#Book Snap Sunday – Leap

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Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame they fearful symmetry?

(William Blake 1794)

 

 

From the striking cover, tigers have a presence in Myfanwy Jones’ novel Leap, shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Every week, on the same day, at the same time, Elise visits the zoo. Escaping a faltering marriage and the pain of grief, she is drawn to the tiger enclosure, where she sits, watches and draws. 

Joe works shifts in cafes and bars, mentors the troubled Deck and spends his spare time training in parkour, a discipline that involves moving within a complex environment without the use of any assistive equipment. He runs, climbs, jumps and rolls, all in preparation to make the leap. Joe is also consumed by grief and guilt.

As the story moves between Joe and Elise, the tragic death of Jen is slowly revealed, piece by piece. Jen is vibrant, intense, passionate.

she would come for him, stealthily then full throttle, ready to tear out his heart…But he couldn’t stay away from her, and she couldn’t leave him be. 

 LEAP is a beautiful urban fairytale about human and animal nature, and the transformative power of grief. While at its heart is a searing absence, this haunting and addictive novel is propelled by an exhilarating life force, and the eternally hopeful promise of redemptive love.

Like Elise, I am drawn to tigers. Of all the animals in the zoo, it is the tigers I love best – huge, solitary, deadly. Their curved canines are the longest of any of the big cats, reaching up to 90mm.  Males can measure up to almost 4 metres in length and weigh up to 306 kilograms, depending on species.  While one of the most popular and charismatic of the mega fauna, tigers have been listed as endangered since 1986, with a current global population of between 3,000 – 4,000. 

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We have a long history of being fascinated with the beauty and power of the tiger. They are featured in mythology and folklore, claimed as national animals and team mascots, and can take pride of place among the stuffed toy collection of many a child. My own tiger, pictured with Leap, has traversed this country, accompanying me as I have moved from place to place and has survived in one piece. It would indeed be a most terrible shame if future generations only knew tigers from the pages of a book.      

I really enjoyed reading Leap and I look forward to reading more from Myfanwy Jones. I think tigers must be close to her heart too, for she has dedicated proceeds from the sale of Leap to the WWF Save Tigers Now campaign.

Happy Reading 

Family Time

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In our hectic modern lifestyles, it can be hard to carve out spaces for quality family time. It often becomes a matter of minutes snatched here and there, in between ferrying children all over the place, never-ending domestic chores, and work or study related activity. Until one of those significant life events occur that draws the family together in a big way. 

We’ve just recently returned from a trip down to Adelaide for my uncle’s funeral. Funerals are a bitter-sweet time. There is sadness because we miss the one that we loved and we cannot imagine our family without them. But sometimes there is also happiness and relief that a long and painful journey has come to an end. And so it was with my uncle. After a long fight with cancer, he is at peace. 

Adelaide is my home town. Although most of my family grew up in South Australia, in Adelaide and in small farming towns to the north of Adelaide, most of us now live in other states. We sometimes joke that we get along better that way. It is difficult for us to be together in the one place, at the one time, and so, when we are together, the time is very precious. Despite the reason for our gathering, it was a beautiful time with my parents, my brother and his family who flew in from Western Australia, and my aunty from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

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My uncle was a farmer, a traveller, a glider. He married late in life, gaining not just a loving wife and companion, but three young adult children, who held him in great esteem, love and admiration They gave such beautiful tributes about the role he played in their lives, showing that family isn’t always about blood, but about love. He was their hero. 

My uncle will be missed but the time we spent sharing stories, laughing and remembering, deepens the memory of him in our hearts and minds. My mum and aunty reminisced about growing up on the farm with their brother, riding to school in the horse and cart, and family holidays at Victor Harbor. These are the stories that become part of our family folklore to be passed down through the generations. And the telling of these stories, over and over again, strengthens the relationship between all of us. Sharing our grief and our joy brings us closer, even though we live many miles apart.

We also added a new story to the family folklore. One evening we went out for dinner at one of the local hotels. Paul has a sweet tooth and so he ordered some dessert – strawberries and cream. When the dish arrived, there was great amusement as we embarked on a strawberry hunt. Apparently “strawberries” means one strawberry cut into four pieces, spread across a rectangle plate with small blobs of cream. Photos were taken, of course, and the story has already been repeated and will no doubt be embellished as time goes on.

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Paul’s Strawberries and Cream

Some stories become traditions imbued with special meaning. When my mum, aunty and uncle were growing up, they went on an annual holiday to the beach. Initially this was to an Adelaide beach called Glenelg, and then to Victor Harbor, as mentioned before. The tradition didn’t stop there. When our cousins came down from Queensland to visit, our grandparents would take our whole family for a holiday to Victor Harbor. Interestingly, the holidays to Victor Harbor started well before my grandmother was even married. Victor Harbor was a special place to her and so it has remained for our family, so of course, any trip down to Adelaide must include a visit to … Victor Harbor. My brother even took his family down there for a few days holiday continuing the family tradition.

