My beloved husband, Kent, died in January 2012, 3 years after diagnosis of a brain tumour. Our son was 2 1/2 and our daughter 3 months old. He and I were far too young. I am now hurtling through the black space of life without him.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Friday, 21 November 2014

Just a moment

I had one of those movie-moments the other day.

The little one was playing in the lounge and came running in to see me, saying, I thought, "I'm getting married." She arrived, and I said, "Pardon? Can you say that again?" How does she know about white dresses and getting married?

"I'm getting married," she said.

The stereo was on in the kitchen, and while I picked up the camera to take a photo of our sweet, sweet girl, Emmylou sang, "see what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world."

Monday, 17 November 2014

Just breath

I've been dealing with some immense pain lately. The kind that comes in waves, and is sometimes crippling. Other times it sits quietly lurking in the background, reminding you it will be back. It is especially bad in the dark, and I arrive in my bedroom at night with that uneasy feeling of knowing what I have ahead of me, and what will mess with my sleep. In the mornings it makes me snap at my children and falter through my day.

But no! I'm not talking about grief! For better or worse, this time I am talking about physical pain. I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - a nerve/blood vessel compression problem that stems from the neck, and creates pain through the shoulders and arms. For me (and most) the pain comes on at night due to the position of lying down, combined with the lack of movement.

I've had minor versions of this in the past, sometimes bad enough to visit an osteopath for a while (with no diagnosis before now) and sometimes it can be controlled with a massage or two. But this time it's hit me harder than I knew was possible. For many, many mornings I have woken with a pain in my shoulder so intense that I can't move it or touch it for about an hour, sometimes in the night as well, and a couple of times have nearly thrown up because of the pain. I have been stunned that it is possible to experience such pain, especially without having been in any kind of accident, and the morning before I first visited my chiropractor I was ready to check myself in to hospital. I've become a little scared of what my body can do to me. I have tried (no, not all together) regular panadol, voltaren, codeine, herbal anti-inflammatories, low dosage anti-depressants (often used in pain relief to help dampen down hyper-sensitive nerve endings), magnesium (to relax the muscles), epsom salts (another version of magnesium), acupuncture, chiropractic work, osteopathy, wheat packs, and a bucket load of hot showers. The pain killers haven't touched the sides; I have stopped taking them, though I continue to take voltaren in the hope that it is doing its anti-inflammatory work, and I'm currently waiting the two-three weeks for the anti-d's to kick in. 

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is normally caused by accident/injury or repetitive strain injury, and sometimes by abnormalities/enlargements or spasms. However I, and all the people working with me, believe it has been caused by bad breathing. Yes - breathing!

To breathe properly you need to breathe through your nose (not mouth) and deep into your stomach, not your chest. Getting it wrong can lead to a remarkable amount of distress, and stress on the body. Have a look at the Breathing Works website if you are interested. I read a book called Breathe to Succeed many years ago, and met with the author, physiotherapist Tania Clifton-Smith, a number of times in the years following. I have been a chronic over-breather, and have had to learn to breath well, especially in times of stress. Just prior to my current shoulder pain coming on, I experienced a few days of chronic over-breathing which leads to an appalling breathing technique, where I suck air in to my upper chest area and feel the strain in my shoulders and neck. It becomes a vicious cycle and it's hard to get out.

So yes. I think I am talking about grief after all. I have long been fascinated by the impact of mental health on physical health, and don't believe it should be underestimated. Over the past few years I have almost expected grief and strain to have an impact on my physical wellbeing, particularly my breathing, and have been pleased to have made it through so far. When my shoulder pain came on I had been in a good space, mentally, and almost felt as though grief, rather annoyingly, was just finding another outlet. Will it never leave me alone?

This kind of pain strikes me as another part of the grief journey, and I'm trying to just ride with it and know I will get to the other end. I am working now with an outstanding osteopath and acupuncturist who has been good to me over many years. When he told me that in eastern medicine, lungs are the organ of grief, well, it took my breath away. He and I are making progress, I think I have the right mix of medication, and I'm practicing my breathing. These days still find me regularly lying on the floor looking at the ceiling, but instead of being accompanied by tears, I'm accompanied by nice steady breathing. Sometimes all you have to do is just breath.

Breathe! By Marcelo Jimenez

Monday, 10 November 2014

But not alone

(I missed the bit about going camping. And the cliche about watching the stars. But a girl had better not ask for too much.)

I want to sit outside in the evening,
 smell the garden at dusk
 and watch the sky change colour.

I want to drive long, dark roads,
 fish and chips passed to the driver
 and kids snuggled in the back.

I want to catch a movie and dinner,
 go to the ballet, check out some gig
 and walk the night time streets
     in my good clothes.

I want to fall in to bed
 with perfume staining my pillow
 and feel the feeling
     of skin between sheets.

And I want to soak long in the sea,
and feel it heal me.

I want to sit on the sofa,
and watch some great TV.

I want to see the fiords, and Fiji,
and anywhere that's new for me.

I'd like to ride through streets again,
 know that I can be strong,
 and remember what it feels like to fly.

