jasmine, but I find it comforting to inhale its powerful scent.  It provokes many memories of home and the people I love.  I always snip the first buds that appear and place them on Savannah’s shelf next to her urn.  They are delicate like she was and the aroma sweetens our family room…you can almost taste its intoxicating nectar.

We’ve enjoyed some family time this week….paused all electronic devices for a while and indulged in some good old fashioned games!

Our friend Steph introduced Dempsey to the unfashionable game of Jacks…she took to it like a duck to water…..and mastered it with a huge grin!

Then of course there was Chess with Daddy. While I washed dishes, I found myself smiling as I watched Demps and her Dad silently enjoy this game of strategy. Needless to say, Dempsey has a long way to go before she can beat Peter, which is more than I can say for me! :) 

Just some effortless family time warmed my heart this week.

And of course there was a lesson from Dempsey…my perceptive, wise beyond her years eight year old, who continues to teach me about life!

I snapped this photo of her tiny book of thoughts which she told me I wasn’t allowed to look at, but couldn’t help sneaking a peek….she writes…”Facts that are odd in life.   1. Life!”

I can’t wait to read what she divulges next!

And life is just that, ‘odd’…..hours filled with different sorts of moments, like a game, where you don’t know what cards you’ll be dealt or whether your number will come up next…..

These moments can fill us with happiness, help build and mold our world, make us grateful and always remind us to never take a second for granted……I only have to think of what must be going on over the pond in Japan to be mindful of just how thankful we should be for each day we are graced with!

Thankful for Chez, a stranger until a few months ago...a lady who's been reading my blog from Australia, who is loving and thoughtful and understands the gift of grief...and time...thank you Chez for gifting me with me with this wonderful piece of art of our angel!  How lucky I am! x

Wishing you sunshine and reflection and moments of peace and joy this week if your cup is blue...keep our Japanese neighbors in your thoughts! x

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wishing for a magic carpet!

Do you ever have a moment where your day is unfolding nicely and then WHAM, just like that you get distracted by a thought and your day wish your life was different to what it is?

This morning while tackling the bumper to bumper car pool line at Dempsey's school my happy mood of the mother's at the school gate reminded me of my old life and what I'm missing.  Her daughter and Savannah played together in a 'Mommy and me' playgroup many years ago.  She still has her daughter....I don't. 

And as I watched her smile at Dempsey as I drove off, I wondered for a second what my life would be like if I had've just dropped off TWO children instead of one...Savannah and Dempsey?  What it'd be like to enjoy two kisses on the cheek and two "I love you Mummy," instead of one?  To pack two lunchboxes and get out two sets of clothes instead of one everyday?

My two babe's....I wish I'd taken more photos of them together....

By the time I stopped at the traffic lights, I was trying to disguise the tears that were slowly rolling out from under my sunglasses from the hurried chatty mother's and their children crossing the road in front of my car. 

I also considered what it'd be like to come home and pick up the phone and be able to dial Mum, or my sister?  Just some simple little thoughts that made me cry today.  And I hate that my life is broken in that way and it can't be fixed....there is no antidote or treatment or glue or magic substance that can mend my life....and that makes me sad today. 

Peter is away working and when I have this alone time I find I reflect and I can't hide from my thoughts.

When I got home I felt like the four walls were closing in on me....suffocating me.  So I quickly grabbed my coffee, camera and writing book and headed for the park...hoping for some comfort somewhere along the pavement.  But there is no escape...where do you escape to?  And the silence while sitting on the hard metal park bench was sobering and made me feel sorrier for myself.

I want my family back, I want to be like the other mother's I saw this morning, who have all their children, and their sisters and Mum...I want my life back to how it was...before!

I get tired of pretending to be a happy housewife some days.....I get sick of being a lifeboat when sometimes I feel like the person drowning......I want a hug from my that too much to ask for? 

And I want to pick up two children this afternoon, instead of one....and I wish I could ring Tarnia and ask her how she's feeling about my nephew starting University a few weeks ago.  This impossible dream makes me cry today...and I can't help it.  I've tried!

