Joy within sadness


After my husband left me, I could not bear to think about the past because thinking about it caused me so much grief. It was thinking about the previous happy times that filled me with so much sadness; those happy times of my children as babies and young children and their care-free days growing up in our forested river valley. My now-grown children could not understand why that was, why I looked back on happy times with sadness, why I would cry over something that was clearly dear to them. They would try and convince me that those happy memories should remain happy. I could not see them that way and I spent many many months in deep pain grieving my loss of happier times. One by one I grieved for them, then painstakingly put those memories aside, thinking of them as something that I had to put them behind me forever. I then went through a process of stashing away any reminder Рphotos and memorabilia Рas I tried to get on with my life.

More recently, when I have been staying with and caring for my mother, I have had more contact with my siblings and we have shared reminiscing sessions together. Out have come all the family photos and, at those times, the stories would begin. We have sat for hours telling the stories of us as children and the happy times that we have shared. This was the same in my world of growing up. I have fond memories of such gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins; the extended family getting together and sharing happy memories. In the sadness of my mother’s illness, we found this time of joy in the here and now, remembering the happy times of the past. In doing so we were creating joyful times in the present, interacting and being together remembering the happy childhoods that we had.

When I returned from one of my visits to my mother, I looked around when I entered my home. On the walls were pictures of places and momentos of various trips with my husband. Those experiential activities now meant nothing to me. In one of those rare moments of me acting on impulse, I took them all down. Then I spent the next day delving into my boxes of photographs, dashing into town to buy photo-frames, and putting up precious memories of my past all around my home.

I divided my walls in my entry, hallway, and living room into sections. In one section I put up photos of my children up to the ages of eighteen; and in another section them as adults. I made a section for myself and siblings growing up and of their families, my niece and nephews, and grand-nieces. My grand-children were given a special place of their own. Lastly, I made a place for my parents in their youth and their parents and grandparents.

When my two youngest children came to visit a few days later they made a joke of mother going just a little bit overboard with photos everywhere that the eye could see. Yet they smiled with joy at my change of heart as they looked intently at the now-allowed happy times on view. They began talking about memories that were triggered and spoke about how much fun they had growing up. We have two favourite photos. One is a photo of my third son, who as a three-year-old had a love of carrots. The photo has him at my brother-in-law’s place pulling a huge carrot from the ground beaming with joy at his carrot and his great discovery that carrots came from the ground. His joy had been captured forever. Another favourite is a photo of the back view of the four children – aged three to eleven at the time – walking hand-in-hand down the ramp at the supermarket.

We sat down that evening and spent the night reminiscing about happy times.

In amongst anxious days at a crucial stage of the marital settlement, and with my background concern at my mother’s failing health; I found joy in remembering previous happy times and shared that joy with my two youngest children.




New family order

I am now back home having thoroughly enjoyed my time with all four of my children together again. It was the first time we had all been together for two years. We had five days together at home, a few days together at a wilderness lodge, and then some time in and around where my eldest son and daughter both live. It has been fantastic having them all around me and we had a great time. We enjoyed laughing with each other by remembering their activities and pastimes of their childhood. We enjoyed doing some favorite walks. We enjoyed preparing and sharing meals together and just generally being together. These have become my new happy memories.

It was a little sad saying good-bye at the airport to both my son and his girlfriend on their way back to Canada; and to my daughter who is off on an adventurous six months in Europe. On her return she will be taking a position interstate and stationed further away from me. So it was also good-bye to a way of life together we had both enjoyed.

Let me rephrase the first sentence in that last paragraph.

It was emotionally overwhelmingly difficult for me saying good-bye to two of my four children and – despite my resolve to hold it together – I completely lost it at the air-port and sobbed and sobbed in their arms. I was crying with happiness for the times we had just shared together. I was crying with happiness for their childhood that was now gone. I was crying with happiness that they were such wonderful children and I could not ask for any better. I was crying for their happiness, that they have made in it in the world and are now on their way to live exciting lives and I had always wanted that for them. I was crying for me because I miss them so much when they are not with me and we would now live apart from one another. I was crying for the unspoken words regarding the separation that we had all determined would not intrude on our time together and yet just the same was still a monster lurking in the background. I was crying for the change in family dynamics, not for what had become, but rather for the unknown of what we would become as the family continued to scatter in all directions.

