This week Inside My Journal, I invite guest Kaye to open up the pages of her journal as she shares with us her reflections on a life lived beyond the ordinary. Kaye shares her journey from growing up with a terminally ill Mum, enduring child sexual abuse, losing both her parents by the age of 20, surviving cancer twice and how at the age of 60 she is now redefining herself in retirement.
Kaye is a warrior. She is brave, fierce and has a smile that will light up the room. Kaye's story is one of hope, triumph and above all else a story of the human spirit. She will motivate you, inspire you and truly show you that beyond it all, through the pain, heartache, lessons and love, life is worth living to the fullest each and every day. From a shy girl to a defiant woman, she is the epitome of strength and courage. Oh, and did I mention she's my Mum!
This is a story that deserves to be told.
Now, let's turn the pages of Kaye's journal...
When I was asked to tell me story I knew straight away that I wanted to tell my truth but that I wanted to do it in a way that would show that life, no matter how challenging, is still worth living. So many people have said to me over the years “how did you cope?”, “I don’t think I could have coped with what you have gone through”. The truth is, I always get a bit puzzled by that. Regardless of what I've been through I feel I've had a blessed life and hopefully my future will continue to unfold the same way as it has always been, with challenges, sadness and adversity but with so much love, support and special times that my heart nearly bursts!
I look at my life in chapters. Each one has had it challenges yet each one has given me something to be thankful for.
So, I guess you're wondering what my story is then? Here are my reflections on my life so far. Let's rip the band-aid off.
One of the earliest memories I have as a little girl is running to Mum through a long corridor at a very big Hospital. The nurses were telling me I could hold her hand as we left but to be careful, she had to walk slow. Usually my Dad would be the one to walk Mum out of hospital but on this day I was given the privilege (to be honest I think it was because I spent the night before crying to Dad about how much I missed her). I didn't care how slow I had to walk though, I was just glad Mum was coming home. It was like Christmas all over again.
What I didn't know at the time of course was that spending time in hospital with Mum was to become a constant in my childhood and teenage years. Spending my childhood with a gravely ill parent, knowing the future was not guaranteed and that I might not always have her around was the foundation for fostering in me anxiety and a deep shyness at a very early age. I always felt an underlying sense of not feeling safe, that my life could change in an instant and it was this feeling of fear that plagued me all my life. On the flip side though, seeing my Mum so courageous and determined also set in me a sense of resilience and an ability to face adversity with positivity. Being able to look for the silver lining, as one might say, during times of hardship has served me well over the years and it's something I've called on many times throughout my life.
"I always felt an underlying sense of not feeling safe, that my life could change in an instant and it was this feeling of fear that plagued me all my life".
Most of my childhood was spent at Prince Henry Hospital where my sister and I would make up games to pass the time often leading to the nurses scolding us. We didn't mind of course because we were having fun. I remember being allowed to walk up to the hospital shop for a lolly every so often whilst Dad talked quietly and lovingly to Mum (now that was a real treat, we felt very grown up!). Mum and Dad's relationship was special, we knew it was true love.
I was only 18 when Mum passed and I'd just celebrated my 18th birthday a few weeks prior. On the night of my 18th birthday dinner Mum had gone home early feeling unwell (how she ever got through that dinner is something I still can't comprehend but something I'm always so grateful for). The night before she died, just before I left for another night of dancing at a nightclub (as 18 year old's do!) I saw her vomit in the bedroom. Mum was so unwell and I remember she had little socks on to keep her feet warm. I went in and asked if she was ok, "oh yes" she said, "you know you always feel better after you have been sick". I agreed and told her I loved her. I didn't know it at the time but that was the last conversation we were to have. I still have those socks, a treasure I keep hidden away from that last moment with Mum.
Losing Mum to a multitude of medical conditions at such a young age was a massive loss. I remember Dad’s words, telling us through tears that the suffering is over (I later learnt from Dad that when I was 5 she was told she had 6 months to live but being the strong woman she was she proved them wrong and lived for 13 years). Although Mum's suffering was over ours was to begin. On reflection though, it's apparent that my whole family lived in a state of grieving for the impending loss of my mother for quite some time before her passing (well I know I did for sure!). The loss of Mum hit us all hard as you can imagine but the loss was the hardest on Dad. Dad loved her so deeply, they always walked hand in hand, Dad fussing over all of her needs and making sure she was always his top priority. They had a connection I have rarely seen again, it was truly beautiful.
