Dear Me, Happy 40th

I have often seen articles and pieces in magazines, as well as online, that invite you to think about what advice you may give your former self. Looking back now, what would you say? Having just celebrated my 50th birthday, I thought that this was a prime time to look back at my 40th, and the last ten years in my life. 

The pile of 40 presents for 40 years!


Dear Joanne.

Happy 40th birthday.  Retrospectively of course. But what would I say to you now if I could. Rolling back the clock ten years, what advice would I give you for the years leading to your 50th? I can sum it up in three words. Big changes coming.  Your life is going to change in so many ways in these 10 years, and that will lead to you changing yourself

Sitting at the breakfast table on 25 December 2011, surrounded by your mum, dad, brother Lee, sister-in-law Clare and husband Mark, life was pretty damn good.  How on earth could you have known what was coming?


2011,  you are 40 years old. Looking back now, I will tell you to enjoy your 40s more, but one valuable piece of advice I can share, don’t let people talk you into things you don’t want. You were talked into a 40th party, which when you looked back, you didn’t enjoy it. Parties are not your thing and never have been. Do what you want. Not what others decide for you.

Now, look around you. 40 presents cover the table from your mum and dad. They have  done something unique. One present for every year of your life. I know you’re not one to rush to open things, but when your mum suggests you get on with opening presents, now you know why. Get on with it!! Your 40th was a great day surrounded by family, laughing, joking, eating and drinking. So many memories made.

Eatons Hill - 2012-2017.


2012 is the first of the three house moves you will do. Searching for a new house to move from Sinnamon Park, will land you what you dream would be your ‘forever house’. You feel that you’ve grown out of your house, and want to expand. You certainly do expand and end up with a Queenslander with wraparound decks. You can fulfil dreams here. Not big bucket list dreams, but house dreams. A big 8 seater dining table and the one thing you’d always wanted.  A king size bed! This house also gave you and Mark a media room. Loving movies as you do, upgrade that TV and settle in.

You will also head back to the UK for your first trip back since you left in 2005. You manage to find time to visit the Lake District. Remember to tell your husband, that’s a dealbreaker!

2013 is where life started to really change for you. The death of one family member from ovarian cancer some years ago,  and the diagnosis of another, left you worried that generationally, you were at risk. After all, with the 7 grandsons in the next generation, you were the only grandaughter. I would share the same advice now. Go see a gynaecologist. You are not physically able to have children with your husband, but take a deep breath and be brave. Have the surgery you need to take away the risk. Some will tell you it’s a crazy thing to do. Some will tell you it’s a brave thing to  do, but you shrug it off and do it. ‘It had to be done’,  you tell everyone and you’re right. It was the right thing to do. It was right as they found cancer, but not in the ovaries, it was in the endometrium. Having the surgery saved your life. Luckily, your cancer was stage 1 and although you worry continually, you will get the  all clear in 2017. 

Some sporadic health issues for Mark between 2013-2016 mean that you are caring for him, looking after visitors from overseas, working full-time and  trying to make sure that you keep the house running. It’s a steep learning curve for someone who hates to ask for help. From 2013, life for you is different. It’s only now, looking back that it’s easier to see. 

Out and about in Cairns. 2004 - Marks 50th birthday.

The next two years  are the years of perfect holidays. 2014 is  Marks 50th and sees you head to Cairns. What should have been a romantic meal on the beach gets rained off, but the hotel work wonders. They will set your table up under cover, make sure your meal is perfect, and supply you with wine, cocktails and a personalised menu. You managed to keep it a surprise until that morning too. A hard thing to do with your husband.

2015 is your  21st wedding anniversary and sees you head off to Uluru. You have always wanted to go to the Red Centre and your soulmate husband makes it happen. He does go one better and books a few nights in Sydney too. A stay at The Shangri-La hotel and seeing Les Miserables on stage while you’re there…perfection.

Remember when I said, 2013 was life changing for you. Marks ‘life changing’ arrives in 2016 and hits you both hard. He will be diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis on 12th January 2016. The day he’s formally diagnosed, and you are informed by the phone call, your brother and sister-in-law arrive for a weekend with you. They are over from the UK, so the 4 of you decide to go out. Best advice ever. Put the blinkers on for a couple of days and have quality time together. Then you knuckle under to start life with a sick husband, and what will be the fight of your lives.

This year also sees you head to the UK. Little did you realise, but by June of that year, Mark would already need a walking stick. His mobility was deteriorating. While on your UK trip, you enjoy the reunion of the “Class of 1990 Nurses” and the “Class of 1983 junior school”. You’ll find you can’t settle though, and your thoughts are on Mark constantly. Every time you’re out and about, catching up with people, your phone is in front of you.

This UK trip also sees you jump on a plane to Germany. Your plan to join Lee and Clare at Nurburgring pays off, and you have a blast. Two laps for you and one lap round the ring for Mark. Something else ticked off the bucket list. You’ll visit lots of people while you’re in the UK too. You’ll be doing the heavy lifting of the bags, and pushing trollies, while Mark concentrates on standing! Pace yourself.

90:05:RG Reunion 2016.
Brother, sister, fast car and the Nurburgring.
Class of 1983 John Perry .
Narangba 2017 - 2020.


Early 2017 sees discussions with you and Mark. You realise that you are going to need to move again, just 5 years on from moving in. Life at Eatons Hill is hard now. You are still working full time. Mark is starting to need assistance more and more. The house is not manageable. It will be tough for you, but you have to be the strong one. That’s my advice. You find a house in Narangba that ticks every box. It is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s not about dream houses or perfect houses, it’s about meeting a need. That’s what you need to remember when looking. You need a house to meet the needs of Mark.

Health wise sees Mark in hospital several times. A fractured spine. A myasthenia crisis and septicaemia. The nurses and doctors of Intensive Care Units become your new best friends. It’s a shock to the system to find yourself on the opposite side of the coin. