And last night, long before the clock struck midnight heralding a new decade, those words reverberated in my mind. Maybe because outside, my son [the inspiration of that post] and his friends were celebrating the end of 2019.
From the sanctuary of my room as I readied myself for sleep with my beloved dogs nestled beside me, I could hear the laughter and the somewhat incomprehensible [and loud] chatter that often partners an over-indulgence of alcohol.
I smiled at this cacophony of celebration and felt immensely grateful, yet also, melancholic. Grateful for being able to listen to life being celebrated in the present moment and melancholic because I was witness to the colours of my son’s life, moreover, witness to hues changing and present colours leaving forever.
The colour of leaving is of course a metaphorical statement that evokes a myriad of interpretations. And for me it is about how the hues that once coloured my son’s life are now awash with vastly different shades.
This is not a negative statement, rather, as every parent will attest to, witnessing your children become young adults who are no longer dependent is a little melancholic.
For when the colours associated with infancy, toddlerhood and teenage years fade, leaving in their wake, colours representing vibrancy, maturity and growth, it is bittersweet and melancholic.
And as I witness certain colours leave, I feel comfort as I bask in their receding light knowing those unique, magical colours are now blending with the new, and will shape the colours exclusive to my sons’ lives.
Yes, the colour of leaving and the importance of being present…
At approximately 4am on October 29, 1995, Dr Derek said, ‘I’m sorry, Meg just died’.
I don’t recall what I said, but I vividly remember every detail of that moment seeing her, in her bed in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s hospital Intensive Care Unit. It was if my mind took a snapshot of that exact moment when Meg, my first child left this world and my life changed forever.
And like an old album, every now and then, I dust off my mind and remember.
I’ve only shared the memory of that early morning with a couple of close friends over the years, not necessarily because of the pain recalling that traumatic time caused, it was more about how people would react. I would see pity in their eyes and whilst well intentioned, I simply didn’t want to feel like that person.
I’m not sure why I’ve decided to write about it here, now. Maybe it’s because her ‘anniversary’ recently passed, or maybe it’s because I simply need to write about a time that had a profound effect on my life.
Meg was born with a severe heart condition known as a Tetralogy of Fallot: a combination of 4 defects, three of which included Tricuspid Atresia, Sub-Pulminary Stenois and a Ventricular Septal Defect.
Her prognosis was not positive, however cardiologists advised that her condition could be managed with a shunt, followed by intense medication with a view to perform an operation know as a Fontan when she reached 2 years of age.
At 6 weeks old, surgeons performed the shunt operation, and in the 8 months following, Meg did quite well despite the daily medications and regular visits to the hospital. She was on drug called Warfarin, which causes thinning of the blood and her doses needed to be closely monitored.
Despite the traumatic hospital visits that required injections and echocardiograms, she was a happy baby who seemed to have an uncanny ability to draw people to her. For example, if we were out shopping, people often commented. I recall one lady smiling as she walked toward Meg. When she reached us she said to me, “I’m sorry if this sounds strange, but I simply had to come over and see your baby, it’s as if she’s calling me…”.
It did sound strange, yet this happened often. Meg was not any more beautiful than any other baby, but she had something about her. I sometimes thought she knew her time on earth was short and therefore radiated this, which drew people to her.
Due to her condition, she did not reach the usual milestones. She did not crawl, nor was she able to roll easily as young babies do. She could however sit upright once we had helped her to the position. She loved to just sit and either watch me doing whatever needed doing, or just playing with her favourite toys.
Sadly though, her time away from ICU was short-lived. At 8 months old she went into heart failure, which revealed a shocking diagnosis: mitral valve regurgitation that required immediate open heart surgery to replace the valve. To say this was a major setback is an understatement, this diagnosis was catastrophic for it meant there was little chance of the future Fontan operation being performed. However the medical team did not reveal this to us at the time, I guess it served no purpose, for whilst this diagnosis left little hope for Meg’s future, there was still a fragment of hope that we all, medical team included, needed to hold onto.
