Older than my older sister…a TSIB interview

This blog is working just as I had imagined in the dark recesses of my brain (and thats a pretty odd place for most of each week) its creating opportunities for people to come forward and share their own space in between. This year has been a time of reflection for me, Ive been able to sit with friends facing so much sadness and then spend my spare time studying the exact same things. I feel like Im a vessel for the stories that fill my time and I want to share them.

So sit back, grab a cuppa and read about Alicia..she bravely puts words to the space between hope and despair and she takes great pics of lovely things. If you don’t believe me click here

Alicia tell me a little about you…

I am 31 years old, I live in Cairns, Far North Queensland the town that has been called “home” for my entire life. My husband Jamie and I are proud parents of 2 beautiful, energetic children, Kiara who is 5 and Noah who is 2. The words often heard around out house is “life is Never Dull”, and it sure isn’t. We are constantly kept on our toes, stressed out, entertained, delighted, or rushed by some event happening, though more often then not it may be some self inflicted accident Jamie has had around the house!

Jamie and I met when I was still a teenager, our relationship, like many others has been filled with many ups and downs, laughter, joy, tears, but it has all been worth it. We married in a simple ceremony at a local beach 7 years ago, there was many people who didnt want us to get married, or thought that we wouldnt last, and we have proven them wrong so far.

I have had many different jobs over the years. On leaving school, I went straight into working in the childcare industry, which is the one job I have the most experience in over the years (although many years of child care couldnt even prepare me for what motherhood is all about!). I have held a variety of other jobs. I am currently working part time in my husbands family business, Jamie is the manager. I am actually having a lot of fun working with my husband, more then I expected. At this  point in our life, this position fits our family well.

I feel blessed to be living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, I love the beaches, rainforest, cane fields etc that make North Queensland so beautiful, we are lucky to be living in a place that so many people love to visit. I love raising my children here, and feel there is a sense of freedom of running around barefoot, at one with nature. Though I have to be honest in saying that the summers still get to me at times, the heat makes me tired and cranky!

Photography is a real passion of mine, I still have a lot to learn, but I do enjoy taking photographs, and the creativity it releases, and the memories it captures.  I have afacebook page, in which I take a photograph of something I am grateful for each day for a year.

When thinking about your space in between what stood out for you?

I think that there are so many spaces in between in each of our lives. I tried to list all mine down, and the list was huge, so I will just focus on one.

The space between hope and despair..my sister was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, our family relocated briefly to Adelaide for Tamina to be operated on and treated, it was scary watching her in so much pain, witnessing her hair fall out, and
being only 8 at the time, I briefly thought that her cancer was contagious.

It was a long tough fight, but before we knew it, we were hosting an end of treatment party for her, and celebrating the hurdles she had overcome.  Fast forward 10 years, and as a young Mum to a toddler, Tamina sadly relapsed. The cancer this time was throughout her body. After months of treatment, the Doctors said there was nothing more they could do but send her home to be comfortable.

While I knew that she was sick, I still held onto hope that she would overcome this battle as well, and was wondering how we would celebrate this time. Sadly this wasnt to be, and in April 1999, at the age of 22, my beautiful big sister passed away.

I can’t even think of words to describe the feelings, thoughts and emotions that I felt in that time. I was very close to my sister, we often joked that we would be found on the verandah of a nursing home in years to come, rocking chairs side by side, as we
chatted about life.

Some people, would comment “at least her death wasnt a shock, unlike those who lose their loved ones in accidents“, but I had to disagree. In looking back on photographs now, I am shocked by the frail, 30kg body, but at the time, all I could see was the spark that she always had in her eyes. In hindsight, I realise that she was terribly ill, but at the time, I held onto every inch of hope I could find, that she would be ok.

