Domino Effect – Part 2

On 17 September, after a nine month struggle with brain cancer, my mother’s twin sister slipped away from us. In many ways, she was like a second mother to my siblings and me. It’s been difficult to put into words the profound and unexpected impact of her loss, considering a year ago we were celebrating the twins 70th, unaware of what would come.

17 November 2014

Dear Aunty Barb,

It’s been two months since you left us. A week since I’ve been trying to write you my farewell.

There was so much I never had the chance to say to you.

You’re with me, in my kitchen, everyday.

The gifts you gave are more than they appear.

GlassYou’re the twist of lemonade in an ordinary drinking glass (you never did like plain old H2O).

You’re the kick of chilli in the curry powder tin (and I can hear your wicked cackle, now).

But it’s right that this is where your memory dwells.

You spent your life nourishing the family, and that extended out, to the community beyond.

You did it with a flair and an originality that was all your own – a fairy garden here, a hand crafted zombie pop-up there.

You always took such joy in the little details of our lives. Like my dream to write.

It was a doing kind of love you had. And I wish you knew how much that meant to us. To me.

But even as I say it, I know you knew, very well, the value of the things you did.

It was me who was slow to cotton on.


I was supposed to help you write down your memoirs. My deepest regret is never making time for that – I never did stay over like you hoped I would. The reasons why seem trivial, at best, now that you’re gone.

You left too soon.

You had your first sip of alcohol only after 60.

JarAge 69, you and your friends were out til 5am for New Year’s Eve, putting to shame the next generation who preferred to go to bed.

You loved spending time with us. It helped to keep you young, you said.

But your outlook always was more youthful than your age.

Which is why your departure, at 70, has come as such a shock.

In hindsight, all the signs were there. The refusal to participate. The angry depression. The impenetrable loneliness. The slips in memory.

When the tumour was discovered, your withdrawal penetrated our realities with slow motion, domino effect.

Who were we, without you?


I always assumed my place was on the fringe. Most of what I knew of my cousins was from stories you would tell me of their lives. Somehow, as you took your leave of us, I found myself drawn in.

Nothing is the same as it was a year ago. When we gathered for the 70th reunion, I didn’t want to be there. And I left with an embittered sense of invisibility. A belief that no one understood.

But maybe it was me who didn’t understand.

Your departure has made us see things in a different light. For what we are, and for what we aren’t. To pull together in a way we’ve probably never done before.

My grief for you is that you missed out on the chance to know what else life had to offer you.

You were the centre of our family’s universe. You were a twin, a sister, a wife, a mother, a nanna, an aunt. You did what had to be done, perhaps beyond what we could rightfully expect.

You wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. And yet, you never did get the answer to your question.

Who were you, without us?


Beyond the duties and obligations that defined you, the woman I knew was creative and curious and brave. Fun loving and spirited and shrewd.

That’s the person I will drink a toast to every year.

The one whose stories I will treasure, and whose laughter I will miss.

Whose lessons I will carry to my great unknown.

So cheers to you, Aunty Barb!

You came into the world as you left it – unexpectedly. A surprise package, as you liked to say, until the end.

Who are you thankful for, today?


Anchoring the Happy

Accidents happen every day.  Just before Easter, a gust of wind caused a wall in Melbourne to collapse, crushing a brother and sister, aged 18 and 19, and another 30 year old woman.

People with their lives ahead of them.  Gone forever, leaving in their wake a wide network of grief stricken family and friends.

I’m fortunate never to have experienced this kind of grief.  But even the momentary unexplained absence of a loved one is enough to provoke the terrifying “What if?” of unexpected loss.

This is a central theme to Coleen Patrick’s debut YA novel, Come Back to Me.

ComeBackToMEWhitney is a young senior a semester away from graduation.  Her parent’s golden child, she has a scholarship and a bright future ahead of her, filled with happy, a best-friend and a bucket list…

At least, that’s how it was.  Before.  Before the accident that turned what should have been a momentary rift…into one big “morning after hangover” of regret and unresolved grief.

Come Back to Me is a story that explores the tough issue of grieving for someone who’s left you on bad terms.  It’s about forgiveness, letting go, and finding your path back to happy.

The topic is dark, yet Coleen infuses the story with a sense of humour and hope.  It’s perhaps her own experience holding onto happiness that shines through.

Coleen is no stranger to grief.  She lost her brother to a brain aneurysm, aged 31.  It was sorting through the pages of his life via his journal that she found the courage to write again.

“Life is for enjoying,” he wrote.
“Write, damn you. Write! Anything, something, Please!”

So write she does.

Last year she managed 72 blog posts, drafts on three different stories, and final edits on Come Back to Me.

Frankly, I’m in awe.

But there are other challenges, too.

For the past couple of years, Coleen has been struggling to find answers to a cocktail of unsettling health symptoms – neck pain, short term memory loss and nerve numbness.  “Kind of like trying to find Waldo”, she jokes.

Only when the doctors find Waldo, he turns out to be an ‘idiopathic’ neurological disease for which there are no real explanations or solutions.

What might be enough to propel me under the covers for good, Coleen greets with her usual sweet stoicism.

Honey soaked challah.

“A little sweet can go a long way,” she says.
“Just the idea of it offers up HOPE”.

There’s a scene in Come Back to Me where Whitney, as part of her rehabilitation, has to climb a rock wall.  She’s encouraged to see each carabineer as a clip that grounds her to the happy moments of her journey.


“What would I ‘clip’ in place as my anchor in order to move onwards and upwards?” she asks herself.

This is what inspires me about Coleen and her writing.  Whether it’s honey dipped challah or ladybugs, it’s the sweet little things behind her self-confessed smiley addiction that power her forward momentum… 🙂 .

I ask her about the motivation behind her story.

When my brother died, that grief was very normal. It was shared and acknowledged. That experience made me think of times in my life when I’d felt a pain that wasn’t shared. Something I’m sure everyone has felt, but not everyone knows what to do with.

Many years ago, during a lecture in college, a history professor of mine said something along the lines of – you can’t help what you feel, but you can help what you do about those feelings. This has always stuck with me. I think it’s empowering, because it gives you permission to feel and then the opportunity to choose – even if that first step is simply acknowledging that your feelings are real. That opportunity allows room for hope – and hope is another part of the story’s inspiration 🙂 .


Come Back to Me is available now on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple i-Bookstore and Kobo.  Also, if you’re looking for a daily dose of smiles, I encourage you to check out Coleen’s blog.

What keeps you anchored to your happy?