Five Years

Sunset in Goreme

Sunset in Goreme

It is now five years since my daughter, Clea, drowned in a tsunami on Lalomanu beach, Samoa. I so wish that she had not died on 29 September 2009. Every day I wish that she had not died.

I am learning to live with the pain of her not being here. I understand that she is not returning. I will never get used to not watching her grow up. I will always miss her voice, her smell, her smile, her. I hate that I have to live without Clea. I hate that we have to travel without Clea and that she does not enjoy the same life as her brothers. I still hate and feel immense anger that my daughter is dead.

I still see the murky water. I still see us searching for her pink swimmers amongst the debris. I try to focus on her life but am not always successful. I feel the impact of the tsunami on a daily basis, physically and emotionally.

We are in Goreme, an enchanting landscape of fairy towers and houses cut into the rock walls. There are cave hotels and underground cities as well as valleys to walk and lose yourself in. It is 6:15am in Goreme. For the second morning in a row we have tried to go on a balloon flight. We have dried rose petals to toss into the air and bubbles to blow. I wanted to go on a balloon ride for Clea’s death day but the weather has been against us. It is cloudy and raining; as it should be. So I have posted a photo of sunset rather than sunrise.

In Turkey, we are seeing many wonderful sights and eating great food. I post photos of our trip on Facebook but it does not matter how beautiful the place is or how much we are enjoying our holiday here, there is always someone missing from our lives.

There is always a hole in my heart; such deep sorrow and pain. Nothing can erase it.

I love you Clea. I miss you.

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Another trip

We’re about to go travelling again. In a few hours, we fly to Istanbul for four weeks in Turkey. This is Jorge’s 50th birthday present. I always have mixed feelings about travelling. Travelling is what I have always loved doing. I love the freedom, the lack of schedule, the limitless new experiences. But I lost my beautiful daughter whilst travelling. She loved travelling too. As do my sons. As one of my sons said, it’s what we do, we travel. We have been to the cemetery to say goodbye yet again to Clea. While we are in Turkey, five years will pass since Clea died. I am hoping to do something magical for her death day, like go up in a balloon over Cappadocia. We’ll see. I am always hoping that there is no death day but there is.

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250 Weeks

IMG_0062250 weeks have passed since my eldest and only daughter drowned on a beach in Samoa, struck by a never-ending wave of tsunami. She was 6 3/4 years old. She would be 11 3/4 years now.

I continue to count because I will lose control if I do not count the weeks.

So where am I these 250 weeks later? I used to think that I was stuck on the beach with the images of running, drowning and loss. I think I’m off the beach but now I am stuck in the morgue looking down at my cold and lost child wrapped in palm leaves with sand scattered through her hair.

People ask, and those who don’t ask wonder, how I am. Mostly, I can honestly say that I am OK. I function. I work. I keep fit. I laugh and I cry. I socialise as much as I want. I generally understand that this is my life and that this life does not include my daughter. But every so often I am hit by the shock. I suddenly realise that my daughter is not here. She is not at school. She is not with her father or her brothers. She is actually dead.

The days can be endless painful days full of the harsh truth of reality. I can not bring my self to look through her photographs. I do say goodnight to the photographs on the wall and on the shelf. I go to her room each night and wish her goodnight as I do with my sons. I sleep with her photograph under my pillow. I also sleep with her pillow.

Before I had children, a friend of my older sister’s lost her son. He was the same age as my nephew and was buried on the family property. My sister said that she would feel the urge to dig her son out of the ground with her bare hands. I stand at Clea’s grave and I imagine myself clawing the moist earth to reach my child who has rotted into liquid and mass; and, would not look like my child. It is not logical for me to scrape and grind my hands through the dearth of flowers and plant matter to reach something that is no longer Clea. So I change the flowers and toss the slugs away as I can not stand the thought that they are eating into my child.

If I am anything I am logical and pragmatic. Pragmatic because this is my life now and this is all there is to it. There is nothing else. Logical because although I can understand the comfort in believing that a god is looking after your child and that your precious child is not alone, I can not believe that is true. It would probably be ‘nice’ to think that way because my daughter was scared of the dark and did not like to be hurt. Without such ‘comfort’ beliefs, I am left with a rotting corpse in the cold dark ground and a child who is no where but in our hearts and minds. After all, all our hearts are but one heart.

We have been to the football this past weekend. I don’t think she would have been interested in football. I often wonder what we would have done together. She was so keen for the girls to do things together – me and Mum, she would say, we’re the girls. So I walk alone at the football and imagine all the wonderful things we would have done together.

