Tag Archives: grief

Weekend Coffee Share – 19th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, I guess I’d better ask all of you how you’re going first up and what’s happening around Covid 19 in your neck of the woods? You might need something stronger than a tea or coffee to get through that conversation. So, I’d better off you some chocolate. What do you prefer? We’ve acquired quite a stash in lock down. I’ve been doing the shopping online and snapping up chocolate on sale. It’s much tastier than toilet paper.

Quite frankly, I don’t know whether I’m Arthur or Martha at the moment. While I’m “creative” and not necessarily a great one for routine, I usually have the bare bones in place. Those activities which form a scaffolding and framework for the week and some sense of direction when you wake up in the morning. Indeed, you might actually wake up in the morning even the most chaotic and disorganized people and the freeist of free spirits have their anchor points. Indeed, I’m sure I had more structure when I was backpacking through Europe wandering like a cloud without a watch and no itinerary whatsoever, than living like this in Covid 19 lock down. What am I supposed to be doing? Where am I going?

Well, most of the time, the response to the latter is nowhere. Although I have been out for a few walks. This is what you term “exercise”, which sort of takes the buzz out of it to be honest, even if it does involve walking along our gorgeous beaches.

Oh, and before one of you remembers that I went down to Sydney to see my parents last weekend, I’ll stop being melodramatic, and express some gratitude for how well Australia’s getting through the coronacrisis and what a difference this has made to people like myself who are at high risk, and also to people with chronic or life-threatening conditions who depend on hospital beds. We’ve seen horrific scenes around the world but somehow we’ve been spared. It’s hard to understand, and I hope we have a handle on it now that restrictions are being lifted. It would be an absolute miracle.

Personally, I have to admit that the stress of having the coronavirus hanging round, particularly after having a few major asthma attacks during the Australian bush fire crisis and being locked away for a few months n the air-conditioned loungeroom, it’s a lot to deal with. The fact I’ve survived and got through without a scratch,  seems to minimize the battle and it’s like it never happened. My house didn’t burn down. I didn’t lose the lot. Nobody died. No trips to hospital. However, what our family has been through wasn’t nothing, and we’re not the only ones fighting these invisible battles beneath the radar either. It’s very hard, because it takes so much energy and thought to speak out that your emotions become quite intense and if the person you open up to doesn’t at least acknowledge your experience, you just give up. You don’t try again. Rather, you become silent, even though you might still be talking and the words are still coming out and your face, all except for your eyes, are smiling. In so many ways this is dangerous territory, because you’re rapidly disconnecting not only with those around you, but also to much of your self. That’s something those of us who know somebody who is going through a bit, especially an invisible battle, need to keep in mind.

Anyway,  restrictions are easing throughout Australia. Last Wednesday, our son returned to school for one day. That was quite interesting. When I asked him how it went, he mentioned the absolute silence. With so few students there, it was so quiet. He said that he could even hear the local trains going past, where usually he could only ever hear the horn. Our daughter hasn’t gone back to school yet. However, it looks like they’ll both be back to normal school hours next week. To be honest, that really freaks me out, and yet it’s perhaps a return to normal that we need, although I’m still concerned about them bringing home the virus and you just can’t presume that the kids will be okay themselves if they catch it. Meanwhile, having them home has felt like an extended holiday and it’s been great not having to drive them around. My son and I have been doing some cooking together and our daughter’s painted the back of her bedroom door cow pat, which looks really cool.

While some people have been Spring cleaning as their lock down activity, I’ve been writing but we’ve also been working on the house and yard and getting some renovations done. As you may recall, we bought a camper caravan for me to escape to if I need to quarantine from the family. It’s still parked out of the house, while Geoff sorted out the backyard, repair the garage roof and trimmed the bougainvillea before we could even start on restoring the camper. Then he won a few pallets of floorboards last weekend at an auction and  now I’m slowly moving the china out of the cabinet and relocating it wround the house. I don’t know if you’ve quite been on the hunt for real estate like this trying to squeeze your treasures into every nook and cranny. My friend works in a giftware shop and she does this all the time, and has a few casualties along the way. So, far so good. The piano is also going to be dismantled and put out for council cleanup. It’s really crappy, but I’m hoping I might be able to salvage some of the bits to stick them up somewhere around the house. I also want to make a sculpture of my grandmother the concert pianist where the pedals could become her feet. I’m not sure about how I’d build the rest of her, but I have some brass cuckoo clocks up in the roof, which I also thought about incorporating into a sculpture. By the way, what with storing up all these components, you might actually get the idea that I can actually sculpt, when I’ve never made a sculpture before in my life. That said, i did buy some wire and glue to make these papermache figures. Anyway, needless to say our house is bursting at the seams from all my inspirational ideas.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting back into blogging again. I did my first Friday Fictioneers post for quite while and I also wrote  couple of poems which were inspired by Henri-Frederic’s: Journal Intime. I haven’t posted these as that limits what I can do with them. However, I did write a three part series reflecting back on our precious dog, Bilbo, who we lost three years ago. This wan’t soemthing I’d planned and to be perfectly honest, I woudl’ve opted for something more uplifting and funny at this point in time. However, there is humour in these posts as I reflect on Bilbo’s antics and I share about how we worked through our grief in perhaps some unconventional ways, which might help someone else get through their situation and perhaps feel less alone. I also want to leave these memories and reflections for our kids. They don’t pay much attention to Mum’s scribblings at the moment and I often feel I’m writing to myself when I really am often writing for them. That’s just the way it is and at least i have you friends out there who appreciate and encourage me in the present.

