A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and began writing:

Last year, my gall bladder was removed.  I was stuck in bed due to this surgery for

a long time.

The same year I reached the age of 60 and had to give up my favourite job.  I had

spent 30 years of my life with this publishing company.

The same year I experienced the death of my father.

In the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car

accident. He had to stay in the hospital with a cast on his leg for several days.

The destruction of the car was a second loss. His concluding statement

“Alas!  It was such bad year!!”

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking dejected,

sad and lost in his thoughts. She carefully and surreptitiously read what he had written,

then silently left the room coming back shortly afterwards with another piece of paper on which

she had written her summary of the year’s events. She placed it beside her husband’s

paper. When her husband saw that she had written something in response, he read

her “take” on the year’s events. Here’s her view of the same events ~

Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder which had given me many years of pain.

I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilize my time to

write better and with more focus and peace.

The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone and without

any critical conditions, met His Creator.

The same year, God blessed my son with life. My car was destroyed, but my son

was alive and without permanent disability.

At the end she wrote: This year was an immense blessing and it passed well!!

The same incidents but different viewpoints.


In our daily lives we must see that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness

that makes us happy. There is always, always, always something for which to be


Attitude is the one thing over which we can have control, in every circumstance.

Live so that your memories will be part of your happiness. Be grateful!!!

I don’t know who penned this, but I’m very grateful for it. Life is a series of choices about how we look at things. I personally choose to look for the good in any situation, even if it rocks my boat for a time.



‘Isn’t it too early for daffodils?’ asked Nanna for the hundredth time, as she packed up Luke’s wooden semitrailer and carefully placed it back on the coffee table ~ for the hundredth time, only for Luke to pull it down and begin unloading the cars again.

‘Do you think it will snow?’ Nanna quizzed us on the likelihood of snow for the hundredth time, as was her custom, since Alzheimers crept insidiously into her life and ours.

Her life of wandering from her home, across a main road, a creek and a railway line, and suddenly appearing in her daughter’s kitchen, had become the norm. She would then transform Marj’s kitchen into a café, with every teacup and saucer laid out on the bench. Nanna would brew pots of tea and methodically pour the tea for people who didn’t exist. Washing up followed and the process began all over again.

Nanna had drifted away into her own mysterious world, whilst we all looked on and adjusted to this new lady who was part of our lives, but with whom a meaningful relationship was no longer possible.

In time, she moved in with her family, to a place of companionship and safety. Whilst her daughter and son-in-law attended a conference, Nanna went for respite into a wonderful Nursing Home in the hills. The surroundings were very much like her home.

On the first day of the conference, an announcement was broadcast over the loudspeaker. ‘Could Marj K… please come to the administration office?’ Not the sort of broadcast one wants to hear.

‘We’re sorry to tell you, but your Mum has disappeared from the Nursing Home and we are looking for her,’ said the police officer. Thankfully, Nanna was found, safe and well in the middle of a vineyard many kilometres away.

Nanna’s foray into the world of Alzheimers was an education to us all at a time when little was known about this condition. In a way it was also the early part of our grief for a lady who had morphed into someone we didn’t know.

Grief doesn’t have to wait until someone dies. It’s actually lurking in the wings, ready to pounce, unannounced, when a situation of change rears its ugly head.

In time, Nanna’s body-clock wound down and died. Our son, Luke, was two and a half when she went and we took him to her funeral, thinking nothing of it.

Tsk, tsk … we could almost audibly hear the looks of disdain that were cast in our direction by most of the small number of people who had come to say their goodbyes to Nanna.

It never occurred to us that it was improper to take a child to a funeral. Where did this notion come from?

For Ron and I, death was a part of life and not something to be feared or hidden.

Several months after her funeral, Luke had to come face to face with grief and death, when we had a baby girl who was born 15 weeks prematurely. Sadly, Katie lived for just over an hour.

Luke didn’t fully comprehend what was happening, ~ he just knew that his Mummy and Daddy were sad.

One of the things that made us sad was the fact that hardly anyone would talk about Katie, the little girl who was born and died, but who no one in the family had met.

