In the weeks before my mum died, there was a kaleidoscope of butterflies everywhere and they were blue – her favourite colour.

We were staying at a friend’s beach house during the lockdown so my husband could be close to work.

I would spend a part of almost every day walking along the coastal path looking at the sea, the sand, and hundreds upon hundreds of butterflies.

Some days I would walk for an hour, other days two or more.

Sometimes, I walked so far in one direction that I had to ask Josh to collect me because my legs couldn’t carry me back again.

Back then, though, it was coronavirus fear that I was trying to make peace with.

Now, I also recognise that it was the first time in years that I wasn’t feeling guilty about not going to see mum, because we couldn’t.

The lockdown had closed the doors on the dementia facility and, little did I know, on my chance to see her one more time.

When the day we had all been expecting came, strangely it was like we had no time at all to prepare.

She is not doing very well, they said.

We’ll let you in at 9am the next day, they told us the afternoon before.  

So, that morning, after a broken sleep, I sat drinking coffee with my husband, preparing myself to perhaps say goodbye to her.

Are you ready, he asked me? No, I said.

I was in the shower when she died.

A mere one and half hours before our allotted visitation time.

My phone was blinking with many missed calls when I walked into my bedroom – and I knew.

But I wasn’t going to hear the news that had long been coming while swathed in a bath towel.

So, I put on the bright orange dress I was always going to wear that day, sat on the edge of my bed and called my sister.

Less than two hours later, my family walked into our mum’s room for the final time.

The next few days I was mostly vacant and silent.

Dozens of messages of condolence were sent to my phone, which took me a while to acknowledge.

Flowers and care packages turned up on my doorstep from people that surprised me.

A few days later, friends who had lost a parent called me and shared stories of what it was that I was feeling.

I will be one of those people now.

As the days ticked over, I started to recognise that I felt different.

It was like this strange calmness had washed over me that, in the beginning, I thought was simply grief.

Now, more than a month on, I am not so sure.

I have started to understand that for the past eight years, as Alzheimer’s robbed us of our mother and all the things that made her extraordinary, my wheels had been spinning faster and faster with each passing moment.

For four years, I had steeled myself each time I would visit her.

Not only was a dementia facility not a pleasant place to frequent, each time she would be a little less than what she was before.

My soul was left raw and exposed after every visit.

My husband would sometimes suggest I didn’t go to see her on those days when normal life was already making my wheels fall off.

Clearly, he could see something that I couldn’t… back then.  

It’s a miracle he fell in love with me in those days, because in hindsight I was sometimes a bit of a lunatic.

I understand now why I didn’t write one word for this blog for more than a year.

I said to him the other day that I thought I had become boring because my massive highs and lows seem to have disappeared.

He said I’d never be boring but, yes, I was a different woman than the one he married, and he loved this version of me even more.

Maybe it’s still too early to say that what I’m feeling is peace – for me and for everyone who loved her.

But she is no longer suffering and, I understand now, nor are we.

That unusual kaleidoscope of butterflies has gone now.

But yesterday a tiny wagtail flew around and around in front of me while we sat quietly on the beach.

What a gift it is to notice such beauty again.

I am woman

The song I am Woman by Helen Reddy was released the year before I was born, way back in 1971.

Listening to it today made me realise that its message and goals are still the same some 47 years later, which admittedly made me a little sad.

It seems that it’s only in the past few years that women in great numbers have started calling out the inappropriate behaviour and everyday sexualisation that up until then was normalised.

I’ve written about that before but the main difference today compared to the 1970s is that women don’t have to classify themselves as feminists to start speaking out en-masse when they’re catcalled while simply walking down the street or querying why they have to wear make-up or high heels to work because “that is what’s always been done.”

I guess movements take time to become more than just something a small proportion of the population are fighting for.

I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend

But this blog isn’t really about things today, this blog is mostly about that song.

You see, my mum used to play it all the time when my big sis and I were kids.

Back in those days, it was on vinyl and played on the stereo we had in a lounge room that had fabulous paisley wall paper.

No doubt we all danced around listening to it while wearing flares – something I still do today I might add.

When you’re young, of course, you don’t recognise the significance of these moments, or of the lyrics that, almost like osmosis, are unknowingly becoming part of your psyche.

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

I am invincible

I am woman

Many years later, when I learned I had anxiety and panic attacks left me breathless and afraid, mum would play it for me again, this time on a CD, until our singing calmed me down.

Ditto, when my love-life was in turmoil, which was often back then.

