Today I had to go to work. But today was different, very different, as along with 4 of the most amazing, beautiful and honest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, it was our last day.
The company we worked for, like thousands of other businesses, has closed as a result of the economic downturn brought on by Covid19.
Sadly though, we have not been asked to take paid and or unpaid leave with the hope of returning in the future. The company went into Voluntary Administration, and along with all stores Australia wide, our store has been permanently closed.
And whilst I feel immensely sad that I’ve lost a great casual job and I’ll no longer share my working hours with those fabulous women, we all still have our health and our families, a sentiment countless thousands of others around the world cannot share.
Unfortunately, this scenario is being repeated, not only in Australia, but throughout the world. So many people have lost their jobs, and as I walked through Sunshine Plaza with my son today, to drop off my shop keys, the reality of those job losses was evident.
The massive shopping plaza that houses over 340 stores, was deserted. Over 95% of stores were closed.
Yet, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. From a financial perspective, I am able to comfortably stay at home and share this difficult time with the best family anyone could ask for. I am not alone; I have food on the table and an abundance of love from human and canine family alike.
So please, whilst it may be difficult that we cannot travel, go on holidays, see friends or simply do what we took for granted, be mindful of what you can do.
You can simply take the time to embrace what is really important. Time. Time spent with those you love and who love you in return.
Stay home, think about those not as fortunate, and embrace this new way of living…
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…
Walking along paths framed by wheat fields, climbing across majestic mountains and traversing through forests whilst being stalked by horses was an experience I’ll never forget.
And already, I deeply miss walking the Camino.
I miss the feeling of knowing the morning heralded another day of simply being in the present. Another day of simply placing one foot in front of another, hour after hour. It was so humbling and and so rewarding.
I truly wish I’d had more time to finish the entire Camino: unfortunately I did not.
But like others before me, I will return.
Instead, I’m continuing my love affair with France, a country I adore. The language, the landscape and the friendliness of the people.
Some may ‘tut tut’ at that last sentence, but I’ve always found French people to be warm and friendly.
This visit is no different.
My chance encounter with a French couple who’d just completed the entire Camino [Le Puy en Valay to Finisterre, approx 1600kms]. They happily shared very useful advice on walking Le Puy.
Bruno, my Airbnb host who warmly accepted my very last minute booking ( 1 hour), and who then praised my poor French language skills.
The wonderful people who invited me into the masses to enjoy and support Gay Pride.
And today: the wait staff at a restaurant where I stopped for lunch. They chatted animatedly with me before inviting me to join them later for drinks and dinner. I declined as I needed to get back to my Airbnb, however I was humbled by their kindness.
Tomorrow I head further north for a few days of walking through old villages, before heading to Lyon to spend time with an old, dear friend who I’ve not seen in quite a few years.
And just as my love affair with France continues, so does my love of travelling solo.
I’m never lonely, never frightened and despite missing my precious sons, special friends and of course my beloved sausages, life is sweet.
To those who fear solo travel, fear not, for it truly is an amazing experience that heightens the senses and soothes the soul…
A dear friend messaged me the other day and spoke about how the best ideas are those that come from the heart. And when you follow those ideas with passion, those ideas are more often than not, successful.
For a very long time I had an idea, one that was born from love and driven by my passion for animals, in particular dachshunds, aka Sausage Dogs.
My idea was to create a space for Sausages to come and stay whilst their humans are away. A place where they feel loved, secure and a place where they socialise with my own beloved Sausages.