I hate to harp on the subject of grief, god knows I’ve had my fair share. It is something that is in the past and I prefer to look to the future.
In saying that I often get messages from people dealing with grief and they always ask how I got through to the other side. I’m not sure it ever leaves you but you learn to put it in a special place and just visit it every now and again. For me, generally when I am in the car, on my own, blasting super sad songs and singing at the top of my lungs. I’ve had to pull over more times than I can count, as the car has windscreen wipers but sadly my eyes do not!!
So for those who don’t know, I lost my dad Peter on my 30th birthday from an illness that lasted only a few short months. 3 years later my brother Nic committed suicide. He was a heroin addict and took his own life down on the Mornington Peninsula when I was on holiday in Bali. Fast forward 18 years and my husband Ian was diagnosed with throat cancer and after a 20 month battle he lost his fight.
So I thought I would try to give you my thoughts on grief. It is hard to describe how I deal with it or why I do it the way I do. I remember after Dad and Nic died, mum and I were scattering my brother’s ashes under a Peace Rose at home and having a glass or two of Champagne and mum said to me –“I know we have suffered a lot over the last few years but I don’t want this to define us and the way we choose to live our lives. Neither of them would want that and I think we should honour their memory and live the best life we can with as much happiness as possible”.
I looked at her and said I couldn’t agree more and we clinked our glasses and from that day forward that is how we have chosen live. The thought of wallowing and bringing everyone down with my sadness and grief was just not an option that I considered. Of course I had my close friends that I would talk to and were there for me every step of the way, but in general that is how I have tried to live my life. It is a choice you make every day you wake up. I didn’t want to be a victim and self-indulgent and have everyone feel sorry for me, that is not what life is about. It is about resilience and strength and moving forward because they are gone and you are not and even if you want to change it, you can’t. It’s that simple. Celebrate the joys and memories they brought to your life.
My dad and I were so close, we always had been. Mum was born in London and her and dad met working for Terence Conran back in the 50’s. My brother was also born in London and I was born after they moved to Australia, so it was Dad and I, the Aussies and Mum and Nic, the Poms! Dad used to call me Twinkletoes and when they had parties, and there were many, he would put me on his feet and we would twirl around the room together. He was larger than life and had an extraordinary life of his own. Mum was and still is, just the greatest Mum ever, always there for us. Nic and I were super close growing up and for all intents and purposes, we had a very happy childhood.
It was probably in our late-twenties Nic and I drifted apart. He was a party boy and he had a big circle of friends who I knew, but didn’t really hang out with them, I had my own circle of friends and we were busy working and making our way in life, I also got married for the first time at 26 and we had a business together, so life was full and busy.
It was a total shock a few years later to find out that Nic was using heroin. I know he had tried everything in the past but I never imagined he would go down this path. Looking back I guess it was inevitable but at the time I was completely blindsided. I had also just found out that Dad was sick and didn’t have long to live, so I decided to keep Nic’s drug problem to myself and see if I could fix it without having to tell Mum and Dad as they were dealing with enough already. Of course this was impossible as it was just too much for me to handle.
As challenging and heartbreaking as it was after losing both Dad and Nic, we dealt with it as best we could and, true to our word, mum and I went on and created a new life for ourselves. I kind of thought I was done with illness, death and sadness and really thought nothing else bad could happen to me. Man, was I wrong!!
On 11 December, 2014 my husband Ian, who had just flown back from Bali, where we were living, had an appointment with an Ear/Nose/Throat Doctor and was diagnosed with Throat Cancer. He had lost his voice back in July after a weekend carousing on a yacht on the island. I thought he just had a throat infection, but as time went by and it wasn’t getting any better, after a few unsuccessful trips to the doctors in Bali who couldn’t shed any light on the situation, we flew back to Melbourne to get a proper diagnosis.
It was a mere 22 months until he lost his fight. We had been together and happily in love for the last 19 years and raising our two boys. Neither of us ever believed he wouldn’t beat this and I don’t think we gave up until about a month before he died. We were both such positive, glass half full kind of people, that there was just no way he couldn’t beat this. I thought to myself, surely this couldn’t happen to me again. But it did on 30 September, 2016, four year ago today.
