Is there life after dancing?

Photo credit: Natasha C Photography

A fortnight ago, twenty brave souls from my neighbourhood took to the stage to dance in a local version of the hit television shows, Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing.

These popular shows featured celebrities performing alongside professional dance partners in a ballroom and latin dance competition. Only the dancers venturing on to the stage in our packed-out hall in the “Strictly Sumner” event weren’t pro/amateur combos - with the pro taking the lead and the novie just having to keep up - but involved both dance partners being utter novices: a case of the blind leading the blind which, frankly, upped the terror stakes considerably.

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But, no need to worry. On the night they shone. To be more precise, they sparkled, glittered, twirled, twisted, strutted, shuffled, shimmied, cha cha’d, gyrated and jived to universal delight. We were amazed by their proficiency, dazzled by their brilliance. Transformed from local builder, doctor, pharmacist, physio, restaurateur, shopkeeper, student, husband, wife, brother, sister, dad and mum they became stars in our eyes. Raising thousands of dollars for ten clubs and charities in our local community, all the hours and effort they put in earned them celebrity status for the weeks leading up to, and following, the event. Everywhere they went they were greeted with people wanting to know how their practice was going, who their partner was, what they were wearing, how hard the steps were, what music they were dancing to, how nervous they were feeling, and then, afterwards, telling them how amazing they were, how incredible they looked, how impressed we were by the complexity and agility of their moves. Local legends one and all.

Now, two weeks later, on a plain grey Wednesday morning I’m wondering how flat they must be feeling. Now that the sequin dresses and Cuban heels have been packed away, the fake tans faded and chest hair grown back (!), how does normal, monochrome, life feel? Because I’m married to one of them, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with this tight-knit dance crew the past few weeks. Being part of their post-event catch-ups and seeing their FB posts it’s obvious every last one of them is suffering post-event blues to one degree or other. Given the incredible high they’ve all experienced from bravely taking on such a high-stakes challenge - putting themselves so far out of their comfort zones for our entertainment and the benefit of the community - it’s hardly surprising that they’ll suffer some form of come down. But it’s not just the on-the-night-high they’ll be missing. The thing is with dancing, as anyone who’s watched Silver Linings Playbook will tell you, it has the power to transform. And learning to live again once your life has been transformed takes quite some doing.

When we compare the ingredients of dancing with current academic theories on the components of wellbeing it’s easy to see why being part of such an event pushed the participants’ wellbeing levels through the roof.

So, the real question is, are such high levels of wellbeing sustainable? What can the dancers do now that the event is over? The answer comes from looking again at that list of wellbeing components and working out how they, along with the rest of us, can make sure that our lives are ticking those boxes on a daily, weekly, monthly or even annual basis.

There is strong research suggesting that experiencing positive emotions is essential to both how we feel, and how we function. Barb Fredrickson’s work on positive emotions has shown how they play a vital role enabling us to broaden our perspective and discover a greater range of solutions and creativity, as well as building our social, intellectual, psychological and even physical resources over time. People reporting higher levels of positive emotions have even be shown to get less sick and heal faster.

The great thing about learning a new skill like dancing is that it requires total focus, thereby preventing us from ruminating on everything that’s going wrong in our lives and getting us down. The pinnacle of such utter and all encompassing absorption is a highly desirable psychological state known as 'flow'. We are at our most creative and perform best when we are in flow. Straight after Trevor and Donna finished their first full dress rehearsal dance I asked him how it felt to be out there on the dance floor with everyone watching? “I can’t even remember it” came his reply. Losing all track of time is recognised by psychologists as a key characteristic of flow: we lose track of everything outside of the current moment, focusing all our resources on just one thing. You're so consumed by this one thing - that you love doing, that you're learning to get really good at, that nothing else seems to matter.

Strong supportive relationships have also long been recognised as essential for resilience and wellbeing. The basic finding in resilience research is that nobody goes it alone: humans are hard wired for social connection, it feels good and sustains us. Getting to know someone else really well, as our dancers have, also helps us become less judgmental of others and moves us out of our usual (social) comfort zones. Watching all those newly made friendships was good for the rest of us too.

