A Burden Shared

A Burden Shared

While I’ve been off air here for a few weeks now, I’ve been busy in a whole different space talking about how to overcome adversity and move courageously towards a joyful life.

A little while ago, one of my oldest friends, Annie Love, interviewed me for her Mummalove podcast, where she shares stories about finding joy, even when life turns out differently than you expected.  Annie and I talked about what life was like before I lost my sight, and what I’ve done to negotiate the challenges since that intensely difficult time.  Ultimately, she elicited from me the shocking concession that I believe that you can go on to live a good life after enduring loss.

Annie has suffered such loss in the last few years that talking to her about my challenges felt like talking about breaking your fingernail to someone who has just broken every bone in their body.

Annie and I have been friends since we were 11 years old.  We met on a writers’ camp and then led lives that had significant parallels.  Yes, she put on an animal costume to take part in the school musical while I preferred the very uncool “banana suit” uniform of the school concert band. I was dux, while she was held in high enough esteem by our classmates to be voted school captain.   We both studied business at the University of Queensland and our weddings were less than a year apart.  We both married men who have proved themselves in challenging times. And 2016 was a year of exquisite pain and loss for us both.

You see, while I was busy going blind and nearly dying, Annie’s small son did, in fact, die.

Nicholas had been a cherished part of the Love family for three short years. Having been diagnosed in utero as having Downs Syndrome, Nicholas had rewarded his parents’ courage to continue the pregnancy by lighting up the lives of everyone who knew him with his angelic blonde hair and gloriously-unrestrained smile.  In 2016, he succumbed to complications from a strep infection in a matter of weeks.  

My husband attended the beautiful funeral service held to honour his life but, because I was so sick, the difficult decision was made to withhold the news from me until I was discharged from hospital six months later. I cringe to think of how many times I may have unwittingly asked after “her boys” when she bravely ventured back into a hospital environment to visit me.

When I was well enough to come home, Annie arranged to come over the day before her visit, my husband broke the news that Nicholas had passed away.  I still cry remembering the shock of those words.

Annie arrived, we cried together, and hugged, and drank tea as we turned, protectively, to talk about other things.

I have learned that these are the keys to coping with the tidal wave of feelings that knock the breath out of you when you experience a significant loss.  it helps to allow yourself to feel sad about sad things happening, to reach out for comfort and understanding, and to still permit glorious normalcy to creep back into the space that is left when each wave of sadness recedes.

In an awkward way, learning that Nicholas had died helped me to accept that my blindness was permanent.  Bad, painful, bitterly unfair and irreversible losses had been borne by others.  Who was I to expect that I should be immune from the capricious cruelty of the world?  And, just maybe, I need not drown in the depths of my sadness when Annie had plucked up the courage to swim ashore. Listen to my conversation with Annie here and explore the Mummalove podcast to hear more about her story of extraordinary courage.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ruby Peddell

    Oh please if you read Karen’s blog today listen to these two wonderful, brave and glorious women talk about their shared losses they are so inspiring. I often wonder if God had a plan to have these two meet as young girls, form a lasting friendship to help them deal with the pain that was ahead in his plan for them both. It is often amazing what is the catalyst for helping one through immense pain. Love you Karen

  2. Maria Saraceni

    Karen, I met you when you and Mark practised law in WA. Heard your recent podcast. Your bubbly spirit belies your incredible strengrh of character . All the best. Maria Saraceni

  3. Margaret Rein

    Thanks Karen and Annie, I enjoyed the podcast. Karen, it brought back memories of my time in another town when you were talking about the person, who didn’t even realise that you were blind, thinking that you didn’t like him because you didn’t make eye contact. Back in the 1980s, I used to visit this beautiful young girl who had a significant vision and hearing losses but had successfully kept up with her classmates all the way through primary school. This was because the teachers were willing to stay back and help her each time she asked. I just need to add, that this little girl was legally blind but could see enough to read slightly enlarged print up very close. She had lost her hearing when she was about three years old so she had developed language and therefore could speak quite well. The school always ensured she was in a quiet class usually with a male teacher as this ensured that she could have a better chance of hearing the lessons as her hearing loss was greater in the higher frequency. This little girl had a wonderful attitude to learning and was in fact near the top of her class. She also had a great sense of humour and because she always asked for assistance when needed, she had become quite familiar with the teachers and often used to have a bit of a joke with them. I was her support teacher from grade 5 until grade 9. Everything fell apart when she went to high school. The classes were noisy and the teachers had no time to help her at morning tea or lunch time. They didn’t even want to try. One day, that I will never forget, I arrived at the school to be met by a very angry and aggressive teacher who loudly exclaimed: “Do you know what she said to me today?” I can’t remember what she had said but I replied: “She was having a joke with you!” Remember, she speaks in a monotone because she can’t hear. Therefore, she can’t indicate with her voice, that she is joking. Her eyes wander around constantly. Therefore, she can’t give you a look to say, “I’m joking.” He did calm down a bit and acknowledge that she could have been joking. So apart from the fact that no assistance was given to her in or after class, many of the teachers didn’t even think about how she communicated. But still, she worked hard and was always happy and delightful when she was with me. I moved after her year nine and then I heard that she had also moved away from this school to board in another town where there was a Special Education Unit for Hearing Impaired. Margaret Rein

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