What garden path? a TSIB interview

Tash contacted me a few months ago asking for some room to explore her space between her man and his illness. After a few speed bumps we managed to get the interview together and what we finished up with was a poignantly funny piece about living for now, having a love and hanging with your soul mate. I get a little frustrated by the continual sharing on social media sites of inspirational quotes – they depress me, more than uplift me as we can’t all be up all the time. Its ironic then that I think Tash’s next business venture should be  writing little manifesto’s for just getting on with it!

Its bloody cold in Sydney at the moment, so pop on a pair of daggy old slippers (if you’re in these parts or swan about with your skin showing if you’re lucky enough to be in a warmer climate) and sit back and learn about what it means to love, in sickness and in health.


Tash…tell me a little about you

Hello!  My name is Tash and I am 26 years old. In the past year I have moved to Ballarat in Victoria, with my partner Chris. I really like to make things, dance in my lounge room on Saturday nights in my pyjamas, read-lots and I love comedy of all sorts. One of the most important things I think we need in life is to laugh. And be comfortable. (Hence the pyjama pants)

I live with my ‘Chef-man’ Chris, Matilda (our Border Collie) and Mary (our cat). We moved to Ballarat from South Australia because we were not happy in SA and we needed a fresh start. We both were in jobs that were unfulfilling, and we could not work out where to go next. We had had a few years of really average things happening-Chris has a form of bowel cancer called ‘Lynch’s Disease’ (officially called the very scary sounding, Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer) and quite frankly we were both emotionally tired and felt like we were facing a dead end.

So we packed up our life, put our houseboat up for sale (yes we lived on a houseboat!) and drove to Ballarat. Now we live next door to my brother and sister in law-we even have a gate in out back fence. I feel like I escaped. I am so happy in Ballarat and love our life we are building together.

What makes you love Chris like you do?

So many things Sarah! I think he is marvelous…right now he is sitting across from the couch from me, watching QI with a glass of wine. He is laughing at Bill Bailey, with our Border Collie curled up next to him. I feel very lucky to have his love, I feel very blessed to be sharing my life with him. I like that he can laugh at me when I am grumpy and make me laugh at myself too. We play cards together at the pub. He writes me cards for Mothers Day from Matilda and Mary (our cat), his laugh is deep, his soul is large, he has kind eyes and a slow smile that creeps across his face.

When we met we would talk for hours, all through the night. He is the strongest person I know. He has to face the reality that one day, the cancer will come back. He has to have tests every three months, for the rest of his life. He does not get the luxury of remission.

We are 23 years in age apart. We fell in love whilst working together (oh God it was complicated!) We danced around the concept for about a year before we finally bit the bullet, had a massive fight on New Years Eve and ended up kissing that same night, somewhere on the Murray River.

I think one of the main reasons I love him is because he adds so much happiness to my quality of life. We love going for long country drives together, poking about in markets and spending nights in with cheese, wine and a good movie. We are a partnership and we support each other in the ways that the other can not.

How does illness live between the two of you – is it there some days and then forgotten on others or is it always in the background?

Chris has a hereditary form of bowel cancer. It is in his DNA, his father died from the same form of cancer, and his brother has the same cancer too. (a real shitter eh?) We have dealt with numerous operations and rounds of chemo. Chris is currently in the clear, but he did have a tumor removed from his shoulder last month. Lynch’s Disease has an increased rick of getting other cancers too because of the mutations in his DNA.

We live in limbo. We do not plan a future, perhaps further than a year. Being 26, most of my friends are starting to think about kidlets and marriage but Chris and I know that we will not have kids, because his cancer is hereditary, which is something which I have learnt to accept, as much as one can anyway. Our everyday is the same. We live exactly the same life that everyone else does – rego, bills, dreaming of holidays – but there it is, always hanging around the edges, the sinister. We are scared that it will come back. Every three months, there is the slow build up of tension before his tests (Chris calls it his turkey basting-I’ll leave it to your imagination!) then the waiting for the results, then the release when it is all-OK.

I think the thing that we try to remember is that if we did not follow our hearts (as clichéd as it sounds) we would not be sharing this experience of our relationship. It was not an easy decision for either of us to let go of our individual fears and jump in.

I definitely do not regret it, and I am pretty sure Chris does not either!

How do you sit not knowing what the future will hold? 

I have never worried about the future prior to Chris and I definitely do not focus on it now. I have learnt that you never ever, ever know which garden path you will end up dancing down, and that is honestly what I love about life the most. This may sound strange to some people, but I would rather have a wonderful time with Chris now, and in the future when something does happen to Chris, I can hold onto the wonderful memories we have created. I know, that because of my age, that there is a possibility that I will have another partner in life-but then again, I may not. Who knows? We concentrate on the here and now, and what makes us happy. I hope this does not come across as sounding frivolous and shallow. But there is no point in worrying. You will miss things that happen right in front of your nose.

What would you say to people in a similar situations?

Do what makes you happy. Accept whatever may come will come. Tell everyone you love them, all of the time.

Live for today.

Make sure you are happy with your doctor, and then trust everything he says. Do not Google any medical terms/symptoms EVER. Be gentle to yourself. Utilise services that are available to you, social groups, doctors, everything. Remember that when things are really, really shit (and they will be!) that you will be OK.