Furthermore, humans operate best when they have some kind of sense of purpose/direction/meaning, call it what you will. I suspect that this was one of the hardest parts of the entire 16-week challenge for the dancers to grow accustomed to: all the lessons they had to turn up to, forced to drive across town on a Sunday night, having to practice, having to keep doing it over and over again). But, once it’s over, having no immediate sense of purpose, and living without direction and an immediate goal to work towards leaves us feeling bereft. We may not all like the idea of goal setting, but a dancing competition such as this highlights how important it is to have a sense of direction in our daily lives, projects that give us purpose and end points to work towards. Ultimately, it’s this sense of purpose that drives our continued learning and leaves us with a sense of mastery. All of which feel really, really good and, it turns out, can be quite addictive.

Finally, dancing provides all the benefits of regular physical activity without going to the gym. For those of us, and of course there are many, who struggle to be regularly active, chucking a dance class into your weekly routine is a fun way to ensure you move more without having to put the Lycra on. As I constantly like to remind myself, physical activity isn’t just good for our hearts, but is essential for brain function. Exercise is medicine. Dancing just happens to be a whole lot of fun as well.

So, is it any wonder those dancers are feeling a bit spare, a bit empty and a little bereft now that all the fun and movement and friendships are over? But the good thing is that it doesn’t have to be over. All the time they were out there attending dance lessons, I hope they picked up some essential life lessons too. That this entire incredible experience has taught us all that everyone needs positive emotions, focus, strong supportive relationships, purpose, continued learning and physical movement in their lives. And in a village like ours, we can all help each other keep ticking those boxes. That’s what community resilience is about.

Empty nesting: the long goodbye

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Today is the first day of the last term of parenting as we know it. For the past 12 years Monday morning has seen early alarms, kids yawning into their Weetbix, frantic searches for school shoes, a quick peck on the cheek, and it's out the door and off to school.

They’ve been happy times. Yes, there’s been a great deal of shouting, squabbling and shoving - I’m not for a moment claiming a tranquil scene of family serenity - but that's all part of family life, and I have tried, over recent years to relish it for the temporary era that it most assuredly is.

Next term, Ed (our eldest) will be heading off to Uni and Paddy will be alone with us in the house. The frantic early morning breakfast dash, and years of jousting, will be well and truly over; the cacophony of childhood silenced once and for all.

Many years ago, in Ed’s last week of primary school, I took a photo of half a dozen jade Sumner School shirts on the washing line.

Hanging together, in three different sizes, they struck me as poignant symbol of our children’s togetherness. As I gathered them in, the transient nature of life - at how quickly we all move inexorably on – really hit me. Last week, bemoaning the fact that another Monday morning found me in the laundry, folding and hanging, it struck me again. I stared at Ed’s school shirts, knowing that in just a few short weeks I’d never be washing and hanging them again. The end is very much in sight.

I’ve cherished these family years: living together, all under one roof, has provided so much pleasure, enough to outweigh the (at one point daily) mornings of madness, frequent frustrations and pointless rows. I hope I will never forget the numerous times, returning home from an early morning run, I’d get out of the car and smell the toast from next door and smile inside at the thought that Rachel was up dishing out the breakfast and love at her house already. I’d open our front door to see them all there: three of them lined up around the kitchen bench, the boys in their black and white stripes, Abi in jade and then later navy blue. In earlier years they’d be arguing, fighting over the toaster, Paddy spilling the milk, Abi pushing her food around the plate, Ed generally hating mornings. Then the scramble for lunch boxes, school bags, shoes and bus passes; adolescent breakfasts have been quieter, and the last minute searches for laptop chargers, phones and car keys. Then suddenly, they’re all gone and I stand alone with the marmite, left over eggs and silence.

All good things must come to an end. All children must flee the nest. I get that. As mothers it is our job to feed them, nurture them, and send them out the door once they’re ready; all part of what we signed up for 17 years ago. We’ve always known that. But awareness and preparation, in this instance, don’t lessen the blow. They are going, leaving us behind, the two of us alone together, back to the beginning we go. All those years of building the nest, and now the emptying induces a peculiar kind of grief. My heart aches for those frenetic family years.

Good parenting entails developing a sense of secure attachment in our young. Decades of studies have proved that, as parents, our role goes beyond offering food to our off-spring, and that it the provision of security and safety that produces children sufficiently confident to go out into the world and find their own way; going on to develop loving, caring and nurturing relationships of their own. Forming secure attachments is a crucial and fundamental aspect of human development.

