Archive for December, 2016

In defence of 2016 …

shutterstock_57851353In July this year, I fell to my knees, grief-stricken, beside my husband. The air was sucked out of the universe before emotions rushed in: shock, fear, and an intense, desperate longing for him to wake up, to open his eyes, to breathe …

This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be true. This. Couldn’t. Be.

I told him I loved him. I thanked him. I apologised, for what I don’t know … and then, glaringly obvious amidst galloping despair, emerged a mysterious thing. My breath. In, out. In, out. And my heart. Racing. Breaking. Beating.

I’d never felt more alive. Miserably alive, and terrified, but alive. I’d known our existence on this earth was fragile. I’d understood it was a privilege. I knew it could end in an instant and now the evidence of all of this was right before me. My vibrant, brilliant, beautiful soulmate was gone. I wasn’t. The miracle of life stepped out of the shadows and stood beside the awfulness of death, pulling me through then, and in all the times since, when I’d imagined I couldn’t bear to go on without him.

Since July, almost every day and with a growing frequency, I’m been bombarded with social media posts, news headlines and viral videos slamming 2016 as some sort of unprecedented, apocalyptic-like disaster. Favourite celebrities are gone. The wrong people are in power. The earth is erupting and warming and spilling blood. Parts of the world are a cauldron of hatred and violence. People are losing jobs and loved ones and hope. From an overwhelming number of reports, 2016 is the worst year ever. If we’re united in anything, it seems to be our mutual loathing of the twelve calendar months that are about to come to an end.

I can’t help thinking my husband would disagree.

He was genuinely worried about the way things were headed politically and environmentally. He was a history professor with a highly-educated, strategic world view. But he was also a man with a family he loved — a wife who adored him, young-adult children who hung on his words and blossomed in his company and a five-year-old son who lit up his world.

He was a man who, earlier in 2016, knocked his career out of the park with an international honour beyond any he’d ever dreamt. He was top in his field. Lauded so highly, and by so many that, months after his death, I’m still scrambling to thank people for their thoughts.

In the wake of our tragedy, friends, family and strangers closed ranks to soften our fall. We were enveloped in love. If we didn’t understand the depths of the compassion and kindness of ordinary people before July, we’ve been schooled in it since.

One daughter turned eighteen and graduated Year 12 with a stunning final result and early entry into university. The other worked hard and rose out of crippling anxiety, despite her step-father’s death and her first-hand witnessing of it heaping trauma and grief into the mix and handing her a mother who was suddenly on shaky ground in every way. She faced her fears. She re-engaged in her life with gusto. She fell in love.

Earlier this year, my husband had told me to hang in there, personally and career-wise. He’d helped me deal with personal difficulties and disappointment and had been proud of my work and my writing. He’d encouraged me for years in the face of false starts and failure and rejection … and he felt that it was only a matter of patience, and time.

With his support this year, I co-wrote a musical based on my novel. It was showcased at “Broadway Unplugged” in Sydney and will be performed in the coming months. I co-wrote a book on personal productivity and, on the strength of it, we were offered a second book deal for publication globally.

In many ways, 2016 played out for us like a longed-for highlight reel that had been years in the making, only for the film to become mangled in the projector during the premiere.

The screen went instantly blank. But it won’t stay blank. I won’t let it.

My husband died with the world at his feet and left a family making the most of our chances. This year battered us. It bruised us. It wore us down. It exposed us. It pushed us into the dirt and ground us in. Yet, at the end of it all, there is our breath. In, out, in, out. And there are our hearts. Still breaking. Still beating.

I’m not one who believes we should live every day as if it’s our last. That’s a tremendous, unrealistic pressure. Some days are diabolical. Some years seem diabolical because diabolical things happen, seemingly one after the other.

It’s hard to forgive a year that dealt our family, and many others, a king hit. It’s hard to stick up for a year in which something truly horrific happened, the consequences of which we’ll we’ll be unravelling for the rest of our lives. It’s difficult to defend the saddest year in our experience, but I know this much: If my husband was here, he’d be proud of how we’ve handled ourselves. Proud of how we’ve grown. Excited about the opportunities we’ve grasped. Impressed with the risks we’ve taken and the dreams we’re chasing. He’d be comforted and relieved that we didn’t stop living because he did. He wouldn’t wish the rest of our time away. He wouldn’t focus on how bad it’s been. He wouldn’t give up.

‘It is what it is’, he used to say.

And then he’d get on with changing his corner of the world, one small act, one kindness, one email, one lecture, one book at a time. Because life — even the remaining days in what feels like a sorry, wreck of a year — is unbelievably precious. Making the most of our time, and valuing the breaths we take, is my husband’s parting gift.

