Grief – The Unexpected Visitor

Sisters and Friends

Sisters and Friends

It’s my sister’s birthday today.

We were born seven years apart, which may be why we always had a good relationship.  By the time I was a teenager, she was living away from home in the city, and then she travelled, got married, and set up home with her husband in Bendigo, a three hour drive from the suburbs of Melbourne.  So, we weren’t physically close like many sisters are, but she was always in my orbit, and I’m sure I was also in hers.  We’d call each other every month or so, and visit for a day or two when we could. We’d often make the effort to visit on our respective birthdays, and we ALWAYS had a good time when we were together.

When we were very young

When we were very young.

This post is my way of visiting her today, because she died in January 2011.

She was my go-to person when I needed advice, or support.  She was the one person I could talk to about anything that was concerning me, and I’d know she’d listen, pay attention, and be interested.  That’s a gift she gave to me.

Thanks to my supportive husband and family, and the fact we were living overseas when she was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to make three extended visits to be with her in the nine months she was ill.  If  I had still been living in Australia, I would have visited more often, but they would have been brief snatches of time between work and other obligations, so although living thousands of kilometers apart when she was dying was difficult at times, and scary, there were benefits.

Those extended visits of four to six weeks were wonderful.  We talked and talked, about cancer, treatment options, dying, death, the after life, religion, funeral planning, and our usual favourite subjects, relationships, my writing, her art projects, flowers, photography, our family of origin, and the families we had created.

By the time she died, I felt we’d both said everything that needed to be said, and although I knew I’d grieve, I expected to be able to deal with her death reasonably well.

My parents died suddenly when I was in my early twenties, and I was still being surprised by bouts of unexpected grief up to forty years later, so I’m aware this is part of the grieving process, but I also thought I’d gained a wisdom with my added years which would help me accept my sister’s death. So, it was a shock earlier this year, to discover myself crying at unexpected intervals, the tears prompted by a fleeting thought, the words of a song, or a sunset viewed from our new home, but most of all I think they stemmed from the fact that I was home at last,  and she wasn’t.

So much has happened since she died.  I know she was excited about my writing, but I was okay knowing I wouldn’t be able to hand her a copy of my book before she died.  I was also aware that the life I’d planned when I returned to Australia, one that would include regular days spent together because we were both retired, was not going to happen, but I coped well with that, too.

It’s the little things I want to tell her that bring on my grief.  I want to tell her what’s happening with my kids, where I’m living, what my next book is about, and all the details of the garden I’m planning.

There will always be things I want to talk to her about, but those unexpected tears will come less and less as the years go by.  Time is a wonderful healer.

Happy Birthday, Helen.  I miss you.

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Home Among the Gumtrees

This time last year, in a post titled, What a Difference a Month Makes, I blogged about appreciating the Scotland I would leave behind when we moved back to Australia.

The approach of summer meant we’d be having more visitors, but I also eagerly anticipated my daughter’s upcoming visit to make her movie, The Pull in our house. The exciting news this month is that her movie will be included in the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto this June.

The Pull poster

The Pull poster

On reflection, it’s clear that twelve months ago was when I became very busy – a busyness that lasted well into this year, but life has settled again. I’ve readjusted my time to factor in small bites for writing, which has given me the freedom to embrace the wonderful breadth of my life here.

We have been here nine months now, and I’m amazed out how much pleasure I still get from the little things, like waking to the laughter of kookaburras,

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the warbling of magpies – they sound far prettier than Scottish magpies – listen here, and even the raucous screeching of the cockatoos bring a smile to my sleepy face.

I feel my transition is complete, but life is a continuum of changes and that’s certainly true for what’s happening to our home at the moment. We have begun the process of creating a new garden, one I hope will attract some of the small, timid birds that live in the nearby gully, as well as continuing to provide food and water for the varieties we already have, such as this one – the crimson rosella.

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella

In the meantime, I continue to enjoy the way the light affects the bay, changing it’s hues from silvers, to pinks and various blues, Full Moon Jan 2014 469 Full Moon Jan 2014 672 January 2014 001 the magnificent sunsets,

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the light show at night,

Night Lights Photo by Cindy Townsend

Night Lights
Photo by Cindy Townsend

and the early morning moonlight reflecting on the sea.

Full Moon Jan 2014 680It’s good to be home among the gum trees.

A SuperB Secret Event

In February, I celebrated my first birthday back in Australia after ten years away, and it was all that I hoped for.

I had a lovely dinner with my family, and presents from them all. I felt spoilt, which is how I think birthdays should be, but I have to confess, the icing on my cake was the present my two daughters gave me:

My birthday present.