There was so much guilt in Taminas death, guilt that we were created by the same parents, raised in the same house, on the same food, yet she was the one who got cancer. I especially felt guilty as I attempted to clear her airways  on the night of her death, as instructed by the paramedics as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. I
held so much guilt over the years that I had not tried hard enough, or that there was something I could have done differently to save her life. The Ambulance took Mum with them as they took Tamina away to the hospital, with their words faint heart beat in my head. I followed behind, my heart filled to the brim with hope that she would be ok. I arrived at the hospital, told them I was there to see my sister Tamina, expecting to be directed to a hospital bed, instead I was directed to the social workers room, where my Mum was waiting, tears streaming down her face, and the 2 words that took away any hope I had….she’s dead.

I felt guilty that she would never get to see her beautiful daughter, Jazmine grow up, or that Jazmine would never get to know her Mum, yet here I was, with no children at the time relying on me.

For a long time after that, life was a dim, dark, place. Losing a loved one is not something you ever get over, it is just that you eventually find a day that you can utter their name without bursting into tears. The tears still come, sometimes unexpected, sometimes without warning, but thankfully less frequently. The ache for the person you have lost, the wish that they were still there to walk life’s pathway with you is still there.

Many moments in my life bring up the pain of my sisters passing. The day I turned 23 was the worst birthday in my life, suddenly I was older than my older sister, something I found very hard to deal with, and a issue that is still rather huge in my life to this day.

I hate that my sister never got to meet my husband, that I have photographs around the house of a woman that was so significant in my life, yet no one in my house apart from me has met. I talk about Aunty Tamina to my kids often, and want them to know what a wonderful, inspiring person she was, but that is just not the same as getting to
meet her.

At the time Tamina passed away, I was working at a Child Care Centre only minutes away from the cemetary she was burried in. I would often go to her gravesite and sit beside it, while I ate my lunch, and had a silent chat to her, tears streaming down my face as the many cars drove by. I look back on those times and feel a bit crazy, but at the time, I needed to feel like I still had some sort of contact with her.

The best way to describe that moment between hope and despair is that it only took a second for the hope evaporate, and the despair of not only losing my sister, but the woman I considered my best friend to take over, and in a way, that despair still lives with me. Thankfully not as suffocating or overbearing as it was to begin with, but its there, in the depths of my soul, and I will continue to miss her every day.

Losing my sister forced me to also change my way of thinking, my views on life and death, and to realise that life is just too precious, and too short. While the despair lingered on for a long time, I found things to give me hope as well, things to look forward to, the biggest being a backpacking trip around Europe, which I did just before I turned 22, the age Tamina was when she died. I decided life was just too short to keep saying “one day”, and I had always wanted to travel, so I jumped in head first, and went on an adventure, I made sure that the inspiration of Tamina and what she brought to my life lived on.

I have also been fortunate enough to witness Taminas daughter, Jazmine grow from the toddler she was when her Mum passed away, into a beautiful young lady of 14 that she is today. There is hope when I get to look at her and see a piece of Tamina continues to live on in her.

What prompted you to start your gratitude project?

I was in a pretty negative mind set, there was no huge reason to be in that position, but the aspects of every day life all mounted up, the worry of finances, working a night job at the time and constantly being exhausted, as well as health problems, I was becoming a bit of a poor me person, and I really didn’t like the way I was heading. I would listen to myself on a daily basis bitching and moaning about so many things, and would silently tell myself to just shut up, I was aware that many people had it worse off then me, but I just didn’t seem to change the vicious cycle.

I accidentally came across the idea of a 365 gratitude project one night when searching the internet for something completly different. Something inside me just clicked, and I knew that this was a project that I just needed to do, it ticked all the boxes, a tool to assist me to become more positive as well as an excuse to take more photographs!

The project was set up on its own facebook page as I didn’t want to annoy my personal friends by posting picture every day on my page. I thought by giving them the choice to view my gratitude project or not would be a good idea. I never expected strangers to show any interest, or the love and support I have recieved from doing it.

Do you think that being mindful is a way that we can a manage life with its up’s and down’s?

Most definately! As a friend said to me today “negativity breeds negativity” and that works the other way too “positivity breeds positivity”, you change your way of thinking and you change your way of living. It is so easy to let your thoughts dig you into a big huge pit of despair, but with little steps, you can dig yourself back out again.