It is natural for me to cling onto the old ‘order’ of the family unit of the parents as a central reliable unit and with the children gravitating back to that unit. I am still clinging onto the concept that our new family ‘order’ should become myself at the centre of this family unit and my children gravitating back home to me. For so long this has been the very essence of my being – me as the mother hen at the centre of my flock of chickens. Gradually I am coming to realise that in reality the new ‘order’ is a family in transition, with my twenties-something children spreading their wings and my thirties-something children setting down their own roots elsewhere. Gradually I am realising that the new family order will be me texting, phoning, emailing, and driving or hopping on a plane to visit my chicks wherever they may be.

And whilst this will lead on to new adventures for me in the visiting of each of them, I am as determined as ever that it will include me taking within me the traditional family values I treasure and imparting those values of love, support, encouragement and togetherness to them wherever they may be.


New memories

My son currently based in Canada is home with his girlfriend for the next two weeks. The other children have come from near and not-so-near to spend time with us.

I have been busy the last few weeks getting the house ready for his arrival so that I am able to once more accommodate 8 people.This included a sudden idea to revamp the room upstairs that had gradually taken on a mausoleum-like appearance and gathering of dust through its complete non-use. The room I am referring to of course is ‘THE’ bedroom. Whilst earlier on after the separation I had prided myself in my decisive action of spring-cleaning and ridding myself of meaningless ‘stuff’ and any reminder of the past that caused me pain, my call to action and my I-am-a-survivor spirit had only gone so far. The what-am-I-doing-here-in-this-big-empty-house reality took hold of me over the winter where I had in fact retreated into three rooms of the house with me sleeping in the guest room. I could not sleep in ‘THE’ bed or ‘THE’ bedroom upstairs. Long story cut short – with all the children, girlfriends, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter coming home suddenly I was in the throws of getting a builder in to change a door around, replacing carpet and blinds, painting, and buying a new quilt cover and other small items. After three weeks – thoroughly exhausted – I had a complete new room. Although my son and his girlfriend will stay here initially, this will become my new room. The bed (not ‘THE’ bed) is now looking in a different direction out to the valley and I have a little writing studio, claimed from what was a balcony, set-up for me to indulge my new-found passion of writing.

Yesterday the valley, across to the east and down to the river, put on quite a display with the wattle all ablaze in vibrant yellow against the backdrop of greenery and the sun providing warmth and comfort.

We all had a fantastic afternoon and evening re-living some happy memories and making some new ones, telling favourite stories of the past, laughing and sharing our thoughts and dreams for the future. I went to bed last night feeling contended and at peace.

I have been¬†so excited because all the children and I are now together again. I do so miss all the family times together and I am going to enjoy every moment with them while I can. My ‘new beginnings’ blogging will have to take a back-seat for a little while so I can indulge in some living and making for myself and the family some new happy memories ….

Be back soon……….


Last Friday was a proud day for me seeing my daughter – my baby – being admitted as a lawyer.

In the days before, I thought of the changed family unit that was to witness her admission. With my two eldest sons away and my husband awol, the previously strong proud family unit of six was now down to three. It would be up to me and my third son to be the support for her and share with her in this joyous moment. There was a huge lump in my throat thinking of how it was to be compared to how it could have been.

Then the day before the ceremony a lawyer friend, the son of a family friend, with a change to his business commitments was able to accept her request for him to be in attendance and present her admission to the judge. It made her day to have him there and make her day so special. Afterwards we all crowded around my daughter and embraced each other and shared this special moment together – my two children, myself and our friend.

Later that night my son said to me. ‘Mum, don’t be sad for what could have been, look at what there is. Look at what we have. It is happy new memories we are making right here, right now, together.’