Knowing this helps, but only so far. We are going to miss you Ed. When you started primary school I remember someone commenting how they imagined those early years had flown by quickly. “Those were the longest five years of my life,” I scoffed in return. Those early childhood years were tough – the endless feeding and bathing, the nappies and shit - but then came the primary school years, three kids down the road together, the playground laughter clearly audible at lunchtimes. Someone once told me to appreciate them as the zenith of parenting. They were right in many ways, but I’ve loved the teenage years too, bringing with them the bittersweet appreciation that we won’t live together all under one roof together forever. Watching my sister’s kids leave home taught me that, and I appreciated my three sitting around the kitchen bench long before Abi died.

So, now we’re almost at the end of it. And new beginnings, I know. Such sadness knowing his towel won’t be there on the floor each day, that I can run the tap in the sink without him storming out of the shower to admonish me, that the house will be one person quieter, again.

It’s been good family life: started slow, but finished too quick.

"Because pink should be in the rainbow"

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Walking on the beach this morning I was reminded of the Edgar Albert Guest poem Ed read at Abi's funeral. Searching it up on my phone, I stood at the water's edge and read it. Over and over again. I will lend you, for a little time, A child of mine, he said. For you to love the while she lives, And mourn for when she's dead. It may be six or seven years, Or twenty-two or three. But will you, till I call her back, Take care of her for me? She'll bring her charms to gladden you, And should her stay be brief, You'll have her lovely memories, As solace for your grief. I cannot promise she will stay, Since all from earth return. But there are lessons taught down there, I want this child to learn. I've looked the wide world over, In search for teachers true. And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes, I have selected you. Now will you give her all your love, Nor think the labour vain. Nor hate me when I come To take her home again? I fancied that I heard them say, 'Dear Lord, Thy will be done!' For all the joys thy child shall bring, The risk of grief we'll run. We'll shelter her with tenderness, We'll love her while we may, And for the happiness we've known, Forever grateful stay. But should the angels call for her, Much sooner than we've planned. We'll brave the bitter grief that comes, And try to understand.

As I read it over and over, comforted by the familiar rhythm of the iambic pentameter, trying to understand, I turned to see a rainbow had crept out of the sky unnoticed.

Abi loved rainbows. So does Trevor. She once, at school, famously declared that rainbows should have pink in them. Personally, they've never wowed me. Much to Trevor's frustration. But something about them now seems to reflect her life: somehow it's possible to look upon them as a sign of her presence. Standing there in isolation, braving the bitter grief, trying to understand, I took comfort from the rainbow. There you are, I say. There you are, my little girl, there in that rainbow with pink in it.

Always and forever Abigail Ann. Always and forever.

The Universal Law of Impermanence

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Searching through old notepads this morning I stumbled upon some scrawled notes from Steve Jobs’ legendary graduation speech to Stanford University graduates. His “connecting the dots” advice is now an old, and much-quoted, piece of entrepreneurial wisdom from a man whose short life certainly experienced some peaks and troughs.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about life paths. Spending a day working with the Year 13 girls at Rangi, made me acutely conscious how stressful that last year of school can feel when the future is speeding towards you and the pressure’s on to have life all mapped out. I watch Chessie, my recently graduated gorgeous niece and friends, suddenly back from carefree summer travels, face the sobering challenge of embarking on future careers. Faced with so many options, but reality has limited choices. What to do, where to start? Just how are they going to get to where they so want to be?

As I try to wrap my head around what has happened to our family, and step uncertainly towards our own unknown future, I find myself resurrecting the mantra of one of my own university professors, who, when navigating new terrain, constantly reminded us to “Trust the Process”.

Is that what we should do, trust the process? Take one step forward and let life unfold? It has a certain appeal right now, and for school leavers, graduates, and the recently bereaved, I think it’s as good advice as any. Take one step forward, choose a class, get a job, any job, make a decision, and move forward from there. Don’t waste time and energy on endless worrying, or imagine those first steps have to be the “right ones”: hop on board and see what pans out, learn from the experience. What works? What doesn’t? Which paths are ripe with opportunity, which are dead ends? Which aspects of a new job appeal, which turn out to be abhorrent? As long as you learn from the process, trusting it seems a reasonable deal.