Anyway, here’s a link to the first of these stories which talks about Bilbo’s diet: The Dog We’ll Never Forget

My apologies for scooting off. Time has just flown away and I need to get to bed before sunrise this morning.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share.

Best wishes and please stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Road to Recovery.

A few days ago, I had no intention of revisiting the death of our beloved dog, Bilbo.He passed away three years ago, and my ongoing grief was nicely contained and locked away inside its protective coating (aside getting emotional on occasional Border Collie sightings). However, after reading a few dog posts and starting to write about Bilbo again, it soon became clear that my grief was still there and almost just as raw.

Newton Family & bilbo

A family photo with Bilbo as a pup Mother’s Day, 2007.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bilbo had been our family dog since our youngest was a baby until she was on the cusp of becoming a teenager. Yet, in that time, Bilbo aged with his paw stuck firmly on the accelerator and he whooshed through life like a speeding bullet. All too soon, he was old and passed away.

As you might recall, Bilbo appeared in quite a few posts at Beyond the Flow, and he’d even jumped on a few times himself and put in his own two-bob’s worth. All that writing forged an incredibly intimate connection between us, where I’d all but crawled inside his fur and walked on four legs (even if I wasn’t quite sure how to operate his tail).

However, all that writing’s remained untouched sitting on my blog in the same way someone leaves a loved one’s room completely untouched after they pass away. It’s not that I was in denial. It’s been more of an avoidance thing. When it comes to going through all of that and reliving all these stories, I know it’s going to hurt, and I won’t be able to rip the band aid off quickly. Sorting these stories out is going to take quite a lot of time and meticulous attention to detail seen through an emotional lens. So,we’re talking about diving straight into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench without a snorkel and crawling into a cave until it’s done. You don’t need to be Einstein to understand why that hasn’t happened.

Or, why my mother, hasn’t finished sorting out her parents’ belongings after they passed away either. Who wants to pack someone you love away? Or, worse still, throw them out?

It hurts.

It’s also such a travesty.

However, I didn’t come here to condone, or even encourage avoidance. Rather, I wanted to share what helped us cope a little better.

Amelia & Lady

Lady & Miss NYE 2015

The first thing we did was turn to Lady, our surviving dog. However, the poor thing was grieving for Bilbo herself, and there we were desperately passing her round from lap to lap like pass the parcel expecting intensive therapy. The worst of it was, that while Lady was a very happy little dog and I’ve never seen another dog wave their tail with such gusto, she doesn’t fetch. With Bilbo being ball obsessed and having two active kids, that became a major short coming. She did come across a bit faulty, especially being part Border Collie.

Lady kids coffee

Kids and dogs are often perfect partners in crime.

Meanwhile, I started looking for toy Border Collies online. I thought this might help. However, I actually managed to stumble across a fully weighted almost life-sized Border Collie and needless to say, he found his way home. He simply became: “Fake Bilbo”. He helped for a little while, although he was clearly less interactive than Lady. (You can read about how that went HERE)

Fake Bilbo & Lady

Spot the real dog.

Of course, this all started pointing towards getting a second dog. However, our finances weren’t great, and we thought we’d wait a year. Give ourselves a chance to grieve.

However, fate soon intervened. There’s nothing like “the hair of the dog”.

Lady & pups sleeping

Lady with Zac and Rosie while the going was good. Zac is down the front.

You see, a close friend was part of a dog fostering group and she’d heard that a litter of Border Collie x Kelpie pups had come into care and they were looking for foster families. She thought fostering would allow us to see how we liked the dogs and whether we wanted to keep one, or foster them both out. We headed off to a local pet shop car park on a cold Winter’s night about 10.00 pm until a car with dog trailer pulled up and there he was… our beautiful puppy, Zac. I’d already chosen him from a photo online and my heart fluttered as soon as I saw him. Our daughter picked out the second pup, Rosie, due to the white stripe on her head “like Bilbo” and her black spots. They were micro-chipped, vaccinated and loaded into the car – never to return.