Too often we dwell on the stereotypical happy-ever-after image of the intact family unit of mother, father and children. Whatever the age of the participants, the image is the same.
Too often we dwell on the portrayed image of ‘love’ being the passion between a man and a woman; of two lovers; of romantic affairs.
Too often we forget all the other relationships in our lives that make us who we are.

Sister – sister
Work colleagues
Sporting partners
Friends from the past
Friends in the present
Supermarket attendee
Cousins and second cousins
Neighbors and acquaintances
Cafe owner who makes you coffee
Person who comes and paints your house
Friend who babysat your children when they were little
Parents of your children’s friends who are still there for you
Music teacher who mentored your daughter in her passion for the piano
Son of a friend who made a special effort to attend your daughter’s law admission


Week 24 – Back to my roots

Week 24 – 03 March 2011

At week 24 after separation my younger two children and I spent the weekend in Sydney for a family reunion of about 100 people representing the five living generations of the seven generations of descendants of my great-grandparents and grandmother who came out to Australia from England 100 years before. The weekend was an all day Saturday gathering then a bus trip to all the old family haunts on the Sunday. It was a fantastic experience for my children who were still feeling the pain of our broken nuclear family of Mum, Dad and the kids. They were uplifted by connecting with their own immediate cousins, aunts and uncles whom they knew well; and then they began feeling part of the wider circle of second and third cousins, and great uncles and aunts. There was an intoxicating sense of belonging, having a place in the world, connecting with our roots.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, gave a speech regarding choices and how the choice at a time of crisis and adversity for what may seem an overwhelming situation; can lead to a different way in life that – if you can become strong and face it – actually becomes the right way of living and ultimately a better way. He was referring to my great-grandparents decision to move to Australia from England a century before at a time of financial crisis for them as a family. He spoke of the struggles they had in their early years in a totally different landscape and way of living for them in Australia away from family, friends and all the connections to their previous life. Despite that they¬†persevered¬†and carved a new way of life for themselves, their children and¬†ultimately¬†for all their descendants. He also spoke of other triumphs and tragedies the family had been through over the years and the strength he felt we had all inherited from his mother, my grandmother. I thought of this character trait that I remembered in her. My¬†daughter told us later that she felt I had this same¬†strong determination and she¬†now understood¬†where it came from.
I thought of my cousin¬†nearest to me in age missing that day as¬†we had lost him¬†through a car accident 37 years ago. He had always been daring and adventurous and I had always been cautious and shy. As a teenager he had always dared me to do things that I would not have otherwise done. Even today there is a voice inside of me that says ‘come on, you can do it’ that I feel is him urging me onwards.
I looked at my own mother who organised the event, who was widowed suddenly at aged 47, her two eldest children married within the next year, and faced with the sudden financial pressure of having to return to work for the first time in 26 years to support my two younger siblings. What a huge sudden changed blueprint for her that I failed to appreciate at the time. Yet now at aged 85 she is still going strong, writing history books, and the matriarch of this our large extended family and her siblings’ families of over 100 people. She is an inspiration to us all and especially now to me, as I hope to one day be for my children in this my new blueprint I am yet to create for myself and my family.
So as the weekend ended I thought to myself – how can I ever feel alone? With my own fantastic children, with the extended family of mine who are always accepting of every family member whatever and wherever their life situation may lead them, and with their strength inside of me – I belong, I am never alone.

Week 16 – Embracing singledom

Week 16 – 06 January 2012
A relaxing Christmas came and went. I so enjoyed having the family home and being kept busy while they were with me that I did not stop and dwell on the changed family dynamics. In fact it felt really great that the children and I were all together again sharing happy family times. Instead of a sadness that I was expecting, there was happiness, laughter, joy, peace and contentment.