Most people acted as if I was never pregnant and we realised that when people don’t know what to say, they either say something inappropriate or completely avoid the subject ~ hoping that it will go away.

In time, the sun began to shine again and the busyness of caring for Luke consumed my time. The old adage, ‘Time heals,’ is the last thing that I wanted to hear, because when anyone said that, I felt like they were pouring salt on an open wound. It hurt ~ really badly. ‘Time heals’ is actually true for most people and I’ve had many life experiences that have confirmed this to be so, but it’s not something that we want others to verbalise in our presence when we have a gaping wound of grief that we’re tenderly nursing.

When Luke was four and a half, we had another baby girl, Cathryn, also born prematurely. This was another traumatic time for Luke, as I had to spend weeks in hospital prior to Cathryn’s birth, attempting not to have her early. Unfortunately, the best of medical attempts were not enough to prevent what my body wanted to do.

Cathryn progressed wonderfully, and by the time she was two years old, she had caught up to any full-term baby. She was a wonderfully happy child with curly blonde hair, blue eyes and sky-blue metal-rimmed spectacles. Her mission in life was to ensure that everyone was happy.

One day when she was at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, Dad wasn’t feeling well and was lying on his bed. Cathryn climbed up next to him, planted a gentle kiss on his cheek and enquired, ‘Does that make you feel better Grandpa?’ Her delightful nature was infectious and she made friends wherever she went.

On a cold winter’s night with a full moon lighting the crisp midnight sky, Cathryn went to bed but didn’t wake up. She succumbed to a sleep apnoea condition, that normally only takes the lives of adults.

So here was our Luke, aged 9 years old, attending the funeral of the sister he adored. Those who gave us the ‘Tsk, tsk …’ treatment at the time of Nanna’s funeral, because we took a child to a funeral, were now silent, as it was necessary for Luke to be at Cathryn’s funeral to bid her farewell. We can’t always shelter children for the sad and unwelcome events in this life.

What many people avoid for most of their lives, Luke had experienced twice, before he even finished primary school.

My sister then faced the dilemma of how to handle the fact that her children didn’t want to go to Cathryn’s funeral.

‘Do I make them go to the funeral and then figure out how to deal with their potential distress?’ she pondered.

‘Or do I let them stay home, then risk them feeling like they were shut out?’ What a conundrum! It’s a question without a clear answer.

They came to the funeral, not very happy to be there and 26 years later are still not happy that they were made to go – but who’s to know how they would feel if they hadn’t gone.

Death, grief and how we handle it, is a personal journey.

I wrote a book entitled ‘Unscrambling Grief’ about our journey and the things we learnt along the way. At the book launch the speaker said, ‘I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad tidings, but no one escapes this life without having to deal with grief.’

So many people have told me how much the book has helped them, because it’s not a textbook tome that they had to wade through, written by qualified professionals who may not have personally walked this path.

Rather, it’s a 1 hour easy read, with cartoon illustrations to lighten the subject. And it’s a real story about a real family who experienced real emotions when they met with a real life journey they never intended to take.

In the May edition of Palliative Profile SA, Dr Alison Edwards says, “We don’t talk enough about death and grieving and I guess it is hardly surprising that some, without the lived experience, struggle to understand.”

This couldn’t be more true! And this is the very reason that people will often make inappropriate comments or adopt avoidance tactics, not because they’re unkind or thoughtless ~ they simply haven’t walked in the shoes of the person to whom they’re speaking.

Avoidance isn’t only enacted by the onlookers. In the early stages of our raw grief, I couldn’t face the supermarket. I would turn into a new aisle, see a face that I knew, but wouldn’t know whether that person had heard of Cathryn’s death. Not wanting to retell the story that was still so gut-wrenchingly painful, I would do a U-turn with the trolley (and you all know how hard that is!) and look for an aisle full of strangers, where I would be safe.

Eventually, when some logic returned to my life, I realised that if I shopped outside our local area, I would be free of this weekly pain, agony and aisle surveillance exercise. My favourite illustration in the book is of a lady with a shopping trolley on the ice in Antarctica. One of the penguins is saying to its mate, ‘That’s what I call extreme avoidance.’ That’s the honest truth about the way I felt at that time, but like they say about everything, ‘This too shall pass.’ And so, in time that phase did pass.