I wish a magic carpet would suddenly appear, hovering at my feet, waiting to whisk me away...just for a day, where I could invent a new story for myself....where I could pretend life is different....just different than what it is...........

So I sat on the park bench, pondering and crying, watching an amazing soaring hawk in the sky, it was peaceful.....and made me wonder if animals know grief???  I packed up my stuff, wiped my runny nose on my sleeve and wandered back to my reality.

Today, I'm not going to pretend to be brave, I lost something precious and its okay to have a day where I can soak up my tears and realize that.

I'm hoping Dempsey will be an enchanting force today.  Reminding me that even though I can't heal my wound or fix that broken piece of my heart.....the magic band aid of Dempsey's love and tales of how she passed her divisions, or played jump rope and broke her PB........her innocence of real life, will make me appreciate my 'different' one....she will be my smile today!

My magic band aid today!


Friday, March 4, 2011

A lesson from my daughter.......

    Dempsey's School Diary!

There’s nothing like the annual field trip to get the old paranoia going in a parent…especially one who’s already lost a child!

And I know this is a normal reaction to grief…a relentless fear that something will happen to another loved one. And some situations propel me into a neurotic person just a teensy weensy bit MORE than others…….

Um, like a “Whale Watching Field Trip!”

Not one in a safe four walled aquarium, no, one on a boat, on an ocean, the wild ocean, with unpredictable waves and shark invested waters…

So you can guess how I felt about Dempsey going by herself. No Way, it wasn’t going to happen! This year, I didn’t have to beg to follow the bus…I was allowed! :)

However, instead of holding my breath in anticipation at something happening to Dempsey, the day managed to take my breath away.  I was reminded by Mother Nature and a bunch of wise eight year olds, how to find joyfulness in the simple things in life……

Kids = enthusiasm…simple as that!

And they can teach us adults a thing or two about noticing and marveling in the miracles of our environment.

The whole experience, from the night before, as Dempsey taped ‘her list’ on our fridge had me smiling and feeling all fuzzy with love and gratefulness… my daughter’s enthusiasm has the ability to humble me with the simplicity of finding joy in such small moments……….

The morning of the trip Dempsey met me on the stairs in the dark, already dressed (in her layers), raring to go…

And by ten am we were on the water. Despite my anxiety, I was enjoying the blustery salty sea air that was bitterly cold. And, the thought of seeing a real live whale in its natural habitat….I was beginning to relax! :)

My paranoia faded as the anticipation and energy from the kids kicked in. Out of the dark shadows of the ocean leapt dolphins…slippery and graceful, mysterious and playful. They were breathtaking! As was the wonder and excitement oozing out of the children. Dempsey was clutching onto the boat railing, jumping up and down, and pointing…with a grin almost as wide as the ocean…..

It was difficult not to be affected by the kid’s animated euphoria. It is said, children laugh on average three hundred times a day, compared to us adults measly fifteen!

They see the world as it is, stripped bare of any stresses or pressures…and if we take our blinkers off and take a leaf out of their book, we can channel this same capacity into our everyday moments.

We all exist in the same world and should try NOT to lose the ability that children have to appreciate what we often take for granted. We just need to pay attention, like they our surroundings and wittness the beauty through the eyes of a child!

You gotta look close, but there is a whale tail waving at us! :)

And the kids weren’t disappointed either that they didn’t get to see a whale up close. We did see a tail, and some spray in the water…and that seemed enough for them…another example of them teaching me that day….to just be happy instead of constantly searching and wanting more!

And the lessons from my gorgeous eight year old didn’t end on the boat.  Last night I read the report she wrote for school.  Hidden in her words was another prompt to notice the gifts Mother Nature bestows on us everyday if we take the time to realize…to quote Dempsey… “I saw a cloud that looked like a sea lion popping out of the water…”

Part of Dempsey's report about the field trip...this made me smile too! :)

I know after experiencing grief we do become more appreciate of these special moments....

However today, I’m trying not to be disappointed that for once, we have a cloudless sky in California….I was looking forward to acting like a kid, squinting at the sun, trying to find some special image in a fluffy cloud to feed my spirit today! :)

Wishing you sunshine if your cup is blue and hoping you can find something to make you smile in the heavens above…….