As Steve Jobs said, “It’s impossible to connect the dots looking forward in college, but it was very clear looking backwards ten years later. You can’t connect the dots looking forward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, your life karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path.” Viewed like this, trusting the process doesn’t imply inertia, rather embarking on small steps forward in the belief that they’ll get you there in the end. Wherever there is. And, in many ways, isn’t that the point? We can’t tell where “there” is, where we are headed, where we’ll end up. The place I find myself in right now sure as hell isn’t a part of any life I ever anticipated.

Many of us don’t have a plan, some do, but rarely does life go to plan. At the Rangi girls’ senior leadership day, I presented alongside three fabulous women: one of whom went to university to be a physio and ended up with a commerce degree; one didn't get into physio, ended up doing law, and later went onto to be the physio for one of NZ’s leading national sports teams; the other started as a nurse and is now much in demand for her design flare. At 18 I travelled north to Edinburgh to study history and am now living way down south in New Zealand doing a PhD in resilience - a subject that wasn't even an academic discipline when I was an undergrad.

There’s a certain art of acceptance in not being overly wedded to the current plan. When things go awry, the best steers often come from the botched, the unexpected, the second best options. Some clever soul once told me to listen out for the whisper, those discrete clues signalling your future direction. I like to think I've picked up on some of those, and am certain I've missed some. I do know that this place I've ended up in is much scarier than I ever imagined life would be, with so much letting go and "trusting the process" required. The only answer, it seems, is to accept the Universal Law of Impermanence and try to be more mindful of all that I have right here and now.

Nothing lasts forever, we only have the present.

Waiting for my brain to catch up

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I sit, book in hand, looking out to sea, on the point of dozing off. What am I doing, I ask myself. What am I doing, lying here under this blanket sleeping the afternoon away, missing life? Waiting, comes the answer. Waiting for my brain to catch up, waiting to understand.

It’s January, a new year stretches ahead with none of its usual promise. And the timing feels all wrong. Now we have a new rhythm to our years, in a life that pivots around the last day of May: the last day of Abi, Ella and Sally’s short lives. In January we’re just over half way through our year. Are those days that everyone (kindly) messages you on – Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, my birthday this week – any different to every other day of this new life? No. Every day is now a day we didn’t choose. There was before – lightness and life – and there is after. Now, all we are doing is waiting to get used to this new life, our new “new normal”.

I tell myself not to question why, not to waste time and emotion wondering how or why our girls were caught in that moment - that particular place in that particular second - when so many other places and seconds make up a life. I am reasonably successful at this game. Don’t question why, just know that it is, and we must learn to accept it as our new fate. Acceptance is key and at times I believe I’m getting there. They’ve gone I tell myself - that was it, it was perfect, and now they’re gone. You can’t afford to ravage and rail against reality. Doing so will only cost you more.

Except all I feel is numb. I watch myself go through the motions: only truly happy when I’m with Trevor, Ed or Paddy. At a time when the boys need me less, the irony of my amplified need of them doesn’t escape me. I let them go. Another, at least inevitable, loss. Another step in this new world, further forward into unfamiliar terrain we must go.

Revolutions

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My wonderful and talented niece, Chessie, surveys the annual revolution that is December and January - with travelling perspective in her blog from Belize. Thank you Chessie for all the support, wisdom and strength you've give us this second half of the year.

Read it and weep:

Revolutions by Chessie Henry

I am thinking about revolutions. Revolutions at their simplest ­– slow, circular, strange rotations which take us back to the beginning.

The days bleed towards January. January; brimming with promises or second chances, upward inflections on the tips of tongues. Onwards and upwards we go, into January.

I think about the strange swirl that pulls us forwards – the certainty of days mapped ahead of us, behind us. We wade through the days as we always do, awakening at the breaking wave of another tiny revolution – the curve of Monday, Tuesday, week, weekend.

In this unfamiliar place, I am buoyant, floating – tied, rather than anchored, to familiar connections: faded clothes and the sun burnt shoulders of old friends. I lose the days, bleached colour days, which blur away from me like time in dreams. And yet the New Year calls, another turn of the tide and who knows what will be swept away by its sudden force?

The wave pulls us backwards and I marvel at what is left, what made it through. I am the same, yet infinitely changed; what is lost is here somewhere, surely? But somehow I find myself moving forward without it.