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Looking Across to Victor Harbor from Granite Island

 All family gatherings eventually come to an end. We all have normal lives to which we must return, accompanied by a collection of new memories and a story or two. As the years pass, and more and more family members pass away, it can often feel that we only see each other at funerals. And this where we can see the true blessing of technology – for keeping us in touch with those who live so very far away and the recording of stories for future generations.

Wear Red for Valentines

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Happy Valentines Day.

A day for all things red and heart-shaped. A day for celebrating the mystery of love in all its shapes and forms. A day for flowers and chocolates, hugs and kisses, and walks down memory lane.

Hearts are amazing things. They flip at the sight of the beloved. They pour out in times of hardship and suffering. They race like crazy at the top of the hill. And in the busyness of our daily lives, our heart sits in the background, beating, pumping blood around our bodies, keeping us breathing, active, living. We don’t even need to think about it. It just keeps on working. Until one day it doesn’t.

Wear Red Day

Today is also Wear Red Day. It’s a day for remembering those who have died from heart disease and those who devote their lives to research, such as Heart Research Australia.  Wear Red Day is a cause that is close to our hearts. Sadly, we are intimately acquainted with heart disease.

When Dan and Bec were very young, only 6 and 4 years old, their Dad, Rob, died suddenly of a heart attack. One evening Bec said goodnight to her Dad and it was the last time she saw him alive. The next morning, Rob got up early to go swimming. He never came home. He was 39.

Having a desk job, Rob was concerned about his health and fitness, so had started swimming a few laps early in the morning at the local pool. While he was at the pool, he experienced pains in his chest and took himself up to the hospital. When the hospital called me, they reassured me that he looked fine and to just come when I could. There was no hurry.

It was Dan’s first week at school. After doing the morning routine, dropping Dan off at school and Bec off at a friend’s house, I went up to the hospital. Rob was sitting up, talking to the nurses and we chatted. They were waiting on some further results and then the doctor was going to discuss whether further treatment or lifestyle changes would be required. We never got that far.

I sat…waiting, wondering, praying

One minute Rob was fine. The next minute he had a fatal heart attack. It happened right in front of my eyes. At the time, I don’t think I quite understood what was happening which was probably a blessing in disguise. It was only much later that I realised I had watched him die. The nurse called for assistance, medical staff rushed in and I was ushered out of the room. I sat by myself in the waiting room. Waiting. Wondering. Praying.

Finally the doctor comes out and says he is sorry. There was nothing they could do. They were unable to revive Rob.

What happened next is somewhat blurred. I know that friends immediately dropped everything to be by my side. I know that my family, who all lived interstate, dropped everything to travel to QLD. I know that during that day I made numerous calls to people to tell them what had happened. And at some point I had to tell my four year old daughter that her Daddy wasn’t coming home.

We didn’t know that Rob had a heart condition.  There was a blockage in one of the arteries. Tests had shown that he had had a mild heart attack. Even the doctors admitted that Rob did not look like a man who was about to have a fatal heart attack. There is no blame to be cast. He was in the right place at the right time. If only we had known.

It turned our lives upside down

I lost my partner, my best friend, my soul mate. Dan and Bec lost their Dad. Family members lost a son, a brother, an uncle. I don’t know what Dan remembers or feels about it. He can’t tell me but he still recognises Rob’s photo and calls him Dad.

For Bec, it has been devastating. People who knew Rob, say Bec looks so much like him. And she does. She is like him in so many ways, even in ways she could never have possibly known. Bec is Rob all over again. And so her loss runs deep.

It is a lifelong loss and despite what people may say, it does not get better with time. Special days come and go – Christmas, Father’s Day, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Graduations – they are always bittersweet because he is not here. 

Hearts do heal but they are never the same. Our hearts are scarred with the pain of loss and grief. Life does go on, but we carry our loss with us wherever we go. And every year, when that day comes around again, we feel it in our bodies and in our souls. Even before we are conscious of the approaching date,  we feel it  – the heavy heart, the sadness, and then we remember – that day is here again.

Every time I hear a story of a sudden death of a loving partner and father, no matter the cause, I remember, and it causes a pang in my heart for the family left behind. We know the road that lies ahead. We were not the first and we won’t be the last. Not even the last in our own family.

Only a few months ago, Rob’s older brother, James, passed away suddenly. In circumstances eerily similar to that of Rob’s, a different heart condition, but still, it felt like a case of deja vu. For friends and family gathering at another funeral, the words “we’ve been here before” rang an all too familiar refrain.

 

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So today, wear red. Wear a red shirt. Wear a red hat. Wear red shoes.

If you have lost someone to heart disease – wear red.

If you know someone living with heart disease – wear red.

For all the people in your life who you love dearly – wear red.

Wear red to keep hearts beating. 

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Love, Joy and Peace

 

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It’s Christmas. The season of twinkling lights, festive food, Carols by Candlelight and happy families. We’ve cleaned the house, decorated the tree, wrapped gifts for a never-ending list of family and friends, and slaved in the kitchen. Christmas is that magical time of the year when families get together to celebrate love, joy and peace.

And then I see headlines about

  • dreading Christmas
  • how to survive Christmas Day
  • the lonely who have no place to go

Dread, survival and loneliness doesn’t sound much like the Christmas spirit. It fills me with sadness and makes me wonder what we have done to Christmas that it is no longer a time to look forward to with excitement, longing and hope. How has love, joy and peace become fear, stress and isolation?

