Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My sister Tarnia's anniversary...grief and time and how it feels...to me

Today is the anniversary of my only sister Tarnia’s death. A day when my family’s lives changed forever. In a split second, we were irrevocably altered.

Today, I can’t help think of all Tarnia has missed out on. How much of her love her children have missed out on. And how many nights her husband Tone has wished she was here.

My sister Tarnia and Mum

Grief over time changes, it has to.

Time does change the emotional feelings grief creates, from one of intensity when you first lose someone, to an ache, a sadness and a longing.

However, on anniversaries like today, you are catapulted back in time to all the horrors of that day, when you thought you’d never survive the emotions….but you do.

And if I had to describe my grief back then, in a way someone could understand, through the senses, I would say….

You SEE grief as black

You SMELL grief as acrid

You FEEL grief like cutting

You HEAR grief as silence

You TASTE grief as salty

On the weekend while browsing the stores, I came across this magnificent hourglass. I decided to buy it. It reminds me that life is but a bunch of fleeting moments, like the fine grains of sand that trickle from one bulb to the other….representing the fact that we are all in between our past and our future. And that we can grow from our experience, even if it IS grief….as to be the case with me.

The hour glass also symbolizes to be mindful of time…it awakens my consciousness to the fact that life goes on.

As it has since Tarnia has died. I’ve had the privilege of watching Tone pick up the broken pieces of his life since this day eleven years ago….and step up and raise their children….who are all happy and healthy!

The kids with Savannah....four months after the accident

I’ve thought today how her kids were just babe’s when they lost their mother. And how time has marched forward.......

Tone and the kids, Dempsey and me last Christmas.....

Alexander, who was only 8 at the time, is now in his first year at University…with a scholarship I might add! :) 

Fraser, her 5 year old who was such a mummy’s boy has a few years left of high school…and three jobs…and a pretty girlfriend.

And then there’s the twins, Emerald and Charlotte, who were only 6 months and never knew their mum. They are blossoming! Two beautiful girls who have each other…which makes me wonder if this is why Tarnia was blessed with twins…they will always have each other!

How proud, how absolutely beaming she would be with her family that she left behind. I can almost hear her nudging me, and talking through a half laugh as she did..bragging about her babies.  But she’s not here…so I do that now.

In her children, I feel a small part of what I lost losing Savannah has been patched back into my heart. I love them like my own.

So today, on her anniversary, grief has wrapped itself around my day.....it’s slowed it down and sharpened my senses.  And if I had to describe what my grief feels like today, what it’s taught me…through watching her children grow the past 11 years..through my senses I’d say;

I SEE grief as a flame

I SMELL grief as apple pie

I FEEL grief as a hug

I HEAR grief as the kids laughter

I TASTE grief as chocolate

Tarnia’s death has left a huge void in our lives. But it’s also taught us courage, growth and gratitude for so many things.  Today I noticed her children’s facebook pages, they haven’t forgotten either…and its clear they miss her too.

Alexander her oldest, who is the most like her in personality…private…has simply written "11". Fraser, who is a bit like me wrote “Eleven years has gone by and this has been the worst year yet.” My heart will always ache for them.

We will always be trapped by our memories, like the sand in my hourglass and our memories from that day eleven years ago…however, like the hour glass….you can choose to turn it upside down and start again….start tomorrow with my happy memories of her...and a promise I made, when I saw her last…to live life to the fullest and love her kids….because she can’t.

Today, I know two things...I will always miss my big sister...and tomorrow, will always be a new day…….

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Serendipity…..love this word!

It almost has a magic quality about it. Magic like fate can be and what it occasionally puts in your path…making sure you trip over it, that you notice and that you do something with the message it can bring.

The mystery of serendipity can guide you, or inspire you and I like to believe it’s a valuable lesson, a sign post along the way..…as was the case with me on Sunday.

If you recall, back at the end of July, we went to the San Diego Safari Park. We stayed in a hotel overnight....this is where I encountered serendipity…at breakfast!

I was pouring my coffee when I noticed the girl standing next to me was having trouble with the toaster that was broken. I told her “Oh, you have to hold that toaster down. If you wait a sec, I’ll be finished with this one.” And when she spoke I realized she was Australian….”Oh, you’re an Aussie, whereabouts in Australia are you from? What are you doing in the USA?” I asked.