Resolutions. Last year’s written lying lengthways on a carpet, backs of legs warmed by a pale square of sunlight. Good intentions bleeding on to brown paper; a pleasing plan, the firm promise of ink and numbers. And now? December again, and a year behind me. A year, whose swooping curves surprised me, shattered me. Filled me with love.

We didn’t all make it. That’s the main thing. We are here, at the end, crunchy Christmas December, but we are missing one. An important one. And yet the tiny revolutions continue. I awake to more sky, more sun – another day pulled away by time and tide.

How to continue? A time for resolutions; especially now with this blank-canvas year ahead of me. In the paranoid hours of dark morning, half dreaming I plot and plan: different cities, houses jobs. I am elusive to myself – a shadow of me walks down Cuba St, whipped by a Wellington wind. But I am in Auckland too, or Dunedin – safe in a familiar, candle lit room, crochet blankets and books.

But resolutions? I can’t connect these shapeless plans with the magnitude of another year, another roll of possibilities waiting to be developed. The terrible, beautiful things that haven’t happened yet. I am already half a foot in next December – and who will be there with me?

Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. Someone said that, once, and now on the brink of another unlikely revolution I find it ringing in my ears.

Emotions come easily for me. They swirl incessantly beneath the surface of my skin; easily pleased, easily hurt. Happiness and hopefulness pool as naturally as the sudden depths of loss, called to mind without warning like the bright, shapeless bone of a dream.

I want to tell you how I feel – all of you. To mark it here, the searing permanence of ink on a page, the distinct stripe of my printing, so you know, always, that I felt this way. I want to tell truths – small truths and big ones – and shape myself more with each truth I tell. Even in the shifting, lucid waters of a new year I am steady in this<em>: I know how I feel</em>.

Travel days are mellow, seamless. Connections are rare and fleeting. Real connections that is, where you know that in another life you would have had more than three days together; you would have had years. We laugh like old friends, and I want to say this: you are BRILLIANT. I appreciate you.

A small truth, easily told. Back home I try to reign in ‘I love you’, knowing how it will sometimes sit uncomfortably. But now it swells in my chest, sings in my bones; tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. Words left unsaid are just that, unspoken and unacknowledged. I swim toward another precious year, slow and full with words waiting to be formed.

My precious, precious family. We lost one, but yet we remain.

My beautiful friends, cast out across the world like glittering cities on the map of my life. I am grateful.

January is coming, and all of us ride the slow, strange, circular revolution which takes us back to the beginning. December sweeps us along in its wave, and I wait for the pull back which will leave us washed up in January. In January I will stand, with everyone who washed up there too, and I will be thinking about connections.

But in the meantime, there is a small truth I would like you all to know, solid and unchanging in this steady sweep of passing days:

The truth is you are brilliant.

And I appreciate you endlessly.

Ends.

To read more from Chessie see her blog

https://homelandandsea.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/revolutions/

Beautiful Sally

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Today is Sally’s birthday. She would have been 50. She’d been hatching plans to visit Amalfi to celebrate this birthday later next year: while her boys headed off to the Rugby World Cup in England, she was conjuring an Italian escape - cooking classes, truffles and Chianti.

I can sum up Sally in just one word. Beauty. Not only was she beautiful, but she brought beauty into the lives of all those that knew her, and loved her. When we, her friends, think of her it is of parties in the kitchen at Head Street, Thursday or Friday night bubbly around her kitchen bench, on the deck, outside their sleep out. Her delicious, lovingly prepared food – that pulled pork, the slow braised lamb, the beetroot and rhubarb salad, beautiful cakes and rippled meringues, stupidly generous wedges of gooey foreign cheeses. And candles and flowers always. That unforgettable night at Rowendale. She personified beauty and made all our lives richer, more decadent, more pleasurable. Together we all learned to be more mindful of these moments, and as I sit here now without you Sal, I’m confident you knew how much we loved and appreciated you. Always ready to put the kettle on, or pop the cork, she created a home not just for Ella, Sam, and Shane, but for us all.

Dear Sally, you were the most beautiful friend to me. I'm glad you knew how much I admired your immense creativity and endless giving. Your wild spirit and your quiet calm. You filled up all that was missing in me, all that I missed about my own dear mum. How I miss you now, not just today but every day as I drive past your gate, no reason to stop. We all do.

For those of you who never had the pleasure, here’s a link to her blog. It’s beautiful. Just like the girls that created it.

