How to guard your heart

The other day I was telling a friend that I thought the heartbreak songs he had written were lovely. It was the third anniversary of Zoe’s terminal diagnosis, and when I told him I was listening to more heartbreak songs that evening because it suited my mood, he replied that he hadn’t written any songs that heartbreaking.

That exchange got me thinking about how often people tell me that when they think of Zoe’s story, it puts their own troubles into perspective. I get that, and I know it’s been a life lesson for many people whose lives Zoe touched. It certainly helps me to put everyday disappointments and dramas in their place. Aren’t we all learning over and over not to sweat the small stuff? Actually if you have this completely figured out – please let me know 😉 Continue reading

The labels I will not own

“Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim” – Nora Ephron

A few months ago, someone I had met just recently told me he thought I was fragile. In the context I don’t think they meant anything negative by it, and yet I was taken aback, and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

Not only is this not how I see myself (at least not these days), but I had deliberately chosen not to mention “my story”, as I sometimes choose with people I have just met precisely in order to avoid this type of response. The pity in their eyes, the frantic scramble to find something appropriate to say, the labels they attach to me, that I am Brave, that I am a Victim, that I am Permanently Sad, that I am some kind of Tragic Heroine because my daughter died. Continue reading

Random thoughts on cancer, meaning and happiness Part II

“Hope is not optimism, nor is it conviction that something will go well. Rather it is the certainty that something has meaning…regardless of its outcome.” Vaclav Havel

From where I stand now, I feel I can truly say that life (for me anyway) is not about happiness, at least not in the ways it’s most commonly perceived to exist. Rather it is about finding peace and meaning. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel any joy or happiness, but that I find those things through the meaning I attach to my life and experiences. Continue reading

My tribe #1000speak

He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

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Mosaic heart made at the Stepping Stones family camp,

Around a year ago, along with my laptop, camera and kindle, most of my jewellery was stolen. Thankfully all of my photos of Zoe were backed up on a hard drive I kept at work, but I was devastated, because much of the jewellery was a memorial to Zoe. Jewellery she had helped me choose the beads for and “supervised” the making of, lockets with pictures of her, pieces with hearts and butterflies I had collected, been given or made in her memory and the thing it hurt the most to lose – a little glass bottle pendant with a lock of her hair that I cut after she died.

After a week of dealing of dealing with the police, insurance companies and the initial shock of feeling vulnerable and violated, I thought about where I was at. “I should be feeling worse than this” I thought. “But I feel fine – even better than fine.” Here’s what happened in that week.

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Why I’ll be eating ice-cream for breakfast on the 18th February

There will be people around the world eating ice-cream for breakfast on 18th February. And despite being in two minds about cancer awareness campaigns, I’m going to be one of them. Here’s why.

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Generally I prefer charity activities that raise money for their causes over “awareness” campaigns that seem to do little other than make people feel good about participating.

I am planning on supporting Eat Ice-cream for Breakfast Day though. It doesn’t raise money. It doesn’t have an ice-cream company as a corporate sponsor. Yes, it is an awareness campaign for childhood cancer, motivated by remembering a little girl called Malia but it’s asking something a little bit different from you too. Continue reading

The return of Charlie Cat (or on belonging)

Can one shaggy fickle moggy show you where you belong?

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We didn’t adopt Charlie Cat, he adopted us, soon after we moved to our new house in 2008, the year before Zoe’s cancer diagnosis. We’d moved from a townhouse in the inner city to a single level house with a safe little garden Zoe could play in. No more lugging washing up two flights of stairs along with a strong willed toddler, or driving to where she could walk on the grass.  It was a house that matched my dream of how family life should be, in a neighbourhood of other families, close to the zoo, playgrounds and the beach. There was even a walking school bus to the local primary school and a feijoa tree in the garden.

The week we moved here, I walked with then 2 year old Zoe to the supermarket around the corner. She stopped at virtually every house along the way. “Look, a house, a fence. Look another house, another fence.” With the right house, I felt sure we would become that perfect family, give Zoe a quintessential Kiwi childhood and that our marriage problems would become a distant memory. The addition of a household pet seemed like the icing on the cake. It felt like a sign that he had chosen us. Continue reading

Marked

Bereaved parents are a kind of reluctant tribe, the one that no-one wanted to join, and some of us have chosen to mark ourselves as such.
The reasons we do it vary and each mark has a different meaning for those who choose it, but many of our motivations and the symbols we use are similar.

I felt after my daughter Zoe’s cancer diagnosis at age three as if I had become become both transparent and luminescent, as if my interior life was so visible that my story could be read on the surface of my skin. I felt that when we left the house strangers would know our story at a glance, that we were visibly marked by cancer. Of course Zoe was visibly marked, though she seemed not too worried by her battle scars (she called the scar from her mic-key button her “other belly button”).

I felt the same after Zoe’s death at age six, that people would know I was a bereaved mother from the grief, pain, love and despair written on my skin. That the wound of having my child ripped from my life must have left a scar. And that felt right, that I should in fact be physically marked from surviving this. Continue reading

365 days without you

Tattoo - I carry your heaert (I carry it in my heart)

Zoe. One year since you left your poor, tired, cancer-ravaged body behind. We never wanted you to leave but we knew you needed to be released from this. I remember not being ready when they took your body away and feeling at peace when they brought you back home. In your woven willow casket, dressed in your favourite party dress and well worn sparkly shoes, surrounded by tokens for your journey you looked just as beautiful as ever to me; my sleeping beauty. Continue reading

Holding hands and holding on

“Have you ever really held the hand of someone you love? Not just in passing, a loose link between you – but truly clasped, with the pulses of your wrists beating together and your fingers mapping the knuckles and nails like a cartographer learning a country by heart?” 
― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

I am finding words hard at the moment, so I have borrowed the ones above. For six years I learned the map of Zoe’s hands, and now it is a territory forever imprinted on my heart.

When she passed away, Lisa from Features Forever made a mold of her hands and yesterday the stone casts of them arrived in the middle of a rainstorm, a small parcel on my doorstep.

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