Ron and I didn’t spend time going to grief support groups because my side of the family and several close friends provided the listening ears that we needed. Importantly, these listeners didn’t offer advice, just a wonderful caring, listening ear, usually right when we needed it. How grateful we were for these people.

Equally important was the fact that these same people have always been prepared to talk about Cathryn. Rather than making the assumption that mentioning her name will cause us pain and angst, they know that in talking about her, they will allow her memory to live on. She had some funny and quirky little sayings, like ~ ‘Shouldn’t you take my tempriest with the breeometer?’ When anyone recounts something like this we are immediately transported back to a time of happiness ~ the way we felt when she was still here.

Talking about the person who has died can be a dilemma – ‘Do I mention their name and risk upsetting the bereaved, or do I just let that thought go because it may make them miserable?’

The trick is to simply ask the person if they mind you talking about ‘Cathryn’ (just fill in the name). They will say Yes or No and that’s your answer.

Last year a young mother of three who lived nearby, lost her battle with cancer. For anyone who believes that it’s inappropriate to take children to funerals ~ think again. Her farewell was an amazing celebration of a short, but wonderfully lived life, at which not only her husband, but all three of her boys (under eight years old) spoke. Nothing could protect these three youngsters from having to face death and a funeral, because they needed to say their final farewell to the Mum they loved and adored.

When we fail to talk about death and prevent children from experiencing the final part of our earthly life, by keeping them away from funerals, we shroud the topic with mystery and perhaps even fear. Could we perhaps spend some time preparing our children for the inevitable in ways that are healthy, by having open and age-appropriate conversations with them?

As I mentioned earlier, at my book launch we were reminded that ‘ … grief escapes no one’, so we may as well prepare for it by hearing about real life stories of people who have walked that road and want to encourage others to do the same in their own way and their own time.

Gail Miller

Speaker and Author of ‘Unscrambling Grief’ and ‘What we’re Wheelie like’




Email Gail to book as a Speaker – topics on which I speak

  • Why I wrote Unscrambling Grief
  • Coping with Grief forums
  • Palliative care – from personal experience with both parents
  • Why I wrote What we’re Wheelie like
  • ‘How I reinvented myself at 55’
  • You are what you think – how mindset influences our outcomes
  • And I may be able to adapt my topics to suit your requirements (I’d welcome you enquiry)




This article requires a cup of coffee, an armchair and a little time. Hopefully it will help you, or someone you care about to deal with the firsts in a way that is comfortable. Please share it as you see fit.

The passage of time and all the firsts

‘Only one week ago Cathryn was still with us,’ I thought.  How slowly the days passed. Her room now lay dormant, bereft of the chatter and happiness in which it was enshrouded only a few short days before. The long winter nights held a gloom and despair that hovered over our home and our family.

A week quickly grew to one month and I began to fear that I may forget Cathryn and all her funny little sayings and mannerisms. From the time she was ten months old she had recurring bouts of tonsillitis. I had taken her temperature often to see how hot she was and whether it was time to administer the next dose of medication to reduce the ever climbing fever. I was now an expert and could tell what was dangerously hot by the mere touch of her brow.

Once when the insidious tonsillitis attacked this precious little girl, yet again, before I was even aware of her plight, she asked, ‘Shouldn’t you take my tempriest with the breeometer?’ I feared that with the passage of time, these quirky little Cathryn-isms may fade from my memory like a receding tide.

 The long, cold, wintery nights gradually morphed into shorter spring nights.

Sadly, spring in Australia also meant Father’s Day. For the first time since Cathryn died we were to celebrate a special occasion with a family member missing. The anticipation of an extended family gathering, with Father’s Day presents and happy chatter amongst the relatives, made me cringe.

How could I ever be happy again when there would always be one daughter, granddaughter, niece and cousin missing, one table setting not required, one cheery laugh never to grace these functions again?

Once again my mind had been overtaken with grief, burrowing deep into my heart as I simply anticipated a significant event. Happily, what I’d anticipated never occurred.