The following day Meg underwent the 6-hour operation to replace her Mitral Valve. The risk involved in performing this procedure on someone so young was high, and there are no words to describe the emotional turmoil we felt during those 6 hours.
Later, after being told all had gone well, we were taken to see her in the ICU. And whilst the medical team had prepared us for what to expect on seeing Meg post surgery, I saw past the numerous tubes and beeping machines that enveloped her, and simply saw my sweet, beautiful baby.
She spent the next few weeks in ICU, gaining strength with each passing day. And in the months following her surgery, she began show small signs of improvement and there was a glimmer of hope that she may grow into a beautiful woman, whose life would be filled with love and laughter.
This was not to be.
On October 28, 1995 I noticed Meg’s colour was bluer than usual. Her breathing was very laboured and she was not able to sit upright. I have vivid memories of that morning and my reaction. It’s been said a mother’s instinct is intensely strong and now, when I look back, it was that instinct that delayed my trip back to the hospital. As I sat on the lounge room floor nursing her and looking into her beautiful blue eyes, I knew. I knew if I took her back to the hospital, she wouldn’t come home.
But I made the call and Dr Fong said he’d send an ambulance, but I decided to drive her myself.
On arrival, she was re-admitted into ICU and placed on a ventilator. Throughout that day she fought hard, yet in the early hours of the following morning we received a call in our hospital accommodation. I will never forget those six words.
“Jen, come quickly, Meg’s taken a dive…’
Strange wording, yet the team in ICU had become friends, with staff adoring Meg. It could be said the wording was not professional, but it didn’t matter to us as we hurriedly dressed and raced downstairs to the ICU.
Walking into her room was like walking into a nightmare.
The floor to the left side of her bed was smeared with the remains of a blood bag that had been accidentally dropped. Dr Derek stood beside her bed, the frayed edges of his jeans stained red from remnants of the broken bag. The buttons on his white, collared shirt had been incorrectly fastened, making his shirt look oddly ‘uneven’. He’d been the doctor on call when the buzzers went off, dressed quickly, and as a result misplaced buttons.
Again, I do not know why or how I’ve remembered this tragic time in great detail, as I wrote above, it really is as if my mind took a snapshot and it’s now stored in my memory forever.
Across from Derek was a female doctor I’d not seen before, she was frantically working on Meg and I could hear her saying, ‘fuck, I cant find it…’. Alongside her there were a number of other medical staff calmly, yet methodically adjusting tubes and checking monitors.
I walked around to the right side of her bed, gently kissed her forehead and placed my mouth to her ear. I clearly remember my words. “It’s okay Meggie, you can go if you need to, I’ll understand…”. I do not know why I said those words, and for a very long time after her death, I blamed myself. If only I’d asked her to fight harder, would she have still been here today?
I now realise that was not the case. I loved her deeply and maybe deep down in my heart saying those words was some kind of acceptance. I don’t know, I really don’t. I only know that my heart broke into a million pieces when a few minutes later, Dr Derek spoke those six words I’d never wanted to hear.
At that moment, my world fell apart. And in the months that followed, the grief I felt was indescribable. But the old adage, time heals, is true.
A few months after she died, I remember reading a story about a man who’d lost his teenage daughter. His words resonated and they are words I have carried with me and lived by.
“When tragedy strikes your life you can be one of two things: bitter or better. I choose better”.
Today, 24 years later, I have put the pieces of my life back together, knowing I am a better person for having had that beautiful soul in my life. Meg taught me many things and I’m so, so grateful I had the honour of being her mother.
Remembering Meg: a gentle, wise and magical soul…
Note: There may not be many who do read this post as I lost all of my followers last year due to a massive faux pas when trying to upgrade my blog. But it’s not about who reads it, it’s more about documenting digitally, knowing it will be here when I need it.
‘I think you will like these lyrics Mum,’ my 21-year-old son said as I accompanied him to Brisbane yesterday so he could sit a uni (college) entrance exam for the Feb 2020 semester.