My birthday present.

I was over the moon because one of my favourite things to do is to spend time with my girls.

The secret destination was an added bonus, because they know what I like and what I’m interested in, so I was sure it would be a fun day where ever we went or whatever we did.

I’ve had over a month to enjoy the delicious anticipation of this event, waiting for the time ‘that is convenient to all’ to arrive, but the anticipatory amps went up when I received this invitation on my Facebook page:

Invitation to a Super Secret Event

Invitation to a Super Secret Event

It was booked.

I spent the next couple of days fighting the urge to guess where we’d go, because I didn’t want to guess.

I wanted a pure surprise – and that’s exactly what I got!

If I had planned this day myself, I couldn’t have thought of better places to go and things to do.

It was a SUPERB day out.

We set off early for the 45 min drive to our first destination.

I couldn’t believe where they were taking me – back to the place of my earliest memories, the area I lived and played in for the best part of my first six years.

I was stoked. They permitted me to make a small diversion so I could show them the home I lived in all those years ago.

And then we went to Sherbrooke Forest.

Many a family outing was spent in this forest when I was small. I remember searching for glimpses of wildlife, finding a lyrebird performing a mating dance, and looking for fairies.

Before we set off on our walk, I was given the activity for our time in the forest:

Photography Bingo

Forest Bingo

The wondrous thing about this was that not only was I visiting this magical forest from my past, I was also going to receive photography lessons from my expert daughters.

Bonus!!

My photography teachers doubling as models.

My photography teachers doubling as models.

So, let me take you on a photographic tour of my Forest Bingo in Sherbrooke Forest:

Super Special Event April 2014 009

A cute snub nosed puppy ent.

A Fairy garden in an old fern stump. See the fairy above it on the right????

A Fairy garden in an old fern stump. See the fairy above it on the right????

My youngest daughter being a model for me.

My youngest daughter being a model for me.

Cockatoos (wildlife) in sports mode.

Cockatoos (wildlife) in sports mode.

Wildlife in sorts mode

Wildlife in sorts mode

Wildlife in sorts mode

Wildlife in sorts mode

Water in motion

Water in motion

Ghosting

Ghosting

Close up

Close up

Playing with White Balance

Playing with White Balance – orange

Playing with White Balance

Playing with White Balance – pink

Playing with white balance - green

Playing with white balance – green

Sherbrooke Forest scenic photo

Sherbrooke Forest scenic photo

I loved the forest, the photography lessons, and the company.

We had so much fun, but the day wasn’t over!

Next, my daughters prepared a yummy picnic lunch for me.

Unfortunately, at this point, the rain set in, and we eventually gave up on the next part of the day’s plan, but I still intend to do it another day – another post.

But wait! There’s more: We drove to the city to visit The Beatles in Australia exhibition at the Arts Centre:

The Beatles in Australia Exhibition

The Beatles in Australia Exhibition

It is fifty years this June, since I was lucky enough to see The Beatles perform live in a small venue.

It was a momentous event in my life, and visiting this exhibition brought all those wonderful memories rushing back.

I love the way music triggers emotions from our past.

After dinner, we all went home exhausted, but I was VERY happy.

Thank you to my lovely daughters fora fantastic birthday present.

A memorable day, filled with memories from past memorable days.

To finish, here’s a few more pics taken in the beautiful Sherbrooke Forest:

Sherbrooke Forest

Sherbrooke Forest

Sherbrooke Forest

A Crimson Rosella

Sherbrooke Forest

An Australian King Parrot

Desert Magic

I found this timelapse video by Jody Brown on Stumble Down Under’s blog, and loved it so much, I’m sharing it for my American and UK friends.

Photographer Jody Brown lives in Warburton, WA, one of the most remote communities in Australia and he spent six months documenting the amazing scenery of Central and Western Australia for this video.

The best holiday I ever had was a three month drive around Australia in 1985 with my husband and three of my children. I loved the entire journey, but Central Australia, the northeastern, and northwestern parts of the country were my favourite parts of the trip.

The desert fascinates me, the colours, the changes, the waterholes, the wildlife and the crowded starry skies. It truly is a magical place.

I hope you all get to go there one day.

A Walk into History

I like to explore my local environment, and now my life has settled into a less hectic pace, I’m spending more time walking around my new neighbourhood.

There are many miniscule moments that give me a buzz of pleasure because they remind me that I’m really here, living in Australia again. I planned to list some of those magic moments in this post, but then, another blogger I follow – An American in Norway – blogged about a walk she took one day (Click here to read her blog), and it inspired me to head off on one of my walks armed with my camera.