With Father’s Day successfully conquered, the stores pronounced that Christmas was just around the corner. This of course meant Christmas shopping which was tainted with sadness, because this year I only had to shop for one child and not two.

But wait! Four days before Christmas was Cathryn’s birthday. She should have been turning five – time to start school after the summer holiday break. Instead that day came and went with just the sadness of a day filled with no celebration, no birthday cake and no birthday presents, no birthday party and no friends to celebrate.

With all senses on heightened alert, 21st December dawned, transpired and faded, without drama, tears or the expected foreboding. And so passed the second special occasion and I’d survived.

Christmas was anticipated in the same fashion as Father’s Day and Cathryn’s birthday and once again, was more bearable than expected.

Summer blazed and the long school holidays drew to a close, as Cathryn’s kindy friends prepared for their first day at school. This little girl who died halfway through kindy would never go to school, but rather than being traumatised by the event, I simply observed the milestones of her friends with a touch of sadness.

In my book, ‘Unscrambling Grief,’ there’s a chapter entitled, Expect the unexpected, in which I tell the story of something catching me unawares. I was interviewing a new patient in my dental surgery, about to examine her teeth. After our chat, I closed her case notes and caught sight of her date of birth. My eyes filled with tears, for here in my dental chair sat a beautiful blonde, ten year old girl, who was born on the day that my daughter died. I thought I’d worked my way through every situation that would cause the grief to resurface, but here was another. Something as simple as a written date had set me off again.

On the path of grief there will always be reminders that will awaken memories of the person who is no longer here. The waft of a familiar fragrance, the aroma of a favourite meal, the sound of a loved one’s favourite song, may cause emotions to come cascading back without warning.

Grandma died over fifty years ago, but I still can’t see or catch the aroma of a kitchener bun, oozing with cream and calories, without thinking of the wonderful walks that Grandma and I shared to the local bakery. How can a memory live that vividly in one’s psyche for a half century?

Creating happy memories is so important that I encourage you to grasp opportunities as they arise. Don’t wait for tomorrow as the person with whom you wish to share that occasion may not be there.

The memories that you have created with a loved one can cause happiness to flood back, but can also cause a tinge of sadness to creep in each time you experience an event that was once shared. The firsts are always the most difficult.

For couples the lists of firsts can involve Valentine’s Day, the anniversary of a marriage proposal, their wedding anniversary, their birthday or the memory of their first date. Being aware that a memory may trigger emotions may be the first step in being able to cope with whatever happens.

For parents the firsts may include their child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Christenings, Bar Mitzvahs and other such occasions.

For some, the emotions of the experience never lessen and they find that it’s actually beneficial to arrange to be elsewhere to avoid a celebration in which they are going to feel sad, lonely or uncomfortable. Many tour companies specialise in Christmas tours, to help lessen the impact for these people.

International author and speaker, Anthony Robbins, says that in order to move on from pain we must replace it with pleasure. For us, we were able to have another baby and whilst our new daughter, Heidi, didn’t replace her sister, the anticipation of a new baby, then the busyness of looking after her, replaced our pain with pleasure.

If you can find your pleasure and pursue that, you may find it possible to move forward in your grief journey.

How one person deals with death, grief, loss or tragedy will be entirely different from the next person. With our own unique personalities, we will all handle this journey in our own way and time. We can be helped when someone offers a listening ear, with no advice.

And so, in time, the first anniversary of the death of our loved one may loom, like a raincloud overhead, threatening to drench us with soaking emotion. The anticipation may begin some weeks prior and when the day arrives one may find that it is way less traumatic than expected.

Whatever happens, let it be ok. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad and emotional, if that’s what happens when a special event occurs. That’s ok. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up if you sail through the day, just like any other day. Don’t feel guilty that you haven’t spent the day as a sad, forlorn wreck. Maybe ponder whether your loved one would want you to spend the rest of your life, emotionally stunted, because of your inability to move on. Enjoying an event doesn’t mean that you no longer care for the person who has died. It just means that you have now moved to a position where you are able to participate in normal life again and that’s absolutely fine.

