300 Weeks

Tomorrow (Tuesday), my daughter will have been dead for 300 weeks.

Clea would be 12 ½ now. She would be in Year 7 at Amaroo School. She would be tall probably already taller than me. She would be Clea.

Each day, I tell Clea that I love her and that I miss her. I say good morning to her as I open the blinds of her window to let the sun shine into her room. Each evening, I say goodnight, sleep tight, I love you to her photographs. Each night, I sleep with her photograph inside my pillow case and with one of her pillows underneath mine. And as I am closing my eyes to go to sleep, I whisper goodnight to her wherever she may be.

I wish on stars as often as I can but my wishes never come true. She is never inside with Papa or tucked up warmly in her bed. She is never with her brothers. She is never anywhere. She will never be anywhere.

I count the weeks. I am still unsure how long I will count for but I will know when to stop. I write to Clea every week telling her what is happening in our lives and what she is missing. We visit the cemetery every Sunday with fresh flowers from the garden (and the neighbour’s garden) scattering the old petals on her grave. I rarely leave the house without her pink headband wrapped around my left wrist and a locket around my neck containing her photographs. I talk to her as I drive or as I’m walking along trying to catch a glimpse of her beside me out of the corner of my eye.

Clea - Aug 2009 (2)I do not flick through the photo albums or scan the images on my computer. I try very hard to visualise Clea alive; I get fleeting glimpses of her long legs and her smiling face but I also see her lifeless body in the morgue.

Every so often I have to explain to people that I have three children not only two boys. I have a daughter. I will always have a daughter.

I know that if I cycle too fast at the gym then I will want to cry; any sort of adrenaline rush makes me want to cry. My body remembers the stress and adrenaline from that day.

The pain is different 300 weeks later. It is not the stress and shock of the first few years without her. It is not the twisting of my fingers and the pounding of my hands against my skin. It is not the keening and rocking as I sat crying on her bed night after night. It is not my hair falling out or the loss of saliva in my mouth. It is still a constant aching and yearning for what will never be; for a future our family will never have.

I wake in the night with this deep fear in my stomach that I have done something wrong or that I haven’t done something or that I have forgotten to do something. I can’t quite pin down exactly what I fear but I can feel it in the pit of my stomach and sometimes it rises to my throat and I have to hold down the panic. I don’t trust my own judgement as I judged that day that we would be fine on the beach. Each day is a challenge for me.

I cry on and off. A word, a phrase, an image, a thought. All of them make me cry. I am lonely for Clea.

My heart broke 300 weeks again and it will not repair itself. I did not know that life could be so sad and lonely. I miss her so much. I don’t think it will ever matter how much time has passed. For the rest of my life, I will have to live without her. That thought makes me cry.

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Happy 12th Birthday Clea

P1020015

I made you a cupcake, placed it in a paper flower, and left it at your grave.

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I Don’t Do Christmas

Christmas 2005

Christmas 2005

I always feel obliged to preface that statement with ‘I’m sorry but’ so the title should actually read ‘I’m sorry but I don’t do Christmas’. I don’t do Bayram or Hanukkah or any other religious celebration either.

People look at me in amazement when they ask if I’m ready for Christmas and I respond by saying that I don’t do Christmas. They do not know what to say next and do not know where to look. What’s so amazing? I am not religious or materialistic and I am the mother of a dead daughter so Christmas holds little value to me.

I do like the idea of family getting together and sharing a meal but that should be done whenever you want not only at Christmas time. It can be very stressful if your family is like mine, somewhat dysfunctional, and you feel as though you are forced into a family lunch for the sake of Christmas.

I did try hard to be interested in Christmas when my children were little. I would get a eucalyptus sapling from my parents’ farm and we would decorate it with mostly decorations that Clea had made (my sons were not old enough). I did promise Clea a fake tree for Christmas 2009 but as she wasn’t there, I was not capable of living up to that promise. And I am not capable of making any effort now either. My sons do not ask about Christmas trees or decorations. Although they did make some interesting pieces in Christmas craft at school – one in particular looks more like an evil elf than a Christmas decoration. It hangs on the front door to scare away visitors.

My parents did not make a big deal out of Christmas. I did believe in Santa Claus for sometime because I couldn’t believe that my parents could afford to buy us any presents – they were not particularly wealthy and there were five children. The presents were not considered to be the most important part of Christmas. My husband and I have never exchanged presents at Christmas or birthdays and we have never insisted that our children buy presents for each other or for their parents.

My father would cut down a eucalyptus sapling to use as our Christmas tree. There was an ancient green fake tree once but it didn’t stand the test of time. I remember the smell of eucalyptus wafting through the house in the midst of a hot, windy summer.

I am proud to say that when I asked my sons what they wanted for Christmas, one said that he didn’t want any ‘crap’ toys and the other said that he could not think of anything that he wanted. Eventually, they decided that they would like some comics – easy done.