I guess I could say that it was through these experiences with Mum being so ill that I learnt very early on in life the amidst grief and heartache there could also be joy. I intrinsically knew that the best way to cope was to enjoy the moment, that life might not be perfect but there is plenty to be grateful for. To metaphorically and literally walk down the corridor and get on with it.
Having said this, I do have to admit though that sometimes I craved to be a normal kid, one where Mum wasn't sick and she could play endless games with us. Mum and Dad tried to keep our childhood as normal as possible but unfortunately it wasn't and that is just the fact. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially as you age and become a parent yourself. I can now reflect and understand that she did her best and it's only through my own health battles later in life that I truly appreciate what she went through and I now have such a deep sense of admiration for the way she coped so well with what she was dealt.
"I learnt very early on in life the amidst grief and heartache there could also be joy".
But for now, if I can jump back just a little. Around this time (or a bit younger I think) there was also another significant event in my life that would define much of my young adult (and adult!) years. At the age of around 5 (or perhaps even younger from what I can recall) I was sexually abused many times, over a period of 12 months. My abuse was a secret I kept firmly in place and not one I even shared with my first husband. The truth is, it impacted my life for decades and it impacted the way I saw myself. I felt worthless and as I went through early adulthood my response to that feeling only served to deepen my shame, leading to many a regret. Over the years though I have been able to see that I made those reckless decisions from a place of deep pain. I didn't give myself the respect I now know I deserve because I didn't feel worthy of love. Eventually, I did share this experience with my daughters and my second husband which helped me release the shame and embarrassment I'd felt for so many decades.
As my life progressed, being incredibly shy didn’t help my case growing up. My inability to socialise made me somewhat of a loner at times, not able to make friends easily and I was always a bit clunky with building relationships (I still aim to be honest but this has been my biggest area of personal development of late, so empowering!). I always seemed to have just a few friends and coped better with that rather than a large circle of friends. To be honest, I found it exhausting trying to be accepted and to be interesting.
Being diagnosed with Scoliosis at the age of 15 and having to wear a brace around my torso for many years didn't help me gain a sense of normality. It was so uncomfortable, embarrassing and sometimes I would throw it in the bottom of my wardrobe, hating what it was doing to me. I was definitely different. I would yell out that I wasn’t wearing it again until Mum or my sister would talk me through all the benefits of soldiering on and I would go back to the wardrobe and front up for another day of being braced. The brace gave me the title of “ruler girl” by the bullies due to the steel bar of the rod going down one side of my spine. I suffered dreadfully at this age, feeling somewhat socially awkward and different whilst trying to discover myself and really not knowing who I was or what I wanted to be. Around this time I started self-harming to find a way to release the pain. It was a terrible time in my life and by the time I reached year 10 I decided to leave the awful experience of school behind and find out about the big, wide world. If only I knew!
Around the age of 17 I met my first boyfriend (and future husband) who was a wonderful support for me through the loss of Mum. We'd been dating for a year when Mum passed and after her loss our relationship changed drastically, from one of partying hard, dabbling in drugs and drinking way too much to a responsible couple. This was a transition we both made rather effortlessly and enjoyed immensely.
It was only 12 months later, at the age of 19 that my doctor told me the brace didn’t work (could you believe it, after all that heartache!). I was told I needed major surgery on my back. The Doctor proceeded to tell me that I'd be in plaster from my chest to my hips for 6 months after the surgery and then braced for another 6 months following that (medical technology sure was not as advanced back then as it is now). My beautiful Dad was my rock during this time, he would work all day and then would come and visit me every night in hospital. People in the ward told me my eyes would light up whenever he came into the room. I knew this was true, I felt it each and every time. In my eyes he was the most amazing man in the world, soft but so strong. He looked after me and I looked after him. My boyfriend would also come in, armed with many jokes and quips to keep my sense of humour strong. When I had the plaster put on we laughed at how I looked like Queen Victoria. My breasts disappeared, I was flat from chest to hip with a small circle carved out of the plaster at my stomach so when I ate it could expand. I really couldn't have made it through that surgery and the long recovery after without both of them.