Amelia & Dobby

Our daughter with Dobby in her hoody..

That’s how we ended up with three dogs. The two pups bonded so closely together that they’re like a single dog split in two. That meant we couldn’t separate them and we couldn’t make up our minds either and had a 50-50 split.

However, wait! There’s more.

Now, that we’d become part of this animal rescue network,  we got wind that they needed carers for a litter of kelpie pups and we put our hands up to take two. They were supposedly “4 weeks old and had been weaned”. However, they were closer to three weeks old and were still being bottle fed. They could barely walk, and it looked like they hadn’t been outside on the grass before. They were absolutely adorable… our two little rolly pollies. I still remember when Zac, who was still a pup himself, helped one of the micro-pups up the back steps. He was so good with them.

Zac & Dobbie

Zac with little Dobby.

Unfortunately, Lady didn’t share his enthusiasm, and must’ve been really confused about where all these puppies were coming from! She’d gone from living with and losing Bilbo, to having our two pups turn up out of nowhere. As if that wasn’t enough to get used to,  two more pups turned up. Lady went from being an only dog, to being an instant mother of four. Where was it going to end? She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all! There was a lot of deep throated growling telling those wretched pups who was boss. Needless to say, Lady wasn’t about to win any awards for being: “Mother of the Year”.

 

Rosie Zac & Dobby

Rosie on the left while little Dobby gives no thought to size and plays tug of war with Zac fighting over the stuffed sheep.

That left us with five dogs for a few months, which was a bit full-on, but we loved them all. All these puppies sure made us laugh, and rekindled our appreciation of the little things, as they bumbled along in their puppyish ways exploring the world through fresh eyes.

Moreover, it reminds me of what happens at the office when that completely over-worked person finally leaves. It takes two new people to do their job. For awhile there, it took five dogs to fill Bilbo’s paws. Yet, by immersing ourselves in dogs during that time of grief, it certainly helped us get through. Indeed, it reminds me of an old saying: “If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with. If you can’t love the one you’re with, switch off the light.”

D9obby & Jonathon

That’s a piece of wisdom which must be applied with caution. However, there is no one way of dealing with grief, and not everyone wants to move on. They don’t want to fill that empty chair, and that’s fine too. It’s just about ultimately reaching a point, where we’re okay.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Having added the photographs of the puppies to the text, it really brought home to me how uplifting it was to have the puppies in the house. I don’t like to harp on about my health issues and the impact they have on our family and the omnipresent cloud hanging overhead. It’s been no accident that we’ve had dogs in the house. They’ve been there for emotional and comic relief, and I remember how close I was to my dog growing up and that there may come a time when they really need to call on the dog for some pretty hard core support. Fortunately, so far so good.

Maybe, one day our kids will read this and come to realise how much thought and action’s gone on behind the scenes…mother duck gliding along looking like she’s doing nothing, but paddling like a maniac under the surface and particularly late at night.

 

The Saint & His Shadow…Bilbo Continued.

Writing about Bilbo yesterday has brought back so many precious memories. While it’s easy to canonize the dead and turn them into a saint, they’re still human. Or, in Bilbo’s case, canine but believing he’s human, and he was always treated as such.

Newton Feet Jan 26 20147

One for all and all for one…our feet at the beach taken January, 2014.

For much of the day, Bilbo could pass for a glorious designer floor rug sunning himself in the backyard or sleeping under my desk. However, he had his triggers like the rest of us and the posty was the most predictable one, along with anyone riding a bicycle or walking past with a dog. As a younger dog, he was also a real villain on the lead and he must’ve thought our local footpath was a racetrack to the beach. I’m most surprised we didn’t become air born. He was also particularly protective of the kids. At least, that’s what I blame for his metamorphosis into a lunging, barking, snarling menace when the school bus pulled up. Indeed, it got to the point where we couldn’t take him. He was vicious. He also wasn’t happy when my friend Clare used to pick up the kids and take them to school, while I was recovering from chemo. She did that for at least a couple of months, and yet his manner never changed. He stuck to his guns.

Bilbo feel the fear

Bilbo wasn’t overly inspired to fight his fears.

It’s hard to understand how such a placid, loving dog could change so much. However, like the rest of us he’d also been traumatised by my severe health battles, and we couldn’t explain things to him. Like us, he also knew he was fighting against an invisible force, and he rounded up his own list of suspects however misguided. He’d spent many nights comforting me, and knew something awful was out there somewhere. However,  I couldn’t tell him that with an auto-immune disease, the enemy was within.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Anyway, looking at the photo of me with Bilbo and Lady in the kayak last night, reminded me of another one of Bilbo’s epic stories. A few years ago, my parents had this idyllic place on the waterfront at Palm Beach. It was on the Pittwater side where it was flat water and very tidal. The bay would fill up and empty like a bath with methodical clockwork which we couldn’t ignore. Indeed, we were very much controlled and directed by the tides, and at their mercy. That was fine because we adapted to the rhythms. At low tide, you could go for a walk and at high tide, you could head out on the kayak or the Laser, the little sailboat the previous owners had left behind.