We live close to the Arthurs Seat National Park, and I often walk along it’s bush tracks to explore. The very first time I ventured into the park, I was rewarded with laughing kookaburras, cockatoos nesting in a hollowed out old gum tree, and an abundance of small birds in the densely wooded gully.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

On another walk, I came across a kangaroo and an echidna.

And always, there are the gum trees, – or eucalypts as they are known in America – the she oaks, and wattles.

I love that when I wander through this park, it is blatantly obvious that I am in Australia.

Our bush is unique.

Southern Australian Coastal Bush

Southern Australian Coastal Bush

This time, I took a turn along a different path in search of something new to photograph and was rewarded with a pleasant, but unexpected discovery – a cairn which was built to commemorate the place where Matthew Flinders stood and surveyed Port Phillip Bay way back in 1802, over thirty years before Melbourne was first settled.

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 023

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 024

I stood where he stood, looked over our beautiful bay, and wondered how difficult it was for him to reach this spot.

There would have been no cleared tracks for him to follow. I imagine he needed tools to help hack his way though the thick undergrowth, and large rocky outcrops would have made his climb even more difficult.

Perhaps the local aborigines guided him to this place with the great view?

What wildlife did he see? Snakes, wombats, koalas?

What were his thoughts?

Was he missing his cold and green land? Or the new wife he’d left behind against his wishes?

My Australian history lessons have faded from memory, but Flinders is commemorated with many statues and cairns around the country, and there are many places (towns, islands) and streets named after him.

Despite knowing some of these places well, I’m ashamed to admit I’d forgotten his significance to our country, so when I returned to my home, I Googled him.

He was born in England in 1774.

When he was a young boy, he read Daniel DeFoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe and was inspired by the story to live a life of exploration, so at fifteen, he joined the Navy.

Here is a list of the facts I found most st interesting:

  • He made three journey’s to Australia, each lasting longer than the previous one.
  • On his final trip, he circumnavigated the continent, successfully proving that Australia was also an island.
  • It was also on his final voyage that he went ashore in the newly discovered Port Phillip Bay, and climbed to the top of Arthurs Seat, on April 27th, 1802.
  • Drawing on an old British custom of marking historical points with a cairn, he left a scroll with his ship’s name on it in a small pile of stones at the the peak.
  • He later reported back to Governor King that the land had ‘a pleasing and, in many parts, fertile appearance.’
  • He campaigned to have our country called Terra Australis (the Great South Land)and eventually he referred to it as Australia.
Three ships in the shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay

Three ships in the shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay

My walk was very different to Cindi’s stroll through the Norwegian woods, but I was well pleased with where it led me, none-the-less.

I was impressed by what I read about Flinders, his diligence, intelligence and high morals. He had reputation as a man who treated his crew and the local aborigines well.

We should be proud to have such a man in our history.

I think that, like me,  he enjoyed Australia.

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Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 032

Thank you Cindi, for leading me to a history lesson.

Repatriation Can be Hard

It is now over five months since we arrived back in Australia, an event I looked forward to immensely, especially after my sister Helen died in January, 2011. Her death was like a reality check that made the world feel larger and the time and distance between those near and dear to me became magnified into scary proportions.

As a daughter, sister, friend, daughter-in-law and nurse, I have observed first-hand how the dying lose interest in worldly affairs and possessions, but what does become important to them is their family and close friends.

We don’t know how many years we have on this planet. It’s remotely possible I could live for another thirty-plus years, but as Helen’s death so clearly demonstrated, I can’t count on that, so it suddenly seemed insane to be spending most of my time so far from my children and other family members.

Five months ago, I righted all those concerns. I am here and all is well with my world.

Or is it?                      

Perhaps not! I am often stressed, overwhelmed and befuddled.

I expected certain stresses on my return to Australia, there are legal and financial issues to deal with as well as the usual considerations needed when you move anywhere.  However, I coped well with my move to America, and later Scotland, so I expected this move to be a breeze.

Instead, it appears to have turned my brain to mush,

I’m having trouble remembering the things I should be doing, and that lovely sensation of feeling as if I have oodles of time is like a distant memory that I’m beginning to doubt was real.  There have been moments when I’ve convinced myself that I have early Alzheimer’s.

I asked other people I know who repatriated before me about their experiences and their responses have varied. It seems the shorter the time overseas, the less stressful the return, but some of them, like me, found the move back more difficult than they expected. An American friend used the word ‘grief’ in her explanation of how she felt when she moved home after a few years living in a foreign country. Initially, I rejected the possibility I could be grieving for my expat life. This is where I want to be, I love it here.