‘The song’s called The Colour of Leaving‘, he continued.
I was immediately drawn to the title for it was cryptic, beautiful and could be interpreted in many ways. I also found it ironic considering I’d just completed my post about Meg before we left.
As the kilometres ticked over I absorbed the lyrics and as I glanced over at my beautiful son, I also embraced the importance of being present.
The moment was bittersweet and melancholic for the lyrics generated sadness, yet at the same time, the present enveloped me with love and gratitude: an interesting juxtaposition of emotions.
Settling lower into my seat, my gaze resting on my son’s strong hands, holding the steering wheel, I took comfort in knowing life is a kaleidoscope of colour, with the colours often changing with each passing moment.
And sometimes, those moments blend to form magnificent rainbows, allowing the colour of leaving to fade, and the importance of being present to shine brilliantly…
In the early morning spring light, well-worn paths are framed with rows upon rows of vibrant, fresh produce.
At every stall, small silver bowls are selected, then filled with delicious morsels that will later become the foundation for building mouth-watering meals.
Melodic chatter fills the air as locals barter for a bargain, tourists linger and friends gather to share stories and laughter.
Fresh, simple. Beautiful.
I take time to simply observe the simplicity of the moments. Moments that are unhurried, moments that are embraced.
And as a solo traveller who does not need to move within another’s time frame, I have the freedom to move to my own rhythm.
A rhythm that does not have me visit tourism offices, nor to source ‘to do’ sights. In doing so I discover interesting places, and more often than not, those wondrous, out of the way places where locals gather.
Day 5 of my yoga practice saw the mind trying to conquer the body. I didn’t let it. Conversely, rather than trying to ignore negative thoughts, I acknowledged them, let them go and rolled out my mat.
Living in the southern hemisphere means summer is on the horizon, and the once cool spring mornings are now warm, making practice outside comfortable.
Whilst I live in a sub-tropical climate, it does get quite cool in the winter months and poolside, deck time is quite limited. Therefore as the weather warms, the option to be outside is greatly celebrated by my beloved sausages.
The appearance of my mat also causes great celebration, as does the child’s pose at the beginning of my session. The boys seem to think this is the signal for them to nuzzle into my face and shower me with wet, furry kisses.
Yet a sense of calm is soon established and they sit quietly listening to the birds herald in the new day, whilst I quietly continue my practice.
I find the challenge is not simply about becoming conversant with the various asanas, the real difficulty lies in having to watch the screen to ensure I’m doing the poses correctly. This impacts breathing and enjoyment.
Yet again, rather than letting the mind tell my body it’s too hard, I simply pause the video and take a few moments to breathe deeply and tell myself how well I’m doing.
Having read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I know the importance of allowing yourself to be in the moment. And whilst there is part of me that yearns to practice as seasoned yogi’s do, I also realise the importance of enjoying the journey.
As Dory said in Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming…’
It’s often easy to start something new, the hard part is continuing and making it a part of daily life.
This has been my experience with yoga, I begin earnestly, only to find myself giving up after my body seemingly fails to contort into the uncomfortable poses.
It hurts, I cannot bend and it simply seems too hard. However after walking part of the Camino de Sanitago this year, I now know it is not the body that gives up, it’s the mind.
When faced with an extreme physical challenge, the mind likes to trick the body into believing the challenge cannot be conquered. At times whilst walking the Camino there was an overwhelming feeling to just give up for the physical exhaustion was so intense. But I didn’t give up, I placed focus on the path directly in front of me, and allowed myself to simply take one step at a time and focused on the Now.
I took time to rest and most importantly, took time to tell myself how much I’d achieved. It may not have been as much as another pilgrim, but that did not matter as it was my journey.
As the days progressed my body grew stronger and my mind began to accept this journey I had taken it on. The weight I carried no longer felt heavy, I felt exhilarated and at peace with myself.
People practiced yoga whilst on the Camino and I remember seeing a girl practice on a grassy patch high on the Pyrenees. I knew I wanted yoga to become part of my daily life and on returning home, I started doing some research.