The very first time we headed out on the kayaks was unforgettable. Not just because we were out on the water. We were some distance from home, when we spotted a Border Collie standing on the shore. At first, we were merely excited to see another Border Collie, as you are when you see another dog that looks like yours. However, as we got closer, it soon became obvious this Border Collie was also watching us. Indeed, he was following us along the bank.

Oh no! Our precious, docile floor rug had decided once again, that the sky was falling. It was the end of the world, and he had to save the day. The only trouble was that being totally averse to getting his paws wet, he couldn’t leap in to save us. He was painfully stuck and doing all he could…barking!

Amelia & Bilbo

By the way, I should also point out that Bilbo had gone to great lengths to get out. He’d shewed through the side gate and gnawed through a paling and he’d also run through quite a few backyards to reach his lookout post.

Oh dear! Geoff was off to the local hardware store to buy tools and carry out repairs. Mum and Dad had only just bought the place and we didn’t want to be known as “The Wreckers”.

Of course, this wasn’t Bilbo’s only tale of mass destruction. I might’ve mentioned this before. However, I was in hospital for about 8 weeks when I was first diagnosed with my auto-immune disease The kids were staying with my parents and Geoff kept working while I was in hospital so he could take time off when I got home. Again, not being able to explain things to the dog caused issues. Indeed, it’s hard enough to explain things to the dog at the best of times, let alone when you don’t know what’s happening yourself!!

Well, like so many of us, Bilbo took matters into his own hands. Or, in this scenario, it was more of a case of chewing and digging his way towards enlightenment. He started digging and chewing through the computer network cabling under the house, which was clearly getting in his way as he dug wombat holes perilously close to the foundations. It appeared that he only stopped when he started on a power cable and might’ve had experienced more than a slight tingle.

Geoff arrived home after work, after driving round to see me in hospital and visiting the kids at Mum and Dad’s (which had become his nightly routine) to find out he had no connectivity. Fortunately, the reason we had such an elaborate home network going back about 12 years ago, is that Geoff is a senior network engineer and back in the day when Novel mattered, he was a Certified Novel Network engineer. However, that didn’t mean he wanted or needed to rebuild our home network even though he could, and Bilbo’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Moreover, Bilbo’s complaints to management had clearly gone much further than the usual puppy antics of chewing shoes and disemboweling the stuffing out of his bed. Let’s just say Geoff wasn’t happy and while he was re-installing the network, he also blocked the said pup out from under the house.

Bilbo Jonathon & Amelia Rabbit Ears

However, to be fair to the dog, he’d gone from having me and the kids at home much of the time where he was with us constantly. He was one of us more than the rest of us could ever be, and was the glue at the heart of our family. To go from that, to suddenly  being alone without rhyme or reason must’ve been a huge shock. So, I don’t blame him for staging a four-legged protest. I wasn’t too happy with the situation either.

Bilbo Rabbit Ears

The strange thing about all of Bilbo’s antics and so many of our own, is that once we’ve worked through the initial response and allowed the dust to settle, we actually find these catastrophes funny. They make us laugh. Indeed, life would be so uneventful without the things which give us nightmares. I’m not sure how he psychology or mechanics of all of this works, but perhaps someone out there can enlighten me.

Wet Bilbo

It didn’t happen overnight, but Bilbo eventually conquered a degree of his fear of the water. I look at it now and think how hard it would have been to swim weighed down by his heavy coat.

Meanwhile,  if you’d like to read about laughter’s capacity to get us through the toughest of times, I encourage you to read this very uplifting though very difficult post from Aimee Foster who lost her baby girl when she was a day old: Why It’s Essential to Find Humor At Your Darkest Hour. 

Bilbo watchin the sun set Palm Beach

Do you have any funny dog stories you would like to share? Or, perhaps you’re more of a cat person. Or, perhaps reading this has reminded you of a cherished person you have lost? I would love to hear from you in the comments. 

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Dog We’ll Never Forget!

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love

deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

It’s been almost three years since our gorgeous Border Collie, Bilbo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. However, today I read a few posts which reminded of him and all these raw emotions and memories came flooding back in a way which caught my defences off guard.

