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Julia Matheson


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my teacher, grief

Writing comes so naturally to me, it’s my thing. It’s my way of expressing myself, and understanding my thoughts and feelings. It makes me feel so connected. Yet for the past few months I’ve barely put pen to paper . . . (or more, finger to keyboard).

To say that this year has been challenging is an understatement. In fact, the past 2 years have been rather tough. You see, a couple of years ago I was headed from Canada (where I was living) back to Melbourne for my best friends wedding. On my way to the Vancouver airport, I received an email from my Aunty Sandra.


She told me that she had been diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. It was terminal.

I still remember where I was sitting on the bus (right hand side up the front, window seat, looking at Stanley park and the ocean from above as we rode over the Lions Gate bridge.) Moments like these stay with us forever.

I sat with this information in transit for the next 30hrs. . . trying to understand, to process, to comprehend the ramifications of that email. All I wanted to do was get tele-ported home and be with her, and the rest of my family as quickly as possible. I’ve travelled far and wide without ever batting an eye-lid, yet I have never felt more home-sick than in that moment.

See, we have a small family, and my Aunty never had any children and was separated from her husband when I was very young. So my sister & I have always had her all to ourselves! We were her only nieces. She, along with my Nana have been the closest people to us outside our immediate family. My sister and I have even lived with her for periods of time over the years, and we’ve spent every holiday, every birthday, every celebration, or commiseration, together. She has taught me so much, and done so much for me – most definitely above and beyond the traditional role of ‘aunty’. I’m so grateful to have experienced such a close relationship with her throughout my life.

This news changed the course of my travels, and was the main reason I decided to remain in Australia instead of heading back to beautiful British Columbia.

Nearly 2 years to the day, we lost Sandra . After multiple treatments, surgeries, stays in hospital and rehab, she finally landed in palliative care which is where she spent her final weeks. My throat aches as I write this. A big painful ball rises every time I think about her, closely followed by tears. There’s so much pain still living in my body.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is that it’s often in death that we get the most clarity. Everything else fades into the background, into insignificance – and what’s left with us are the most important things – love, connection, contribution, legacy. All the things I stand for in my life, and in my coaching practice.

The other reason I share this with you is because of this – acknowledgement.

We often go through our whole lives without being truly acknowledged for who we are for people, and for what we mean to them. Sure, we get the occasional ‘great job’ ‘well done’ ‘congratulations’ ‘you’re the best’, but what I’m talking about is far deeper, more authentic, very specific, and incredibly powerful. I’m talking about acknowledging another human being for who they authentically are.

You see with acknowledgement, you are not only validating them personally, but also validating their place in the world. I’ve shared with you before the times I’ve completed acknowledgement exercises, and they have literally changed my perception of myself permanently. It has also given me the first hand experience of being on the receiving end of acknowledgement, and that makes me want to truly acknowledge other people in my life. For me, it’s hands down the most impactful tool we have.
A few days before my Aunty passed away, I sat there by her bedside watching her breathe. We knew she didn’t have much time left. I had so much anxiety inside sitting there, as I had so many things I wanted to say to her, but I also didn’t want to make her upset or seem over-dramatic in her eyes. See, my aunty was such a pragmatist, she was stoic and took this challenge head on.  I never once saw her show any signs of emotion or vulnerability. In the end I decided I had to acknowledge her, I had to act out of LOVE, not FEAR. I had to do what felt right within and what I authentically knew I had to, rather than feeling worried or scared that I might make her upset in her final days.

So as I sat there and stroked her hand, I was able to tell her how much she means to me. How thankful I was for everything she had done for me. How her presence in my life was like a solid rock. That I’m in awe of how she has handled her circumstances . . . . I wasn’t sure if she could hear me, or that she understood what I was saying – but I know she felt it. Of course these are things she already knew, things I have said in the past, but it was so important for me to say it all again.

Her last words to me were in a struggling whisper, and were in response to me saying “I don’t know what we will do without you.” She said – “You’ll get over it.”  !!

