|A happy Sydney moment - our engagement party in 2012.|
Today, I'm writing to you from Sydney, Australia, where I'm in town visiting my in-laws for an early Christmas celebration. I'm one of those lucky widows who has wonderful, supportive parents-in-law. Our already healthy relationship only grew stronger after Dan died, as we found comfort, strength and support in each other.
Sydney has always held a special place in my heart. I was born here and even though we moved to Queensland when I was only five-years-old, I've always loved visiting family and holidaying in this beautiful city. When I met and fell in love with Dan, who had moved to Brisbane for work, I was very excited that I would have an excuse to spend so much more time here and was welcomed into his Sydney life by family and friends alike.
I have some beautiful memories of being here in Sydney with Dan, including cruising around the harbor on a ferry for his 33rd birthday; our engagement party in a beautiful old pub; Christmas Day and New Year's Eve in 2012. He loved this city, it was part of him. I know it was a difficult sacrifice for him to settle down in Brisbane but I'm just lucky he loved me more and, in his words, his home was now in me.
Like most of Australia, I was going about my day on Monday morning when I heard the news bulletins about the gunman who had taken 17 hostages in a popular cafe in the middle of the city. My first reaction was to run through mental check list of all our family in Sydney and work out if any might have been in the area that morning. I had spoken to Dan's parents the night before and quickly worked out that they should have all been safe.
I then sat glued to my computer for the whole day and late in to the evening, flicking between the live stream of commentary from different news outlets as I tried to understand what was going on and how such a terrifying situation could have occurred.
When I finally switched off and went to bed, I laid quietly in the dark, with tears running down my face, while I thought about those families who wouldn't sleep that night, as they waited with heavy hearts for news of their loved ones inside the cafe. My heart broke as I wondered what news I'd wake up to in the morning. I felt so very scared, not only for those hostages but for our country. How would this change us?
I know that many parts of the world live with this kind of fear constantly. Terrorists and extremists kill innocent people every day. I am lucky to live in Australia where these feelings of fear are so alien and strange but this thought didn't make me feel any more ok - it only made me sadder.
I couldn't stop wishing Dan were here. To hold me and make me feel safe. To talk to about what was going on and what this would mean for a city we both loved. Dan was the most open-minded and tolerant person I'd ever met. Not only did he not care about people's colour, culture or religious beliefs - he didn't even notice they were 'different' to his own. He was the personification of love and acceptance of fellow man - with the kindest of hearts and purest of intentions. He was everything right with the world and everything I wanted for our future.
I tried to think of what he might say about this siege in Sydney and I knew his heart would be aching with pain and confusion too. We would have probably clung to each other and cried together when we woke on Tuesday morning to hear that two innocent lives had been taken over night.
One thing that would have most definitely been different if Dan were here is that I wouldn't have been able to understand or relate to the grief of the families of the two victims who wouldn't be home for Christmas. Because I wouldn't have been through my own traumatic life-altering loss. I would have felt deep sorrow for them in a 'Oh gosh, I can't imagine what they must be going through right now' kind of way. But, I wouldn't have really been able to empathise with any meaningful emotion.
Instead, I was able to very easily put myself in their shoes and recount some of the first-moment grief they would be feeling. That numbness and physical sickening. The thoughts of how unfair it was that their wife or son were the ones to be killed. How random that this murderer had walked into the same cafe where their loved one happened to be working or enjoying a morning coffee. How quickly their lives had been torn apart without any chance to say goodbye. The strange, almost trivial things that pop in to your mind in those first moments of shock - 'what will we do with her Christmas presents'? Or 'but he has an appointment with the doctor/hair-dresser/accountant next Tuesday that he's supposed to go to'?
As their hearts tore open, I held these families in my own battered heart and thought about the long painful road of grief that lay before them. And as my plane touched down in Sydney on Thursday night I hid my own silent tears behind my sunglasses.
When I walked out of the terminal to meet Dan's parents, I clung to them when they embraced me, taking in the feeling of their arms around me. I had been looking forward to that hug, that connection with another heart that shares your pain and beats with the same ache for the person you're missing.
I hope that the families of the two Sydney siege victims at least find some comfort in the arms of those who share their pain. Because there are hundreds of thousands of arms reaching out to them from all around the country today.