Pippa Rea

Pippa's Journey with a Brain Tumour

Lighting the way

The following article was first published in the Australian Yoga Journal:

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Standing waist deep in water with rain falling on my face I reminded myself that I don’t believe in the phrase “everything happens for a reason”.  I do, however, believe in coincidences, circumstances, opportunities and fate.   That’s how I came to be in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Memorial Day 2016.   It was dark and I was wearing a now completely wet denim skirt and a black t-shirt, my hair was tied up in a pony tail and my bag slung diagonally across my shoulder tucked under my arm to try and avoid it from getting wet too.  Beside me my sons’ t-shirts were also damp from the soft sprinkling of rain and they certainly would have been more suited wearing board shorts in the beach instead of chinos.

A series of events over a twelve-month period resulted in me taking my two teenage sons to participate in the Annual Lantern Floating Ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu.  The ceremony is an ancient Shinnyo-en Buddhist tradition representing the interconnection of past, present and future and carrying hope toward a peaceful and harmonious world.  Now, approaching its 20th year, Lantern Floating Hawaii themed “Many Rivers, One Ocean,” brings together all religions and sectors remembering loved ones passed.

Arriving at Ala Moana Beach Park in the morning to collect one of the 6,000 lanterns available we were expecting a long wait.  The line snaked through the lush park under the shade of the trees for hundreds and hundreds of metres.  The air was hot and humid and the grass wet from tropical overnight rain.  By the time it started to move at 10.00am the queue behind us was just as long as the one in front – thousands and thousands of people waiting patiently for their lanterns.  The first had arrived to secure their spot at the front of the line at 4am.  Families who make the ceremony an annual ritual had erected tents and marquees all throughout the park and along the beachfront from 3.30am.  One family I spoke to had been coming for 8 years.  They arrived at 2am but weren’t allowed into the park until after 3 to set up their tent.  Initially, they floated in memory of a family member who had passed prior to their first year.  “Now,” they said, “it is a tradition we will never miss.”  They are one of the first to arrive during the night every year and have their tent positioned so that their place naturally joins the queue about 50 metres back.

Music played, the waft of barbecues could be smelt from every part of the line, children ran around coming to and from the beach, people rode bikes or played games.  There were mattresses, beds, picnic rugs, umbrellas, fully equipped camp kitchens, bikes, toys, coolers, beach gear, tables and chairs; all stretching as far as you could see.  Food stalls are not prominent; the tent community bring their own.  All for just one day.  The scene reflected more of a party atmosphere or festival than a memorial ceremony yet everyone was still revered and I felt a sense of peace and calamity amongst both those waiting in line and those in their makeshift camps.

The queue moved quickly and collecting and writing on our lantern at 10.45am meant our wait in total was only an hour and a half.  The lanterns are environmentally friendly and refurbished by hundreds of volunteers each year to be reused the following one.  Marquee space is provided to write tributes and memories on the lanterns and many were then personalised further in other ways; mostly adorned with flowers and photographs or wrapped in leis.  We decorated ours with fresh frangipanis and photos.

Arriving back at the beach park later in the afternoon our anticipation was confirmed by the sheer mass of people who migrate to this ceremony.  No less than 50,000 adorned the beach and the park, yet, at the same time, there was no jostling for position or views.  It was apparent that some people liked to position themselves in view of the stage, some in front of the large screens, others in the water and others still stretching as far as the eye could see along the sand and around the curve of the bay.  Behind the stage there were even more people covering the rocky point that framed the southern rim of the cove.  Many people were simply wearing swimsuits, there were fully robed Buddhist Monks and everyone else dressed anywhere in between.  Most were barefoot.  We easily managed to position ourselves on the sand, directly behind the VIP area, in front of both the stage and a screen and with easy access to the shoreline.

The open aired stage, although elaborate in statuesque against the palm trees, was simple; pure white with soft subtle lighting continuously changing to compliment the setting sun.  Dramatic Japanese Taiko Drums were the feature on either side and a large cauldron sat high at the front ready for the ceremonious lighting of the “Harmony Flame”.

