January 2014: Reflections on Family, Pace, and Balance

Paris in winter

Paris in winter

I write this post on a Tuesday, so it feels appropriate to reflect on the first month of the new year — or more accurately, on the past six weeks — beginning with a Tuesday in December.

These recent weeks included 3 countries, 2 bathroom DIY projects (in 2 countries), and an emotional mix of life, death, and family visits.

Following are a few reflections, looking back and looking ahead, as we prepare to leave our home away from home in Paris and return to our home in the UK.

Week 1: Tuesday 17 December (2013)- Felixstowe, UK

Bathroom-in-progress Dec. 2013

Bathroom-in-progress Dec. 2013

We felt stressed and frantic during the run-up to Christmas.

Due to the renovation of our main bathroom and related materials spread throughout the apartment, we were way past our preferred date to put up our Christmas tree.

We juggled the usual before-Christmas craziness and additional projects we wanted to complete, in anticipation of Clive’s daughter arriving on 7 January for a long-planned visit. The Christmas tree and ornament boxes sat amidst renovation clutter in our dining area, untouched.

Then we remembered: hey, we get to decide whether or not to put up the tree! No-one (other than ourselves) is forcing us to do it. We agreed we would *not* put up a tree. This was hugely liberating.

Two days later, after the plasterer completed his work in the bathroom, we checked into a local hotel because our shower was dismantled. The next morning, we were awakened by an early call from Clive’s sister in Australia, telling him their mother was approaching the end of her life.

We hustled home, found last-minute flights, and booked a hotel in Australia, as mentioned in my previous post. Adding to the mix, Clive’s father was hospitalised in England (Clive’s parents divorced when he was young), so we went back and forth to the hospital until the day we left.

On Monday 23 December, we departed London Heathrow (thanking friends who kindly dropped us at the door of Terminal 5) headed for Sydney.

Week 2: Tuesday 24 December – somewhere over Asia, in flight

Clive with his mother, 2012

Clive with his mother, 2012

We ‘missed’ Christmas Eve — or so it seems, when you leave the northern hemisphere one day and arrive in Australia ‘two days later’, according to the calendar.

The BA pilot from London to Singapore announced that Santa’s reindeer health checks were all successful and Santa’s flight plan was underway. The crew from Singapore to Sydney announced that Santa had the same flight plan as we did, so passengers might spot him out the window.

We arrived in Sydney Christmas morning and had no time to deal with jet lag, as we immediately drove to the New South Wales Central Coast. Christmas lunch was at the only place open for business: McDonald’s. That evening, a visit from Clive’s son and family lifted our spirits immensely.

Most importantly, we arrived Down Under in time for Clive to spend hours and days at his mother’s bedside. She was largely unresponsive, but the first time she heard his voice she opened her eyes and looked right at him.

During these days, when not with Clive’s mother, we spent much-appreciated time with Clive’s son and family — who had numerous pre-planned commitments during this period — and also with his sister and her husband, children, and grandchildren — who were doing an amazing job juggling visits to their dying mother with pre-wedding events for their son’s marriage on 4 January. I also met one of Clive’s half-sisters for the first time.

Clive’s mother died in the early hours of Monday, 30 December. In the middle of the night, and thanks to his son’s kind driving offer, Clive kissed his mum good-bye for the last time.

Daylight ushered in a series of family meetings, funeral preparations, a review with the funeral director, and Clive’s agreement to write and deliver the eulogy for his mother. He also took on the project of preparing a ‘Life in Pictures’ presentation for her memorial service, scheduled for 2 January.

Week 3: Tuesday 31 December – New South Wales, Australia

Clive with his son & amily in the pool, January 2014

Clive with his son & family in the pool, January 2014

New Year’s Eve: a day of shopping for funeral clothes (sad), but also a day of sharing Clive’s grandson’s 7th birthday (happy). We joined the family at a local play area and then for the extended gathering at their home. Later that night, Clive juggled e-mails and photo exchanges with his sisters while I watched Sydney fireworks on TV.

New Year’s Day: Clive spent the first day of 2014 virtually entirely at his laptop in our rather dreary hotel room, preparing his mother’s eulogy and the ‘Life in Pictures’ presentation.

