Thank you Mum, for all that you have taught me, all you’ve been for me. For your care, your love, your trust and kindness. Thank you for offering me life, for showing me how to love and to be loved. Thank you for the many gifts of life, knowledge and wisdom you’ve given me over the years.
And in the last few weeks, being with you and baring witness to the incredible feat of enduring the last part of your life journey;
in the last days, being with you, baring witness and sharing your last moments with me;
and in the last hours, being with you, baring witness and being intimately present with you: in mind, body and spirit.
All of it, all of this is an incredible gift that I cherish, and because of all you have endured and shared with me, I am filled with immense gratitude for life and for you being my Mum, for the countless experiences and life lessons we’ve shared, for the laughter and tears we’ve shed. Even the anger and frustration we’ve risen in each other through the most challenging times – I understand so completely now that it arose from loving each other so deeply, and to know that, to feel that, is such a gift…
Mum had immense strength, and a will for life that exceeded her own expectations. She was a rebel, and a deep thinker, a lover not a fighter, but a warrior that was never willing to give up or give in. It was this incredible spirit in her that kept her going over the last ten years when she felt her body betraying her, determined she was to see me, her daughter find happiness in Love, and ever determined to be around to meet her last grandchild, Laly, and deeply connect with her over her first years of life.
I would like to share with you some of the gifts of life Mum gave me – and not always through her own direct experience, sometimes by default. Today I offer you a glimpse of her, through me, and some of the moments we shared.
Mum gave me a love and appreciation for nature, for earth, for water, air and all of life that comes from, and goes back into it. When we lived in Italy, we would take daily walks after lunch, when the village was sleeping, and walk along the cobblestoned streets, past the castle walls, sometimes in silence, sometimes not caring to let our English voices carry up to the windows high above, while sharing our latest thoughts on life or memories from younger days. Although we’d often take a different cobbled path or skinny alley, we’d always end up at the Adige River, watching it rush off down the mountain, over the rocks and down to the lake far out of sight. We’d be there for a long time, breathing in the air off the water, and watching the leaves be carried away. She told me to be like a leaf, and let life carry me like the river water, to go with the flow of life and let it wash over me.
Mum gave me the appreciation and deep respect for music, its importance in life, and mostly how to feel it within me. When I was three, she noticed that I loved to sit at her uncle Ron’s piano whenever we visited, so she got an old second hand piano and I soon started lessons. Although she couldn’t read music herself, she learnt so she could help me with my learning, and she would sit patiently with me as I learnt my classical pieces. She instilled the importance of discipline in my learning, and when other school friends had given up, casting doubt in me to fit in and give up to, she encouraged me in the gentlest of ways to keep going. So I did. When we moved countries four times, she made sure I had a piano every single time, no matter how many obstacles were in the way. She always searched out for piano teachers so I could continue my lessons. Today, I still play. I sit and I play from my heart, and I will forever be grateful for this incredible gift she gave me.
As soon as I learnt to write, Mum encouraged me to write my thoughts, feelings and memories in a notebook. She knew that this would carry me through life, through hard and hurtful times, and give me a way to express my true self in a safe place that belonged to me. Each year, for Xmas or my birthday, she bought me a new journal. Over the years I have filled dozens of journals. Writing has indeed sustained me, becoming my point of expression when my physical voice felt weak and blocked with fear. Because of her encouragement and determination for me to live openly and fearlessly, writing enabled me to share my strength, courage, and love with the world.
Mum was a quiet artist. Although she dabbled with different mediums over the years like ceramics, pencil and oil, her chosen medium was watercolour – she was patient with her brushstrokes (something I did not inherit) and saw colour in life where others simply couldn’t. I loved seeing Mum’s paintings take shape, and listen to her tell me what she was aiming for with her work. We shared a love of art, and she introduced me to artists whose work I also fell in love with –Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, Monet, and Gustav Klimt. When we lived in Europe, we were able to visit and see many of our favourite artist’s paintings in galleries in Paris, Venice and Amsterdam. When we came back to Australia, she encouraged me to take art in school and it was art that made my heart soar. Because of Mum’s support and enthusiasm, I took a fine arts degree at university and now, after more than a decade of working and living as an artist, art is simply a way of life for me, a way of being. She taught me how to see beauty and colour and life in everything, and to live with beauty and colour and life, everyday. For this, I am eternally grateful. One thing Mum did not encourage however, was craft. “I don’t do craft. “ She would say. “Whatever you do, do not give me scissors and glue!”