The ceremony itself lasted an hour and was a colourful and tranquil display of love, peace and harmony commencing with the haunting sound of the blowing of the conch shell out across the colourful beach where sand was no longer visible and the proverbial pin could have been heard to drop.  The sun dipped below the horizon across the water, it’s golden reflection rippling all the way to the shore.

Conversations with strangers confirmed that everyone was there to celebrate love, memories and remembrance:  the security guard who had lost his baby 14 years earlier; families who had travelled from around the world; the volunteer who had lost every female member of her family to cancer; the woman who was floating for a stranger she had met only very briefly but who couldn’t be there in person.  Lanterns were attributed to aunties, uncles, parents, grand parents and most sadly, children and babies.

As the incredible and moving spectacle of the floating began the rain started to fall.  Not heavy, but enough to make sure we were wet waist up as well as waist down.  Thousands of people waded out into the water without care for their clothing releasing their lanterns. The atmosphere was still revered and peaceful.  Even though we were amongst 50,000 people we could very easily have been on our own.  Gradually the bay filled with golden flickering lights; a breathtaking and heart-rending vision that spread and multiplied across the water as each lantern was released.

I thought to myself before we released ours it’s a shame it’s raining, but even so, it didn’t matter.  We released our lantern and pushed it out to join the others.  I watched it float away holding my boys tight and close.  I turned to see my friend busily taking photos of it drifting off.  Looking back out to the sea of candles I saw our lantern had come back.  I had a little chuckle to myself and pushed it away again.  Off it went and again it returned.  I gave it a harder shove.  Again it came back.  I thought they must all be floating back in, perhaps with the tide?  I looked at the other lanterns.  No, they were all slowly making their way out into the bay.  Ours was the only one that seemed to be going in the other direction.  I laughed and cried at the same time.  That was my daughter, always wanting to be with me; my daughter, my best friend, never leaving my side.  A woman had been watching me continually pushing my lantern out to no avail.  She came over to me and gave me a hug and quietly said to me, “It is tradition to say hello and goodbye to your lantern before you release it.  You must do this to allow it to float away.”  This time our lantern went out to join the others.  I must admit, I was a little sad that it did – I liked the feeling that it wanted to stay with me.

By this time the rain started to ease.  “You know,” the woman said, “in Hawaii rain is seen as a blessing.  It is cleansing and it brings healing, peace, growth and life.  Plus it provides us with the loveliest rainbows!  The fact that it started to rain as the floating of the lanterns began is very spiritual and beautiful.”

I looked at her, this woman I didn’t know who instinctively knew she needed to convey this meaning of rain to me.  Tears welled up more in my eyes and rolled freely down my face.  Before a cruel, inoperable and incurable brainstem tumour took the life of my 11-year-old daughter she had drawn a picture of her heaven.  Sitting on top of clouds her heaven was full of life with stars, music, birds, flowers, water, puppy dogs, bunny rabbits and a big yellow castle where she would live.  A long ladder stretched up to her clouds and underneath them was what I thought was rain.  She had corrected me though.  It wasn’t rain, they were the drops of water that I would feel on my face when she needed me to climb the ladder and visit her.

It was circumstances and opportunity that lead us to participate in the Lantern Floating Ceremony surrounded by so many people united together in emotions and gratitude of those gone before.  It was coincidence and destiny that made the woman approach me and explain about tradition and rain which invoked the memory of my daughter’s heaven and her wanting me to know we could still connect after she was gone.

On the 30th May 2016, 14 months and two days after my daughter passed I was standing fully clothed, waist deep in the tropical Hawaiian beach with drops of water on my face and floating lanterns as far as I could see.

That rain was meant to be.  It was fate.

The Lantern Floating Ceremony is held annually on Memorial Day at Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu.  

Anyone is welcome to participate in the lantern floating.  Lanterns are given out from 10am-4pm on the day or until they run out.