The funeral, on Thursday 2 January, was an intimate, dignified service in a small chapel filled with family and friends. My dear hubby did a fantastic job with both the eulogy and the photos, and many members of the extended family told me they thought both were brilliant. I was also touched by the grandchildren’s recollections given during the service. Only two were unable to attend: Clive’s daughter who was already in the UK, and another granddaughter currently living in Germany.

With summer vacation in full swing Down Under, we couldn’t get return air tickets until the following Monday. This turned out to be a real blessing, as we were able to spend the final weekend with Clive’s son and family. Clive enjoyed kicking the football, playing Frisbee, and swimming in the hotel pool, and our dinners out with his three active grandchildren.

On Monday, 6 January, we drove from the NSW Central Coast back down to Sydney. I worried that Clive hadn’t had a spare moment to process all the family events, though I know this takes months and years to do. I was happy for Clive, knowing that he was pleased to have accomplished our purpose for travelling to Australia, that he had arrived in time to be with his mother during the final days of her life and was able to stay on for the funeral.

As for me, my emotions swelled to overflowing as we drove through Sydney on our way to the airport, passing through the suburbs where I once lived with my late husband Gary and then with Clive. I wished I’d made time, as I usually do, to visit the site where my son and I scattered Gary’s ashes in 2003. It felt sad, and wrong, to have been in Australia and not gone to Manly or Shelly Beach. But then I thought, my highest priority — really, my only priority — for this particular trip was to be at Clive’s side for the support he needed. I carry Gary in my heart, no matter where I am. My heart is happy the trip went well for Clive, and my heart knows it will return in person to Shelly Beach next time.

We said farewell to Sydney and boarded our flight to the UK on Monday evening.

Week 4: Tuesday 7 January 2014 – London & Felixstowe, UK

Clive and his daughter Kylie at Felixstowe Ferry

Clive and his daughter Kylie at Felixstowe Ferry

Our ‘lost’ Christmas Eve day was ‘returned’ as we spent 20+ hours on long-haul flights but arrived in London only the morning after we left Australia.

Our saintly friend met us at 5am and delivered us back to our apartment, where his wife had stocked the fridge and his daughter had made a slow-cooking beef stew which awaited us on the counter.

Again there was no time for jet lag. We had exactly three hours until Clive’s daughter would arrive — picked up at the train station by the same saintly friends — and in those few hours, Clive put a coat of sealer on the bathroom walls, which were at that stage bare plaster and would have suffered once we started showering.

Kylie had offered to spend a few extra days in London if we needed the time, but we’ve learned that once the ‘children’ are grown, we want to maximise every opportunity to spend time with them. Kylie arrived on the date originally planned, and thus began a full week of walking, sightseeing, and just being together in Suffolk.

Week 5: Tuesday 14 January – Paris

Clive & Kylie in the Tuileries, en route to Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Clive & Kylie in the Tuileries, en route to Musée d’Orsay, Paris

What better way to follow a Suffolk countryside sojourn than with a city birthday trip to Paris? On Tuesday 14 January, we three travelled on the Eurostar to the City of Light, another long-planned trip.

I’m always filled with joy to be in Paris and Kylie’s an experienced global traveller who’s been here multiple times before. For this trip, we wanted to show her some of our favourite places in the city. We had another non-stop week, kind weather with mild days, and celebrated Kylie’s birthday with a Seine river lunch cruise, a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie, hot chocolate at Angelina’s (one of her regular stops), and a raspberry tarte at home to finish the day.

Kylie returned to London, en route back to Australia, on Monday 20 January. Clive and I saw her off at Gare du Nord and returned to the apartment.

Then, we crashed.

Week 5: Tuesday 21 January – Paris

The Seine and tip of Ile St-Louis, Paris

The Seine and tip of Ile St-Louis, Paris

Last Tuesday was the first day in more than five weeks that Clive and I had with just the two of us — not going anywhere, not coming back from anywhere, not doing much of anything at all. Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway: bliss. Slow pace, quiet days, Paris — except, of course, the 100 year-old bathroom window in urgent need of repair and repainting, which Clive has now magnificently completed.

