Thursday, June 30, 2011

CYA Competition entry submitted!

Today I decided to go ahead and submit my entry for the CYA Brisbane's Children's and Young Adults Writers competition For those in the know, I've been working the last 3 years (yes, for that long) on a children's novel aimed at girls in grades 5 - 7. The competition required me to send in the first 1,000 words which is lucky because even though I've written about 24,000 words and a complete outline I'm still about 10,000 (yikes!) words off my goal.

So after spending three days trying to find the emotional energy to edit just one final sentence, I finally sat down today and just did it.

Chris was always so supportive of my writing, even when it was crap. Whenever I asked him how he could be so excited about such rubbish writing he'd say "We are here to build each other up, not tear each other down" (How could I not have fallen in love with such a sweetheart?)

I don't have any expectations for the competition because the first chapter is probably too narrative for the judges who I assume would be hoping to find the next Paul Jennings (which I'm not) rather than the next Roald Dahl (which I'm definitely not but like to think I am).

But still I feel good that I entered and has now helped me with a plan for my life for the next few months. I'm not going to be returning to work until at least September, maybe longer. So from tomorrow I'm moving on to starting the final edits on the first 3 chapters to enter the chance to win a 3 day workshop with editors at Allen & Unwin (my dream publishers). From there the next goal will be to finish my novel over the next 2 or so months.

I don't think I would have been able to do this if I wasn't already so far ahead with my novel but editing and creative writing is something I can do in my own time in between fits of hysteria in my bed so that works for me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 Finding my Tribe

Right now I'm feeling so lost. Legally I'm 'widowed' even though I never got to have 'the wedding'. My life is full of children, even though I never got to have a child of my own. Only a handful of people knew that Chris and I had actually been trying to have a baby for the last 10 months. At 38, I know that dream will now never come true.

But anyone who knows me will know that while I may be childless, my life has actually always been 'child-full'. I'm still the person my 17 year old 'niece', Jadeyn calls for help with her English assignments in her senior year of high school. And shortly I'm going to need another spare bed as nephew #3 (aged two) is already asking to do things 'with just you and me, not my brothers'.

So as a sort of young-ish but closer to 40 than 30, unmarried 'widow', without children and 'just an aunty' - where does that leave me in society? Where do I fit in? Where is my tribe?

That's where an online community of women who "love children that are not their own" comes in.

As well as the Savvy Auntie community, I'm also grateful that my sister continually recognises the importance of the roles of Aunties and other women in her children's life.

At nearly 6, nephew #1 is old enough to understand that Uncle Chris is gone. His Uncle Chris who taught him to play golf in the backyard, who supervised watching YouTube videos (and tolerated watching the favourite ones again and again and again, as five year olds tend to do, without complaint). His Uncle Chris who talked funny with his Canadian accent and said "Ant-ie" not "Ahnt-ie". His Uncle Chris who let him stay at home playing the wii if I had to go out and do something 'boring' like grocery shopping.

Considering he stays here so often (at least one weekend a month), my sister recognised the importance of his relationship with his Aunty and Uncle, organised for him to spend some time with a child psychologist to help him work through his grief. Together, he and 'Princess Clare' have been making a special journal to help him remember his Uncle Chris.

This week it's school holidays and for months we had planned for a visit during the second week. I was originally going to cancel because it was just too much for me. But having my nephews around and keeping that special bond is important. I can choose to get out of bed next week and realise that I'm not the only one with sadness and that there is a little boy out there who needs me right now as much as I need him, so that's what I'll do.

The Savvy Auntie book by the fabulous Melanie Notkin is a highly recommended gift for first-time Aunties. (She is an entrepreneurial mentor, and someone that I've been lucky enough to get to know as a friend through Facebook.)

As an 'old hand' at this, for me it wasn't about the content in the book (although the content is great and deals with everything from how to handle your sister's or best friends changing pregnancy hormones through to an amazing Savvy Auntini recipe). But it sits on display in my living room with pride, with it's gorgeously designed, hot pink cover giving me great comfort of knowing that I do have a place in this world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The First One

I originally opened this blog about a year ago with the intent of using it to discuss my own creative writing attempts with my critique group and other like-minded aspiring children's writers. But like many unpublished writers this space remained as empty as the pages of the stories I was 'thinking' about writing.