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http://www.carouselfloradesign.co.nz/~carousel/

Any part of this blog can only be used with written permission from the author. Thanks!

Bravery personified

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Tomorrow we go to Abi’s school prize giving. In collaboration with her teachers we have created a new prize to celebrate her (agonisingly short) life. The whole process was gruelling: creating a legacy to cover so much, from so little; seeing her brief lifespan etched into silver that is sure to endure way beyond her fledgling years. But we both feel the end product, the Abi Hone Bravery Award, is a fitting representation of our dear girl.

I’m not sure who's receiving it tomorrow. But I am sure about bravery. Sure that Abi was brave. Sure that it’s a character trait worth celebrating.

She wasn’t brave in a particularly obvious way, but the confidence and excitement with which she entered her new school last February gave us a first inkling that she was far gutsier than we’d previously realised. She knew no one, but didn’t falter; determined to get stuck right in. Then came the wonderful day when she returned from school, charging gleefully in to our office, utterly triumphant that she’d sung an Adele song in front of the entire school in their annual talent show. Thrilled. Ecstatic. Utterly buoyant. She’d taken the plunge, and been amply rewarded by generous applause and feedback.

Soon after her death we attended a small year-group gathering at school where all the girls sang Sarah Bareilles’ Brave to us, prompting one of the teachers to remind the girls that while they felt they were singing it for Abi, it was actually her reminding them to be brave. For, said Ms. Campbell, Abi epitomised the kind of bravery that prompts us to take risks, try something new, and dare to step out of our comfort zone.

Her and Ella’s friends have certainly been brave these past six months. I’ve seen it first hand, felt it in their letters, messages, and hugs. A few weeks ago, one of her new school friends spoke out about bravery in a chapel presentation. I asked Courtney if I could share what she said here.

“Losing a friend is like losing a limb, an essential part of your day-to-day life, and you don’t realise how much you actually need it until it’s gone. It was like this in our class, when we lost Abi. We took the frequent “Kia Ora’s” and the endless photo booth selfies for granted. Not realising that it all could be gone any second.

Another thing that we took from this was the fact that we need to think about all the good things in life, not dwell on the past. The good thing that has come out of losing Abi is that we can now appreciate all the simple little things she did and all our memories with her. We decided, as a class, at the start of the year to take the good things out of every single day of our lives. Whether it is the fact that the sun is shining or that you are going to a friend’s house after school, we like to note it down, so we actually acknowledge it. We call these our gratitude diaries. Every morning in tutor time, we write down what we are grateful for that day. Like this morning, one of mine was, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in chapel. Abi herself was also a big fan of these, some of our favourite entries of hers are:

“I am grateful for my brother Paddy teaching me how to catch the bus”, “I am grateful for Courtney for showing around the boarding house and getting my charger with me”, “I am grateful for my dad for taking me to the new season of Witchery” and “I am grateful for Aspen for inviting me to her birthday party”. Our favourite thing about Abi’s gratitude diary, apart from her ability to find gratefulness in everything, is probably the numerous spelling mistakes in each entry.

Another positive about this situation, is the way it has made us closer as a class. As cliché as it sounds, it’s like we have his invisible bond tied around us know, and that bond is Abi. It also made us more tightly knit as a whole year 7/8 faculty, we found the strength that we could not find within ourselves, in others.

I sometimes think of myself as stupid. Why? You ask? I was sitting at home this morning, millions of negative thoughts running through my head about this talk, then I took a moment, sat back and thought, “if the people who are hit the hardest by a tragedy can manage to keep their life together, then why am I sitting here stressing over a talk in chapel?” Take a leaf of out their book, and be brave. Think, in the long run, is it going to matter if you mucked up a talk in chapel?"

Courtney gets it. She understands there’s no harm in failing, only in not giving it a go. Whoever gets our award tomorrow night I hope it reminds them for the year ahead to grab life, try new things, say what you feel, never fear mucking up. "Reaching Out" is one of the seven components of Karen Reivich's resilience model I was taught at UPenn, and forms part of the professional development training skills I use to promote mental toughness among organisations.

For me, reaching out these past six months has involved leaning on my friends and family. Recently reaching the end of Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy, highlighted the kind of bravery I need right now. “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain and the work of every day, the slow walk towards a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”

Imogen told me that Abi stayed up reading to the end of Allegiant the night before she started her new school last February. Knowing this, I read every last word of that book, even the acknowledgements.