Bilbo was every bit a part of our family as the rest of us, and there’s a dreadful sense of loss when you lose someone in your family. Human or dog, you just can’t replace them straight away and they leave behind a hole like a cookie cutter in their very own shape, which can not be filled. However, although it can be painful to remember, it’s ultimately worse to forget, which is why I wanted to share this moving story.

Just to put you in the picture, it was mid-January 2012…eight years ago. It wasn’t New Year’s Day when every other human and their dog automatically go on diets to welcome in the New year. Rather, it was two weeks later. I was the first cab off the rank, Geoff was second and Bilbo was lucky last.

Bilbo + Amelia

Bilbo with the kids when he first arrived.

Starting with yours truly, just before Christmas, I’d found out that my auto-immune disease was affecting my lungs and I was showing early signs of Institial Lung Disease(ILD) and fibrosis. I couldn’t get an appointment with the lung specialist until mid-January, the day before we were due to leave on a family holiday to Byron Bay. I was absolutely distraught over Christmas and New Year and vowed I’d do anything to keep myself alive to be there for the kids. They were still only seven and five and still so young and naturally I vowed to do everything I could to get more time with them. Fight right to the very and if I had to. Indeed, I would do anything for love and the song became my song and mantra through this truly excruciating time:

Jonathon Amelia Bilbo

Taken on our son’s first day of school in 2009.

However, there’s a key line of the song undermines all that devotion….”but I won’t do that”.

What was it I wouldn’t do? Where was my breaking point? Where would I draw the line when it came to self-sacrifice to be there for my kids?

It was funny because I remember looking into the pantry and seeing a packet of Tim Tams sitting in there, and it was calling out to me. It was like they’d come to life and were asking me if I could give them up. Could I give up my beloved Tim Tams to buy extra time with my kids? Or, was the packet of Tim Tams going to be my Achilles Heel? My “but I can’t do that”?

Of course not. I was made of stronger stuff than that. Well, at least I hoped so.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Only a lunatic would go kayaking with two dogs on board, especially Bilbo who is sitting right on top of me. He never really found his sea legs and tried to keep his precious paws well out of the water.

Well, I was lucky. The lung specialist felt that the Institial Lung Disease was mild and dormant. I was not in any imminent danger of dying, although he told me exercise and losing weight could help my breathing and quality of life. The next day, we left for my in-law’s place just outside Byron Bay, Australia’s alternate health capital and found myself sugar-free on the Caveman Diet and drinking gurgling spirolina smoothies. Over the next few months, I lost ten kilos.

Meanwhile, my husband, Geoff, was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the doctor wanted to see whether diet could avoid medication. So, while I went sugar free, he went low fat and with all of us eating the same food, we were both losing weight.

That is, all except Bilbo.

bilbo BW dog food

The dog really must be sick…he is sleeping in the trail of dog food Miss left for him.

However, that didn’t last very long. Soon, Bilbo went off for his annual trip to the vet’s, and boy did I get a talking to. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken an overweight pet to the vet. If you have, you might’ve found yourselves in a similar spot where you’re much loved pet is unceremoniously called: “FAT.” If they’re being nice, they might tell you: “You’re killing your pet with kindness”. However, they could also be brutally direct, and speak to you in a way that no paediatrician would ever use to a parent of an overweight child. Indeed, they can hit you where it hurts just like a well aimed ruler across the knuckles. Actually, make that the heartstrings. There’s not much worse than being told you’re a bad parent of child or dog.

Bilbo & Lady

Bilbo & Lady

To be fair though, Bilbo did hit the scales at 42 kilos, and although he’s tall for a Border Collie, he wasn’t that tall. Of course, I should’ve known and done something about it myself, without needing the vet to point it out. A friend had referred affectionately to his “love handles” as she was feeding him her left over gravy. Moreover, while he could somewhat conceal all that excess over-indulgence beneath his woolly coat, we weren’t stupid.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Reality really hit home, however, when the vet asked how many meals a day he’d been having. That was the very first time I’d really become conscious of the mind-blowing volume of leftovers I’d been feeding him. Both of our kids were non-eaters and it wasn’t unusual for him to get both of their leftovers breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, I hate waste, and we even have a worm farm to consume what the dogs don’t eat.

Bilbo was put on an instant diet. No more snacks, treats, leftovers.

Zip.

Fetching Bilbos Ball

Finally some assistance. Miss puts Bilbo out of his misery!

The trouble is, how do you tell a dog that he’s on a diet? How do you explain that you’re just not being mean, when you no longer give him that tasty morsel of fat off your steak? He was so used to getting all of our left overs that he had expectations – a sense of entitlement. So, naturally he looked at me through those huge, soppy puppy dog eyes as though I’d ripped his heart out. I was being so mean, and he knew nothing about the virtues of tough love. Was it too much to ask for Mum to have her cake, and for him to have some too? He certainly thought nothing of it. However he was a slow learner. A few weeks later when the kids went back to school, Bilbo spotted the lunchboxes and knew there would be leftovers for him inside. You could just imagine the look on his face when they bypassed his bowl and went straight in the bin.