As you prepare for this Christmas, possibly the first after you have watched a loved one slowly decline and die, don’t place any expectations on yourself. Don’t predict what may happen or how you may feel, what emotions you will experience or how other family members will cope. Just let whatever emotions arise be ok.

At Christmas if you actually enjoy the day and the family festivities, celebrate that you have survived yet another first and know that it’s likely that subsequent special occasions will become easier.

This life is your journey which only you can live, so accept whatever transpires, deal with whatever arises, then move on as you feel appropriate in whatever time frame suits you.

Assuming that you survive the Christmas and New Year season of festivities and I’m certain you will, it may be that you’ve had a tradition of joining with friends for an Australia Day bbq. So, only a month after Christmas you have another first to tackle. By now you may already be morphing into your ‘new normal.’

Once you finally emerge from the rawness of losing a loved one, you may gradually find that new routines and patterns are starting to replace some of the old and that the new is becoming more comfortable. This means that you are beginning to heal and that the pain is beginning to dissipate. Hallelujah!

If you have felt as I did, you may wonder if this day will ever come. It will arrive … one day. It’s so important that onlookers don’t judge the grief journey of another, pressuring them to move on before they’re ready. Although it may be difficult to stand by and watch someone plod at what we consider to be a snail’s pace through grief, please remember that it’s their journey and not yours’.

We all arrive in this world with our own personality and individual coping mechanisms, so even if two people of the same age, same gender, same religion and same culture are faced with the same loss, they will traverse the path of grief in a very different fashion, taking a different length of time. That’s just the way it is. We are individuals and there is no ‘one pattern fits all’ when it comes to grief, or anything else in this life for that matter.

Then here comes Valentine’s Day, for those who make an event of this, after which Easter approaches with stealth. For us Easter Sunday arrived and there was only one Easter egg trail, one quantity of eggs to buy, one happy little face when the chocolate goodies were placed in his basket? So now we could tick off another first.

It seems that the year is punctuated with events to keep threatening to traumatise our emotions.

As time goes by, I’m realising that death is a part of life and I’ve learned to accept that precious people in my life are going to die and I’m going to do the same one day, leaving a smear of sadness on someone else’s horizon.

As we move through autumn, Mother’s Day approaches. If your Mum has died then this will be the very first time in your entire life that you don’t have a Mum and there’s a confronting thought on its own. I’ve also had to experience Mother’s Day from the perspective of having lost a child and because that’s outside the natural order of things, with our expectation that a parent will die before their child, that was a tricky time to negotiate. But like all of these events, it has become easier with time.

And here’s possibly the biggie – the anniversary of the day your loved one died. Once again, approach it with the knowledge that you will get through it. It’s OK to cry, to feel whatever emotions surface and to relive the precious memories that you created together.

For us, that covered most of the firsts and we lived to tell the tale, having encountered each with more trepidation than necessary. I don’t recall a first where either my husband or I actually ended in a crumpled mess, so when the second of these occasions approached I felt the same uneasiness, but with less intensity.

Please approach this Christmas with the knowledge that multitudes have walked this path of the ‘firsts’ before you and have emerged unscathed on the other side. Be prepared with tissues and a friend with a listening ear and go into this time with a heart full of wonderful memories of the person who has simply moved to another realm where they no longer need their physical form.

Gail Miller

Speaker, Mentor and Author of ‘Unscrambling Grief’ and ‘What we’re Wheelie like’

0408 013 371        gail@gailruthmiller.com

PS ‘Unscrambling Grief’ is an easy 1 hour read with illustrations to lighten a heavy subject. It gives permission to walk the road of grief in your own way and time.

This may be an unusual, but very helpful Christmas gift for someone who needs to know that whatever emotions they may be experiencing are ok. See the links below the image.

An easy to read book to help you on your journey

An easy to read book to help you on your journey

http://gailruthmiller.com/books-with-purpose/unscrambling-grief Hard Copy

http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B014GV3VTU  Amazon Australia eBook

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B014GV3VTU     Amazon US eBook

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B014GV3VTU/    Amazon UK eBook

http://gailruthmiller.com/books-with-purpose/what-we-are-wheelie-like Hard Copy

mailto:gail@gailruthmiller.com?subject=Books with a Purpose – Grief or Disability