I'm glad I did, because, right there, in that final line, she says it again...

Any part of this blog can only be used with written permission from the author. Thanks!

Abi's Dots

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In those first mad days after the girls’ death I knew I couldn't contemplate Abi’s coffin. I could not. I would not. No mother should ever have to choose her daughter’s coffin. Fortunately I didn’t have to: Trevor and Lexi (Abi’s godmother) took that role on. They found a plain looking casket made from natural wood, so we didn’t have to endure a terrible Gothic-looking monstrosity, and I asked Lexi to make it look beautiful.

“Do something Abi would have loved”, was the very basic brief.

Abi adored Lexi for her exuberant, eclectic style and utter obsession with accessories and colour. Otherwise known as Alex Fulton (Dulux Colour Ambassador, guest judge on The Block, Abi’s favourite home-decorating show, and all round design guru) Lexi, her husband Jeff, and gorgeous daughters, Isla and Violet, sprinkle colour throughout our lives. And now - thanks to her decision to paint Abi’s coffin white and cover it with hundreds of beautiful brightly coloured dot stickers - her love of colour is spreading far and wide as people plaster “Abi’s Dots” throughout their own lives.

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It started here in Sumner, when the owner of our favourite local coffee shop, Glenn, ordered three packs of dots and covered all four walls of Coffee Culture - even the coffee machine. Walking in the next day simply blew us away: it felt like one long virtual hug.

Fuse, the local youth club, then contacted me to say they'd painted one wall white and wanted to stick up dots to remember Abi and Ella.

Over the past months these little discs of colour have cropped up on cars, clothes, phones, garden tubs, surfboards, ski helmets, chair lifts, desks, park benches, railings, snow skis, boats, rugby clubs, frontdoors, roof boxes, tennis bags, paddle boards, stairs, skirtings, laptops, letter boxes, headboards, guitars, and even celebrity chefs. Search up #abisdots on Instagram to get the full picture.

Last week I received photos from one of the Sumner girls who has recently graduated, fled the nest and is now living in London. She’d stuck “abisdots” at the Louvre, next to the Eiffel Tower, and on the mast of the yacht she sailed around Croatia. Last time I spoke to Lexi she’d sold 409 packs - given there’s 90 dots in every pack, that’s 36,801 dots out there in the world! There've been sightings in Bali, Fiji, France, Croatia, New York, Ontario, Los Angeles, Australia, and Singapore - and I hear they've just reached British shores, sold on line via our dearest friends at Roo's Beach.

Someone once asked me if this level of contagion might somehow lessen their impact for us. It hasn't. Every time we see some of Abi's Dots we feel her love. But more than that, we feel others' love too. Spotting dots on an unknown car or gate post makes us feel supported, the empathy speaking volumes, as though people are saying, "we get it, we feel your loss". The pain feels less solitary; her legacy of love, fun and colour lives on. Beyond that, thanks to Lexi generously contributing $12 a pack to Make-A-Wish Foundation, she recently donated an amazing $4,908 to helping grant the special wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. By remembering Abi we collectively bring hope, strength and joy at a very challenging time in other children's lives.

So, I want to thank you all: mainly to the wonderful sister-act that created them, and donated that first batch - Kirsty and Kate at KM2Creative; to Lexi for realising their potential and unleashing them to the world; to Glenn for being that early adopter and running with it! And to all of you out there, spreading the love far and wide, whoever you are, wherever you be, whether you knew her or not, we trust that you will sprinkle Abi's Dots over your life and make a promise to love and be loved, live and laugh, and cherish life for all that it offers.

Enjoy connecting the dots. We do.

Photos may only be reproduced with written permission from the author.

Making memories - past present and future

We’re in beautiful Byron Bay. We were here the same time last year: same place, same scene, same glorious weather and long white beaches, only this year everything is tinged with the sadness of Abi’s absence.
 
I’m not all together sure if the memories of being here with her make it better or worse. Better I think. Having new experiences that she hasn’t been part of feels wrong, slightly unfaithful somehow.
 
I remember the tiny triangles of her royal blue bikini top; that perfect photo taken of her walking along the beach, wrapped in a towel; her perpetually messy hair, windswept and suddenly streaked lighter in places. 
 
