Letter from Felixstowe: An Australia Engagement

My son and his fiancée, newly-engaged in Sydney

My son and his fiancée, newly-engaged in Sydney

Last week, on a headland overlooking one of Sydney’s spectacular Northern beaches, my son and his beautiful girlfriend became engaged.

The story of this couple — their meeting, their romance and their plans for the future — is theirs to tell, not mine. But as the mother of the groom-to-be, I’m thrilled for these two young people I love so much and hope you won’t mind if I share a few of my own special memories leading up to this occasion.

* A moment in 2012, over breakfast with me and Clive in our New Jersey hotel, when my son said, ‘I met a girl at a NATO conference … ‘

* The first time we met her, in the lobby of a London hotel where they’d travelled to spend a few wonderful days with us.

* Times my son told me of their shared activities and travels – different events in Washington D.C., a weekend in Montreal for his birthday, a surprise trip to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion, for hers. Times they met each other’s closest friends and time spent with each other’s families.

* When Clive and I looked at apartments with my son last year and how he wanted both of them to love it. The way they sought and respected each other’s opinions and we knew they were planning a future together.

* When we met her parents and brother and the times we’ve spent together since, and how I’m deeply thankful for how quickly we bonded and for our many shared interests and values.

* When my son told me he wanted to propose in Australia and my heart swelled with a mix of joy and sadness as it does whenever something momentous happens in his life, because his father is no longer here to share it.

in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens

in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens

* When they planned their trip to Australia months in advance and looked forward to it with great anticipation.

* When, by serendipitous coincidence, the day I arrived in Washington D.C. last August was the same day my son made a day trip to New York City, to meet with a ring designer in the diamond district. When he arrived back in Washington and over dinner that night — his fiancee-to-be was on a business trip in Germany – and shared with me a description of the ring he had commissioned.

* When I received the text message from Sydney, in the middle of the night in the UK. When, minutes later on the phone, they told me I was the first person to know and I was overcome with gratitude and felt like the most blessed mother in the world. When once again my heart filled with that mix I’ve learned will always live inside me, of joy and happiness for my son and everlasting sorrow that his father wasn’t there to share it, even as we know he is always with us in spirit.

* When I’ve shared every one of the above moments with Clive, who’s given great love and support to both me and my son for many years (including in the middle of the night last week) and for whom I’m thankful every day. I’m excited we’re heading to the U.S. via London early next week and will see and hug the engaged couple in person very soon.

* When I think of Australia and what an amazing country it is, how I adore Sydney and how many memories I have there. When I realise it will never fail to move me that my son and his fiancée became engaged there, in the magical Harbour city that holds so much happiness for him and our family and now for the two of them together.

Sydney Harbour, Opera House & Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour, Opera House & Harbour Bridge

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from the U.S.

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.

A Change of Plans — Christmas Upside-Down

AA ship 1 1 13 Nov 2013

WInter sunset, Felixstowe

Clive’s mobile phone rang in the early-morning darkness, with the news from one of his sisters in Australia that their mother is approaching the end of her life.

Conversations now include those phrases and euphemisms such as ‘palliative care’, ‘pain management’, and ‘keeping her comfortable’.

Clive spent the morning thinking about possible options and discussing them with me. With my full support, he decided he wanted to see his mother one more time alive, rather than at her funeral.

By way of background, his mother has been rapidly declining in recent years and for some time has not appeared to recognise Clive when we visit. However, we have felt, as many others do in similar situations, that something inside her did reflect a slight spark or awareness that it was her only son who sat beside her.

Previously, Clive had thought (and told his sister) that, when the time came, he would return to Australia for his mother’s funeral. Within a short time after receiving the morning phone call, he realised he would rather see his mother while she is still alive. As it happens, I did something similar with my father almost exactly three years ago, visiting him in the U.S. when he was dying but still able to recognise me. We said our goodbyes and, for a number of reasons, I did not return for his funeral and felt at peace with that decision.

Adding to the complexity of our current situation in the UK, only yesterday Clive’s father was discharged from hospital and is dealing with many difficult issues of his own. Clive’s parents divorced when he was very young, and although we are closer geographically to his father, his priority lies with his mother, who raised him.

So, once decided, we began the urgent processes of finding flights, communicating with Clive’s children in Australia, and letting family and friends here in the UK know of our change of plans.

We can’t help but feel the irony: in our annual Christmas letter, we talked about feeling the effects of long-haul travel, jet lag, and general travel fatigue as we circle the world seeing loved ones, and admitting we’re not quite as young as we used to be. We shared that we planned to do somewhat less travel in 2014, bringing our children to us for one visit. Now, before some friends have finished reading our letter, here we are, travelling again.