On saying that, of course it’s ok to have a bad day and tough moments, and acknowledge them, without having those challenges in life, we won’t always be thankful for the great moments. The most important thing is knowing when to let go of the negative moments. It is important to be mindful of your feelings and emotions, not to stuff them inside until
they explode out.

It is however also important to not let yourself be suffocated by all the negative thoughts and feelings that you may have, it will only spiral into a huge mass of negativity, and before you know it, you will be looking at everything with a negative point of view, and only seeing the bad in life, when in fact there is so much good.

Sometimes you just need to trust yourself, tune into your own needs, perhaps that means you need time out to yourself, or a friend to just listen to you talk about what is going on in your life, or the simple words from someone “I am here if you need me”.

What have you learnt in sharing your gratitude? What have others taught you?

I have completly changed my way of thinking, I look back on my project so far and am so thankful for all the wonderful people, gifts and moments in my life.  I have also realised that regardless of how bad a day may seem, there is always at least something to be grateful for. On an absolute shitty day, having a roof over my head, food in my belly and air in my lungs is more then enough to be grateful for. Life really has many wonderful joys laying out for each and every one of us.

Through my page, I have met some wonderful people, have been inspired by so many beautiful stories as well. I have also been forced to look at the people in my life with fresh new eyes, I knew I was blessed to be surrounded by a great gang of people, but I never really stopped to think what a wonderful support team I have, and what great moments they all bring into my life. I am blessed to have friends who are more like family. Without sounding cliche, you can have a load of tough things going on in life, but if you have at least one friend to listen to you, or support you, then it is all going to be ok.


Thanks Alicia…so often we forget to give ourselves the chance to hear the story behind the story. Talking about your sister, honouring her memory and taking the time to reconnect with her is a brave way to acknowledge your loss. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

What resonates most with you about Alicia’s story? For me it makes me grateful for my bond with my sister, she makes up half of me and I’d be lost without her….

That squiggly line


When I was little I remember staring up at my parents large bookcases in the lounge room – titles that to this day I havent read, covers that were well worn and a clear mix between both my mum and dad’s tastes. Soon after my grandmother died my mum came home with a book that took its place on the second shelf from the top, I can remember saying its title over and over in my head but I dont ever remember lifting it down to have a look. It was Kubler-Ross’ book on death and dying – it obviously stuck in my mind because when I started my Social Work degree it was one of the first books I borrowed.

For a really long time I thought that the idea of grief as an index where we could tick off each phase was the way that people could be helped through their loss – rather than with their loss.  It seemed like such a neat idea for such an all-consuming human experience…but clearly the first day I actually sat down and spoke with someone about their loss I quickly tucked any reference to death and dying back onto that second shelf and I let it collect dust.

Mary Grogan’s recent article in Mindfood nicely articulated the realisation I came to along time ago…’that the stage theory is not indicative of the majority of people’s experiences’….people all respond to death and loss in their own ways – the idea that we need to bang down the doors of a counsellor or a support service is actually not the way most people live with loss. In fact the literature says that most people do tend to manage well long term when a sudden loss occurs, it changes the shape and feel of who they are but they go on to live with that loss and they manage it. The idea that we have to tick each ‘stage’ in order to progress always perplexed me. As a competitive person I could almost imagine myself saying ‘well I did anger really well, now on to bargaining…’

A friend who lost someone a few years back explained to me that in the early days he lived with the loss being a big ‘chunk’ of his life – it consumed him, it was all he could think about but that over time, by giving himself space to remember his brother in different ways (other than only about those last few moments) his ‘chunk’ got less and his life started to take over again. He said that these days the chunk still exists – it gets bigger from time to time and then at other times it just sits in the background – its part of him, but not the whole of him.

So if you think about grief as that squiggly line where sometimes it takes you on a wild ride and then at other times its a little smoother then we wont all have to show each other that we’ve ‘processed’ it because loss is part of life and life is full of loss…