Bilbo staring out to sea

I’m surprised Bilbo didn’t record his own sob song and post it on Youtube. His nose was very out of joint. After all, he knew food and love went hand in hand, and straight into his mouth.

“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Banksy

The only other time I’ve even seen Bilbo look at food in quite the same way was when he was put on prednisone for an infection. He was absolutely ravenous (prednisone is like a hunger drug and it makes you eat and eat and eat).

It really was hard putting him through this diet, but he lost weight, even if he was never going to make Slimmer-Of -The-Year.

Losing his appetite was the first sign Bilbo wasn’t well at the end and not being able to chase his ball was the second. Even still, we hoped for a miracle.

It wasn’t meant to be.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for

those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as

separation.”

Rumi

However, as the song The Way We Were reminds us:

Bilbo shadow Palm Beach

Our Philosophical Dog walking along beside the tide. He doesn’t like getting wet paws.

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bilbo with ball

Bilbo appropriating another dog’s ball.

 

Driving North- Photographing the Aftermath of the Australian Bush Fires.

No doubt, you’ve also experienced that mixture of excitement and disappointment on a long drive, when you spot something spectacular out the window, but are having difficulties finding somewhere to pull over safely. If you’re as desperate as yours truly to seize the moment in 6 x 4, the fear of missing out (popularised as “FOMO”)  grips you body and soul. You’re a possessed maniac just like that person busting for the toilet in the middle of nowhere yet precariously still strapped into their seat. Don’t you know that desperation too? You’re about to explode. You have to get out. You can’t wait any longer. The cry goes out: “Pull over!!!”

Sunset After the Fire's Been Through

That’s what happened two weeks ago when we were driving North from Sydney to Byron Bay via the Pacific Highway and we spotted the sun setting through the burned out bush. The sun was enormous, glowing like a ball of fire through the charred eucalyptus or gum trees. It was strangely breathtaking. I had to seize the moment, which was rapidly disappearing with the fading light.

Fortunately, my husband who was driving at the time, was sympathetic to my plight and pulled over without complaint. The photos didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped, and actually tell quite a different story now I look at them back home. After all, they contain so many signs of life and nature fighting back against the devastating impact of the fires. Indeed, we saw vast expanses of trees exploding in a profusion of fresh green leaves seemingly as a form of post-traumatic growth. My goodness. These eucalyptus trees are tough. Bloody resilient. The bush wasn’t dead after all.

DSC_7292

The family in front of the lens with me behind it. 

By this stage, the bush fires had been extinguished up North, but were still blazing fiercely on the South Coast. Yet, we still weren’t sure what we were going to find. Independently, Geoff and I have been up and down this road all our lives and since we met 21 years ago, we’ve driven up here at least once a year to see his sisters and family. So, while this stretch of the Pacific Highway isn’t quite an extension of our driveway, we know it well. We care about it, too, and it sent a chill down our spines when we heard that a fascinating time capsule to early settlement, a museum called Little Italy, was at risk. I’m sure I screamed out: “NO!!!” to the TV. If I didn’t, I certainly wanted to. The devastation has been catastrophic.

However, we were relieved and almost surprised to see that the bush had endured, persevered and overcome. Indeed, we saw kilometres of bush where trees were sprouting fresh green leaves, an almost freakish, furry-green regrowth, as their will to survive went into overdrive. Indeed, I wondered if this was a variation of the post-traumatic growth we can also experience following a traumatic event. I’m not a scientist so I can’t know for sure. However, on a personal level, I found it very encouraging and it certainly lifted my sagging spirits. After being confined to the lounge room at home to escape the menacing smoke, I’d watched months of bush fire coverage on TV. Indeed, I was seriously starting to wonder how much of our precious Australian bush would be left when we ventured further afield. So, I found these shoots of green such a relief. A restoration of lost hope.

Horses after the fires

Horses running from humans rather than the flames. 

We’d pulled over to photograph the sun setting through the scarred, burned-out landscape. However, while we were there a couple of skittish horses ran passed not to escape the fires, but from us. I madly clicked away and sadly didn’t do the moment justice. However, the makings are there. It doesn’t take much imagination to see these horses running from the flames. Much better in the imagination than reality, and I certainly don’t want to be around to photograph that. Indeed, I’ll leave that to the movies. Far too many animals have been lost in these horrific fires. I’ve seen enough. I just hope there’s some way our wildlife can bounce back like these trees and am grateful for the rain and for the incredibly generous donations which are coming in from around the world. They’re much appreciated.