There is no cost or charge for floating a lantern.

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It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry if I want to

My birthday is on April Fool’s Day.  No Jokes.

For all my life I relished the date as an awesome day to celebrate a birthday.  It’s a day where silly announcements are broadcast over the morning news headlines, fooling many but not all.  Those who fall for it laugh at their gullibility and those who don’t give themselves a “you-can’t-fool-me” pat on the back.  It’s a day where, as children in primary school, we used to run around putting “pinch me” signs on each other’s backs or scream in horror pretending to see a massive spider on the teacher’s shoulder.  As an adult, it’s a day where my three children have put toothpaste in Oreo biscuits and ‘thoughtfully’ served me afternoon tea.  Or they’ve held on to their hysterical laughter just long enough for me to take a drink from my salt filled water bottle.

Yes, April Fool’s Day is a day where everyone seems to have half a smile on their lips waiting to see what will happen to make them or someone else burst at the seams with laughter.  What a great day April Fool’s Day is to celebrate your birthday!

Like most people, I’ve had many and varied birthday celebrations.   As years go on, we celebrate less or at least, in different ways.  Cards are not often sent and people now send text messages or post best wishes on Facebook timelines.  Many friends send me lovely birthday messages but in some I sense the struggle at using the word “Happy”.   Likewise, others are careful to construct a message sending love and wishes without using the word “Happy”.  Some friends send lovely lengthy words of kindness and kinship.  Beautiful, thoughtful birthday messages, every single one of them.

On my birthday in 2015 friends flocked to be by my side all day.   Several close girlfriends descended on my house for birthday dinner and drinks.  They bore gifts, they cooked, they ate, they drank, they cleaned up and they left.  They didn’t know what else to do so, as only women do best, they gathered.  I was not left alone for one minute.  I was grateful for the attention I received.   I did, however, request that they all leave my house at 8.30pm so I could be alone with my children.  It was not a party.  There was no celebration.  There never will be.  Yes, I’ll have birthday dinners or lunches, probably birthday drinks again, but that birthday will forever cast a dark shadow on April Fool’s Day for the rest of my birthdays to come.

It was a warm, balmy, summery day.  Unusual for the 1st of April.   My friends could have stayed and enjoyed the drinks and the chatter well into the evening.  They didn’t though.  They respectfully left in accordance with my wishes.  My children and I sat together, alone in the latter part of the evening.  We spent special quiet time on my birthday.  Time together and alone.  Time, we will never have again.

Then the time came.  10.00pm on Wednesday 1st April 2015; the night of my 44th birthday.  Late enough on such a warm evening that no one would be out walking their dogs.

On that balmy, false, summery evening, under the cloak of darkness, a vehicle reversed into my driveway.  The back was opened so that my two sons and I could view what was inside.  I quietly inspected it.  The boys, I could tell, were both surprised and moved by what they saw.   The mere sight of it took my breath away.  My heart simply froze and time stood still.  It looked exactly as I had imagined it would.  When the idea came to me months earlier, I didn’t realise it would arrive on my birthday, but there it was – my birthday present.  No one else had been able to visualise it like me.  No one else had the ability nor the clarity.  For me though, the vision had been very clear.  I was awestruck.

As my heart once again started to beat, without daring to move my gaze and in a barely audible voice, I whispered to the man standing beside me, “That’s just how I imagined it,”

“I’ve never seen one more perfect,” he quietly replied.

The two gentlemen calmly asked permission to enter our house.  My sons and I stood in the hallway as they wheeled a large metal trolley into Pippa’s bedroom.  They gently pulled back her Paris doona cover and carefully lifted her from where she had been lying for four days.  They placed my precious daughter on the sterile trolley, covered her up again and silently wheeled her out our front door.  It took less than a minute and it was all done in complete silence.