Life is nothing if not unpredictable, today’s families are dispersed geographically, and there is no timetable for illness and approaching the end of life.

As for me, on one hand, I relate deeply and totally to what Clive is feeling, as I felt exactly the same with my father’s situation. On the other hand, if I’m completely honest with myself, my first reaction after we received the early-morning call and Clive expressed his understandable desire to get to Australia ASAP to see his mother, was simply wanting to weep. We returned from Thanksgiving in the US with a huge sigh of relief, both of us weary from a year of rewarding but tiring family visits and thrilled to keep our feet on the ground for a month or two.

We’d made plans for a relatively quiet Christmas in England — a number of warmly-anticipated get-togethers with friends, our first New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a pantomime theme (Clive was going as Jack with me as the Beanstalk), dinners for two, and cozy winter weeks by the sea in Felixstowe.

I was also going to review my photos from our 2013 travels, write a blog post or two about our times in Australia with Clive’s children and grandchildren and the visits to my mother and son in the US — all of which have been superseded by current events.

It feels churlish to say I wish we’d had more than three weeks at home before hauling ourselves to an airport again and turning all our Christmas plans upside-down. Then I remember: if it were my mother, I’d do exactly the same thing, and would be grateful for Clive’s support in this most painful of life tasks.

So we telephone and e-mail and pack and get our affairs in order and pray that we will arrive in time to say goodbye.

Two Families, Two Deaths, Two Women

View of Shelly Beach from Manly Beach, Sydney

View of Shelly Beach from Manly Beach, Sydney

My beautiful friend Julie joined me this week in an activity I’ve previously done only with my son or by myself.

On a bright autumn afternoon in Sydney, we walked from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach, and scattered red rose petals in memory of my first husband Gary and Julie’s son, Martin.

Two Families
Something magic happens when two families connect at every level — wives, husbands, children, values, and interests. I read a recent post by ‘Wandering Sheila’ and instantly thought of Julie and her family, with whom my family of three shared so much in Australia.

I could write a book about our two families’ interactions, but for this post suffice it to say everything began when, within a few days of our moving to Sydney, my son returned from primary school and said, ‘I have a new friend. His name is Martin. He and his family just got back from a trip to Finland.’ Thus began a priceless friendship.

I loved watching Martin and his older sister interact; their closeness reminded me of mine with my brother when we were kids. Among our families’ seemingly endless shared interests were the boys’ baseball (my son the pitcher, Martin the shortstop, the dads involved in coaching and umpiring); family bushwalks, beach outings, and countless barbeques; a passion for travel and reading (our best Aussie book recommendations came from Julie and her husband); special holiday meals; and parents who loved spending time with their children and getting together as a family. The two dads were both experts at DIY, did a lot of the family cooking, and could talk at length on subjects ranging from the local real estate market to international politics. Julie and I could talk at length about anything.

Two Deaths
In November 2002, with virtually no warning, Gary was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable gastric cancer. Julie and her family were with us at the hospital in the last weeks of Gary’s life. On the afternoon before Gary died, Martin spent time visiting him, then walked into the hallway and wept in his mother’s arms. He went home and made a pizza for his father to bring back to the hospital that evening for me, my son, and my stepson. Gary died late that same night.

In the months that followed, Julie regularly visited me on a Sunday afternoon. She would bring her knitting along and sit with me, letting me ramble on or be silent — a supportive, companionable presence.

In July 2005, two years after Gary’s death, Julie came over on one of those Sunday afternoons. Early Monday morning, she left an unusually short ‘call me’ message on my answering machine, but I’d already left for work and didn’t check it when I returned late that night. Tuesday morning, she rang again when I was in the shower. I noticed the blinking light as I was leaving and played back both messages, the second one a distraught, ‘Please call me.’ With rising fear I rang their home. Another close friend answered and I knew instantly something was terribly wrong. ‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘Some of the boys went fishing on Sunday, from the cliffs at Middle Head,’ she said. Martin grew up near those steep rocks, had played there all his life, and knew it well. Sunday had been a beautiful, clear day.

‘There was an accident. A fall,’ said the friend. Her voice cracked and she paused to breathe. ‘Martin died.’

In the terrible aftermath of that tragedy, I did what I could to comfort my friends and their daughter — which, as I knew from my brother Rob’s death — was sadly very little. My son had his 20th birthday and returned to university in the US, a courageous young man who had lost his father and then one of his closest friends in the space of less than two years.

Often, after a long work day, I visited Julie, her husband, and daughter, and sat with them at their kitchen table, all of us mourning and morose. I remember vividly one night when their daughter was out and I left Julie sitting between her husband and her brother. I drove home to my lonely house, weeping with sadness and frustration at the finality of death and the desperate, hopeless knowledge that in what seemed like the blink of an eye, two happy families were gone forever.