I'd like to make a grown ups' meal,
 just once in a while
 and leave the dishes until morning.

I'd like to have late night conversation,
 fill the silence with talking
 and laugh out loud in bed.

I'd like to play this game again,
 instead of watching,
 and after so much losing, win.

I want to soak long in the sea,
and feel it heal me.

I want to sit on the sofa,
and watch some great TV.

I want to see the fiords, and Fiji,
and anywhere that's new for me.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


I bought them icecreams today
and tried not to count the teaspoons.
I saw that wry look of yours on his face
when he asked her for another lick,
and she said no.
Memories of childhood icecreams at the beach
blurred with the memory of those icecreams at the beach
that you asked for, while I worried like crazy
about how bad it was for you,
as though a giant icecream could tip the already tipping balance
between life and death.
My eyes blurred and I saw your freckles
on his knuckles,
and I saw you sitting down with us,
wiping the pink gently from her face,
and I wondered,
why on earth are you not here? 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Me too

I remember that girl
  She really knew how to love
  in that kind of way.

I miss that girl
  I wonder where she has gone
  and how so much of a person
  could just disappear like that.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

My movie

We went to Kindy Gym yesterday morning, as we always do on a Tuesday, and the little one decided she needed some sustenance before she got started. So I found myself sitting out in the rec centre corridor while she nibbled away on her early morning tea and I gazed off in to the distance.

In the distance was a group of elderly people doing some exercises. Pumping their arms in to the air, sitting on chairs and lifting their feet. They looked, well, old. Tired, worn out, but grabbing at life. I struggle very much now with the way our lives so often seem to end. With a loss of function, with exhaustion, with a loss of dignity. Amazing, competent, full, complete lives that can fade in such harsh ways. I seem to be hyper-aware of the cycle of life - and the speed with which it goes. As I watched these elderly people in one room, I could feel the lives in the room just behind me. Fresh and new little bodies, just beginning to explore all the magnificent things they are capable of. And across the loud speaker came the music, "to everything turn turn turn, there is a season turn turn turn, and a time to every purpose under Heaven. A time to be born, a time to die..." The song finished and I tried to break out of the place I had landed in, but the next song followed. The song that I was singing to my children at the moment Kent died, "how wonderful life is, while you're in the world." I plummeted back in to my thoughts until our girl was ready to take me back in to Kindy Gym, and give me a hug.


I can't tell you how any moments I have had like this over the last couple of years. In fact I wish I had told you, I wish I had recorded them, though often they have been too intangible and acutely beautiful to know how to record. I often feel like I am living in a movie. Not just because of the big story, but all the little stories that happen along the way. Wow, you couldn't have *written* it better than this. Not better in a good way, this is not generally a good story, but the moments, the coincidences, the coming together of things. It has been extraordinary. I really seem to be living in a movie. I think what's supposed to happen next is that I open a chocolate shop and a handsome man arrives and falls wildly in love with me.

I'm not too sure about that, but the credits aren't rolling on this extraordinary life of mine. Ordinary seems to have gone forever.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Prescription ladders

-I wrote this late last year, soon after I wrote "Grief and the Black Dog,"
and soon after that I got myself a ladder-

I seem to be lost
Somewhere inside of me
Grasping and clawing
Under a heavy black blanket
Send down a ladder
So I can find me again.

I saw his face

I saw his face in my dreams last night. As so often I do, but this time, unusually, it was healthy. Perhaps it was only a dream, I have had so many powerful ones that have become nothing but broken.

It was beautiful, of course. Crystal clear, his features sharp and face glowing, more than I have ever seen in this life. "I love you so much," he said, with his smile. Thank you love, I know you do, I know.

Please come and tell the kids one day (night) too.

Friday, 21 March 2014


- Not my best writing perhaps, but words I need to get down -

I grabbed a couple of CDs from my Mum's collection before the half hour car journey the other day, and hoped I had the right ones. It's good to try and choose something that I will enjoy, that won't envelop me in a dark and heavy blanket of memory and sadness. In the car I chose to play The Shot Band, they sounded kind of loud and fun. The first song was exactly that, but I prepared myself for the second one, I had seen on the cover that it was titled "The most beautiful widow in town." The melancholy of the first few notes jaded me, after the fun of the first song, and I thought "is this what has to be mine? Is this the music that is for me? Is there only this sadness now?" The fun of the first song was just pretending for a while, the second was reality returning.

It's hard to say really. I need words, and music, that describe pain, but I guess I don't need them all the time. And music is particularly hard. Perhaps because so much of my listening is done when I'm driving. But whatever the time of day, I have to be prepared for a journey (of the emotional kind) whenever I listen, and if I am choosing the music it can really take some choosing.

Looking at my mother's collection I could choose some old Jewel, there are few connections with Kent there. But what about that song that is so full of hope about life, fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon, when life is skidding out of control? How do I join in the hope? Or there is that wonderful Mark Cohn album that Mum and I used to listen to, often in the car too, but I'd be preparing the whole time to skip the last song, when the years have done irreperable arm, I can see us slowly walking arm in arm, just like that couple on the corner do, cause girl I will always be in love with you... Then when I leave this earth, I'll be with the angels standing, I'll be out there waiting for my true companion.