She replied with, “Oh I’m here playing tennis.”

“Well you must be pretty good if you are here playing tennis all the way from Australia.” I told her.

And with a smile and a pause, she added, “Um, yes, pretty good I guess.”

We chatted over the breakfast bar for a bit and then I went back and joined Peter and Dempsey who were eating their vegemite toast. She sat opposite me at another table and occasionally smiled our way. When she got up to leave I wished her luck with her tennis and she thanked me. Peter commented that she looked familiar……

When we got home that afternoon, I was curious. So using trusty Google, I typed in Australian tennis to see if I could see who she was. And as the faces of the women’s tennis players came up, I recognized her….it was Sam Stouser. Only the highest ranked player in Australia….I smiled to myself, thinking what an idiot I must’ve sounded to her, not knowing who she was….also, how humble she was as an athlete not to blow her own horn.

On Sunday, a few friends texted and emailed, making fun of me, telling me to turn the TV on, that Sam Stouser was in the USA Women’s Final against Serena Williams. I had to laugh!

So I put my feet up on our couch and watched her, this stranger that I met over a toaster, spin her magic and beat Serena Williams. I listened to her victory speech with goosebumps as she said it was her dream to win a Grand Slam since she was a little girl of 10.  And I learnt that she had to overcome some challenges and obstacles in her life….but she didn’t give up. And now, here she is, a champion!

So the whole experience of meeting her and not knowing who she was and then watching her live out her dream inspires me to do better and chase my dream.

Sometimes, we find motivation or inspiration in the strangest places…even over blueberry bagels cooking! :)  Was it fate that I met her that morning, a coincidence? I do wonder about destiny and people who touch our lives, even in a fleeting moment…….

We aren’t in charge of our own fate, but to a certain degree we can change our destiny through choices we make or through people we meet who motivate us…..like she has done for me this weekend.

So thank you Sam Stouser for proudly winning for Australia and for arousing my enthusiasm to follow my dream….to finish writing my book and to one day become a speaker to help others with their challenges.

She proved that you can kick away the obstacles and create opportunities with passion and determination…that anything is possible…...and that the magic of serendipity that life sometimes spins can be a powerful tool to believe……

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9.11

I’m sure everyone remembers what they were doing at the exact moment they learned the World Trade Centre had been hit by planes…and watching in shock as the events of the day panned out, like some horror movie, not the safe world as we knew.

Even though it was 10 years ago, you don’t forget.  When something profound happens like that, or you lose a loved one suddenly, it’s ingrained in your being for eternity. Like a brown birthmark or an etching on a bracelet.

You revisit that day.  You remember that you had sizzling bacon and eggs for breakfast, or that you chose to wear that new red dress, or, that that day was a beautiful sun filled almost Autumn morning. You don’t forget all those tiny details…and I guess that’s the way we are programmed….to remember the small details, so we don’t forget!

I still vividly recall that morning, September 11, 2001….Peter had enjoyed breakfast sitting in front of a big bulky computer monitor while Savannah sat in her Winnie the Pooh chair watching teletubbies dancing on the T.V. …as she did every morning.   She was two years old, and healthy and enchanting and innocent…...it was just like any other morning in our apartment.

Savannah at 2, every morning she sat in her Winnie the Pooh chair

But that morning, I had the privilege of kissing my husband goodbye and knowing that I’d see him later. Over the course of that day, I realized that some people would never get that happy ending after the events of September 11.

Within half an hour of Peter leaving for work, my phone rang, it was Peter, telling me to turn the video off and CNN on!  I remember standing in our lounge room with my hand over my mouth at the horrific live feed that was being beamed into our apartment.

I was still in the depths of my grief over my sister being killed only the year before.  My emotions still raw and the tears still coming on a daily basis.  And after a few hours, as it became clear what had happened as the news teams interviewed confused bystanders, stunned survivors and loved ones who were searching, I turned the TV off. I couldn’t watch anymore.  It was too difficult to see and witness so many people living through what I knew was the worst to come……GRIEF.

Now however, ten years later…ten years…. a lot has happened.  I couldn’t have imagined back then that in a few years I’d be living that whole horrific GRIEF cycle all over again…. losing my Mum and our daughter Savannah. 