Two Women
Time passed, as it does. Days, weeks, and months turned into years. Julie’s daughter, with her degree in archaeology, worked for a time in Western Australia and is now in London. My son finished university and settled in Washington, DC. I was blessed to meet and then marry Clive, and we moved to the UK. Julie and her husband, still in Sydney, are in that pre-retirement transition stage, talking about what’s next with work, travel, and life in general. The only thing that’s stayed the same over the years is that after the two deaths, nothing for either family was ever the same.

As with most priceless friends, when Julie and I meet – usually over long lunches of champagne and dim sum — time and distance melt away and we pick up right where we left off. I adore my life in Felixstowe, but through no fault of our wonderful friends there, they never knew Gary — so it’s lovely for me to spend time with someone who knew him well, as Julie did. I knew Martin well, too, and we talk freely of them both — no holding back, no ‘you should be over it now’, no reservations.

This week, on a sunny autumn day in Sydney, we were just two women, standing and looking out to sea at Shelly Beach. Maybe others wondered why the women were scattering red rose petals into the water. Then they sat on a bench — sharing their history, marvelling at how they’d survived, remembering those they loved. A passing observer might have noted them turning their faces into the Australian sunshine, chatting and smiling, just enjoying a simple afternoon together.

I’m thankful every day for my blessings, which include my son and family and my wonderful second husband Clive. I give thanks to God and the Universe for my beautiful friend Julie, for her son Martin, for my first husband Gary, for Julie’s husband and daughter, and for two families who connected and had so many happy times together.

In love and remembrance.

Walkway from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach, Sydney

Walkway from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach, Sydney

Steps Removed: Reflections on Being a Step-Grandparent

With Clive and his grandchildren, Australia

With Clive and his grandchildren, Australia

As our time for this trip in Australia draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on my role as a step-grandmother to six children — my late husband Gary’s grandsons (ages 11, 9, and 5) in the US, and Clive’s grandsons (age 9 and 6) and granddaughter (2-1/2) in Australia.

How to Be a Good Grandparent

Numerous books and articles I’ve read describe and recommend two crucial aspects of grandparent-hood.

Firstly, being a grandparent is by most accounts a wonderful experience, not least because one can savour all the joys of young children at one step removed from parenting and its endless, engulfing, exhausting responsibilities. Secondly, most experts advise grandparents to focus on the positive, keep one’s mouth firmly shut regarding unsolicited ‘suggestions’ or advice, and let the parents be the parents.

Families – Blended and Global

Blended families are nothing new, nor are global families — blended or otherwise — with multiple generations scattered across the globe.

If being a grandparent is one step removed from direct parenting, being a step-grandparent is two steps removed. In my case, geographic distance adds yet another dimension to the step-grandparenting experience.

All step-families and global families face ongoing challenges, and I don’t have biological grandchildren to make a direct comparison. But based on my experience of recent years, I’ve found that being a step-grandparent offers unique gifts and opportunities.

(Lack of) Family History and Emotional Baggage

In my two main ‘step’ experiences, I came into the life of my stepchildren long after their parents had divorced and settled into their post-divorce single lives. I wasn’t around, or involved, in most of my stepchildren’s early family history, neither the happy times nor the traumas and dramas.   

The downside of carrying minimal family history baggage is that I can’t regale the grandkids with stories of ‘what your daddy did when he was a little boy’. But as a relative newcomer, I feel I can be a more neutral observer, an objective presence without the possible expectations, disappointments, or projections a biological grandparent might intentionally or unintentionally bestow. I can relax and focus on the young people, marvel at their developing personalities and character, and appreciate the present moments with them.

Roles Shaped by Individual Experience

2 AA with the boys 23 Nov 2012

Clive and me with Gary’s grandsons in the US

Like every biological family relationship, every step-relationship has its own dynamics. In the past decade, I’ve had to figure out my role as a step-grandparent in two distinct situations. I’ve had to learn how much to get involved (answer: mostly not much at all) and how much to hold back (answer: mostly a lot, with occasional lapses).

For me and Clive, it’s helpful that we each have adult children. We can ‘reverse the situation’ and think: if this were my child/grandchild, what would I want from my spouse in this instance? We value each other’s opinion, and often say, ‘Tell me what you think. What would you do?’ But many times we’ve found, as textbooks advise, the best approach for the ‘step’ side of the couple is to say and do very little and instead simply listen, provide a sounding board, and support.

As a step-grandparent, I’ve come to see my role as the traditional one of grandparent support but with certain twists.

