Fulfilling a Dream

I am not what people would describe as “suburban.” I did not fit the mould of wife, mother, BBQs with friends on the weekend, camping holidays with the family, building on financial security for the future.

I wasn’t always this way. There was a small period when I had Bree that I was determined to be the “perfect” parent. I didn’t have the greatest of childhoods, so to me, being the perfect parent meant being in a loving, supportive relationship, a stable home that you never moved from, a home free from abuse, of BBQs with friends, coffees with girlfriends, the picket fence, staying at home – all the things I perceived to be “normal,” the world I used to peer into as a child when I had a sleepover.

It didn’t work out though. Despite my best efforts at playing “normal” and being the right kind of parent, my beautiful daughter Bree died. What was the point of being normal if I couldn’t stop that from happening?

In my stumbling along the road of grief, I often felt angry at the unfairness of it all. How could the life of a child who had been such a bright spark, so determined to live, be cruelly taken away? I found myself needing to honour Bree’s zest for life. This formed the basis of how I spent the anniversary of Bree’s death each year. I didn’t want this day to be about her death, I wanted it to be about how she lived.

I have travelled across the country and overseas, undertaking experiences on Bree’s anniversary that often terrified me, sometimes challenged me, and helped bring me joy on a dark day. I have been swimming with sharks in South Australia, swimming with dolphins in Western Australia and swimming with seals in Victoria.

I have volunteered in Borneo, looking after baby orangutans, been snorkelling in Malaysia and drunk kava with the locals in Fiji.

This is Katie. She was super sweet and wanted to hold on to me all the time.

Every year on Bree’s anniversary, I would find something different to do that made me feel like Bree was with me, enjoying every moment. This mindset seeped into my everyday life. I felt like I would be dishonouring Bree by not being grateful for growing older and living life to the fullest. Clichéd I know, but we are a long time dead. I started living more impulsively, doing things differently and saying yes to things where sometimes, in hindsight, I think maybe I should have said no, but I would rather have that than the regret of not doing something out of fear.

I sometimes wonder if I always had this in me and I was simply burying it to meet my perceived view of the perfect parent or did losing Bree change the neuro pathways in my brain and flipped the switch so to speak. It certainly changed the parent I was to my son Riley.

I read Stuart Diver’s book ‘Survival’ not long after Bree died. He talked about his unorthodox upbringing and attributed some of this to helping him survive the Thredbo disaster on July 30, 1997. I thought if Stuart’s parents could live a bohemian lifestyle and still be loving parents, maybe I could be different too.

Riley may not agree with this theory. I taught him to be independent (a little too much if you ask me), to be responsible for his decisions and to speak up for himself. We would have road trips with no planned accommodation, I took him to Malaysia when he was 11, we backpacked around Thailand when he was 12 and Europe when he was 13. His biggest complaint of his childhood is that I never took him camping!

I look at him now though and I think, maybe I didn’t too bad. He is measured, caring and will not stand for being treated poorly. I wish I had a bit of that strength.

Nice story, but what does this have to do with Nepal I hear you ask? Well, just four years after Bree passed away, at a gathering of friends at my 30th birthday, someone suggested that now that I was 30, I might settle down and become more responsible, you know, traditional. I scoffed at the thought. Why did becoming older have to mean you stopped living? In my horror at the thought, I declared there was no way that would ever happen and flippantly remarked that I wanted to be the type of person who backpacks Nepal when they are 50.

It was a throwaway comment that somehow stuck and here I am, in less than four weeks, about to head off to Nepal just prior to my 50th birthday.

I am nowhere near ready, but I felt that way when I went and walked 800kms across Spain and I managed to survive that. I am highly terrified but thrilled to be doing another amazing trip because of Bree.

I spoke with a work colleague at the end of last year and discovered we were both turning 50 this year. At that point, my colleague didn’t have any plans for their birthday. I talked of my plan to go to Nepal, to have a big party and to do a number of other things I’ve wanted to do for years. I explained I needed to celebrate my birthday to honour Bree who never got the opportunity to live her life.

I didn’t think anything more of that conversation until at the beginning of this year, I spoke to this same colleague and they told me what I had said had made them decide to book a trip overseas that they had wanted to do since they were a teenager. Two months later and I still get emotional thinking about this. What a wonderful gift it is to think that Bree’s life has inspired someone else.

I hope anyone reading this who wants to read of my travels in Nepal feels their own piece of inspiration to do something they’ve always wanted to do. I think Bree would be quite chuffed.

Much love x

6 thoughts on “Fulfilling a Dream

  1. Wishing you an amazing trip Karen, you are an inspiration to all that know you.
    Looking forward to seeing your updates and photos,.
    Much Love Wendy xx

    1. Thank you so much lovely. I’m feeling very excited now as I wait to board the flight. xx

  2. Karen another beautifully written, personal tale of life, love and longings. You are amazing and should never underestimate your value as a wonderful and inspirational parent to Bree and Riley. The best lesson you can give your kids, is independence kindness and the belief to take chances and live their lives.
    Happy Birthday xxx

    1. Thank you so much Jenny. I do feel immense pride when I look at Riley. Haven’t had my carefree travel rub off on him though. He was a bit of an exasperated parent when he discovered how “un-sorted” I was for this trip 2 weeks ago! 😆

  3. Karen you are an inspiration which seems a lack of description. You are a beautiful soul whom has been given a fork . You put each foot forward to positively encompass Bree on all your endeavours for her and with her … you’re strong because you had to be for everyone and everything including Rylie ..tough as a single Parent.
    Yoy should be so proud of your achievements and love to see in future a Mum and Son trek in memory and few special moments for you to connect personally on a journey together,, hugs Bub

    1. Thank you so much Rach. I know you understand the enormity of the journey we face when we forge a path foward after losing a child. xx

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