But what I have learned, like the people that day that lost so many, their husband's, wive's, brother's and sister's, mother’s and father’s is that you do survive GRIEF.   That it can be a catalyst for change.  That you discover a passion for life…. and that out of tragedy, compassion is created for our fellow human beings..like the magnificent shrines being created at Ground Zero.

My thoughts this weekend will be with all those that lost loved ones in the towers, the hero firefighters and the people who survived who are an example of the amazing human spirit to overcome.

None of us know what tomorrow will bring, so we must never forget to appreciate today and live!  I know on Sunday, in honor of those lost I’ll do something that they can’t, something that I enjoy as a sign of respect.

Even though I don’t know anyone who was in any way related to the events on that tragic day, I feel a bond….a grief bond….with others who I know will be dealing with their memories of that day. In that way, I feel a connection.

Anyone touched by grief has had their own 9.11.  Maybe not as tragic, but the feelings are all the same….as are a kinship and a knowing....as the survivors do, that life goes on.  Tragedies remind us to be grateful….and while grief embeds itself in your life forever, it can never dull your spirit for living.

On September 11, 2001, lives were changed…..however, the ability to be resilient and be thankful for today and always have hope…..remain shining….as bright as the September sun was that morning……..

As we say in Australia, LEST WE FORGET.........

Friday, September 2, 2011

Happiness is a form of courage - Holbrook Jackson

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.  ~Robert Brault

Death teaches us about life.

It’s what makes us appreciate and treasure the small moments. It’s sad but true that sometimes, we have to experience something profound to teach us to be grateful and to keep striving to be happy.

This week Dempsey and her little girlfriends, her BFF’s taught me a bit about living in the moment and that being happy is about the simple things. With the start of the new school year brings new lessons to learn, not just for Demps! :)

Pool parties have been shelved for now, soggy swim suits and tinted goggles have been replaced with pencil cases and new rolling backpacks….the smell of chlorine swapped for the waxy smell of crayons. The new school year has finally arrived.

Watching Dempsey rip the plastic off her pristine pink folder, carefully write her name in cursive on her new lunch pail and zip up her backpack with such enthusiasm had me smiling. Just some simple moments that gave me pleasure and reminded me that life is but a fleeting moment….where has the time gone from when she was so tiny, and it was her  first day of kindergarten? And now she’s somehow stumbling into fourth grade!

Dempsey's first day of Kindergarten meeting the Principal

Monday morning Mother Nature greeted us with dew on the car windscreen and the late August air noticeably cooler.  Dempsey slipped her hand out the car window, waving it in the breeze on the way to school, animated and excited about seeing her best buds after a long Summer lay over……in her new dress!! :)

It was my reward as her mum to immerse myself in the schoolyard swarm of children that were humming like a hive full of bees.  And as I stood back and watched one after the other of her friends arrive, squealing and giggling and squeezing each other tight, without a worry in the world except for what clip to wear in their hair….I got a lesson!

To laugh often

To hug my friends deeply

To not take life too seriously

To be appreciative of those I love

To be open to new friends and be there for old ones

That we all build our own happiness in the moments we create…even if its on a patch of asphalt in a school yard

That compliments create smiles (well in kids anyway ;))

And that we can choose never to be too old to learn or be open to bloom, like the buds on the trees around the school...no matter what life throws at us

Yes, the kids reminded me that happiness takes the sadness away….and while grief manages to peel back the layers and leave you exposed sometimes…it also sharpens our senses and strips the unimportant stuff away. It creates a vacuum for sucking up the good stuff and relishing in it.

The first day of school is the only day us parents are allowed to hang around the playground and gush and cry and turn into paparazzi parents!

I lingered as long as I could and watched my baby stand tall and march with her friends into fourth grade. On her way in, she looked back my way, smiled a shy smile as if to say “I’m fine Mummy” and blew me a kiss.

So with a sensory emotional overload I wandered back to my car…I thought about making choices to be happy…like the kids are….and stepping back to notice the big picture instead of getting caught up in the trivial stuff.

I also thought about our angel Savannah….how it would be her first day at Junior High…I let out a big sigh….and smiled….thinking, how she’d be beautiful and beaming and….wanting her Mamma to be happy too…..