That December my sister married and moved out of home. I was happy for her but so, so sad for me. I was going to miss her being at home with me, she always made everything alright. She was always the practical one in the duo of our sisterhood and I needed her. I felt selfish feeling this way but it did give me a window of time with Dad that I will always cherish. We would stay up past midnight often, talking about everything from politics to types of food to general silly chit chat. We would laugh and we would cry, we had an amazing connection. I truly felt like I knew my Dad, that I really knew him, how he ticked, his inner thoughts, he was so open and so sensitive and I began to see Dad in a different light. We became much more than Dad and Daughter, we became friends. Life seemed to slowly be getting back to normal and I truly thought we were all going to be fine! Little did I know it was only for a matter of months.
The following Easter I was woken up at 1am by a phone call. I answered but no-one was there. I ran into Dad’s bedroom and he wasn’t there, now I was scared. I rang my boyfriend and he felt it too, he knew something was wrong and said he would come over and be there in 10 minutes. As soon as he arrived he barely said hello and there was a knock at the door! Two policemen asked if this was the residence of my Dad, I said "yes" and then they progressed to tell me Dad had been in a fatal car accident. I immediately said, "Which hospital? I’ll go straight away" to which they replied very directly, “No, we said fatal”. Shock, horror, despair, my world really had crashed. First Mum and now Dad and I hadn’t even turned 20! We left home and went to tell my sister about Dad's accident and that would be the last night I ever slept in my family home again. I couldn’t go back, everything had changed, it would never be the same and either would I.
I was in a whirlwind of grief! I felt so incredibly alone and was now having to live alone! But where was that going to be? It wasn’t the age where one lived with their boyfriend prior to marriage and I don’t think we were ready for that yet so I found a unit halfway between where my sister lived and where my boyfriend lived. To add to my feelings of despair, a month or so after losing Dad I was called into the boss’s office at work where he proceeded to tell me, "We’ll have to let you go, you aren't getting through the work. We understand how hard this has been for you. You can either resign or we have set up another job for you in our other subsidiary". The problem was, the other subsidiary was so far away. How would I get there? In those days there was no public transport that I could find so I took the resignation option. Great! So now I had no parents, no job and had pretty much lost everything, except my boyfriend and my sister. Everything I had ever known was gone.
"So now I had no parents, no job and had pretty much lost everything. Everything I had ever known was gone".
My sister and I were close so as time went on we had lots of dinners the four of us, her husband and my boyfriend were quite different but they got on well and this was my new family. It was smaller, different but just as loving. There really wasn't a time when my boyfriend and I officially decided to get married, it just evolved until we were confidently saying “when we get married”. We talked about having our own family and slowly but surely I could feel happiness creep back into my life after so much loss. We went into the city and bought a beautiful engagement ring (a significant date of which we did not realise at the time). I was so excited my life was moving forward in a positive way, I was finally going to have a home and family of my own. Life really was starting to become everything I had dreamt of as a little girl. I truly felt happiness was the only thing ahead. It was, right?...
Keeping turning the pages of Kaye's journal next week for Part 2.
When I asked Mum to share her story it was from a place of deep admiration. I truly believe she is a warrior. She has endured and overcome so much in her life and still, after it all, can find the lessons in the heartache. She has never once been bitter and I've never heard her speak a bad word about a soul.
I'm humbled and honoured that I could give Mum a platform to share her story, especially those parts which have remained hidden for years under a cloud of shame. Inside My Journal exists to give a voice to our shadows, to allow them to finally be brought into the light.
I can't wait to share the rest of the story with you next week.
If you've enjoyed peeking inside my journal I would love to hear from you. Please feel welcomed and encouraged to comment below or on my Instagram feed @stillwithsammy and share your story as we rise up as one collective voice. Or, if you have a story you'd like featured on Inside My Journal email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'd also be very grateful if you shared this post with anyone you feel would love to read it.
If you'd like help or more information around abuse you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for confidential information, counselling and support on sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. You can also contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, 24 hours / 7 days a week for mental health information and support.
Until next time, I wish you well. May you shine bright, always.
Love, Sammy xoxo