They happily bought chickens and eggs, pencils, mosquito nets and fast growing seeds from the World Vision catalogue because they felt that they were buying worthwhile and valued presents for people who needed them.

I was interested to hear that some devout Christians do not celebrate Christmas either; they see it as a pagan celebration, which it is. Christmas was originally a pagan celebration of mid-winter but then the Christians took it over to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and now the capitalists have taken it over to celebrate the profit and loss statement that is the holiday season. It now boils down to how much money you can make and how many presents you get that you have to return. Maybe it was always like that, I do not know.

Call me a Scrooge or humbug, I don’t care (someone at work did stand up for me and say that it is more about love and kindness than the number of presents). Maybe I am a parasite on a market driven society. I definitely do not pull my weight when it comes to buying and selling in the market place, especially at this time of the year. Maybe I am a rebel who will not be pushed into buying presents when advertising tells me to. I think my children have always known that they are loved and cared for without a long list of presents they neither want nor need.

We do have little traditions of our own making. I make shortbread. My husband is a great cook so he takes care in deciding the menu for the various meals including noche buena (Christmas Eve) which is of particular importance to him.

This Christmas, my sons will get a few books, comics, Lego and chocolate coins. I won’t wrap them but I will use the Santa pillow cases I made for them when they were little. We will take Clea’s chocolate coins to the cemetery to wish her a merry Christmas. My mother will join us for lunch. My sister and her family will have lunch with us two days prior to Christmas. And I will catch up with the other members of my family in January sometime.

It will be a difficult week with the 10 year anniversary of the Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami (and no, that is not the tsunami that we were in) which killed more than 250,000 people. We will be avoiding television coverage of that and of the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin.

Tomorrow it will be 273 weeks since Clea died. Christmas is a particularly hard time of year for us. After Christmas, there is New Year, and then Clea’s will be 12.

I so wish that Clea was here to sneer at me about Christmas and to call me a Scrooge for not buying her an iPad mini for Christmas. Nothing is ever the same.

Clea definitely loved Christmas. And if she was here, I might just ‘do’ Christmas. But I can’t, not without her.

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Extrovert to Introvert (loneliness and solitude)

At the beginning of 2013, in a job which was not for me, for the first time in my life, I was described as an introvert. Initially, I was very taken aback as I had never considered myself to be an introvert. I thought that either this person does not understand the definition of an introvert or that I have changed so considerably that I am unrecognisable even to myself. I knew that I had changed but I did not believe that one could change from being an extrovert to being an introvert.

I have been proven wrong. I now have the proof that I am an introvert by choice. I consider myself to be a natural extrovert but as my latest Myers Briggs Type Indicator says I have moved from being a strong extrovert to an introvert (just) on the spectrum. I say ‘by choice’ quite deliberately. I make many different choices now than what I would have once done.

But having said that, even as an extrovert I have often been a hermit, withdrawing from society. It’s my natural impulse. I was far more social in my 20s and early 30s but even then I would choose not to socialise and to spend time alone. I do not attend Christmas parties and have not done for more than 12 years – my lack of attendance has nothing to do with the loss of my daughter. I rarely attend work functions and will use any excuse not to attend team building or planning days or leadership courses. These are my choices.

Even as a child I chose solitude over socialising. I lived on a farm and I can remember spending the entire six weeks of one Christmas holidays on the farm. I did not go to town when my mother went to do the shopping and I had no desire to see my friends from school. I would tell my friends that I could not attend a school function because my mother would not let me (even though my more social older sister would be attending). My husband and I went to live on that farm for 12 months once and if it wasn’t for the fact that we had to drive to town to buy food, we would have hardly spoken to anyone during those 12 months. We were content with our hermit-like existence.

I am one of those people who crave solitude but I am rarely lonely. I was a solitary child (amongst four other siblings) but I was not a lonely child. I must admit that I found it very difficult to find time alone when I had three small children and that caused me some angst. I have worked around that desire for solitude.

For me, solitude is a choice as is being introverted. I think that people misunderstand my extrovert choices – I tell people how I fell, I choose not to become involved in inane conversation at work, I choose not to socialise over a cup of coffee or attend social functions at work. These are all deliberate choices. I deliberately write how I feel on my blog. I deliberately discuss my daughter.

Solitude is peaceful, quiet contentment; whereas, loneliness is singular, bare and sad. Many people confuse the two, thinking that solitude is being lonely. They do seem to go together – loneliness and solitude. The words sound like partners, lovers or maybe friends or acquaintances.

I have no fear of solitude or loneliness. I am lonely for my daughter. I feel enormous emptiness and loneliness without her. Loneliness in this case is not a choice and it is a very introverted sense of being alone.

PS. Soledad is Spanish for solitude and is Clea’s middle name.

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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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