Smiling in the Face of Adversity
Just over a year ago, my world was flipped upside down and inside out! A 5-minute phone call, in July 2015 changed the course of my life dramatically and the weeks that followed were some of the most challenging I had ever experienced in my life. Now with the beauty of hindsight, I can reflect on that time as one of major personal growth. I learnt so much about life and about myself, about relationships and basic human needs. Lessons that are too valuable not to share. So let me start with that phone call….
We were enjoying some precious family time, the calm before the chaos of the morning rush. We had the whole family in our bed. Our newly 1 year old was drinking her morning bottle while our 3 year old found his comfy spot nestled into my shoulder. My husband’s phone rang. It was his parents. This was not unusual as my husband’s family lived overseas and with the 14 hour time difference, the best time to chat was usually in the mornings. But it wasn’t just his parents… it was his uncle…and his sisters…and his dad. They had some news. They found 3 tumours on his dad’s liver. He has cancer. It’s stage 4. It’s bad.
For anyone who lives away from family, you know that this phone call is one that you dread. That moment where the distance is not simply a flight away but is completely isolating, suffocating and built on a mountaintop of guilt. You should be there. Maybe if you lived closer, you would have spotted the signs earlier. Are they asking the doctors the right questions? Maybe they are wrong? What made this phone call even more heartbreaking was my husband and I finally had a plan, everything was falling into place, we were on the same page about our plans for the future. Our little family was all in sync and things were good…..in fact we were in the best place we had ever been….until right now.
My husband and I never really had the typical romance. In order for us to be together we had to confront many challenges and overcome many fears. We had to join forces to quieten the non-believers and remain focused on what we both knew to be true. We loved each other, we made a great team and we could get through this. I lived in Sydney Australia and he lived in Baltimore Maryland. Literally, on opposite sides of the world, approximately 9,782 miles (flying) and 16 hours apart (26 hour of flying), we endured a long distance relationship for 4 years before finally tying the knot in November 2008.
Both incredibly close to our families, agreeing on a place to settle and call home was an ongoing issue for us that never disappeared after we had our official piece of paper. Although we got married in Australia and had agreed to stay there after the wedding, nothing was ever permanent. Even taking out a new phone contract would stir up a heated debate. My husband could never lock himself into more than a 12-month contract for anything, whether it be a gym membership or an apartment rental. In his mind we would eventually be leaving to do a stint in Baltimore before finally deciding on a place that we could both call home. It was a very unsettling feeling not having a sense of what our future looked like.
Our first child came along. Again, as I did with the wedding, somewhere deep inside of me hoped, if not yearned, for this to be the deciding factor. Our beautiful baby boy would make us feel like a family and he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But this only made him want to move sooner. All of my friends had chosen day cares and high schools a week after birth and I was just clinging to the fantasy that I would be able to see out my maternity leave in Sydney.
Two and a half years later, still in Sydney, our second child arrived. By this time, I had learnt to deal with the instability. I no longer needed the future to be mapped out and I was ok with enjoying every single day – one day at a time. Miraculously, once I softened my stance, so did my husband. We started to become much more unified with our view of the future and could talk about it without getting defensive. We were finally starting to become a real family unit. We started to see the benefits of exposing our children to two different cultures, two places they could call home and two families who loved them dearly. We planned and finally agreed when we thought it would be best to make the move and after 8 years in Sydney together we decided that 2017 would be the best time.
Life was perfect. My husband loved his job, we loved where we lived in Sydney and our children were happy and healthy. Finally things were coming together for us. And then the phone call.
The weeks that followed the phone call were probably some of the hardest weeks of my life. I had to learn how to support my grieving husband, who felt more alone and isolated than he had ever felt before. I had to keep it together for my adorable yet very perceptive children. I knew this meant our plan of 2017 was thrown out the window. I knew that this meant we were going to be leaving soon. Leaving NOW - I had to battle and juggle the plethora of emotions that flooded my body - empathy and sadness for my husband, the grief of my parents watching us pack up and my own fears and anxieties of leaving - leaving MY home, MY family, MY friends, MY security, MY comfort zone, MY EVERYTHING!
Although I tried very hard to be very logical and strategic about how we did this, I soon realised there was nothing logical and strategic about our situation. This decision was driven by pure emotion and heart. To some this may be wreckless or irresponsible but my husband and I both share the same value of ‘family first’! I kept thinking ten years from now what would we regret the most – going or staying? The answer to that came quickly and was simple. We put all of our belongings in storage. We packed 3 boxes and 6 bags and 3 weeks later we were in Baltimore.
Not only was I out of my comfort zone, I felt like I had been hurled like a human cannon ball into quick sand. Don’t get me wrong, I realise I am one of the lucky ones. My husband has a huge network of family and friends, all of whom were welcoming and wonderful. Baltimore was not unfamiliar to me. My husband and I had been together 11 years and in that time Baltimore had become like a second home. But it wasn’t MY home and it wasn’t MY family and friends. I’ll never forget the first time we saw Gary’s dad after we had arrived. He hugged me so tight and while he was hugging me, with tears in his eyes, he said in my ear “Thank you. You will never know how much this means to me that you are here.” In that moment, even with the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of what lay ahead I had my confirmation. I was exactly where I needed to be.
Gary’s dad passed away 7 months later. I am so glad that I was able to face my fears, leap out of my comfort zone and embrace this mountain of a challenge that stood in front of me. Not only did my husband and I get to spend such valuable time with his dad, but my kids did too. We made memories together that can never be erased. While this will never bring Phil back or take away the ache of his absence, we got time, quality time. We got hugs and kisses, snuggle bunnies and love-a-dollies. We got the chance to say everything we wanted to say. These are things that I consider valuable. This is what life is about. I learnt to live in the moment. I learnt to change my perception and attitude in life’s challenging times. I learnt that life is not always fair and I always have a choice with how I embrace the cards I have been dealt. I learnt more about myself in 7 months than I had in 35 years. To find out more about this you will have to wait for my next blog, to find out…..
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of my incredible father-in-law, Philip Diamond. I know you are watching and smiling down on us all. I miss you every single day!