Family life is messy. The people who are closest to us and love us the most, are also the people who remember our every indiscretion, carry a multiple of grudges and know how to push our buttons. Well intentioned concern often comes out as criticism and judgement. Much as we love our families, sometimes we can also dread spending extended time with them.

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Love is supposed to be at the heart of the family, but we all know that love and family life are hard work. My Macquarie Dictionary defines love as ” a strong or passionate affection for another person.” Affection? I don’t know about you, but the word affection seems a bit weak to me. I would describe love as one of the most powerful forces in the world. It is also one of the most demanding. Ask any parent.

Love is hard work at the best of times. It is even harder when we are tired and stressed. I wonder sometimes, if we make Christmas harder for ourselves than we need to. In our pursuit of the perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect roast turkey, the perfect Christmas, are we burdening ourselves with unnecessary expectations that end up making us tired and stressed long before the family even arrives. Are we forgetting the whole reason we get together in the first place – to celebrate the joy, love and peace of Christmas.

For some of my friends and family, Christmas will be hard this year. It will be their first Christmas without a loved one. It will be sad, but together they will laugh and cry, love and grieve. For them, Christmas will be about being – being together, being happy, being sad, being present in their love and grief.

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For us, Christmas this year will just be the four of us. The rest of my family will not be getting together – at least, not physically. It is always a challenge for my family to be together in the same place, at the same time. We are scattered across Australia, from Perth in the West, Adelaide in the South, the Central Coast in the East, to Toowoomba in QLD. Even though we might exchange gifts via the postal service and celebrate our joy over the phone,  we will still be together in heart and mind, for not even space and time can separate us from the love of our family.

Every family is different. Some families will be grieving. Some families will be far apart. Some families have special needs. There is no one way to celebrate Christmas. Every family needs to be free to find the way that works for them, to find the way that restores love, joy and peace to the Christmas celebration. If you are a family with special needs, or even if you are not, Kirsty from Positive Special Needs Parenting has some excellent suggestions about how to make the Christmas celebration right for your family. You can read it here.

In the busyness and stress of the coming celebration, I hope you find some time to be present and to experience the love, joy and peace of the Christmas Season.

Wishing you a Joyful Christmas

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Walking Together in Grief and Love

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Our friend Barry passed away in the early hours of Easter Sunday. After a remarkably swift battle with cancer, we mourn his passing, yet at the same time, we are relieved that he is now at peace. We knew that the end was near. We hoped that his suffering would be over sooner rather than later. Yet now that it is here; now that he has left this life; we still feel stunned.

It feels almost inconceivable that we will not see his smile, or hear him laugh or see him tending the gardens of his hometown.

There are so many emotions swirling deep inside us – sadness, grief, pain and disbelief. We find it hard to adequately express all that we feel. We struggle to find the right words.

The Path of Grief

I ache for my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, for I know the path of grief all too well. I know the pain of losing your life partner, the one with whom you thought you would grow old and welcome grandchildren. I would change things if I could, turn back the clock, take away the pain, make everything better again. But all I can do is be her friend.

Every person’s journey of grief is different. The circumstances of every loss are never quite the same. Some know and have the time to say goodbye, while others reel with a sudden and unexpected loss. Yet some things remain the same.

We nurse a deep sadness in our hearts. We grieve the loss of the one we loved so dearly and who loved us too. There is a hole in our heart that can never really be filled. Every person in our life is unique. They each leave their own individual mark upon us. Other people will come and go in our lives. They will love us too and leave their mark upon us, in their own special way, but it won’t be quite the same.

The path of grief is hard.  There will be sad days when just the mention of their name will bring forth tears. There will be days when your heart will feel so heavy you can barely breathe. And there will be days when the pain of their absence will cut like a knife. These days will pass. There will be happy times too, when we reminisce, and laugh and remember all that they meant to us and we will treasure those precious memories in our hearts forever.

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I don’t believe we ever truly get over our grief. Life goes on – true. And we do go on, carrying our grief and loss with us, wherever we go. We go on, living and loving, because we know that is what they would want us to do. We go on, even though our lives will always be tinged with bitter sweetness. Every celebration, every anniversary, every special day will be happiness mingled with sadness as we remember the one who is not here.

The loss of a loved one becomes a defining moment in our lives. There is our life before, and then, our life after. Our life is different. We are different. We are changed forever, but we step forward into this new life, tentatively, sadly, but with hope because this is what life is – happiness and sadness, love and grief, hope and pain. To live a full life, we must experience it all – one day at a time.

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But we do not walk this path alone. No matter how sad and broken-hearted we might feel, we are loved more than we can ever know. Bound in love and friendship, we walk beside each other, sharing our joys and sorrows, wiping away each others tears and  holding each other tightly. We know that no words are needed, because a hug says more than a thousand words ever could.

Barry’s physical journey in this life may be finished, but he lives on in our hearts. We remember him with joy, give thanks for his life, and slowly step forward, to go on living in love and hope.

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