Fight or flight

I’m like everyone else, I’m waiting for me to feel better about myself. Unfortunately, I’ve come to understand that I am not going to feel better and that these past eight years of being relentlessly sad have taken their toll on the way my mind works.

I never accepted that I had post-traumatic stress disorder because all I was sad about was that Clea was dead. I couldn’t have cared less about the trauma of the tsunami or how many other people had died. I only cared about Clea being dead. That is what I was and am so very sad about.

I have done everything that is advised – I keep fit, I eat healthily, I don’t drink too much alcohol, I practice mindfulness or meditate, I sleep OK, I still work. But none of it has managed to keep the demons at bay. What would I be like if I didn’t do all those things? Locked up in an institution (with my father)?

I have to accept that being sad all the time and being very, very sad some of the time is not normal for others but it is part of my life. I have to accept that not being able to make decisions and not trusting my own judgement is a result of the tsunami, after all it was my decision to stay on the beach that day. I have to accept that decision. I have to accept the theory of fight or flight in the face of extreme adversity and I am beginning to understand how my brain functioned or did not function that day. What I did was shut down in order to survive which is why I didn’t try to save my daughter or my sons. It is what I do on a daily basis – decide whether it’s fight or flight (I’m sure many of us feel that way).

I am depressed. I have been depressed for many years. It is affecting my personal life and my working life. I cannot make decisions. I was rated as underperforming at work at the end of last year (topping off a shit year) which I guess means that I have been found out as the interloper I have always felt myself to be. But it also means that people think that I should be ‘better’ or ‘over it’ by now. Or that they’re very mean to people over the age of 50!

I think I was also in that frame of mind, I was thinking like them. I was beginning to think that I should be fine, that I should be able to cope when something hits me from the side. I know that I’m not the best worker. I wouldn’t be in the top group ready for promotion. I do not volunteer to work for the sake of working. I try not to stay back late and work like a dog. I do my job and I do it competently. I do not tell them that my life unravels every now and then or that I cannot even begin to feel fine when I miss my daughter so badly. And I know that those choices really annoy my managers, but those choices have kept me sane for the past eight years and I would like to keep it that way. I will never be like those people and they will never understand people like me.

I have always been wary of people thinking that I am using my daughter’s death as an excuse particularly at work. But I must be strong to have managed some semblance of control for the past eight years without acknowledging the complete mess beneath. I have kept it from my husband, I have kept it from my work mates. I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me because I always believed that I could cope. And I still believe that.

I did go to another counsellor not long ago. They said the same things that all counsellors have told me, and I know what I have to do. I have to be kind to myself. I have to find time for myself. Step by step I will feel as though I am creating a space of peace. One day. But that does not mean that something won’t up set the apple cart. Something always throws you off the path – a lie, a judgement, petty things or important things.

Today, Clea would begin Year 10. Her brothers rode off on their bikes not long ago to begin Year 8. And I have decided to work from home today to create for myself a small space of peace.

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How to Talk to a Parent who is in Grief

This is a great blog post. Thank you to Rebecca Carney.

Grief: One Woman's Perspective

Ran across this article today by Samantha Hayward, and thought I would pass it along.  “How to talk to a parent who is in grief. From someone who’s been there.” Samantha’s oldest daughter, Ella, died at 19 days old. I hope you will take time to read it. It’s certainly a good place to start/continue this conversation of what to say to bereaved parents. Good suggestions, all, but I will pass on these three:

1. Four years on I get up every day with the exact same sadness I had the day Ella died.

The only difference is I’m more skilled at hiding it and I’m much more used to the agony of my broken heart. The shock has somewhat lessened, but I do still find myself thinking I can’t believe this happened. I thought that only happened to other people. You asked how I was in the beginning yet…

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WORMS (white, old, religious men – sad)

It frustrates me more and more each day to see how old white religious men still maintain control over our world. They can’t let go. It’s a sad, sad world run by old white men. And I should point out that, in general, these are conservative old white men who want the world to remain as they know it. Conservative in that they want to conserve life as it is; to remain stale and in control.

