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Proudly Supporting

My Children's Hearts - the Good, the Not So Good and the Resilient

By Carol Duncan - 21st January 2011

I was going to write about the kids heading back to school, moving up a year and so on. I still might. But first ... I'm starting to have an uneasy relationship with Christmas.  
My mother died suddenly at our home on Boxing Day in 2007; we had moved in just a few days before and this was her first visit to our new home which included a lovely guestroom and ensuite downstairs specially for Grandma's visits. And while I had never imagined I might one day find myself on my hands and knees trying to resuscitate my mother, we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off and got on with Mr then-5 starting school and Mr then-6 heading into Year One. Christmases 2008 and 2009 were reasonably uneventful so we were looking forward to Christmas 2010 - although I confess there are still boxes we haven't unpacked.

When mum was alive, we used to alternate Christmas from spending it with her, to spending it with my in-laws, but since my mother's death there's been an unspoken insistence that we will now spend Christmas Day with my mother-in-law. We have an uneasy relationship. I wish it wasn't so and I know that her intentions are good, but there it is. I think that we both deal with it pretty well and I know that I certainly emphasise a warm and close relationship between her and my sons. Their relationship with her is, and needs to be, independent of mine and I promote that in every way that I can.

Thing is ... I don't want to spend every Christmas with the in-laws, at their home. I want my sons and my little family to develop and cherish our own traditions. Both last year and this Christmas just gone we have headed to the Blue Mountains on Boxing Day to spend a week roaming mountains and canyons and caves at Jenolan, cafes and antique stores and teahouses in the middle of nowhere. And the entire family love it.

I think this most recent Christmas has provided me with the catalyst I need to be more 'clear' about what my little family is going to do for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Mr 9 came downstairs and told me he was 'feeling funny' and his heart was 'trying to leap out of my chest'. Mr 7 was born with a very serious congenital heart condition which fortunately was fully repaired via major open heart surgery when he was just eight days old. Have I told you that story? Anyway, I felt Mr 9's pulse - as much for him to think I was doing something useful as anything else - and I noticed that it felt a bit odd. By odd I actually mean that I couldn't really feel it at all, it was terribly fast. I felt Mr 7's pulse as a comparison and it was slow and steady and strong. Back to Mr 9 and it still felt a bit strange to me. I asked my husband to have a little feel of it and he gave me an odd look, I gave him an odd look in return and we wondered just what we should do. Were we imagining it? Missing his pulse altogether? Feeling the wrong spot of his neck and wrist?

Fortunately, a family member turned up to collect some old baby things from us and he just happens to be an anaethetist. "Have a little feel of this for me?" I asked. He suggested, calmly, that it felt a bit fast and we might like to organise an ECG just to put our minds at rest. It is Christmas Eve, we're leaving for our holiday in two days, it will be impossible to get into the doctor and then to pathology for an ECG, so I took Mr 9 off to our local emergency department. Initially it seemed absolutely nothing was wrong so I took this photo for him to take to school to show his friends his hospital adventure.

To cut a long story short, Mr 9 has been diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White syndrome - a problem with one of the electrical pathways in his heart. Fortunately the cardiologist on call at the John Hunter Hospital here in Newcastle is the man who has looked after Mr 7's lovely heart since the day he was born.

Finding out that BOTH of my lovely boys have a heart issue was an awful shock. I confess I had a couple of rough days with it but we have seen our cardiologist now and know where we stand. We have a plan and everything will be fine.

This is what I know. We are resilient. All of us. My little family. My kids. You and your kids. All the people in Queensland whose lives have been turned upside down and inside out by the recent floods. Sometimes things happen to us that we've never imagined. Things both good and bad. We lose loved ones, we gain new people to love. And who love us.

Yes, things ALWAYS get better.

Oh ... turns out the pair of them need glasses, too!  Sheesh!

Have a wonderful 2011!  We will!  No matter what!

Comments (12)

Not all of them...

Or certainly not as tough and loving as you! Perhaps that I haven't been tested that way, but that ways I HAVE been? Wreck! You give me hope that I could do better, though! :) xo

CarolDuncan's picture

Anj - Mama's are built

Anj - Mama's are built tough!! LOL xxx

Family Connections Illness Resiliance

Dear Carol,
"knowing" you and about your lovely relationship with family..just how special are the boys to you & hub...I can feel the rise & fall of your own heart beating with love for them. And to honor your dear mum, you speak of her with devotion and respect .. She is/was a proud proud mama and grandma too..and MIL to hub.
Times arise, as they do, in all families as the branches spread due to children and more so that YOUR family unit gets turns now, iMHO, to "decide" how/where/when of family functions.
I remember it happening to me, after I could sense Mum getting wearied by Christmas & the add-ons, so between me & bro's family we shared it about. I then called a stop to that when our kids had kids, then they came to us..and from 2011 we have retired from family event hosting&the reins will be picked up by our adult kids.
It really is about seasons and cycles..and even if your MIL "thinks" she can also can- say 'no we are doing this year' etc Of course, hub's 100%backing makes it better.
Carol, you are indeed that gorgeous mix of "tough" and "soft" - you've been there & done that, in many ways, but you would walk over hot coals for your boys!! Love the family love ..D xxxx

