When I was aged 20 years my dad died after a long battle with cancer.
Fast forward 25 years and my niece, aged 19, watched her own dad (my brother-in-law) also succumb to cancer. I felt the visceral pain all over again.
With the Victorian snow falling at record levels for June, I decided to take my niece to Mt Buller for two days. My sister and I have five children between us, and we chose to embed the snow into their lives. Moments like this remind me why.
It has been heart-breaking to watch my sister and her two daughters lose the north star from their family. What words can you offer to sooth their aching grief? People were asking me “what can we do for them?”. All I could say is “show up”.
No big grand gestures required. Just show up, and often.
The beauty of driving to the snowfields is the road trip. For my niece and I it was an opportunity to talk, laugh, sit in the sadness, eat at small towns on the way, and clap our hands in glee when we see the snow-capped mountains for the first time. During the three hour drive, my hope was that my niece would be transported away from the awful to the amazing, even for a short time.
Because this is my point. Being in the snow reminds you that life is amazing but it can also be awful.
There will be blue bird days (amazing) and white outs with cruddy snow or ice (awful). There will be the first time watching your children ski a run with you (amazing) and tears and tantrums coaxing them to ski school (awful). There will be the legendary stories of your skills you share with friends at the lodge (amazing) and injuries (awful). There will be quietness on a chairlift amongst the trees (amazing) and a breakdown leaving you stuck on said chairlift (awful).
On our trip if my niece needed any more proof that life can be amazing we even saw a little wombat marching through the snow underneath our chairlift. If she needed reminding of the awful we were soaked down to underwear from a day in the rain. We smelt like wet dogs driving down the mountain. Awful. But then we drove towards a sunset that silenced our chatter. Life was amazing again. Another day was ending and we had made the most of it doing what we loved with someone we loved.
The late Anthony Bourdain said “the journey changes you, it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body”. This is what a journey to the snow can offer – unforgettable memories and just like life it shifts between the awful and amazing.
Driving my niece home, knowing I was returning her to a house without her dad waiting to ask a million questions about her trip (as he always did after a snow holiday), I hoped that she would find the waves of grief a little easier to withstand knowing her heart had been left with the mark of joy from the snow.
Dame Debra James (aka @bowelbabe) recently died after a long battle with cancer. She shared this message: “find a life worth enjoying; take risks, love deeply, have no regrets and always, always have rebellious hope”.
Time in the snowfields is a life worth enjoying so if you’re thinking of giving it a try, have no regrets, and you will also be changed. You might need the rebellious hope for coaxing your children to ski school every day but that’s another lesson for another day…..