With Gary’s grandsons in the US, I can share memories of the grandfather they never knew. The untimely death of a loving grandparent is surely one of life’s greatest sadnesses — nearly ten years after Gary’s death, I still feel the pain of his never knowing his grandchildren (the oldest was only 21 months-old at his death), and of them never knowing the man who would have adored them. Helping to keep Gary’s memory alive with his grandsons is a blessing for me and I hope will contribute in some small way to his grandsons’ knowledge of their grandfather.

In Australia, I can share experiences with Clive and his grandchildren, two of whom were born after Clive and I became a couple. I can take pleasure in watching their interactions, and perhaps give the youngest generation an enhanced appreciation of their grandfather. And in both countries, I can establish my own relationships with each child, as he or she grows and develops.

If and When …

As for my own son, if and when he has children, I can’t say I’ll be quite as objective in my grandparent role — as much as I know I must try. Like my mother, and her mother before her, I’m afraid I’ll be inclined to pipe up and speak my mind, even when I know that’s not the best idea. What can I say, other than it’s a mother’s perogative — at least in my family of origin.

I’ll try not to butt in too often, and in the meantime, will continue to enjoy my step-grandparent time with six little people in the US and Australia.

With my youngest step-grandchild, Australia

Bedtime – with my youngest step-grandchild, Australia

Cheers for now and more soon.

Australia April: Life, Love, and a Haircut

Clive and the Aussie gang in Felixstowe last Sept.

Clive and the Aussie gang in Felixstowe last Sept.

We’re Australia-bound this week, to spend time with Clive’s family: his daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and three gorgeous grandchildren (ages 9, 6, and 2-1/2).  We’ll also visit his mum, though, sadly, she no longer recognises us, and reconnect with a few close friends.

It seems that without us realising it, a page of life was turned and suddenly we’re watching Clive’s grandchildren grow up. Wasn’t it only yesterday our own children were in primary school?

Australia holds so many memories for me, such a big piece of my heart. It’s where I went in 1995 with my first husband, Gary, and our ten year-old son, for what was to be a two year assignment for my job. It’s where we fell in love with Sydney, and stayed. It’s where my son spent his formative years, where we learned what it meant to be a global family, to live with the ceaseless ache of missing loved ones in other places, the physical inability to be in more than one place — one city, one country, one continent — at one time.

For all the joy I felt in Sydney, it is also the place where Gary was diagnosed with advanced gastric cancer in 2002. It’s where he died in 2003, halfway into our son’s senior year in Aussie high school, just before the Australia and U.S. college application process began. It’s where I wept and grieved and stumbled and fell as a widow, more times than I care to remember.

And then, Sydney is where I met Clive, a music-loving Brit who has had his own past family sadness, and who made me smile with his self-proclaimed ‘warped’ sense of humour, his courage and determination and unique outlook on life. It’s where, early in our dating days, he invited me to join him for his birthday get-together with his family. That evening seems long ago now; his first grandchild was not yet two and is now nine. Clive’s children are now my step-children, and in addition to my three step-grandsons in Connecticut, I am blessed with three step-grandchildren in Australia. In a few short days, we’ll be reunited with them.

As always, we can’t wait to see and hug and spend time with everyone in person. Sometime in the midst of our busy days with Clive’s family, I’ll find a few quiet hours to visit the place where Gary loved to scuba dive and my son and I scattered his ashes in 2003. And on my very last afternoon in Sydney, I’ve booked a haircut and blow-dry at my favourite hairdresser. I’ve found a great replacement in Felixstowe, but as others may understand, sometimes there’s nothing better than having that long-time trusted person do your hair.

Shelly Beach, Manly Australia

Shelly Beach, Gary’s favourite place, Manly Australia

Cheers soon and more from Australia.

Dear Dad: Two Years On, Missing You at Balmoral Beach

Balmoral Beach, Sydney

Dear Dad,

Two years ago, you took your last breath in this life.

I miss you every day, but isn’t it funny that on this day that marks your two-year death date, I find myself in the same city and the same hotel in which I received the dreaded phone call telling me you were gone.

What else to do, but return with Clive to Balmoral Beach, where I have those precious memories of playing whiffleball with you and your grandson.

I scattered red rose petals for you today, Dad. Did you see me there? In my mind’s eye I saw you — giving it a go, swinging the bat, calling ‘good pitch, GR.’ I felt the softness of the roses and inhaled their sweet fragrance and pictured you giving me your little combined shrug/scowl  and saying ‘waste of money’.

Not a waste for me, Dad! Red roses mean love.

Thanks for the love you gave me, Dad. I miss you, and I love you.

Rose petals for my father at Balmoral Beach, Sydney


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