Today I chose Sarah McLachlan, I have the sense to recognise that I don't know how to let you go grabbed me, and I succumbed to the searing beauty of Angel, spend all your time waiting for that second chance, for a break that would make it ok.. It's hard at the end of the day, I need some distraction, or beautiful release, memories seep from my veins, let me be empty and weightless and maybe I'll find some peace tonight.. oh this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees. But actually, it's OK, it gives the silent and rock hard burn inside of me voice and beautiful sound, and I like that. And I'm good at driving now with tears streaming.

After a year of silence it was David Gray's White Ladder that I went back to first, it was probably the last thing I had listened to a lot during Kent's illness, and it was the first thing I returned to. The beauty and sadness in it worked for me, and I played it in the car over and over. I have always had to skip what we gonna do when the money runs out, wish that there was something left to say, how we gonna find the eyes to see a brighter day, because it reminds me of a life running out, and the desolation of it is too much. So alive with wild hope takes me back to a good life long ago, I got half a mind to scream out loud I got half a mind to die - I listen to the first bit and try not to hear the second. And I love that someone out there has said so beautifully it takes a lotta love my friend to keep your heart from freezing, to push on to the end.

There is so much music that Kent introduced me to that I can't quite work out how to approach yet. I don't want to miss out on The Arcade Fire but I'm not quite ready to be landed in the middle of our happiest married days - good as that may sound. There's Coldplay that drops me straight back in to London and I am missing them too, but tears stream down your face when you lose something you can not replace.. lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you can only be listened to in the dark and when you are fully prepared. Cat Power I would like to listen to again one day too, but they were a very recent discovery, and that seems to remind me that all good music that is to come won't be heard by Kent, and, less of a tragedy but disappointing nonetheless, without him to find it and bring it to me, I am less likely to hear it too.

I did discover The Lumineers without him, and I have found room for them without too many tears, though I wonder often about it's better to feel pain than nothing at all, and always notice when we were young we did enough (no we didn't, we didn't have enough time!) and when we were cold we bundled up (we did!). I also hear I'm standing on your porch screaming out, and I don't blame you dear, running like you did all these years, and most of all, most of all, Kent's voice, and the name he used for me, keep your head up my love, which, along with David Gray's The One I Love, led to me writing From Here to Here. Ho Hey and I belong with you, you belong with me, my sweetheart - those words make me struggle but the fantastic happiness and life of the song fill me with a fizzing excitement and I am pulled in all directions.

We can't talk of music and Kent without Dave Matthews of course, and it is something I have struggled to bring myself to listen to. For a myriad reasons - both lyrics and associations. They're words too hard or too precious to even write here to be honest, they're words that describe our earliest days together, words that we walked together back up the aisle to, words engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. Though I have spent some time with Grey Street and love the truth and experience of the words. 

And it is the most beautiful combination of Dave and the gorgeous Emmylou that tore at my heart and my eyes when I braved them just yesterday:
I can still hear him he calls to me only, what once was begotten shall come to no end,
But the road is so long and the nights are so lonely,
My soul just to hold him in this world again.
You are my sorrow, you are my splendour,
You are my shelter through storm and through strife
You are the one I will always remember, all of the days of my life.

- My soul just to hold him in this world again -

Saturday, 1 March 2014

I always
to change
the world,
but the world
changed me.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The second anniversary

On the 17th of January a group of family and friends took time to mark the second anniversary of Kent's death.

It was a strange day. I don't like the idea that how I am feeling should be dictated by the calendar. I think I do find the lead up to difficult dates particularly hard. I tend to feel sort of hamstrung and unable to do things. It's a relief when it's over. And on the morning of the 17th my mind did turn with great clarity to some pretty difficult memories. But I was treated with such lovely tender care by those around me and it was nice to have that acknowledgement. There are other days of such fragility that are nothing on the calendar, but noone knows when they are, and the special care on special days can be remembered in the in-betweens. And I wouldn't really want to be treated like an eggshell every day.

It was hard to know how to mark the day, we couldn't really do an exact repeat of last year. But we had to do something. I bought some flowers and lay them on the grave, and while a friend played guitar we each took a stem and put it in a vase on the headstone. It felt like the right thing to do.

I was somehow both stunned and numbed at the sight of our children playing with the flowers as they sat upon Kent's grave. It was the most unbelievable and incomprehensible thing. They enjoyed the flowers and the little guy enjoyed making sure everyone had a turn. But when I cried a little behind my sunglasses they both left other various family members and came over to me, popping down on my knee and sitting quietly for a long time while I held on tight. I asked later and learnt that they had both chosen to come on their own, noone had suggested it. They saw me, and came.

It's hard, really hard, going in to the third year. I've read quite often about the second year. Everyone seems to like to say how noone talks about the second year, and how all the support comes in the first and you feel lonelier in the second. But never have I ever read anything about the third year. It seems to just be lumped in to "the rest of your life," and that's pretty tough.