I always felt how powerful the words of that song were when we sung them together, but I never understood how they would almost become a metaphor for my life until recently – perhaps like they were for her, too.

I am wise

But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price

But look how much I gained

Nearly 50 years on from its release, I Am Woman has rightly become an anthem and finally it seems that its words are turning into action but there is still a long way to go.

I guess change takes time – sometimes hundreds of years.

Every day we read about women from all backgrounds making a stand against sexual harassment in the workplace, in the gym, at the pub, or on public transport.

Yet, at the same time, a quick scan of news sites will tell the stories of women murdered by a stranger as they walked home from a comedy show or found dead in a suitcase after being killed by their ex-boyfriend.

In Australia, 10 women have been murdered by men since the start of this year – that’s more than one a week.

Detractors will say that women are perpetrators of violence, too, and that is true.

However, according to a 2018 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in six Australian women have been subjected, since the age of 15, to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner.

So, on International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on how that song helped to change the course of my life, and about the good women and men who have long stood beside me.

And I’ve reflected on the now, and remembered those words that Helen sang so many years ago….

I am woman watch me grow

See me standing toe to toe

As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land

But I’m still an embryo

With a long, long way to go

Until I make my brother understand

Not a wedding kind of girl

Last week I went to look at a wedding venue nearly a year after I got engaged.

It was the first place I looked at, and it will be the last.

You see, it seems I may be the opposite of a bridezilla now the time has finally come for “me” to become “we”.

Now, not only did I forget to tell most people that I was in possession of an engagement ring for about six months, it seems that the actual business of getting married wasn’t high on my list of priorities either.

I haven’t even written about my betrothed much either, which is odd given I’ve devoted more column centimetres to my hair in the blog over the years than I have to the man that I agreed to marry.

Without getting all psycho-analytical about it (yes, I know that’s not the correct terminology), if I bothered to do some naval-gazing I guess the reason why is that no one wants to read about a relationship that is as smooth as an icy gelato on a hot summer’s day.

No writer wants to come across as content and relaxed – rather we are supposed to be tortured alcoholics who spend most of the time muttering alone in the dark.

Now, that’s not to say that I haven’t been that incarnation a few times in my life.

However, perhaps my paucity of ponderings about my lover is likely because I want to retain my supposed extroverted edginess, built up over many decades while I steadfastly remained single when everyone around me was not.

Traditional is never a word that has been used in the same sentence as me it seems.

For more than 45 years, I have been the bridesmaid, the witness, the usher, and the token single girl at a wonderment of weddings.

I’ve drunk all the free champagne, wreaked havoc on the dance floor to out-of-tune renditions of Michael Bolton and Madonna and made small talk with strangers who became friends for just one night.

Then, as the years rolled on by and I remained stoically single, I watched on as many of those unions started to fracture to the point that they could never be healed.

And, just as the number of singles in my sphere started to swell as divorce parties replaced nuptials, I was no longer one of them.

The thing is being single for more than four decades means that on the outside at least not much has changed.

A few months ago, I went to Vietnam on a whim after getting a cabin fever so unhelpful that my fiancé suggested it could only be cured by getting out of the house – and out of the country – for a while.

It’s funny, though, that on my return some people asked whether he was OK with me taking off with little notice when it was his idea to start off with.

You can see why I am marrying him.

As the months have sped by since he proposed in our courtyard surrounded by the sunflowers that he planted me, I’ve realised that I was never a wedding kind of girl.

I’ve never dreamed about a big ceremony or a special kind of dress.

A friend even had to take the reins recently when I admitted I had no preferences when it came to dress designs let alone sleeve types or fabrics. Friends indeed.

Even though this year has been ridiculously frantic as I co-launched a business (you may have noticed the significant reduction in these blogs as a byproduct), I think I’ve used that as a bit of an excuse to not organise a wedding that I never dreamed about being in.

That said, I can’t wait for the wedding, I just have zero interest in organising it.

Now, just because I’m not a wedding type of girl, that doesn’t mean I never thought I’d get married.

I did, even if many people thought I wouldn’t, or considered I was just being too picky or had become too independent or too successful.

I’ll just leave those viewpoints right there.

I’ve always believed in love and was prepared to wait for as long as necessary.

So, now that I’ve recognised that I’m not a very “weddingy” type of girl, I’ve come up with a cunning plan that will see me marry the man who accepts me just as I am next year.

She’s one of my best friends from high school…. and she just happens to be a wedding planner, so I don’t have to be.