I do not picture Clea as being 6 years old. To me, she continues to grow; somewhere in an alternate universe maybe. At a school assembly for years 3 to 5 earlier this year, my mother asked whether Clea’s friends were in the hall. No, I said, Clea would be in year 6. It surprised me as I continue to think of Clea as being with her friends at whatever age they are but to my mother Clea will always be the 6 year old granddaughter she should not have lost.

I have said it before and I will say it again. You lose your future when you have lost your child. I no longer dream of a future. I live in the here and now. I have no expectations for the future. My life is split into life with Clea and life without Clea.

I miss her so much. The pain rips at my heart and there is nothing to wipe away my tears. I wish love did solve everything. No amount of love will bring Clea back.

Soon, very soon, she will have been dead for five years. I can not believe that she has been dead that long. It does not seem possible. The problem is that it is true. Truth is often an incomprehensible concept.

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Easter Sunday

On this most Holy day of the Christian calendar, I would like to voice my complete dismay and lack of understanding for those who profess to have religious values and charity.

From my understanding of religious teachings (and I was brought up in a very Christian household), and this goes for all religions, it would seem that if you followed the teachings and believed what is written, then you would be a left-wing leaning person. You would be charitable and caring for the poor and not caught up in the riches of the wealthy. You would not, as some have said, believe that to be rich is glorious. You would understand that with riches comes responsibility. You would be concerned about how refugees and other less fortunate people are treated in our society.

Instead, I find that many take on right-wing views which are very individualistic and they can somehow turn the teachings to suit their point of view. They blame the less fortunate and look for victims to punish them for not having opportunities or for living in the wrong country. It is hypocrisy in the extreme.

Why do right-wing extremists always profess to be deeply religious? It is beyond my comprehension. From what I remember, the teachings of Christ were all about looking after other people, and your society. There was also a bit about how being rich would make it very difficult to enter heaven. But there seems to be a lot of killing, a lot of persecution and a lot of blood-letting in the name of certain gods.

Whatever happened to treating people like you would like to be treated? Would you like to be locked away on a remote island because you were seeking a better life and had the audacity to pay someone to assist you? Would you like to beg for handouts and live in poverty because the education system was not adequate for your needs and your culture had been destroyed? No, you would rather sit in your large, glorious house without a care in the world believing that climate change is for others to worry about.

It’s a golden rule of living in a society isn’t it to treat people the way you would like to be treated?

I watched ‘The Twilight Zone’ again yesterday and there is one little story of a bigot who finds out what it is like to be on the other side of bigotry. It’s a shame that doesn’t happen to a few right-wing bigots out there who regard hypocrisy as a way of life.

So, if you are religious (and I’m glad I’m not), I hope you rest peacefully at night in your bigotry. I’m sure you can satisfy yourselves by making the religious teachings suit your way of thinking. Objectivity has never been a strong point for those indoctrinated by any type of religion. But a bit of objectivity would go a long way to making this world a better place for all of us.

I ask that you think of those families you are victimising and blaming them for what is not within their control. I ask that you practice what you preach and have the moral fortitude to stand up for what is correct. And I ask that you display some human values because the so called Christian or religious values you display are inhumane.

Happy Easter – remember that Easter was originally a pagan spring festival and that Easter eggs have absolutely nothing to do with being a good person.

PS. You may wish to read this to give you a bit more of the flavour of my post today:

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Only one story

I attended a course last week called Women Presenting Powerfully. Not my kind of course really but it was interesting enough. A lot of Steve Jobs, in which I fail to see the fascination – maybe he was a good speaker but he was presenting on computers! I certainly felt no empathy or understanding for him. And he doesn’t make me want to buy Apple products.

We were all required, asked, whatever, in the end we all made a short speech, the only requirement being that it was something we were passionate about. There is little that I am passionate about outside my family (and a number of people spoke of their family or pets). I tried really hard to think of another story but all my stories return to one story.

I thought of talking about work – I could have spun a great tale of trading collective investment vehicles. I am sure I could have made it sound interesting. I thought of talking about travelling – I have many, many tales of travelling. Then there was my husband, my sons, my family. But all the stories led to one story.

I have only one story. So I tried to tell my one story. I had about three minutes to tell my story (almost impossible). I started on about how I didn’t understand Steve Jobs but there was one thing he said that rang in my head. He said that you should always think of death and remember that you will die, and that is how you should lead your life.

I believe that. You should lead your life in awareness of your death. Because we will all die. That is life. Without death, there is no life.

I told them that I remembered dying; that it was dark, quiet and peaceful. Then I explained that the last time I had stood in front of a number of people to speak was at my daughter’s funeral. And I began the story of a family on a beach running for their lives, although I didn’t tell it as well as I would have liked. I was nervous and I could feel the emotion getting to me.

I know that people think you should not define yourself by one story but that is all I have. All my stories lead to one story. All my stories lead to my daughter. I have no other stories.