There has been such catastrophic suffering. I don’t even know where to begin. Possessions can be replaced, but there’s the horror for many of the engulfing flames and smoke and many have lost their lives. There’s a post traumatic anxiety pervading all our communities. At a very basic level, just watching the coverage on TV is enough, but our population is relatively small here in Australia. Our friends and families were at the heart of these catastrophic fires, even if we were well away and not impacted ourselves. What is perhaps most telling, is that the smoke from these fires reached as far away as South America. That’s the other side of the world and a reminder, that we’re a global community.

Driving back home, we stopped off at Taree, where the fires hit hard. We saw the writing melted on road signs on the turn off and places where the fire had jumped across the freeway, showing just how bad it was. There was a roundabout covered in the charred remains of grass trees and it looked pretty bleak until my husband pointed out that fresh shoots were springing from the devastation. A keen photographer himself, he said: “that’s your shot”. Unfortunately, this time there was nowhere to stop, and that one went through to the keeper.

Have you been affected by the Australian fires? I’m thinking of you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Trials of The Good Samaritan…Friday Fictioneers.

“Trust it to rain on RUOK Day,” murmured Jane from accounts. “If we were meant to feel okay, it would be sunny.”

Ever the Good Samaritan, I invited her out for lunch. However, Sydney’s Martin Place was wet and dreary, only intensifying her despair and my frustration.

“Umbrellas and raincoats protect you from the rain, but nothing can save you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. ”

It was hopeless. The power of positive thinking sank to the bottom of my chai latte and drowned. No point applying CPR. I gazed heavenward and admitted defeat.

“Lord, she’s all yours”.

……

100 words

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda. Click here for other stories inspired by the prompt.

In Australia, we have a program geared towards improving mental health and preventing suicide called RUOK and every year we have RUOK Day,  which was held just a few weeks ago on the 12th September. However, naturally the idea is to use this question to start a conversation any day of the year.

I’ve been battling with this for awhile, because while it’s all well and good to ask if someone’s okay, you generally know they’re not which is why you’re asking the question. So, when they say no, or they deny what’s going on, what do you do then?

While they might even need professional help, it’s often difficult to get someone into treatment and we as family, friends, work colleagues and even strangers are called in to bridge the gap. It is fundamental to my personal ethics to stop and help someone who is suffering and not be that person who walks away, turns a bling eye. Yet, people who are doing it tough can be difficult to be around…depressing, angry, poor communicators, smelly. So these were some of the issues I wanted to raise through my well-intentioned Good Samaritan who finds it all a bit too hard in the end.

Although the situation doesn’t resolve well in my story, more than likely it takes a number of attempts to get through to someone who is doing it really tough. There’s an ad which encourages people not to give up trying to quit smoking because they’ve already failed before. They say that it takes a few attempts to quit. It’s probably the same with encouraging someone to open up. We need to keep the lines of communication open, have a few people to share the load and do not give up.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Día de los Muertos…Friday Fictioneers.

 

Tony was in Mexico for a conference. Yet,he somehow wound up in the backseat of a VW heading out to San Andrés Mixquic, southeast of Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The streets were packed, but he soon spotted the most exquisitely beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was almost floating up to the altar and left behind a handful of marigolds along with a black and white photograph. They exchanged smiles and she whispered:”todas somos calaveras”. Cupid’s arrow struck fast. Yet, as he reached out to touch her hand, she was nothing but air. A ghost.

…..

100 words

Phew. This week’s prompt was rather challenging and I’m not sure if the decor in this cafe was connected to Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations which are held annually on the 2nd November. However, that was the approach I took. Being from Sydney, Australia, Mexico is a long way from home and quite a bit of research was required to pull this off. I only heard about the Day of the dead for the first time a few years ago.

Naturally, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has actually been there.

Catrina August 21

José Guadalupe Posada, Calavera de la Catrina (Skull of the Female Dandy), from the portfolio 36 Grabados: José Guadalupe Posada, published by Arsacio Vanegas, Mexico City, c. 1910, printed 1943, photo-relief etching with engraving, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the friends of Freda Radoff.

In the National Geographic article listed below, I found a reference to Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada who created an etching to accompany a literary calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb and called it Calavera Garbancera, intending it as social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos somos calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our manmade trappings, we are all the same. I really liked that sentiment and hence incorporated it into my story.

Meanwhile, you might enjoy this further reading:

National Geographic – Day of the Dead

The Cultural Trip – Celebrating the Day of the Dead in San Andrés Mixquic

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. Every week we write 100 words to a photo prompt. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Best wishes,

Rowena

Mother & the Stolen Roses…Friday Fictioneers.

“Put those flowers back you dirty, little thief!” screeched the elderly widow, praying at her husband’s grave. “Nothing’s sacred. Little guttersnipe stealing from the dead! Where are her parents?”