In our driveway, they rolled the trolley into the back of the hearse beside the white coffin I had especially designed for her.  Despite the warmth, a chill went down my spine as I stared once again at her casket.  It was covered in so many of her beautiful colourful drawings.   Drawings and words that had been created by her little hands.  The same little hands that would always, without fail, slip into mine as we were walking.

The largest drawing was a of big red love heart positioned on the centre of both sides with the word “Mummy” happily handwritten above.  Beside it, a perfect picture of a rose, “Mummy’s Rose”.  Puppy dogs, rainbows, birds, friends, suns shining and dolphins swimming, all covered the sides.  There was so much colour.  A picture of the Eiffel Tower adorned the top of the casket and the most exquisitely painted purple, yellow and blue butterfly majestically graced each end.

A cold, horrid white coffin had been brought to life through Pippa’s bright, cheerful, innocent drawings and paintings.

The men closed the doors and drove away.  Tears streaming down our faces, James, Patrick and I went back inside our house; our home that now had one less member of our little family in it.

The next day, two years ago today, on the 2nd April 2015, over a thousand people attended a celebration of Pippa’s 11 beautiful years in our life.  They gathered on the lush green grass under a tree canopied blue sky in the beauty and tranquility of the botanical gardens.  They watched photos and videos of Pippa come to life on a 5-metre screen.  They listened to her brothers and me speak her eulogies.  The duck pond surrounded by weeping willows and with its lily pads and quaint cobble-stoned bridge formed a perfect back drop for the service.

Finally, as she was carried through the crowd and over the little stone bridge to a reading from Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree, one thousand people were fascinated and transfixed, gazing in wonder at the beautiful casket – my birthday present.

April Fool’s Day is my birthday and now, every year, I will cry if I want to.
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Blooms of Yellow

It is so beautiful to see Pippa’s Pots bursting into yellow blooms!  The boys and I love receiving all the photos that everyone is sending us.  All the same but all so different with   many reminding us of Pippa’s long legs.  Some are indoors, some outside.  Some bloomed early and some are still waiting.  Some pots even bloomed on special significant days.  It truly is beautiful.  And for us it is comforting that these pots are bringing smiles to everyone – smiles for Pippa.

The bulbs in front of our house that Pippa planted in 2012 have been blooming continuously – each single bulb is now a large clump of many bulbs.  They have been able to provide us with vases of yellow jonquils inside the house and beside Pippa’s bed every week since they started to bloom.  The bulbs in the Pippa Pots will multiply meaning that each autumn they can be dug up and moved to a garden bed whilst still leaving one in the pot.

 

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The bulbs Pippa planted in 2012 – each clump starting from one bulb

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So many beautiful blooms

The most incredible story that is happening for us though is Nibbles.  Nibbles likes to bolt lightening fast into the house the minute the door is open and he then casually hops up to Pippa’s bedroom where he sniffs around and just hangs out until he’s ready to hop back out to the garden.  I even had to unzip a bag of her clothes that was under her bed because he would just sit there and paw at them.  Anyone who witnesses him doing this is pretty much left speechless.

However, as far as the jonquils are concerned Nibbles’ actions are just as spine chilling. When we first got Nibbles it was very apparent we could not grow anything – herbs, veggies, flower pots, even our chilli plant were all (“Nibbled”) eaten.  Flowers we have been sent all go to the back yard for Nibbles to enjoy between the house and the green bin. He’s not fussy, he eats them all leaving just the stalks.  In fact, Nibbles has even received his own delivery of flowers to happily nibble on!

When we were doing the pots up James wanted to plant some bulbs in a patch of dirt that Nibbles liked to roll around in…..none of us were too hopeful that they would get past the sprouting stage.  One day I saw Nibbles in the dirt with the green shoots certain he was eating them.  On closer investigation James reported that no, Nibbles was only scratching his neck on them.  Pippa used to pat him on his face and under his neck and he would go to sleep while she did it.

Incredibly Nibbles has left these flowers to bloom tall doing nothing more than sitting next to them.  Patrick once asked that perhaps if we became buddhist would Pippa be able to be reincarnated as Nibbles when she died?  We didn’t need to convert, but we all feel that Pippa is very much in Nibbles.