I always considered that my political thoughts were not appropriate for a blog about my daughter but I have come to realise that it is appropriate as this is the world we must live in, the world of her brothers and parents, the world she would have had to live in had she lived.

I know that I am generalising and stereotyping but how else do we categorise our world? You don’t have to be old or religious but it seems to help if you are male and preferably white and on the conservative side of politics.

Men have been in control of the world since time immemorial mainly because of their testosterone (and, hence, muscle power) and their aggression (anger and being competitive helps when you’re trying to laud it over people). Men have taken advantage of the toll on women that child bearing and all that goes with it has – menstruation, pregnancy, labour, hormonal imbalance, iron depletion, menopause etc etc. As with worms, these WORMS have burrowed into all parts of society and have taken hold.

Men have created a world which suits them just as they created religion (all religions) for their own purposes. It’s a great way to ensure that men are placed first in the hierarchy and that the poor and ignorant are kept poor and ignorant.

Men get important benefits from an adversarial government system where the conflict and aggression keep many women out. Look at the numbers, men (white men) outnumber everyone else in our Parliament and probably the world over. What about proportional representation across all types of people – gender, colour, etc – and consider a more consensus driven system? Wouldn’t that increase community participation in the machinery of government? Generally, the only response is that this is a democracy and look how great it works. Well, there are many forms of democracy and some are more democratic than others.

Our Indigenous guide in the Northern Territory explained that the way his people were governed was through people who had female characteristics – not necessarily female but also males who were more caring, considerate and thoughtful in their decision making. It was a more communal way of governing and leading people.

In Australia, we have a governing system which applauds mediocrity arising from the combative method of democracy (is it really democracy when the ‘c’ graders rule?). Members of Parliament are not there because of merit, they are there because they were able to work within their political party to rise up through the nepotism and then they were able to convince a hand full more people in one part of the country (their electorate) to vote for them. How does that make you eligible to be a minister of a government department?

Isn’t it time to rethink the way the world works when half (or more than half) the population are women?

It depresses me beyond description to see how many old white religious men are in power – Trump is a fine example. He may not be overly religious but he definitely plays the religion card whenever he can (God bless this one and God bless that one). He is old. He is white. And he is male. But it’s not only Trump and the USA. Take a look around the world. You don’t have to be white or Christian but being old and male certainly helps to maintain control. Take a look in our own backyard.

Stop voting for these people. They are not doing us any good. Why can’t we let younger people take more control? I hear people argue that you should vote for experience but these old men have experience in a past that doesn’t exist anymore. What sort of experience do they have for a future in which they will play no part (we will all die)? They are not invested in the future, they are invested in the past and in their entitlements. Call me harsh but I am not that young myself. I would happily let younger people have more weight in voting. It is their future not mine.

Don’t vote for WORMS.

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My beautiful daughter would be 15 years old today but she has been dead for 432 weeks. As usual, I’ve taken flowers and a cupcake to the cemetery where she lies beneath the ground.

This time of the year is always difficult. We have managed to get through Christmas and New Year. And now it’s Clea’s birthday.

I haven’t been writing on this blog much over the past 12 months ago mainly because I can’t think of anything to say. I’m tired of myself and I assume that other people are tired of me as well. I had a pretty shit year last year and I’m hoping for some improvement this year. But without Clea, it feels like shit most of the time.

I have begun to realise that being sad most of the time and being very sad sometimes is not good for your piece of mind. It makes you lose confidence in yourself and lose confidence in other people.

Maybe I’ll start writing more about life itself not only about my grief for Clea as this would have been her life and the things I want to write about would have influenced the way she lived as they influence all of us.

Happy birthday Chickie. I love you. I miss you.

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Mothers’ Day (or almost 400 weeks)

Mothers’ Day doesn’t mean a lot to me. We never made a big deal of it before Clea died either.  When the children were younger they would make things for me such as bookmarks or photo frames from childcare or school. The boys are almost 13 years old now so there’s not a lot of craft happening.

And Clea would be 14 ½ so I don’t think she’d be doing a lot of craft work either. In my mind, she grows and walks with us. She would be tall and slim now and her face and body would have more womanly characteristics. I like to think that she would be arguing with us and standing up for herself. I don’t imagine her as meek and mild doing whatever we told her to do.

