The thing about life is, we never know what the next step will bring.
We set ourselves goals and create plans. We dream of a future that perhaps we had imagined as a young person or to be the person you always knew you would be. Our future planning doesn’t usually take into consideration obstacles or challenges that might get in the way.
I’ve always been a person that likes to plan ahead, consider the big picture and then work out the best way to get there. I have vivid memories of myself as a young girl lying in bed and thinking about my life ahead.
In my daydreams of the future, I never imagined the challenges that life would throw at me, nor would I have wanted to.
We can make plans and we can have dreams and goals, but the amazing thing about life is that it has its own twists and turns, and the road to your ultimate goal has exits and detours you could never imagine or anticipate.
These obstacles can appear from nowhere and leave you breathless, at times rudderless, and seemingly without the wind in your sails to guide you to safer destination. Sometimes they creep up on you and take you by surprise.
A milestone birthday
In 2007 I turned 40. I remember my birthday so clearly.
It was a big deal for me and I wanted to celebrate with all the most important people in my life.
I was happily married (and gratefully I still am) and had three beautiful children, a house we had recently renovated, and I was super fit and feeling really good about myself.
I gave a really emotional speech about how blessed I was and how life had been so good to me.
I am grateful for that night of carefree indulgence and celebration, with people I loved greatly and deeply. Some of whom would soon leave me and others who would carry me through the darkest days of my life.
Less than two months later, I contracted a life-threatening illness, which meant that life as I knew it was over.
A virus had impacted on my brain, which resulted in me being hospitalised and ultimately led to me never returning to my job. I was unable to work, or exercise, and I was bed ridden for a long period of time. For an overscheduled, workaholic, highly motivated person, this sudden change of lifestyle was devastating. But worst was to come.
Hit by loss
When I was ill, my parents regularly made the journey from Wagga Wagga to Wollongong to help me and my family. I’d noticed mum was slowing down - catching her having a daytime nap or walking slowly was a surprise - she was also someone who worked twice the rate of everyone else. I told myself it was good to see her relax.
But less than 12 months later, my beautiful mum passed away after battling a very agressive cancer.
My world was now in free fall and all that I knew was rapidly spinning out of control. Having lost my job, my health and now my mum, my life had become almost unrecognisable. This was no longer the life that I had so confidently spoken about not that many months ago.
However, even with all of this, I had no idea that in just a few years my life would be completely changed again forever.
In 2012 my beautiful, greatly loved daughter Molly was killed in an accident on our property at the age of 13.
My world stopped
In an instant, not only did my life change forever but so too did the lives of her dad, brother and sister, and her close family and friends. The ripple of grief and , shock and pain spread out to her school, her sporting groups, and the rest of the Illawarra and across Australia.
So how do you keep going and living after such great loss?
How do you face each day when your world as you knew it no longer exists?
When all you want to do is give up and say I am not strong enough, I can’t do this?
I need my Mum mum, I want my daughter, and it doesn’t matter how much you scream and cry, they just aren’t there.?
When you cry so much you vomit, and you fall to your knees with the pain and the burden of carrying your grief.?
Everyone is different
Every person will have their own way of coping with tragedy, life’s obstacles, and loss.
For me, I just sat. I don’t mean literally sitting (although there were many times I did just actually sit with a cuppa in my hand on the veranda, with my dog Sofia by my side), I mean I sat with my emotions.
With the grief, with the pain, with my sadness.
Sitting, feeling, accepting and reflecting.
Because that was an important part of my journey following the tragedy, loss and devastation.
When we sit with pain, we give ourselves time to try to work out how this pain, this unbearable pain, is going to find a place in your heart and in your life.
So often we are forced to run from the pain and the loss, and return to our previous life too quickly. This may be due to financial pressure, family responsibilities or even a fear of having to sit and feel.
But in the sitting, I had the beginning of transformation. It was the start of laying the foundation from which my new life was to be built.
Give it time
I sat for a long time, and I think you need to let yourself sit for however long it takes. At your own pace. Ignore the well-meaning people that tell you to just be strong and move on. This is your journey, and you must find your way to navigate it.
I have learnt so much in the ‘just sitting’. It gave me time to understand this new life that awaited me. My life looked different now, and although I wanted to replace the lenses that had changed how my world looked, I could not.
Just like our eyes need time to adapt when you enter a dark room, I needed time to allow my heart and soul to also adapt and accept this new view in front of me.
Sitting also allows time to understand and accept the obstacles that will lie ahead.
When tragedy or loss happens, it can change you and that is something that requires time to accept. After the death of Molly, I just needed time to get to know myself and my family all over again, and in turn others had to get to know the new me. I was not the same person as before, nor could I expect to be, so time allowed me to find a way to get to know myself all over again.
Sitting also gives you time to pay respect and honour all those new emotions you are feeling. Feelings that are new and foreign. This was the time I needed to integrate this catastrophic loss into my life. Some people may throw themselves into work and use this structured familiar routine as their time to process and rebuild.
Take the next step
Then when you are ready, you take the next step.
Just like a baby learning to walk, your first step may need a helping hand. You may need to be picked up and carried for a bit longer, you may only just manage to crawl.
But you are moving.
Bit by bit.
Still carrying the pain, but slowly getting used to the weight and feel of it.
You’re not in this alone.
If you’re struggling, please reach out for help. For those in crisis, contact Beyond Blue online or call 1300 22 46 36.