This time I had my boys to get me through and I needed to be there for them and help them navigate this new life without their father. Jules was 8 and Nico was 14, both ages where you really need your dad, especially Julesy.
Again, I was so blessed to be surrounded by beautiful family and friends. Ian died at my cousin Johnny and his wife Claire’s farm. We were there for the last 3 weeks of his life with our kids and I am not sure I could have got through it without them to lean on. It sounds strange but it was a wonderful time for us all being together and keeping each other’s spirits up. Such a huge bonding experience that nothing will ever come between us. The kids would go into Ian’s room and play instruments or sing to him. I think we survived on wine and cheese platters. Friends would drop over and Ian loved having everyone around him.
A week after he died, I opened my shop Bloomfield and Webber with my friend Kate Webber. At the same time we were in the middle of building two houses in Barwon Heads with Johnny who is a builder. I also had to settle on a block of land next door to the new houses. I then had to go to Bali as the hotel, formerly our home, was halfway through its build and I had to work out what to do with that. Ian had also started building a villa next to the hotel from his hospital bed and on top of that I had to settle a block on land on the beach in Canggu and the deadline for that was looming.
While I was there I decided that I had to finish the hotel as it was Ian’s dream so that is what started to do. I was absolutely terrified as I had no idea what I was doing. Being a woman, building a hotel and villa, employing staff, the legal side of things and all in a developing nation that was mostly unfamiliar to me. But the funny thing is when you face a fear, things just fall into place. I found an amazing manager who is still with me today. He was right there with me through the whole process and has been my rock. I was also lucky my best friend Jane lived there and helped me sort out the chef, kitchen and pull together all the furnishings and the final touches on the hotel.
I stayed in Bali for two months and then came home for Christmas and to start working in the shop. Naturally when my friend Judy Romano came calling to tell me that she had put me up for a gig on The Real Housewives of Melbourne, I thought why the hell not!!!!
It was like I had super powers, I just literally did not stop for 18 months. I faced my fear of opening a hotel without Ian. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Not to say there weren’t a few dramas along the way but somehow I just stayed calm, slept on it and usually something better came up. You need to put yourself out there and push yourself to do things you don’t think you can do. That, and keeping a healthy sense of humour!
If you look at the life of the person you have lost and realise that it is their journey and that you are just a part of it, that is how it made sense to me. Celebrate the time you had together instead of wallowing in what you have lost. I have met many people along with way that have lost people and they just never recover from it. I think to myself, what a waste. Spending your time being unhappy about something you can’t change? I know this would be incredibly difficult for someone losing a child. I can’t even imagine and don’t even like saying it out loud, if something happened to one of my boys, what I would do. But I do think that everything happens for a reason, it sounds so cliché when you write it down or say it out loud but the universe works in mysterious ways and you can’t prevent it, change it or will it back.
I stress that I haven’t lost a child so my experience and thoughts are solely based on my own losses. Perhaps there is something in what I have said that might help someone who is losing or has lost someone. Try to do something positive in their honour, something you never thought you could do. Face a fear because that will drive you forward and keep you motivated instead of letting it consume you. If you look around the world there are some pretty amazing people who have faced incredible adversity and who are doing some pretty amazing things.
Despite what people might think, I wasn’t financially secure when Ian died. I had to turn things around and figure a whole lot of shit out, as a woman, by myself. I had my two boys to take care of and my mum who lives with us. I wanted to be an inspiration to my family and show my boys that really shitty things can happen in life but you just need to pick yourself up and move on.
Keeping the memory alive of their father is also really important. We talk about him all the time and Nic can finally fit into his rather fabulous and extensive wardrobe, which although a small thing, makes him feel close to his dad. Julesy loves anything to do with his Ian, from his passwords, Promite on Cruskits or a brand of tee shirt, because that’s what dad would do, bless him.
Another really beautiful thing I did was have some of his ashes put into a beautiful metal heart for my boys and Ian’s two other kids and of course one for myself so they would always have a little bit of him around, wherever they are in the world. Little things like that are important.
So that it pretty much my story of grief, in a brief snapshot. I hope this is of some help if or when you lose someone you love. They are always around you and watching over you, that much I know.
Sincerely Sally x