I can talk of stress, of children, of work, of love, of happiness, of sadness and of pain, but it all leads to Clea. She is my story. She is her own story.

I felt shaken and emotional after I spoke as though I had done the wrong thing. Why can’t I stand there and tell some funny story of travelling adventure (I have plenty of those)? Why can’t I tell stories of my dysfunctional family (I have plenty of those too)? Why do I make peopel listen to this horrible story? Because it is so horrible and because it is part of life.

The facilitator told us to think in threes – I have three things to say, I believe three things etc – and I wrote that I am passionate about three things: being real or authentic; being principled; and, being brave. All those attributes lead to Clea. That’s why I told and continue to tell my daughter’s story. She does not live her story.

My friends’ grandson died unexpectedly last week and now they, and his parents, will tell his story because Joe is not here to live his story.

As Clea’s grave stone says “Nuestros corazones, son un solo corazón” – our hearts are but one heart. Maybe our stories are but one story.

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‘Facing Reality’ Days

I have been trying to think of something profound and interesting to write on my blog because of Christmas and the new year but nothing profound has come to me.

This time of the year is hard for all those who have lost a child. Most days of the year you can get by hiding and not facing the reality of your life. There are some days that simply smack you in the face and force you to face reality.

There are a few of those days for me – Christmas, Clea’s birthday, my birthday and Clea’s death day. Christmas, not because I care about Christmas, but because Clea just loved Christmas. It was the most exciting part of the year as far as she was concerned. We went to the cemetery that day and wished her a merry Christmas. Then we had lunch with her grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. It breaks my heart to even begin to think of what she is missing.

Then there is her birthday. Clea would be 11 years old tomorrow (3 January). I’ve made some cupcakes and I’ll mix the pink icing soon once the cakes have cooled. We’ll take one to the cemetery and wish her a happy birthday.

New year is just another day. It’s the start of another year without Clea but it’s not a smack in the face day. Our lives continue. What happened to hers?

It doesn’t really matter what day it is. I miss Clea every day.

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Cold Comfort

A had a call during the week – a friend asking advice on how she could support her sister who had lost her small son in a tragic accident. I have also recently been involved in helping another friend prepare a contribution for a book on dealing with death. This contribution was about how to treat people who are dying or who are grieving.

I don’t actually have any advice. For me, there is nothing positive or life affirming about losing my daughter. I told my friend to simply be there for her sister. Take your cues from her sister. Let her make it known what she needs. Listen to her, let her tell her story. It is a long hard life without your child and once all the others have done their bit of kindness and moved on, you may be the only one left to comfort your sister.

When I was helping with the book contribution, my only thought was that everyone grieves differently and providing any advice is a minefield. I remember people offering (and some still do) me advice on how I should grieve for my daughter. I did not respond well. I would not be game to offer anyone advice on how to grieve.

For us, it was all about closing down and hiding ourselves away from the world – it still is like that. That’s the way we cope. For others, it is all about having lots of people around and trying to make the best of their situation. Each to their own, you do whatever you have to do in order to get through each day.

When I started a new job last May, my manager asked me how she could help me. I said, once you understand that you can’t help me, you will be able to deal with me. She thanked me for taking away what she felt was a responsibility or maybe an obligation to help me in some way. But she can’t, and no one can.

For a bit more than 218 weeks, I have tried to deal with the death of my daughter. I admit that my grief is not the same as it was 200 weeks ago but it is part of my life. There is an enormous hole in my life and there is always someone missing.

I watch people preparing for Christmas knowing how excited Clea would be about Christmas. I am unable to engage in such excitement anymore. I probably look like a complete Scrooge at work but to expose myself to the possibility of releasing such emotions is more than I could cope with, particularly at work.

We had our yearly Christmas breakfast with The Compassionate Friends last Sunday – 40 people sharing breakfast because their children have died. Most talk about the inability to decorate their houses or trees, and their lack of interest in the so-called festive season. I guess we draw some comfort from all being in the same boat. When I went to my first meeting of The Compassionate Friends, I remember thinking that I did not want to be like these people. Now, I know I am like them.

One of my sons has been having a hard time at school. He came home in tears, fought with his brother, and went to his sister’s room. He played her music box, took out her coloured bangles and has been wearing them ever since. He was five years old when she died. He is now nine. I’m not sure what memories he has of her but I’m sure he feels the loss of her presence and her protection. She would look after him. She would make sure no one was mean to him. He knows that.  The bangles are colourful and girly but they make him strong. He draws comfort from wearing her bangles.

Just as I draw comfort from wearing her pink butterfly headband wrapped around my wrist. As does her father (she had two pink headbands).

It is cold comfort but is there any other sort?

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