Starting Afresh

Words by: Angel Tully
Art by: Madeleine Galea 

My mother thought she had her whole life ahead of her at 25. She had just married her high-school sweetheart of nearly ten years and was beginning to climb the ranks in the fashion industry while working for Nautica. Moving from a small town in Canada to the big city of Toronto, her life was playing out like a rom-com. But by the time she turned 26, her dream life was crumbling around her. 

After a fatal accident, my mother found herself in a grief support group for widows, most of whom were much older than her. Life, as she had always known it, had been ripped away from her in an instant, leaving behind the pain of a seemingly unmendable broken heart. In a time of total darkness, she felt as though hope was inconceivable. Attempting to escape the grief she was drowning in, my mother travelled for months. She visited Hong Kong, Bangkok, the Philippines, Bali, Sydney, New Zealand, Hawaii, and finally… Fiji.

Something about this period of solo travel in my mother’s life has always reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love (coincidentally one of my favourite books!). I think that the desire to leave behind everything constant to ‘find yourself’, so to speak, is a mindset that many young women go through, as I certainly have. Yet few are brave enough to actually take the leap, and bravery has always been a quality I admire about my mother.

It was on this brief three-night stay on a Fijian island not much bigger than a football oval that she met my dad. Finding the courage to start afresh emotionally was no easy feat. In fact, my mother felt she would never find love again after the immeasurable heartbreak she had endured. Closing herself off from new possibilities, it was no surprise that she was hesitant to give my dad a chance when he struck up a conversation in the lobby of their hotel. 

Grief had followed her on her travels, despite her attempts to escape it, and nothing could pull her out of the quicksand that consumed her. That was until the unthinkable happened — the persistent Australian man, who has always been revered for his dad-joke humour, made her laugh. A laugh which had long been buried away under the layers of sadness and loss. My father’s ability to bring even a spark of joy back into my mother’s life is what flicked a switch in her; that perhaps there was still hope for her to find happiness again. Perhaps there was still time for her to start afresh.

The feeling of being overwhelmed by emotion, unable to escape your own headspace, is one I’m all too familiar with. Whether it be stress from friends, study or love, sometimes it feels as though nothing can bring me out of that state. I want to say that I’ve learnt from my mother’s story, that I can find comfort in people who care about me and love me. Although it may be partially true, the reality is that it isn’t easy to expose your vulnerabilities and open yourself up to love and trust, and I am still learning to overcome this every day. I guess you could say that my mother is the one who pulls me from the quicksand and inspires me to overcome this challenge.

Of course all good things come at a cost. Not only did my dad live halfway across the world, he also had three little children from a previous marriage. So, in a time before social media, or even emails, they wrote letters to each other, and racked up gigantic phone bills in order to keep in touch. Six months after their first meeting, my father went to visit her in Canada. They had only spent a total of three weeks in person together before he proposed on this trip… to which my mother promptly and politely declined. The next time they saw each other was in Guam, where he proposed again. Even though she had finally started to feel happier and hopeful again, she couldn’t see herself moving all the way to Australia, and becoming a stepmother no less. But like all good love stories, my dad wore her down — and on his second attempt, she said yes.

Moving to Australia was very daunting — she had no family, friends or even acquaintances there except my dad. There were many times when she felt isolated and alone, without the comfort of her own friends or an outlet for her frustrations. Yet at the same time, she experienced the euphoria of a new husband and an exciting new adventure. After her journey through grief, my mother experienced the six stages of starting her life over again.

The journey of starting over both emotionally by overcoming immense loss, and literally by leaving behind everything and everyone, was not easy. Rebuilding a life in Australia, making new friends, and making it her home took many years. Though she’s happy now and has found peace, I know she still wonders what could have been if she had stayed in Canada. But now that she can look back on her life, she can see that despite all the struggles she faced to get to this point in her life, everything turned out okay. 

Having overcome unimaginable losses and challenges that most people could never fathom, my mother is the strongest person I know. Many people would have given up, and even though I know she contemplated giving up too, she never let herself lose hope. Hope that if she pushed on, she would finally be rewarded and be able to heal. Hope that no matter how dark, she would always keep searching for a flicker of light.

Her story inspires me to never lose faith and to persevere through everything life throws at me — both the good and the bad. She proves that no matter how far you think you’ve fallen, you can always find someone to help pull you back up — in her case, a dreamy (my dad’s word choice) Australian man.

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