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Pippa Rea Friendship Day

Last year the Grade 5s at St Joseph’s had to give a speech to be considered to be part of the leadership team.  One of Pippa’s friends gave his speech on establishing an annual Pippa Rea Friendship Day to be held at the start of the year near her birthday.  This day would encourage and remind students how to be a good friend to each other – something that so evidently came naturally to Pippa and was recognised by everyone.

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In the lead up to the day the teacher who was assisting Flynn commented how refreshing it was to start the year using “Friendship” as the focus instead of anti-bullying.

The children all wore yellow – those who had Team Pippa shirts wore them.

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The grade 5 and 6 students visited the junior and middle school classrooms in the morning talking about friendship and running a “Friendship Workshop”.  They all learnt the “Friendship Pledge that Flynn had come up with in memory of Pippa.    James, Patrick and I popped into the Botanic Gardens over the road from the school to say hi to the senior students when they were enjoying a shared picnic in the glorious sunshine.

In the afternoon all the school “friends” moved into the hall.  590 children stood in a circle, joined hands and, led by Flynn, recited the Friendship Pledge.

 

In memory of Pippa, I promise to be a caring, thoughtful and fun friend.

IT’S COOL TO BE KIND!

 

Flynn and I then spoke to the school about friendship and Pippa.

Flynn has been working tirelessly on this project. Last night when he visited us I was so impressed with his speech that I asked his permission to share it on the blog.  He says that Pippa is his inspiration but what an inspiration Flynn is.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every school could take his model, adapt it to their environment and also hold a

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creating  schools where kind, caring and thoughtful actions were on every student’s mind and where in Flynn’s words it is:

“COOL TO BE KIND”

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Hi my name is Flynn.

I am here to explain the Pippa Rea Friendship Day.

I came up with the idea and then spoke with Virginia, James and Patrick so we could all never forget, and always remember, what Pippa taught us.

Pippa Rea was a student here at St. Joes from Prep to grade 5 and is part of our grade 6 year level.

She is our friend.

I think I am the LUCKIEST boy in the world to call Pippa my friend. She was an amazing friend not just to me but to ALL  of us.

Pippa was SUPER kind,        SUPER generous      and       SUPER caring.

I am only 11 years old and she has taught me things that lots of adults don’t even know.

Friendship day is a good day to go over these.
FRIENDS.

Pippa is a girl and I am a boy. This did not matter. It taught me that friends come in all shapes and sizes.

I think you all should try and branch out and  YOU TOO might find someone just as amazing…give it a go!

 

IT’S COOL TO BE KIND.

Pippa taught me this!

I LOVED spending time with Pippa.

Pippa was the kindest girl.

Her actions and words were always kind and generous.

She was always thinking of others.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.

and GIVING IS BETTER THAN RECIEVING.

This was the hardest lesson at first. It was REALLY  hard seeing Pippa not being able to talk so well.

I soon learnt you don’t need words to be a friend.  PIPPA’s actions spoke for her.

Pippa always had a smile to give, her hands to hold, a wink or a thumbs up to give.

This taught me that a simple smile    or     thumbs up can change someone’s whole day or even life!

I know when I got one of Pippa’s smiles I felt so Happy.

I MISS Pippa’s smile the most.

Remember to share yours.

 

100% EFFORT and ATTITUDE

Pippa was STRONG  BRAVE DETERMINED and COURAGEOUS

Pippa made the most of everyday and opportunity.

Pippa was a happy positive person.

Pippa showed us all this at sports day last year…she is a GUN at sports!

We should all try and give 100% effort and try our best every day and never give up.

Pippa has made me try SO much harder especially at maths.

Man she was SMART!

I loved when I was her buddy in maths. It was the only time I went well because she had all the answers!!

Pippa loved St Joes and her friends.

We are all lucky because when we go to St. Joes, we are all one friendship group. We should all look out for one another and help each other.