But on further reflection, it occurred to me that maybe I am suffering from a degree of grief.

I’m grieving for my lost, peaceful, and self-indulgent expat life.

When I moved to Florida and later, Glasgow, I didn’t know anyone. There were no friends, no relatives, no former work colleagues, and for the first time in many years, I didn’t have a job to go to. My husband and daughter were pretty much all I had to worry about. I couldn’t remember a time in my adult life when I’d felt so time-rich.

I focussed on finding and setting up a home for us, and exploring my new environments at leisure.

Since I’ve been back in Australia, as well as finding and setting up a new home, I’ve been busy catching up with former co-workers, friends, family – even cousins I haven’t seen for years – and of course I’ve spent large chunks of time with our children. We’ve celebrated four family birthdays, Christmas and New Year, made changes to our new home, I’ve been the driver for an injured son and my frequent-flyer husband, and I’ve helped three of my children move house.

It appears that the main reason I was desperate to come home – to be physically closer to family and friends – is largely responsible for the increased stress levels I’ve felt since I’ve been here.

I’m not complaining, I’m truly happy to be surrounded by these people, but I thought it may be of interest to those of you who still have this experience in your future. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to my own advice when I was champing at the bit to get here, but you might be smarter than me, so here’s my advice to you for when you move back to your homeland —

  1. Expect to be busier.
  2. Don’t plan to write a book, like I did! Unless you’re better at time-management than I am.
  3. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the process.
  4. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  5. Go with the flow.

I’m working on taking my own advice, but it can be difficult.

One Last Look at 2013

The first Full Moon of 2014

The first Full Moon of 2014

Before January 2014 and all talk of resolutions and goals disappear, lets take a look at  the resolution list I made in January 2013.

1. Move to Australia to live. – Very happy that this one is now off the list.

2. Find a new home in Australia. – Also happy to have found the home we did!

3. Publish Absent Children That was enormous!

4. Successfully market Absent Children  -How to define success? Millions of sales? Or hundreds. I didn’t get near either of those marks, but despite my avoidance of marketing over the past few months, I haven’t given up yet!

5. Complete first draft of Crystal.  Failing at this has provided me with far more frustration than anything else. I desperately want to finish it, partly because having a second book up there is a marketing tool, but mainly because until it is finished, I can’t know if it works as a story.

6. Meditate regularly (stealing this one, but it has been an intention for two years now, time to make it a reality.) – I began well with this, and felt I benefited, but when life became chaotic, meditation was one of the first things to go. Silly, because I probably needed it more than ever over the last six months. 

7. Maintain good relationships with family and friends  – I believe I’ve succeeded in this one.

8. Read for pleasure as well as work. – I have done this, although perhaps not as much as I’d like to. An important part of my writing life involves critiquing and beta reading for others, and there have been times when I’ve barely managed to keep up with those in recent months.

9. Create two new blogs – one on birthing practices and one on writing– Rethinking this as it still hasn’t happened. I hoped to have blogging down pat by now, but to do it well requires more technical know-how than I’ve been willing to learn this year. I hope I can make time to change that, and when and if I do, I plan to merge the writing blog with the birthing one… maybe.  

10. Enjoy myself. – Overall, I did enjoy 2013 immensely. There were many highs –

  • while still living in Scotland we had visits from Aussie and US friends and family,

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  • visited my brother and his wife in their UK house sit,

Gorsty Knoll Feb 2013 028

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Norway Chile and Florida, January 2013 030 Chile and Florida, January 2013 017

IMG_3007 Chile Jan 2013 036

Since returning to Australia, the good times have continued –

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January 2014 016

  • catching up with friends, seeing heaps more of family,

Full Moon Jan 2014 510  Photo by Cindy Townsend

Photo by Cindy Townsend
  •  and celebrated Christmas in our new home.  

Full Moon Jan 2014 635

I’m so lucky to have had such a great year, but there have also been a very stressful times; many big decisions made, lots of  money spent and at times, simply too much going on, so this year, I’m shying away from listing goals.

I need to consolidate my new life here before embarking on even a ‘Catherine, Caffeinated’-style of goal setting.

Maybe I’ll make a list next month, or in June? Perhaps December? Or not at all.

Are you a fan of New Year Resolutions?

Fire

Fire Jan 2014

Photo by Cindy Townsend

I’ve often wondered how I would react if I lost my home in some natural disaster – hurricane, tornado, or fire. It’s one of those questions which fortunately, most people will never know the answer to, but whenever I’ve watched news reports of people who have been evacuated because of a natural event, I’ve always been able to relate to how frustrating it must be for them to be unable to get to their home and discover if it is still standing.