Stunning post

Whilst at first I was most struck by the feeling of crazy disappointment/fear/confusion you must've felt at learning your older son also has a heart issue, I can see how resilience is the overall message. And realising just how important it is to stand up for what you want and need for your family. I am convinced that (like Maxabella put it so well) because your heart is so good and so big it will help buoy your family when it needs to. Your strength and empathy for others is consistently inspiring!!

CarolDuncan's picture

Hi Maxabella2, So far, so

Hi Maxabella2,

So far, so good! *crosses fingers*

My boys are lucky to be surrounded by people who love them, they will be fine, no matter how much I might try to mess them up!

CarolDuncan's picture

Hi Susan, It was only rocky

Hi Susan,

It was only rocky for a day or two! Mr 9 has taken it all in his stride. He wasn't happy when the mention of a procedure when he's about 12 came up ... but he's just fine. Perhaps that is one of the joys of being 9!

When you work out the perfect way of juggling others expectations, do be sure to let me know!

Mum was actually with the boys when she collapsed, so the boys saw everything and know everything. No-one panicked, no-one got upset ... we all got rather business-like but there were no bundles dropped. I just did what I thought was right, and I do to this day. I have explained everything to them and in fact Mr 7 mentioned something about that day in the car this morning. They've been told that Grandma would be proud of them for taking care of her when she got sick. Which she would, but they also feel like they did what they could for their Grandma. That we all did.

Have you read Maggie Mackellar's When It Rains? Her memoir. I interviewed her last year. Wow.

CarolDuncan's picture

Hi Annie, Sometimes

Hi Annie,

Sometimes depression, anxiety or other illness can cause people to lose their resilience, and we need to do much more for people in caring for their mental health. Heaven knows there are many heartbreaks people suffer because we don't yet have the answers to help them. And as we've seen recently amongst our own Twitter community - sometimes we don't even know someone is struggling.

But generally - humans are wonderful and much stronger than they think!

One of my great beliefs about my work is that when people tell and share their most personal and painful stories ... that is when they help other people the most. I have seen first-hand what can happen when people share themselves and their experiences. It reminds others that we CAN face the challenge, whatever it may be. That there are others who have walked in our shoes before us and prove to us that ... it will all be OK in the end. It might not be what we hope for, but it will be OK.

CarolDuncan's picture

Hi Kerry, Thanks for your

Hi Kerry,

Thanks for your comments. We are a happy family and I think we are very lucky indeed. It IS a frustration when you don't feel you can say or do what you really want to. But it's an age-old problem, isn't it!

I'm not a victim, neither are my kids. We are healthy (we are, you know!), happy, educated and employed ... and we learn together every single day.

Terrible frights? Yep! But in my job as a journalist and presenter with the ABC, I have done innumerable interviews with people over the last 20+ years who really have been through trials and tribulations. Some of the stories people have shared with me have reduced me to tears, and I wonder how they go on. But they do. These are experiences that are far more terrible than mine.

But each of our experiences are individual to us, so when another mum tells me how upset or frightened she may be about a medical issue or procedure with her child, I *always* have empathy! No matter how trivial it may seem in comparison to what Mr 7 went through, for example, because it is HER experience and is equally as valid as my own, no matter how they might differ.

It is one of the great rewards of my career - it is a great reality check!


A great story and thank you for sharing. It is good to recognise early on what you want to do with you family during the festive season.

It is not good to carry around pent up frustration because you wish to spend these precious hours together as a family and not necessarily with an extended one.

It's OK to have choices and your children will be happier when you are, so go with your heart and let that decide for you where you end up on Christmas day. You will have plenty of other opportunities to spend with your extended family during the year.

You certainly have had some shocks with a few health issues with family members but it sounds like you have them under control. Never under estimate your network of friends and family in times of medical emergencies you soon learn who to call on when a time may arise again - and for your family hopefully not.

Lastly wanted to end with what a healthy outlook you have on life. We can all become a victim but takes a courageous person to appreciate what they have despite some terrible frights.

Wishing you and your family a great and healthy year ahead.


Things always do get better ...

Resilience is something we all have, yet often people don't realise just how much they have until something happens to them. The good news about the glasses is there are such funky frames for young boys now ... ubercool!

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