After the family¬†left, I was alone again but I now accepted my aloneness. I not only accepted it, I began revelling in the time to myself. I kept myself busy setting up my new life as a single person. I rearranged things¬†the way¬†that I wanted. I organised myself. I¬†focussed on me and got¬†into a good¬†routine of waking early, writing at my desk watching the sunrise¬†over the¬†valley,¬†eating a healthy breakfast, going for a¬†brisk morning walk,¬†then domestics, shopping, cooking and other normal things. It felt good. Only when you have been through a tough period, when those ‘normal’ activities do not come easily, when you are literally dragging your feet every inch you take, only then can you appreciate how great it is when you become light footed again and you can once more go about your normal daily pastimes with a spring in your step.

One day I even noted in my journal that I enjoyed hanging the washing out neatly in a row and I was singing! I thought then that perhaps I was going just a little bit crazy admitting that I was actually enjoying putting the washing out. However, I think it was the absence of the oppressive feeling weighing down on me that was lifting me up and triggering my tuneful song, rather than the fact that I was revelling in my domestic chores. 

I repeat to you all that I was getting up at dawn to spend a few hours at my desk Рand I was writing, Yes writing. I had found a new passion. I was really enjoying it, It was not just the fact that I was writing, it was the fact that I was revelling in the writing and revelling in the fact that I could take the time to write whenever I wanted for as long as I liked on whatever topic I wanted to write about. And I was revelling in getting up at dawn and I was revelling in watching the sun rise above the valley.

I was free, free to do what I wanted.

Week 11 – All about ‘stuff’

Week 11 – Our monster garage sale was held over the weekend … good-bye to meaningless ‘stuff’ …….

Over four weekends my adult children had helped me with our property of 17 acres, mowing lawns, clearing out under the balcony, the Bar-B-Q area and the sheds. Half empty paint pots, rusted gardening implements, plastic garden chairs, tools, camping gear, sporting gear, boxes, suitcases, board games, tables, chairs, building cut-offs, rolls of wire, old mattresses, chests of drawers – where did it all come from? We had pulled out sale-able items to be sold at the garage sale; and had skips and trailer loads of rubbish taken to the tip. Then it was all gone.

I am revelling in my life becoming less cluttered, both inside and out. As the layers of my life were peeled off and thrown away, there was some sadness in the life that was, and more sadness for the life that had become – a world of ‘stuff’ and what all that meant – or didn’t mean. That is now all gone. It is no longer glaring at me, distressing me, all this meaningless ‘stuff’ that held no meaning to me anymore. Whilst there is still a lot to do, there have been huge steps made in ridding myself from it all. I can now take my home under my wing and make it the sanctuary I would like it to be – for me – and a place that the children can still come home to. A place of peace and calmness.

Later in the evening when the children had gone and I was all alone, I could not remember seeing the baby clothes – those precious reminders of my children as tiny ones. I became absolutely frantic. I looked everywhere. I went up to the shed and shone my car lights on. I could not see them. I went down to the house and looked in every cupboard. I could not find them. I could not sleep. I got up at day-break and had another search in the day-light. Still no baby clothes. I cried my eyes out. All this STUFF that now meant nothing to me that had been cluttering up my life, and now I have lost the happy memories of a most precious time. I began pining for them. I did some household chores trying to distract myself. Then I tried looking again – all through the house, and again in the shed. I moved boxes around one by one until – finally – I found them. They were under another box of ‘stuff’.¬† I took them down to the house and put them in a safe place with other mementos of the children’s and with my photos. I took some out out and I smelt them and held them to my cheek and the wonderful memories of my children as babies and of our happy times came flooding back to me. I cried and I cried.

Later on that day I felt calmer and just a trifle silly. I could not believe how my mood had changed so swiftly from feeling OK after the garage sale and revelling in feeling free from clutter to one of being completely distraught over the lost baby clothes. It was as though one half of me as ‘wife’ had been ripped away from me with no choice so that all the ‘stuff’ that went with it now held no meaning to me; but please, please, please, don’t let me lose my other half of my self – my motherhood. Please don’t take that away from me as well!

In reality, it is all just ‘stuff’, stuff we cling onto. Baby clothes or no baby clothes, my stirrings as a mother were still inside of me. They would never be lost or taken away. They were part of me. The real me was still there inside. My soul was still there – here. I am still here, trudging along through life; step by step.