I still laugh out loud every time I think of this, because for anyone that knew my Aunty – this is classic Sandra. Direct, honest, to the point, pragmatic, and always optimistic! Thank you Sandra for leaving me with a smile, leaving me with humour, and for never taking anything, or anyone too seriously – even when cancer took your life.

I came across this quote on a grief pamphlet that was handed out to us, and it’s no surprise I guess that I was able to relate 100% to this –

I’d never had a serious loss before and I thought grief was basically lots of crying which peaked at the funeral and then you ‘got over it’ and ‘moved on’. I wasn’t prepared for the utter emotional, physical, and mental chaos that it was. I wasn’t prepared for all the other emotions that came with it – the guilt, the anger, the fear.”

– Annie,

I expected the sadness, I expected the deep confusion as to why this happened to her, but what I didn’t expect was the feeling of being uncomfortable in my own skin. See I know all the things that would make me feel better – a menu of; meditation, good food, yoga, socialising, writing, reading, massage – yet I couldn’t, and wouldn’t do those things. The thought of meditation was utterly scary, I couldn’t stand to be alone with my thoughts. I wanted to numb them out, not let them further in. My heart felt so empty, and I wasn’t even concerned with filling it back up again.

With divine timing, I was booked to go overseas a couple of weeks after my Aunty left us – good mates of mine were getting married in Bali. This trip could not have come at a more opportune time. I couldn’t wait to get out of Melbourne, and to allow myself the time and space to heal. All I wanted was to feel comfortable in my own skin again. And thankfully, within a couple of days of the holiday I got that.

I kicked off the trip with the love-fest that was the marriage of my good friends Ellie + Josh. There’s no better way to fill your cup, and to crack your heart right open than to celebrate the love of your friends. It was one of the most beautiful, and picturesque weddings I’ve ever attended.

Added to the love fest was sunshine to defrost my bones (and heart), salt water to energise and cleanse, an open schedule with an abundance of time for all the things I loved; beautiful healing massages, fresh local food, coconuts from the tree, yoga in open-air shalas, nature walks through the jungle, beautiful happy people, reading and enjoying my down-time, pampering myself with facials, exploring the ocean & it’s magical creatures scuba diving, . . . and the crème de la crème? A traditional Balinese healer that I saw 3 days in a row (now that’s a whole other blog post right there! It’s coming, I promise).

So I left Bali a very different version of myself than the one that entered. One that felt softer, more alive, and more at home within. To be honest, I could have stayed there for another month exploring, peeling away layers, basking in the sunshine, feasting on the self-love buffet. But I’m home now, and I am even more amped to head there again next year for more Bali lovin.

I’m learning to be extra gentle with myself. As cliché as it sounds, I’m realising I need to take each day as it comes. And to remind myself of all the things I love and that make me feel peace, love, joy and connection – and then to consciously set out to DO THEM.

The slippery slope into helplessness and sadness is all to easy for me right now. It’s much harder to climb up and out of the trenches. But that’s what I’m committed to. After all, it’s what Sandra would have wanted – for us to ‘get over it’, and to create a new normal for our lives.

Love you always Sandra. May you rest in peace.

“It’s a common myth that people ‘get over’ grief. The reality is, a part of us will always grieve the loss of our loved one. With time, the pain will lessen, but the sorrow we feel will always be a part of us. When people grieve they are coming to terms with what has changed in their lives. There is no ‘return to normal’; rather, we have to learn to live around a new kind of normal – re-learning the world and re-learning ourselves within it.“

4 Comments to “my teacher, grief”

  1. Ryan Sharpley October 14, 2015 at 2:52 am

    Unreal Julia – Ive read it a few times as she was a member of the family who will be missed dearly and always treasured – take it easy xx

    • Julia November 18, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks so much Ryan 🙂 She sure is treasured! x

  2. grandma October 14, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    That’s a very insightful essay, Julia. You are lucky to have learnt so much so young when too many of us go through life without knowing what would help us along life’s way. Well done and I hope you can ‘get
    over it’ as I have over Michael and Stephen and just be left with happy memories.

    • Julia November 18, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks Grandma – I agree, I do think I’m lucky to have learnt and understood these things before it’s too late. Thank you – I have so many happy memories to help me through.

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