Embrace the NOW…
For this I read a quote from Mum’s diary, taken from a series of books we both loved written by the author Robin Hobb, introduced to us by Romain…
“The exercise of centering oneself is a simple one. Stop thinking of what you intend to do. Stop thinking of what you have just done. Then, stop thinking that you have stopped thinking of these things. Then you will find the NOW, the time that stretches eternal, and is really the only time there is. In that place you will finally have time to be yourself.”
That was Mum. Always in effort to embrace the now. Even when she wasn’t able to, even when, in her last years she felt trapped by the now, she still maintained the importance of it, and instilled it in me – being in the moment, trying not to get lost in thought, or in past, or in anticipation, or in hope. She taught me how to embrace new experiences, new places. Mum made beautiful friendships wherever she was in the world – and this is something she gifted to me, opening me up to the world, to new places, new experiences.
Mum was not religious, yet she encouraged me to learn about the religions of the world. She used to ask me “how can you have an opinion about something you know nothing about?” I remember in primary school when we had to do a lesson of scripture each week, I moaned and groaned and begged her to take me out of the class so I could just hang out in the library. But she insisted I go, for no other purpose than it gave me the chance to learn about the religion and to then make up my own mind. Even though I firmly already had (and still stay firm on that one). But with her question, she opened me up to learning about other cultures and religions well out of my immediate surroundings. She enjoyed Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and once she shared some of the things she had learnt about it, I soon picked up an interest. We exchanged books on the topic, and shared our learning. In my mid-twenties I went on a 10 day silent retreat, non-religious, but certainly in line with Buddhist meditative ways. When I came back, I felt incredibly centred, grounded, and nothing anyone could say hooked me, everything was water off a ducks back (unlike ‘the me’ from before the retreat). I remember standing in the kitchen with her and Dad, as I shared some of my experience. She studied me and I saw a look of panic rush over her as she exclaimed, “Oh God my daughter’s going to become a Buddhist nun and go live in a cave for the rest of her life!”. I couldn’t help but laugh, and just like that I think she may have broken the cord to that possible future. None the less we continued to share our interest in Buddhism, and with her appreciation for it right up until and after her last moments, and with some guidance, I read her Buddhist meditations to send her on her way.
Mum loved to dance. She was an awesome dancer. She had the moves. And as a child I would watch how she moved with the music, and try to match her. I was no match for her, and although I entered competitions like she did, I didn’t win like she did, but the moves remained in me, becoming a big part of my expression. As kids, my cousin Simone and I would create dances for our family Christmas concerts, and that remains one of my fondest memories, not only for the fun and creativity shared with my cousin, but being given free reign to dance our hearts out, with such enthusiasm from our Mums. I can still hear Mum and Aunty Sue’s laughter when my cousin Nathan or my brother would enter our professionally choreographed performances. For dance, for the love and gift of dancing my heart out, I am filled with gratitude.
This dance. This dance of life we’ve shared. Moving in and out, between and over, to and fro. We danced together Mum. We danced together and it has been beautiful. Every step, every trip, every wander back and jump forward. Thank you. Thank you for it all. The ultimate gift of life has been and will continue to be your daughter, for that I cannot thank you enough.
My Mum died on Monday, March 16, 2015. She was 67 years old. She died at home, in her bed, where she wanted to be. The above piece was the tribute I spoke at her funeral last Monday, March 23, 2015. I felt ready to share with you these words. Thank you to everyone who has sent me messages of love, courage, support and understanding over the past two weeks. Every word has touched me deeply.