Yesterday, I found myself in that position.

It was the first of four days of predicted high temperatures, and true to form, there were many fires scattered around the state and country. One was very close to our home, but I was not home at the time and the first I knew about it was when my brother called me to ask if it was near me.

By that stage, all access roads to the area were closed as there were multiple spot fires resulting from the main one. I was stuck at my daughter’s home, wondering how big the fire was and if I should be concerned. My niece alerted me to the Country Fire Association’s great Fire Ready App where warnings and alerts are posted. It advised that residents around the area should evacuate.

For a couple of hours, I kept checking the site, as well as Facebook where locals were updating us on what they could see of the fires, until eventually, the CFA site informed us that all the fires were contained and the roads would open within the hour.

Getting home was slower than usual, as some local roads were still blocked, but I’m very glad I had a home to get to. I knew when we moved into our lovely home, nestled on the side of a hill and backed by a national park, that the fire risk would be greater than it has been in any other home I’ve lived in. I was, and still am willing to take that risk because it is a beautiful place to live.

Unfortunately, the initial blaze sparked another large fire in the wonderful restaurant at the historic Heronswood Property a little further down the hill from us. The Thatched Cafe was destroyed, but thankfully the Homestead is okay.

I hate to think how their magnificent heritage gardens fared.

Today, I packed a bag with my old non-digital photos and a few other documents to keep in the car so I don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard like that again. I also wandered around the streets near where the main fires were and have to add that I’m incredibly impressed that the firefighters managed to save the houses that were right next to the flames. They do an incredible job and I’m very grateful for their service, along with the constant updates I received on the  CFA Fire Ready App. I’d highly recommend everyone living in a fire risk area to download it.

Today, throughout Australia, there are still many fires burning. My thoughts go out to the hardworking firemen fighting them, as well as those who have lost their homes and those who wait for news, unsure of the fate that awaits them.

I’m very aware how lucky I am.

 

Reflections and Resolutions

This month, I’ve missed blogging on the full moon, acknowledging the summer/winter solstice (depending on which hemisphere you’re in), and I’ve failed to wish you all a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or whatever other celebrations may have occurred in your life.

Is it too late to do all that now?

Probably. So, to prevent falling further behind, I’d better wish you a very Happy New Year now.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

But before we dive into 2014, let’s take a last lingering look at 2013.

If you Google major world events for the year, you may be tempted to end it all before midnight. There is little to celebrate in what the world news offers us. Click here to see for yourself if you wish.

Image representing Google Search as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Instead, I thought it would be fun to focus on some good news stories, but finding those is a little more difficult with a simple Google search, especially if you look for stories that weren’t prompted by a bad news story to begin with. There are stories about a woman’s kindness towards the man who robbed her, young boys standing up to bullies, and  others about positive actions prompted by someone’s cancer. They are all admirable and show the better side of human nature, but why is it difficult to find a good news story that isn’t the result of some disaster or drama?

Maybe it’s because we are wired to be aware of danger. It’s a survival mechanism and news sources are aware of this – they know the best way to get our attention is to feed us bad news stories. Unfortunately, these days that often results in many people feeling afraid and believing the world is becoming less safe.

I’d rather focus on the positives in life, and a good starting point to do that is to avoid paying too much attention to television news. Instead, I try to notice the goodness around me – the checkout girl at the supermarket as she cheerily chats to shoppers, and the store assistants who are prepared to give that little bit extra to help you. I’m often aware of mothers and fathers listening, playing and talking to their children, explaining something, or having fun with each other, loving. I see it on Facebook, people caring about others – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, acquaintences and animals. I read about it in blogs and novels and watch stories about kind people in movies.

In general, people are good. Once in a while, you may come across someone not so good, or someone who is angry and unpleasant, but most of the time, if you pay attention you will find that people want to be nice. They care, they love, they give.

I’ve had a wonderful year. I’ve been treated extremely kindly by family and friends, but also by people I’ve only come to know in the virtual world, people I’ve never met. There is kindness and love everywhere, good deeds happen on a daily basis in a normal everyday way.

My resolution for 2014 is to keep choosing to notice the goodness in the people all around me because it makes me feel wonderful.

What about you?

My wish for you all is that you, too will choose to notice and enjoy the goodness in our world.

Let’s all work to make 2014 one of the best years yet.

And So This is Christmas – John Lennon

John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Chance by R...

John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Chance by Roy Kerwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)