Surround yourself with people that make you feel safe. Make sure you laugh a lot and fill your life with colour and love.

I think the main thing I have learnt is that I am strong. I can deal with most things that come my way. That is not to say I do not cry, or get angry, or feel weak some days. I have learnt to be very content in the right now.

To not worry about the future.

To not worry if the couch is old, or if we have an old bomb of a car, or if we do not know what we will be doing in five years.

I wake up every morning with a big black dog that runs in and jumps on us as soon as she senses we are awake, a little cat that sleeps on my feet at night and next to a man who loves me….even with bed hair.


Thanks Tash, its hard not to get caught up in collecting what we thing we need when what we want is some chances to laugh and be surrounded by people we love. I must admit Im also partial to a poke around at a good market too! Tash also writes a blog which you can visit here, if you liked Tash’s story and you’re new to TSIB jump over here and read some of the other interviews. Im always happy to chat with other people about their space in between…

Oh and yes, Dr Google is never a good idea.


eulogies in the shower


My sanctuary is the shower…I can burn myself with the hottest water, lean against the tiles and do all of the thinking I need to do (usually with the light off which drives my husband bonkers). When I worked as a counsellor I used to say to the mums that were worried about puffy, sobbing eyes that they should focus on doing all their crying in the shower because a) no one could hear you b) if you splashed your face with cold water the bags under your eyes would vanish and c) it  might be the only time you legitimately get to yourself everyday. People loved this idea, I seriously thought I should do a community service announcement it was like I was a beauty consultant and grief counsellor all rolled into one big dash of red hair.

Edenland posted a piece the other week about your funeral song. The song you envisaged that would be played when people came to celebrate your life….now before I explain my idea Id just like to state that I have no wish to harm anyone. Just saying it. You never know whose reading your blog. Do you?

I confess that when Im in the shower some of the thinking I do is about funerals. Not about my funeral but about people that have left a scar on my soul. I think about what would happen if they werent around, how I’d react, if Id sob, or look blank or just silently give a little thanks to the man upstairs. I think about the chic black dress Id wear, with big sunglasses that covered most of my face, hell in some daydreams Im wearing gloves and carrying a little clutch (maybe I get this daydream confused with the one where I am Audrey Hepburn??). The key to my daydream is the eulogy…Im a big one for speeches. I loved talking at my wedding, I made sure I weaved my story around the central figures in my life slowly ending up at my daughter and then my lovely husband sitting in front of me. Anyways…back to the eulogy (which should never be confused with a wedding speech)

I usually craft the speech with some background music, a bit of coldplay ‘fix you’ or Adele ‘someone like you’ and then I begin. I pay particular attention on the purpose of the talk – a way to capture the true essence of the person, the highlights, the lowlights and all the spaces in between. I stay strong, I don’t cry, I keep eye contact with the (imaginery) people in the congregation and I tell the truth because when in your life can you truly tell the truth about someone? When they’re gone you can speak with integrity and honesty and without fear of retribution or anger…

The end of the song, the end of the speech or the end of the hot water usually finishes my daydream…I remembered thinking that this was an odd way to view trauma and upset in your life but in talking to close friends the gentle art of a good meander through your mind (in the safety of your own bathroom) is good for the soul and good for a bit of truth telling – well it is for me…

Male/Female or Human/Human…

I try to not be one of those people that complains that men and woman are from different universes but some days I do concede defeat.

Like most couples with a herd of children sometimes the only time you get to have a chat with your partner is that space between your head hitting the pillow and you drifting off to sleep. I often get in trouble for spewing out a never-ending stream of random thoughts that my husband has a difficult time following. The other night we were having a chat about his work – there was a new woman who started and I asked how it was going. My husband explained that he was showing the woman the layout of the office and she commented on the space in the fridge saying she needed to leave her food there as she was on a ‘transformation’ diet. Of course my first question was ‘what’s she transforming into?’…his response was “I don’t know, I didnt ask her’.

And there it is…the difference between men and women.

I then went off on a tangent wondering outwardly what the diet was, why she was on it, what sort of food was involved, whether or not the disclosure about the food was an invitation for him to ask her more, maybe she was just trying to generate some chitter chatter on her first day….so many questions…so much snoring.

I’m still wondering about it.

I went to a conference on grief this week (don’t get too jealous) and I was keen to hear a man talk about his research into the way that different genders copes with loss. He talked about male and feminine qualities of coping – the feminine method involving expressing feelings and exploring them, versus the masculine concept of ‘thinking and doing’. This isn’t to say that women behave this way and that men behave the other it just explores the fact that there are different ways of grieving and that both ways have benefits for learning to live with loss.

In accepting which way people cope with loss the people who want to offer support should be focussed not on forcing people to share or to express more feelings but more to validate the way that they cope. I guess that old cliche of a therapist asking people how they ‘feel’ might be better served by asking people how they ‘cope’…we (ok I) shouldn’t be assigning feminist traits as a sign that people are coping better with their loss – we don’t all need to cry and scream to show that we are hurting.

So even though people might not want the detail or they might not want to openly express feelings, they might actually be coping OK. But the big question is how do we move away from this idea about the need to share everything, to have open and honest discussion as the only method to really explore something?

What about you – are you economically emotional when it comes to expressing your emotions? Is it necessarily a male/female thing or is it a human/human thing? Or have I missed the point entirely?