Then 2 weeks ago, as is often the case, something happened that changed my life, and my need for my own personal space to share, cry, yell, kick, scream and vent where those who wanted to could read what was going on with me as I struggled through my darkest hour, without alienating all my friends on facebook who were happily posting about shock eliminations on MasterChef and the cute things their kids did that day. I am vaguely aware that while my own world is crashing around me, life is going on for everyone else. Don't get me wrong, I do have moments when I can happily share in their joy and have sympathy that their boss made them work over time with no pay. But I do have other moments where the shock and grief that is taking over every part of my being renders me incapable of listening to the 'normal' going on of others.

I don't feel guilty about this. This isn't the first time I've suffered major grief. When I was 20, I lost my 19 year old brother. I do know that time heals all wounds. But right now I'm in the thick of it, and hence my self-therapy that I'm sharing here for those that want to know.

Sunday, 12 June 2011 was like any other Sunday. My gorgeous 39 year old Canadian partner and fiance, Chris, who I met 11 years ago in an IRC chat room and had been living with for 8 years spent the day watching the UFC with my brother and a couple of mates, while I was at home starting to clean and pack up our house for a move in 2 weeks time. That afternoon, Chris complained of a terrible headache (he rarely ever got headaches) and I thought he was having his first migraine (I get them a lot so his symptoms sounded the same). After having some pain relievers he went and laid down for a few hours while I continued cleaning and made dinner. About 8.30pm I was on the phone to my sister when Chris came stumbling out of the room with his hand to his head. I just took one look at him and practically hung up on my sister. I knew it was serious. He barely made it to the kitchen before collapsing to the floor and asking me to 'just make it stop'. Immediately I called Triple 0. Following their instructions, while we were waiting for the ambulance, I managed to help him get dressed. By the time we went to put on his shoes he was feeling numb down the left hand side of his body and I had to put his shoes on for him. I was able to keep him calm by telling him "Don't worry hun, help is on the way"

After the ambulance left I called my mum to tell her they thought he was having a 'temporary stroke'. Even driving to the hospital I wasn't that worried. I thought maybe worst case scenario there might be some mild paralysis. Expecting to sit in the emergency waiting room for hours I was a bit surprised when they let me in straight away and sent me to a private waiting room. I was in there for a good 10 minutes that I began to wonder why am I in this room, not in the main waiting area?

Shortly after the doctor came in to tell me that they believed Chris had suffered a brain aneurysm. From there everything becomes a blur. I remember hearing the words "life threatening" and "may not survive". Immediately I got hold of my mum and vaguely blurted out those same phrases. Knowing she was calling the rest of my family, I also called my best friend (who incidentally is a social worker at the same hospital).

In what seemed like only a matter of minutes everyone was there - my best friend and her partner, my parents, 2 sisters, brother and brother-in-law.

Somewhere in between this, I was able to go and sit with Chris for a while. At this point he was in an induced coma.

From here my memories are complete blurs. Sitting in the ICU waiting room until 4am. Visiting Chris again. My dad calling his family in Canada. Being told his father and brother had managed to get a flight and were flying out straight away. Another visit or two with the doctors. The prognosis wasn't good.

Waking up Tuesday morning after a couple of hours of medication induced sleep, I knew that I was going to have to get up, get dressed, go to the hospital where the doctors were going to tell me they had completed the tests to confirm what they suspected by Monday evening that Chris was brain dead. (The doctors had suspected this Monday evening but needed to wait for certain medications to leave his system before they could confirm with 100% certainty as he was still 'breathing' through the ventilator). The desire to stay and live in bed, our bed, and never get up was overwhelming. I'll never know how I managed to get up. But I knew I had to for Chris.

Finally around midday I was allowed in to see him. I hadn't spoken to the doctors as yet as we were waiting for Chris's father and brother who were arriving from Canada around 2pm. Walking in to that room alone was the worst moment of my life. I didn't need a doctor to tell me he was gone. Despite the ventilator still breathing for him, there was no doubt 'he' was no longer with me. My partner, my future, my best friend, gone.

Rest in peace Chris, I'll love you forever. That special 'look' that you would give me across a crowded room at a party. The way we danced to Tony Bennett and Diana Krall in our living room. Those intimate moments that I can never share with anyone else. My heart breaks every day that you aren't here. I struggle to feed the dogs or do laundry because that was always your job. I can't bear to go into our grocery store because of the never ending love that I had for making sure you had your 'treats' and the meals we shared together. I am not ready to say good bye, and to be honest, I really don't think I ever will. While we never had a chance to say the vows, our lives for the past 11 years were together - for better or for worse, in sickness and in health and I'll cherish, adore and love you all the days of my life.