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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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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