Christmas miracles are made of this

15349578_10154735629383279_4858883712036350280_nThis Christmas was always going to be tough for us, as are all the ‘firsts’. Early on, we made a decision to handle Father’s Day, our birthdays, school graduations and now Christmas in exactly the way Jeff would have wanted us to, which has transpired into a situation where we’re leaning into the events, seeking meaning and life-affirmation, rather than moving away from them.

This brings me to last Sunday night, when we had pizza at my sister’s place. When we pulled into our driveway afterwards, we were gob-smacked to find our entire house covered in gorgeous Christmas lights! One of my friends from Kindergarten (in 1979) had thought to do this, along with her sister and a family from our running group. My kindy friend had never even been to our house — they ‘Google Earth’d’ it to work out what lights would suit it best. It was the most surprising, gratitude-filled moment in my life. I will never forget the way it felt. Ever.

This weekend, it was time for us to decorate our tree. We have a tradition where we each take it in turns to choose a ‘theme’ for the tree, which is how we’ve previously ended up with trees covered in boy bands or Star Wars. This year was always going to be Jeff’s turn, so we embraced that and made the tree a tribute to him and all the things he loved — books, music, the Brumbies, cities around the world …

15338734_10154763351398279_8644542365898054462_n

What struck me as we were making the decorations was how passionately he threw himself at life. We found ourselves limited by the size of the tree. There were nowhere near enough branches to accommodate everything Jeff adored, and those things were extremely varied and rich.

He embodied the Hunter S. Thompson quote:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

The extent to which we’ll miss him on the day can’t be articulated. I won’t even try. What I know is that opportunities exist for joy even in the saddest of times, if you let them in. We said months ago that Jeff would turn the light up in our lives, not down, and now our poor, sad house has been lit up in a way that it never has been before, entirely unexpectedly.

I always knew people were beautiful, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve witnessed just how deeply that beauty can run. How quietly. How generously. My husband’s broken heart set off a domino effect in which my own heart broke and hearts all around me opened. My little boy said this the other night: “You’ve turned my heart into a super heart. A powerful, super, special heart.”

That’s exactly how I feel too, about the impact of the love we’ve received from all around — because, even when your glass is always half full, there are times when you need help turning up the light. And there’s always someone there if you look closely, finding a beautiful new way to do exactly that.

Let’s Start At The Very End

15288439_10154238850438163_6450548156591767131_oThe week that Audrey and I were set to go through the editor’s changes in our book, I Don’t Have Time – 15-minute Ways to Shape a Life You Love, life as I knew it fell apart.

We felt it important to add an ‘epilogue’ in the book, explaining what had happened, and the impact Jeff’s death had had on our central message. This is how we put it:

While we were editing this book, the fabric was ripped from Emma’s universe with the unexpected loss of her husband and soulmate, Jeff, from a heart attack.

When you lose the love of your life, it can bring you to your knees. It can completely destroy you. Or it can bring you to your feet.

When we interviewed Rebecca Sparrow for our ‘15 Minutes That Changed My Life’ speaker series she told us about losing her baby daughter, Georgie. ‘Somehow, Georgie was going to turn the light up in my life, not down,’ Bec had said.

Emerging from the first few weeks of shock and devastation, Emma decided to do one life-affirming thing, no matter how small, every day – beginning with rearranging the flowers people had sent into beautiful bouquets and delivering them to a hospital with her children.

We also thought about the words we’d written in this book. Did this shattering tragedy change anything? Did it alter our perspective on life?

Yes, it did.

Jeff’s loss is turning up the light in our lives, not down. We want to be better people. We want to do more. Experience more. Live more.

We’re more committed than ever to the ideas we’ve presented in this book. We want to procrastinate less, focus more sharply, reach higher and further than we ever have without a backwards glance at our insecurities and fears, because life is short. Life is precious.

The time we have is a gift. Take it and turn up the light.

Next week, I’ll be writing about ‘2016’. As years go, this one seems to have hit people harder than usual and I’m no exception to the apparent trend. But I don’t believe that’s the whole story. There are opportunities to change life for the better, even in the darkest of days.

Can you help?

We want to distribute a bit of good news, so we begged our publisher to release a limited number of FREE advance copies of our book (in PDF format) to people who may like to volunteer to help us spread the word with their friends.

If you’d like to volunteer to read the book now and help us launch it, we’d love to have you on board in our special ‘Book Launch Team’. You’ll receive a free copy of the book and a bundle of other bonuses, and all we’re asking in return is that you will write an honest review, share your favourite concepts and quotes with us and help spread the word on social media, with our guidance, organised in a private Facebook group.

If that sounds like something you’d like to be involved in, please fill out our short application form here. Thank you very much for your ongoing support of everything I’ve been doing here since 2009, particularly this year. It is so dearly appreciated.