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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Miss You Too, Buddy

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Lately I have had to spend a lot of time in Brisbane. It’s not easy for country kids to move to the city to attend university. The city is a noisy, crowded, busy place. It is an unfamiliar place, teeming with strangers and unfamiliar sounds, smells and routines. Bec is a quiet kind of kid. She loves reading, music and needs to have her own space. So transitioning to university and city life has been challenging. Sometimes it just helps to have Mum around for a while.

Brisbane is not that far from Toowoomba, only about 125 km, so when we went down for Orientation week, Dan came too. It was just going to be a few days and we were staying with family. Bec was going to be attending the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and there were things that Dan and I could do at South Bank while she was at orientation sessions.

I love South Bank. It is the cultural centre of Brisbane, housing art galleries, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC),  the Conservatorium of Music and the Queensland Museum. It’s a well-planned area, perfect for families, with wide grassy areas, eating places and walking paths that follow the Brisbane River. The South Bank Grand Arbour runs through the centre, providing a bougainvillea covered walkway from the Griffith Film School at one end, down to QPAC at the other.

South Bank Arbor

We thought it would be a good to take Dan to the Science Centre at the Queensland Museum. We had been there before, when Dan and Bec were much younger and it had lots of fun hands-on science things to do.  Unfortunately, the Science centre was closed for renovations. So we tried to take a wander around the art gallery, but it’s hard to look at things properly when Dan just wants to go full steam ahead. I would have liked to go on the Wheel of Brisbane, a 60 metre tall Ferris wheel that gives a 360° view of the city, but Dan doesn’t like Ferris wheels either – the height and motion upset his sense of balance.

The Wheel of Brisbane

But Dan does love to walk. One day we crossed from one side of the Brisbane River to the over on the Goodwill pedestrian bridge. Dan doesn’t like heights so we were walking pretty close to the middle of the bridge and had to keep an eye out for cyclists. There was no chance at all of getting close to the side to check out the view. But he was happy enough to cross over- singing all the way. I don’t know if anybody else gets serenaded while walking over a bridge.

Dan enjoyed the time in Brisbane but it was hard work. He loved riding on the train. And he loved staying with family. But keeping him safe in busy public spaces is hard work and he gets bored. He needs his regular routine of attending Yellow Bridge, spending time with his mates and doing all the regular activities he enjoys. Fortunately, my Mum was able to come up from Adelaide to help out for a few weeks. She was able to stay with Dan in Toowoomba, while I spent time with Bec in Brisbane.

Now, I’ve been away from Dan for an occasional weekend and he has been away on school camps. But during these last few weeks, I’ve had to spend more time away from him than I ever have before. I know that he’s being well cared for and he loves time with Grandma. But it’s not the same. He looks for me.

Last week, when Dan came home from Yellow Bridge at the end of the day, he looked through every room. He looked outside. And when Dan couldn’t find me anywhere, he went to Grandma, rubbed his eyes and said, “sad”.

I miss you too, Buddy.  Be home soon.    cute-elephants-2757831_640