I adore Paris in winter, when it’s relatively uncrowded; when everything’s open and the lines are short or non-existent; when there’s time for reflection as you walk along the streets and see the city in all its glory visible through leafless tree branches or with lights twinkling in the early evening dusk. Whatever the reason, I’ve loved this past week in Paris as much as I love any time in Paris.

Week 6: Tuesday 28 January – Paris

Twinkling through the trees on a winter evening, Paris

Twinkling through the trees on a winter evening, Paris

Preparing to leave Paris always saddens me, but I also love our home by the sea in Felixstowe, and as with my special places in Sydney, I remind myself to say, ‘Until we meet again’.

Until then, life goes on as it always does, and as the wonderful comedienne Gilda Radner once said, ‘It’s always something.’ We’re not the only couple or family who’s had a crazy start to the new year.

I look back on recent events and reflect on three aspects of our choices, the decisions we made, and how we spent our time:

1.  Family — continues to be a priority for me and Clive. I’ve written much on this blog about family globalisation. Being scattered around the globe, far away from loved ones, and unable physically to be in more than one place at one time is challenging but not insurmountable. Family will remain a priority; we return to England, where Clive’s father has again been in hospital, and soon we’ll travel to the US to see my family there.

2.  Pace — we realise more and more that we both need time and space to regroup and recharge, that we just cannot keep up the pace we’ve recently been on, no matter how much we wish we could.  

3.  Balance — perhaps this is my ‘word for 2014’ or at least my focus going forward this year. (I didn’t have a word for 2013; in 2012 it was ‘choices’ and in 2011, ‘settle’).

The areas I want to focus on, and balance, are ‘C&C time’ — time for me and Clive together; time with our US and Australia families; time for individual projects and passions (my Paris-based writing project, Clive’s DIY projects), and time to appreciate our daily life with friends and activities in Felixstowe. I know we’ll never have a perfect, zen-like state of balance, but we can be conscious about slowing down when we can, appreciating each moment, and making time to just be.

For now I’ll give thanks for everything that went well in recent weeks, for our priceless family and friends who helped make it so, and for this precious time in Paris.

Me and reflections at Trocadéro this evening

Me and reflections at Trocadéro this evening

Cheers for now, until next time.

6 Responses

  1. Hello Carolyn and Clive .. I have just read this and cannot breathe.. How you managed it all . The most important thing is that Clive made it back to Australia in time , God blessed you on this one. Clive definitely felt and knew you were there to support him , which you did. I am so happy that everything went well , times like this can be fraught and very stressful ,, Yes you had sad times but you had Happy times with grandson’s birthday and daughters visit too and you went to Paris.. .. .

    I certainly could feel your “crash” Phew , You need a holiday 🙂

    Take care , sending you both my best wishes Anne x

  2. Just like to say , you have fantastic (saintly) neighbours 🙂 And I did NOT put up a tree , well not a normal tree , 🙂

  3. With a smaller contingent of grown-up children than usual, we also decided not to put up a tree this year. It didn’t make sense.
    Glad to know that you got to Australia in time for Clive’s mother. I can remember a similar journey.
    Hope to catch up next time we’re in Paris at the same time.
    You will be pleased to get back to Felixstowe.

  4. Anne, thanks for your wishes and our friends are saintly for sure!

    Rosemary, thank you too and I also hope we can connect in Paris 🙂

    Both, I am especially thrilled to know neither of you put up a Christmas tree either! Yay.


  5. Thank you for your update, Carolyn! I’ve had a rather harried couple of weeks and so I did not respond as soon as I’d have liked to this, but I read it on my iPhone when you posted and was so glad to know how things have gone the past couple of months. My condolences again to you and Clive, but how wonderful to see that you were able to be loved by family and friends in this time. Thank you for the pictures of Paris, too! I can scarce believe I ever once was there. But I see the pictures and realize that yes, I once upon a time lived there. I’m glad you could enjoy your time in Paris, and I’m thankful for your photos.

    You both take care and I surely hope that 2014 is one with fewer intense challenges for you both and a lot more peaceful and joyful moments together with one another and the ones you love.


  6. Karin, hi there and thanks for your comment! You were definitely in Paris and I’m sure you’ll get back there again one day.

    In the meantime, I appreciate your thoughts and wish you and your ‘boys’ all the best for 2014.

    Cheers and take care.

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