I see her friends from time to time. They are all in Year 9, growing into adults. Some I almost don’t recognise. They are all so much taller than I am (which is not hard – I am not tall) and their faces are not the faces of children. They are young adults thinking of their futures out of school which isn’t that far away.

In about two weeks’ time, it will be 400 weeks since Clea died. I know that I was going to stop counting but I can’t help myself. I need to count the passing of time in some manner. There are months and years but I stick to weeks. Days would be too many. I like to know how long it has been since I saw my daughter.

I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately. We are not a happy family and I wonder what the effect of that will be on my sons. Although, they do not seem unhappy. Happiness is always fleeting and probably always has been. I read a book called ‘The Happiness Myth’ by Jennifer Michael Hecht. It says what we all know that shopping won’t make you happy and working yourself to death won’t make you happy. I must admit that I focused on the chapters about drugs (legal and illegal) and the way they can induce moments of euphoria; just moments. And I thought that is all I would like, short moments of euphoria. I do remember those days but now I am past even knowing where to purchase such drugs.

You don’t need the drugs but you do need some way of achieving short bursts of euphoria. No one wants to live sadly all their lives. I am sad that Clea is not here but I do not always lead a sad life. I wish with all my heart that Clea was here and, as I’ve said before, if there was a devil I would gladly do a deal with him or her.

But the deal is that I must live in this life and to do that I should find moments of happiness, enough to make life less bitter and less difficult. I do not believe that you can be happy all the time and nor should you be but little moments here and there make for an easier existence.

I hope that my sons do not look back on their childhood as one of sadness and anger. I hope they have moments of happiness held in their memories. As I have moments of happiness held in my memory of a beautiful daughter who I love and have loved.

Happy Mothers’ Day.

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A challenge

Here’s a challenge for you all.

We have some money left over from building and stocking the Clea Salavert Library at Lalomanu Primary School in Samoa. The holders of that money (the Australian Academy of Humanities – AAH) no longer wish to hold the funds on our behalf and have asked that we work out how to spend the remaining funds.

There are criteria for spending the money – it has to be spent for the same or similar purpose to that for which it was donated, ie, for the children of Lalomanu, for education, literacy, library type projects. The academy can only give the money to a non-government organisation which is registered through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Therefore, if the money was to be given to a particular NGO that NGO would need to be an Australian or international NGO operating in Samoa on the above types of projects.

So far, I’ve contacted ACFID (the umbrella organisation for Australian NGOs working internationally) who have provided me with a list of NGOs but none quite match the criteria (and are all religious which from our perspective rules them out). I have been in contact with the Australian High Commission in Samoa who have assisted and I have been in contact with a work colleague’s sister who works for the UNDP in the Pacific.

We had originally thought of a scholarship program for the National University of Samoa but all the scholarship programs are run through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Education and the AAH cannot give the money to a foreign government.

I am planning to go to Samoa in the middle of the year sometime and speak to Lalomanu Primary School about what they may want but usually it’s just a photocopier or printer or something along those lines. The library is stocked and I do not believe that they use it anyway so there is no point in spending money there. The building is fine and doesn’t need any major work.My most recent contact has been with Rotary in Samoa but I haven’t heard back from them.

To those who donated, how would you like the remainder of the money spent?

And to all of you, do you have any other ideas?

I leave you with the challenge – send me your ideas!

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Seven Years

Seven years ago I promised my daughter that when we returned from our holiday in Samoa that we would replace the curtains in her room and repaint her room. Seven years later, I have finally managed to replace her curtains, repaint her room and replace the carpet. But she is not here to see it.

Seven years ago, Clea was swept from my hand in a tsunami that drowned her.

It is hard to believe that seven years have passed. I still have trouble comprehending the time line. It does not seem possible that I have not seen, heard, touched or smelled my daughter for seven years.

Her brothers are now 12 years old and she would be 14 years old this January.

I wish for the same thing every day. I wish she was not dead. I wish she was my 13 year old daughter instead of my dead six year old daughter.


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