Hi everyone and a belated but no less sincere happy New Year to you. After a tumultuous 2011, I am looking forward to 2012 – to finding the time to write and read. With this in mind, and before I start uploading some reviews for books I have read over the Xmas and New Year break and even before I post some photos and write about the holiday I took, I thought I would post my final column for 2011 and which appeared in the Courier Mail on December 21st last year.
This is the unedited version:
There’s something about Christmas, never mind the encroaching New Year that invites you to pause and think back on the past twelve months.
As a state, nation and world, so much seems to have happened.
From the devastation of the Queensland floods and cyclone Yasi, to the tsunami and earthquake that rocked Japan; from the death of Osama Bin Laden to the Arab Spring that saw leaders topple; from the massacre in Norway to the London riots; from the remarkable bravery of Bruce and Denise Morcambe in the face of finding Daniel’s remains to the continuing loss of life in Afghanistan; from the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton to the birth of Princess Mary’s twins; from Obamarama and the American President’s whirlwind visit Downunder to Queen Elizabeth’s tour of royal duty; from the starving in Somalia to the Occupy protests throughout the world; from Julia Gillard’s performance in the polls to Tony Abbott’s negativity, so much goes on around us, drawing us in, touching our lives briefly before spitting us out with indifference.
While these events are significant, it’s those that directly impacted upon my life and those of my loved ones that I find myself reflecting upon in the last days of 2011.
On the positive side, my daughter returned home to Brisbane after three years living in the United States, my son settled into a fabulous career in Sydney, and the second book in my adult fantasy trilogy, Votive, was finally published after an eight month delay due to cancer. On the downside, a dear friend, Greg, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but so far, has quashed this demon, and a very-loved cousin died while overseas.
I’ve also had many post-cancer complications. Now, after two operations, I’ve a pacemaker. There’s ongoing pain and problems (not withstanding airport security checks!), but I’ve had the support of my wonderful partner, Stephen, kids and friends to shore me up when I held a pity party.
But, something else happened this year that puts all this in perspective.
Two months ago, one of my dearest friends, the writer, Sara Douglass, died. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, she endured so much in terms of operations, chemotherapy and care; even so, she was a rock to me throughout my own treatment. When she had a major recurrence of cancer early this year, my husband and I made a decision.
In February and, between my operations, we put our stuff in storage on the Gold Coast and moved closer to Sara to care for her.
It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Best, because we got to spend the last nine months with Sara – joyous and terrible times, filled with love, laughter, pain and fear.
Worst, because we watched her slowly die, helpless to change a thing.
Her last days in a palliative care ward were quiet and caring. The staff was so kind. You were listened to; spoken with. The nurses and doctors were open and frank in a manner that was both refreshing and confronting but always gentle and respectful.
We knew Sara didn’t have long. We didn’t waste a moment. We talked, held hands, wept, comforted each other, spoke of our love for each other and of a future of which, while we knew she wouldn’t be a part, we pretended she would and she played along.
Our last conversation was about Tony Abbott (she loathed him) and brussel sprouts (she loved those).
Then, she died.
It was quick.
Stephen and I, despite all the signs, weren’t ready.
Two months on and we’re still grieving. Not in a maudlin way that makes us inert, Sara would hate that, but at the unfairness of life that, at 54, with so much to give, this beautiful woman was taken.
Currently, under legal instruction, I’m sorting her possessions. The life that these represent – a brilliant mind and imagination is boundless. Sara, however, also leaves behind her magical novels, stories that have captivated readers worldwide and will continue to for generations to come.
The rest of us don’t necessarily leave such a fabulous legacy. Who we are is reflected in our things, yes, but more importantly, our essence is contained in the memories we leave in the hearts and minds of those we love and those who really know us.
While death and dying is something I’ve experienced this year, it’s living that I want to focus on now. That’s what the last months have taught me, this is what Sara’s demise has brought home. That I must live a good life, a life without fear or regret and one filled with love. I want to collect great memories and ensure that my partner, children, family and friends share them too.
Every time I moan about the driver in front of me, the queue at the supermarket, money, the weather, politicians and bad TV, I want to remember that at least I’m here to do that and put my complaints in perspective – and then whinge louder.
Part of me wants to wish this year away, but another wants to relish Christmas. I also want 2012 to come so I can embrace a new year with verve energy and, hopefully, good health.
Above all, I want to cherish the memories that Sara has left others and me and honour them by living in the best way I know how.
My Christmas and New Year wish to each and every one of you is to live well too.
See you in a few weeks.
Well, I am back now and determined to live and love well. I hope you do as well. 🙂