Christmas Message — 2021

For those that read my Christmas Message last year (or the year before or any year before for that matter) the following has a new preface!

However the rest is pretty much as in past years…

Preface (i.e. the bit before the repetitive narrative)

The reason I retell the story about my sister in this post each Christmas is to try to help others use this time of year to reflect on those that they love and realise that life is short and random. That tomorrow someone you love may not be here — so take the time to immerse yourself in loving them and them loving you.

This year I experienced another side to the circularity that is love.

Over the last year or so I have had to deal with a few challenging situations — some that brought me to levels of depression I have not experienced for decades.

Yet what made that journey tolerable was the love of my family and a few close friends. It was their care for me that helped me deal with some pretty ordinary behaviour by others and come out the other side a little battered and bruised but in one piece.

So I would say that the core of my Christmas Message remains true — take time for those you love. However the other benefit of taking time for those you love is that when you are at your lowest and most vulnerable they will be there for you. That is the simple beauty of giving and experiencing love and why you need to make real time and space for those you love — every day of your life.

Now….if you read this next bit last year don’t feel compelled to read it again….I resend this each year really as a way to keep my sister’s memory alive so apologies if the repetition annoys some..

We are all racing to close off projects while at the same time trying to plan some hopefully meaningful presents to give to those we like and love, pass on Christmas wishes to those in your work and friend universe, attend too many functions (although post COVID lockdown I am not sure how many is too many!), get prepared to sit next to drunk, boorish and maybe anti-vaxxer Uncle Fred (who has done his own research…sure he has) and then basically fall over the line..

So much to do and so little time.

With all this noise we often lose sight of the opportunity this time of year provides…With basically everyone off work this means that your inbox doesn’t fill at the same rate so you REALLY know that work can wait a few days for a response…Also the weather is telling you to enjoy nature (ok maybe not in 2021 with La Nina ever present) and you (sometimes by force) get to spend, through the formalities of Christmas, quality time with those you care about…

Christmas provides us with a gift. The gift being the ability to focus time on those that mean something to you…..

On December 20 1992 my only (older) sister, Gabriela, was killed in a car accident coming back to Canberra from cherry picking in Young. She was driving the car and had her husband and 6 mth old baby in the car with her. They had just finished what had been a magical day picking and eating cherries while just enjoying being a relatively new family unit.

My sister’s life journey up this point had been a reasonably tough one. She was shy but smart and very insecure. Our family home was not very warm or inviting as my parents wanted a divorce before I was born. Many was the night that we would go to bed as kids listening to the shouting and screaming. Two people who WWII had thrown together in a country that did not accept them, in a relationship that never worked. My reaction was to never be home. From age 10–11 I was literally never home. I would be playing sport, going for bushwalks, staying with friends, walking the streets…Anything but being at home.

My sister stayed in the firestorm. Her outcome was that she developed deep depression and hospital grade anorexia. She had a couple of respites (such as doing her Masters in English Lit at Cambridge) and even found love for the first time at age 28. He loved her but his family wanted him to marry within his religion and race and so he left and two hearts were broken.

Then at age 30 it all started to come together. She met a really nice man (David) and they fell in love. They got married and soon after they had a child. This in itself was a miracle as the years of anorexia had left her infertile (or that is what her docs thought)…

I spoke to her on Dec 18 and for the first time two things seemed to be occurring. Firstly she and I had started to get on. We were such different people, she had loved me way more than I had loved her and she had been way more forgiving of me than I of her. She tried to understand me and I just thought she was a bit weird..nice but weird….and yet here we were laughing about shared experiences of marriage and having kids….and she had started work in the Dept of Communications which was looking at IT stuff and the internet etc etc..the universe was bringing us together…

Also she seemed deeply happy for the first time in her 35 years. Her baby, Madeleine, had made her. Maddy completed her in a way that she had never expected.

I hung up on that call thinking that this was going to be cool. She and I were going to create a new Petre story going forward. A family of uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews all bonded by love and not by war torn circumstance. Something built on love and familial bonds.

A truck driving on the wrong side of the road cut her car in half. Maddy (who was in a baby capsule) was tossed down the street suffering multiple fractures to arms, legs as well as massive skull fractures. David suffered a broken arm and shoulder and my sister had massive internal injuries and she bled out and died on the way to hospital. Her last words as she was conscious and being put into the Ambulance was to ask if Maddy and David were ok.

Mum called me in Seattle at 2:00am On Dec 19 to tell me Gabriela was dead. That is all she could say before she dropped the phone. I flew back to Australia to see Gabriela in the morgue and help bury her and I cried a lot and still do.

My point in talking about my sister’s Christmas death is not to put a pall over the celebrations of others but rather to make an observation.

If God (of any variety), Karma, the universe or just luck can take someone as good, gracious and giving as my sister and leave behind a broken baby, husband, brother, mother, father and friends then anyone is up for grabs.

At this time of year when we have the time and opportunity to see and spend time with those we love most, we should make the most of the opportunity.
Hug them like you have never hugged them before. Look deeply in their eyes and express your love and feel their love. Realise that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is certain. Laugh with them, maybe cry with them. Play with them, argue with them but overall be with them. Be in the moment and feel it deeply.

Every day for the last 29 years I miss my sister. More so as we cycle around to Christmas and the anniversary of her untimely and grossly unfair death. Suffice to say Christmas, for me, even with the immense joy that comes from having young kids — Santa’s true believers — fill the house with pure happiness, has always had a sharp edge to it.

I feel guilty for not trying hard enough to understand my sister when she was alive. I miss having a sibling — a lifelong traveller who grew up with you. I miss the world of uncles and aunts that we were going to create and most of all I miss her love. She really loved me and saw goodness in me that I doubt I have but I have spent every day since her death trying to live up to her belief in me.

So some 29 years on and blessed with 3 adult daughters (who I genuinely cherish) my hope is I have fulfilled a commitment I made to myself when Gabriela died, to try to be a better person and give them the sort of love and care that came as second nature to her.

As you close your laptop or put away the tablet please go off and have a happy safe, love filled christmas — and take care of those you love…life can be fragile….





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