At St Joes there is NO room for unkind words OR actions.

It is NEVER ok to be unkind.

I would like everyone to think how you could be a better friend.

I hope we all have a happy year of friendship in 2016.

 

ONE FRIEND CAN CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE!

Let’s all now wish Pippa a happy 12th birthday with 12 big claps.

Thank you for your time.

 

Flynn, Pippa would have loved today. She would have relished teaching the younger students about friendship and sharing the day with you and all her friends.  I know that she is watching over you and is so proud of what you achieved today in her honour.

What a truly great friend you are!

 

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A Beach Afternoon for Pippa

The permanent bronze plaque will be put in place on Pippa’s memorial seat in time for her birthday.

We would like to invite everyone to have a beach day on the afternoon of Saturday 13th February to enjoy Pippa’s 12th birthday.  Swim, surf, play cricket, fly kites, build sand castles – bring whatever you want to enjoy the beach and come and visit Pippa’s seat.

We hope to see as many people as possible.  Pippa would like that.

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A New School Year

I guess milestones, particularly those in the first 12 months, are going mean that I will inevitably get asked the same question over and over again.  That’s OK.  I know that it means people care.  I’ve come to understand that and instead of twisting and churning inside I simply answer the best I can at the time.  It’s still hard and I understand that it’s just as hard for other people to speak to me because I know they don’t know what to say and are scared of saying the wrong thing.  That’s OK too.  I don’t mind.  The best thing to say is to actually say something about Pippa.  Knowing that others do not forget her and also have fond memories is the best comfort I can receive.

How did I manage the Christmas and New Year period?  Well, yes, it was difficult.  We ran away to WA to my sister, brother-in-law and adult nieces.   That was the right place to be.  In fact, Christmas Day was manageable.  Of course there were tears and a lot of them.  In fact, at one point I looked around and the whole lot of us were crying.  I had prepared and strategised in the lead up and I think that helped get through what was a very difficult day.  Pippa loved Christmas.  She always methodically wrote Christmas cards.  She was chief present wrapper and decorator.  Just like any little girl.  She especially loved it when Christmas was at our house.  Boy did she have James and Patrick organised!

What I wasn’t prepared for though was halfway between Christmas and New Year.  That’s when it really hit me.  I’d managed Christmas Day but then what?  A new year was on it’s way and I would be starting it without Pippa.  With one less person in our family.  What did I have to look forward to?  What did I have to celebrate?  Neither an old year passed nor a new year coming.  You see, I didn’t want 2015 to end because it was the last year I was ever going to have a living memory of Pippa.  2016 or any year to come was never going to give me that.  I felt like that from now on each new year will just leave her further and further behind.  Over the holidays there were so many tragic deaths of children.  My heart went out to every one of those parents.  People often say to me they cannot imagine what I am going through.  I honestly don’t think there could ever be anything more painful than losing your child.

Now I find myself at a new school year.  A year that Pippa should be in year 6, excited about being a leader at school and looking forward to secondary school next year.  I try not to think about that but last week I had to go into school to collect Pippa’s tub.  Yes, you would think I had done that ages ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it last year.  I thought I would be OK because I had been to every day of school with her so there wouldn’t be any surprises.  I was wrong.  In the box along with her books and pencil case was her school report which had been put together with beautiful messages and pictures from her classmates.  A report that not only reflected Pippa’s ability academically, but showed me again how much she meant to everyone else and the incredible person she was.

Now everyone is back to school.  Parents shed tears as their children start prep, others swell with pride as theirs start secondary school, some are nervous that they will miss theirs terribly as they send them off to boarding school and Pippa’s classmates become the big grade six leaders of their school.  James and Patrick head into year 10 and year 8 but Pippa goes nowhere.  Patrick is not my youngest.  I will never get to send my youngest child off anywhere.  She’s already gone and she will never come home.  Not at the end of the day like most school children nor the end of the term like the boarders.

Pippa is never ever going to or coming home from school again.

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