WHAT’S HER STORY…. How do you deal with grief?  How do you continue to put one foot in front of the other after the death of a loved one?  Karen Newburn has experienced tremendous loss in her life, and yet she’s still smiling, here she explains her “Mack Truck” moments and how she’s dealt with grief.

I grew up on a farm near Newcastle, New South Wales.  I left there when I was fifteen and went to live in the city with my grandparents.  I began work in administration after a year of study and after three years moved to Perth and then found myself working in Burnie, Tasmania.  Steve and I married in Burnie and soon after I returned to Newcastle to have my first child.  Years later we built a house in Metford, near East Maitland, and moved in with our two children aged seven and three.  The saying goes: new home, new baby and within twelve months I was pregnant with my third child.  In the early nineties, however, at the age of five Luke was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, an aggressive children’s cancer.  He was rushed to Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick and given only three weeks to live.  We were lucky to have him for another fifteen months.  Luke had an awareness beyond his years and taught us many things about life and death in his short life.  He died not long after his seventh birthday.  He changed our lives forever and I cannot remember what family life was like before that time.  Nobody wants to experience that kind of trauma, but unfortunately life happens and sometimes we have no control over these mack truck experiences.  Luke’s story, Never to be Eight, is now waiting for the right publisher to come along, so that I can share his journey with others.

At a bit of a loss after the death of my youngest son I enrolled in a Certificated Aromatherapy Course while working full-time at the NSW Lands Office in East Maitland.  I think that course opened up a whole new world for me and I ended up studying Metaphysics, Counselling, Spirituality and Alternative Therapies for over seven years.  I’d always been interested in alternative therapies and had researched the benefits of using other remedies when my son became ill.  I had utilised herbal medicines, visualisation and drawing techniques with Luke throughout his illness.  The Oncologist never questioned me, but was often sceptical about some of the treatments I used.  The funny thing was that Luke embraced many of these modalities and wasn’t very sick from viruses, infections etc., like many of the other children undergoing the same therapy.  This, of course, created a bit of a paradox for the doctors and nurses at the time.  Alternative therapies have come a long way since then.  After studying all those years I finally obtained a Diploma in Holistic Counselling and am a member of the ACA and have worked as a counsellor for many years.  I have taught workshops and courses in the Bush Flower Essences and Meditation, both here and in Newcastle.  I also worked as a counsellor in Nambour, and at the Life Centre in Maroochydore, which closed in two thousand and four.

Our lives changed again in the year two thousand and one when Steve and I decided to make a sea change/tree change, after travelling to Vanuatu.  We sold our family home, I left work, and we moved to Yaroomba as soon as we could.  Our daughter followed us, but our other son stayed behind.  We had been holidaying up this way for many years and I have travelled to Queensland since I was a child.  My father grew up in Howard and was living near Tiaro with my step-mother when we finally moved.  During one of our holidays on our way back from the Eumundi Markets, Steve and I mentioned how we would love to live near Doonan.  We had no idea that by two thousand and two we would be building our little cottage in that exact area.

In two thousand and seven our family was hit by another mack truck experience when my mother, step-mother and my father died within four months of one another.  I couldn’t believe the timing and the way life happens when you least expect it.  I’d just been accepted at Central Queensland University to study a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the time.  The grief and loss I felt made me falter a little at the beginning of two thousand and eight as I embarked on yet another journey, but, I tried to remember that this was for my own fulfilment, enjoyment and satisfaction.  It seems that each time I experience a major loss of some kind I embark on something new.  And, that is also a reminder to me (as I write this) that we need to remind ourselves that no matter what happens in life we have to find something that fills us back up.  I completed my BA (Hons) seven years later and graduated last year.  I have written countless short stories and am now half-way through a Novella, based on my mother’s life, and also run the Redwood Writer’s Group once a month at Doonan.

Life can sometimes takes us on a rough, bouncy road with many exits and, as we all know, we don’t often take the path we should.  Other times we are hit by that mack truck and have to pull ourselves back together, because all the little pieces of us are scattered across that long road.

My message to others is this:  embrace being a Survivor of whatever life throws at you, but, also remember to go beyond being that Survivor and be who you need to be, because life happens and most of the time it is out of our control.