I ran as fast as my little legs would go, clutching the porcelain roses close to my chest determined they wouldn’t break. We couldn’t even afford a stone for Mother’s grave, and father had made the wooden cross himself. Yet, Mother deserved the very best, and I fully intended to give her a proper stone etched with all our love when I grew up.

Meanwhile, the stolen roses were it.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt.PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Silence After the Storm…Friday Fictioneers.

The police found Mandi McDonald’s Commodore Stationwagon 500 metres downstream. She and the two children aged eight and six were deceased. The storm had hit Toowoomba with such fury. Mandi had been driving the kids home from school, and the car was swept away in the surging currents. Her husband was distraught. Lost all his family in an instant. No one knew how he was going to get through it. Or, even if he could. They all came to the funeral, and didn’t mean to stay away.  They just couldn’t find the words and didn’t know what to say.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Charles Ernest Pierotti…A Father’s Great Love.

This morning I was reading was reading in the Good Weekend about Keith Austen’s visit to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Although I’ve been to London, I haven’t been to this museum and it was simply something interesting to read about while having my morning cup of tea and bowl of porridge. Unfortunately, coffee’s verboten as part of my daily ritual these days and I restrict myself to cappuccinos in cafes once or twice a week, where I also allow myself two spoonfuls of sugar, which are also outlawed. Mind you, just to be deliciously inconsistent, chocolate in whatever guise it arrives in, is allowed free reign. I mightn’t have the most agreeable digestive tract and I might be generously proportioned, but I’m not on life support yet. I deserve a few of life’s simple pleasures.

In between mouthfuls of porridge and sips of tea, I read about what could possibly the world’s most tragic tribute ever produced by a grieving parent. Following the death of his infant son Patrick, famed English doll maker, Charles Ernest Pierotti, made an incredibly life-like replica which is on display in a glass case at the V & A.

Austen writes:

“To me the creepiest exhibit is also one of the most beautiful. It’s a pecularly life-like doll which lies in state in a glass cabinet, a wonderfully realized baby boy with curly blond hair and pale blue eyes. He is wearing a simple, embroidered christening gown. Then, you read the label: “Wax-headed baby doll, about 1900. Patrick Enrico Pierotti died as a baby. His father, the English doll-maker Charles Ernest Pierotti, made the dollas a portrait of him.”

Patrick Enrico Pierotti2

Charles Ernest Pierotti: Patrick Enrico Pierotti. Photo: V  & A Museum.

A quick Google search, took me straight into the V&A vault and I could almost reach out and and hold baby Patrick. Feel the weight of a thousand tears and their family’s grieving hearts. Most of us know someone who has endured the grief of losing a baby, or perhaps we have been there ourselves. It’s a shocker…an angst without end.

Interestingly, however, the online catalogue describes the doll in clinical detail without a drop of emotion:

“Wax portrait doll of a young male caucasian child, with blue glass eyes and blonde human hair curls inserted into the wax. It has a pink poured wax shoulder head, with a stuffed cloth body. The doll is dressed in in a long white cotton gown, with ribbon and a whitework trim and rows of tucks. There is also a cream carrying cape of cream patterned cotton, lined with cotton, trimmed with lace and ribbon ties. Long petticoat of coarse linen and whitework, a second petticoat of cream flannel. The chemise is of white linen.”

That I found creepy.

I needed to give this baby more than just a name. At the very least, a start and finish and if I could possibly ever find out, a cause of death. While child mortality was commonplace at the turn of the century, when it came to baby Patrick we have a such a life-like replica which is still in mint condition 118 years later, that I felt he deserved a word story as well as just an image.

Above: Dolls made by Charles Ernest Pierotti Photos: V  & A Museum.

So, I put on my researchers cap and headed off in search of a date of birth, a date of death, which I fully expected to find during that period. However, I found nothing. Nothing official to acknowledge that baby Patrick Pierotti was ever here.

I have to admit, that I’m a bit surprised, especially when this doll made in his very likeness is in the public eye. Surely, I’m not the only one who has probed a little further and asked these questions? So, now I’m off to contact the V & A Museum of Childhood and see if they can shed any light on it, and I’ll keep you posted.

There’s something for you to digest over your breakfast or whichever meal is next on your agenda. It’s rapidly creeping towards dinner time here and I still don’t feel like I’ve fully woken up yet. It’s a miserable, rainy Saturday and after doing my morning errands, I returned to my PJs and had a balmy nap with my electric blanket on. Life is good. That said, it could be a bit more productive.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS While researching this story, I came across an excellent post at Diyala’s blog regarding  Momento Mori: What is it? where she’s produced a very haunting piece of art featuring this baby doll.