 
Her and Kate’s frequent shopping expeditions, scouring the shops for items they imagined they could convince us to buy, running home begging for money or dragging Trevor off to apply maximum in-store pressure on a defenceless dad. I remember squeals of delight at the sound of the squeaking sand, hilariously bad tennis played late afternoon, early morning treats from Suffolk Bakery, and the constant hankering for more ice-cream during any downtime moment. Her reluctant surfing, coaxing her through swimming lengths in the chilly outdoor pool, her painfully labored and stop-start mountain biking progress, and her utter joy at racing Kate to find the hidden coin at the bottom of the pool. Never to be forgotten, her and Kate’s screaming mad horizontal Skycoaster 50 metre bungy plunge at Wet n’ Wild, and their brothers’ instinctive running to their rescue. 
 
  
In a place where blonde girls in bikinis are standard issue, it is hard not to miss our beautiful girl. Blonde, blue eyes, brown skin, impossible skinny chicken legs: radiant smile, squealing and giggles, utter perfection. You were born for Byron Abigail Hone. Hard not to shout “we had one too” at unsuspecting passing parents. Fortunately, dear friends surround us. They never forget how profound and omnipresent our grief is, understanding that, while we may laugh, her absence follows us everywhere. Girls walking by our apartment at night singing Titanium? The same towel on the beach, this time wrapped around my shoulders? First lap of the pool without her by my side? The windows of Witchery crying out for abisdots? Between them they know all the triggers.
 
Working my way through her favourite reads, I’m struck by a line from Allegiant: “Take a person’s memories and you change who they are”. Recently, re-reading Orwell’s 1984 also highlighted the quintessential contribution of memories to our self-identity. We are our memories. They are so precious. For me, as a mother, holidays have always been partially about making memories for our three children and us. Those golden moments you hope they will look back on to rekindle feelings of unbridled happiness in their care-free childhood: long halcyon days at the beach, surrounded by friends, Frisbee and rugby at the water’s edge, boogie boards and body surfing, cricket with plastic bats, sand-infused rolls, juicy water melon, ice-creams for all. As Adele wrote, and Abi so loved to sing, our children were fortunate enough to be “born and raised in a summer haze”. 

When I think of holiday memories I’m reminded of Fred Bryant’s work on the important role savouring plays in our happiness. His research introduced me to the opportunity to get more bang for your holiday buck by consciously appreciating them across three different timeframes: first, we get to anticipate the experience during the planning stage (the enjoyment and thrill of the where shall we go, what we will do, where we will stay moments); next, there’s the pleasure of the holiday experience itself (when the trick is to be truly present, soaking it all in, pinching yourself to remember to savour the moments, taking as many mental photographs as digital ones); and, finally, there’s the reminiscing, lingering over the memories, photos, stories, and experiences long after you’ve put the suitcases away. Intentionally considering the experience these three ways – anticipating, being present, reminiscing - allows one holiday to boost our happiness three times over.
 
Some people are particularly good at savouring. Yesterday playing tennis Brigit remarked how she wanted to “freeze the moment” of being with three great mates, whom she no longer lives near. She said this out loud, gazing around her, soaking it all up, and made sure she marked the moment with a photo after the game.

Abi also had her own psychological mechanism sorted for appreciating favourite moments, often saying “now” out loud to prompt a mental photograph of happy times. Even through our grief, and the tears that have flowed this holiday, there have also been many “now” moments. Many Abi would have appreciated and stashed away for future recall. Being together with “all the families” (her term) was her very favourite thing. Will all the families be there mum, she would ask, which of the families are coming today? I’m glad to know we did so much with all the families that have contributed to the summer haze of our children’s youth. Glad that I appreciated just how special they were at the time, and now eternally grateful for the memories that will endure long after she has gone. Your families loved you Triple A. 

Photos may only be reproduced with permission from the author. 

 

Shadows

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No words this week, just music. This is the song that my son, Paddy, and his friends, Aftershock (Angus Mossman, Thomas Harcourt and Louis Malcolm), wrote for our beautiful girls. They performed it at Abi's funeral.

 Aftershock - Shadow

Thank you to their music tutor Nolan Hungerford for putting this together, to Waz for filming, and Orange recording studio just down the road in Ferrymead.

A moment in time, now captured for eternity.