As I preferred to practice at home, I began searching and trialling countless apps, yet many were full of meaningless chatter and hurried poses that were difficult to follow. Yet I was determined to find something and funnily enough, I came across Down Dog by chance after clicking on a link from an unrelated app.
It was easy to navigate, had various options of voice, music, style etc and most importantly, it was devoid of that endless chatter that seemed to accompany other apps.
So I began.
I am now into Day 4, which is 2 days further than I’ve been before and whilst I’m struggling , I’m listening to my body and letting it ease into the poses.
I don’t have expectations, and like my Camino, I am simply taking one step at a time and letting my body adjust to this new movement.
Note: I do not have any affiliation with Down Dog, it’s just an app I’ve found to work best for me.
Whilst walking part of the Camino de Santiago, I wrote brief anecdotes via my iPhone and posted here and other social media sites. With only a small backpack, no DSLR and no computer, my plan was to document my experience in greater detail once home. However life has unwittingly taken the driver’s seat and it’s now over 2 months since I returned without a single word written.
Time to start writing. Or perhaps for the moment, just a few words accompanied with a collection of images. As the cliche goes: a picture speaks a thousand words…
Day 1: New friends, breathtaking scenery and 24 kms of endless hills that pushed me to my physical limits. There were moments where my body screamed for me to quit, and it was in those moments my mental strength needed to be stronger. It was and despite the extreme physical challenge, my mind conquered, it was intoxicating & exhilarating …
Day 2: 22 kms – Exhaustion has taken over. It’s so physically challenging and everyone we meet says the same. Apparently the first 10 days are known as the ‘Suffering’ I can absolutely attest to that. On the upside the scenery is breathtaking as were the positive and uplifting comments on social media…
Kim Lindquist Good on you girlfriend I feel like I’m walking it with you…wish I was…but sad to say I’d be one of your pesky snorers 🤣1
Mark Lindquist Hang in there Jen. Your mind will lead you not your body.😎😎😎
Jenny Joyce What fabulous scenery!! I’m enjoying reading your blog and in awe of the incredible trek you are doing.
Day 5: Pamplona to Mendizabal, 22.5kms Both Chu and I said we felt as though we were walking through Tuscany. It was beautiful. Only one drawback was the crowds. This was the first day we’d encountered many people, but we took our time and waited for the masses to pass which allowed us alone time. We stopped 1.5kms short of the 5th stage, and we’re now staying at a lovely homestay with only 1 other pilgrim from NZ. The hospitaleria is right now, making us dinner whilst we sit in his lounge room sharing our experiences . Being only the 3 of us means an uninterrupted sleep is a definite. ❤️❤️💤
Day 6: I’d read how walking the Camino exposes you to so many emotional, physical and cultural experiences. Day 6 encompassed that for me.
I’m not religious yet felt drawn to walk into a 16th century church and send peace & love to certain people. I felt my body overheating so i took time to let it rest. And tonight, dinner was shared with 7 other people from Australia (me), Italy, France, Korea, China & USA. We could not understand each other, yet we all spent over two hours enjoying each other’s company. For me, best night on the Camino so far ❤️
Day 7: I brought my late Dad’s rain jacket with me on the Camino and today, we are taking a walk together in the rain and sipping steaming lattes in quaint cafes …❤️
Day 8: It was time to head to France to walk part of the Camino Le Puy, via San Sebastián. But my last morning on Frances was spent walking 14 kms through beautiful vineyards, olive groves and fields of wheat that framed the long stretches of dirt road.
In the distance, emerald green hills rolled over the landscape and the endless tweeting of small birds filtered through the air.
I did not listen to music, only the sounds of nature and the gentle crunching of my footsteps on the dirt track as I placed one foot in front of the other.
I felt totally alone in the world. It was peaceful, therapeutic and incredibly calming.
I cannot verbally express the feeling of peace. The feeling of knowing I was on the right road.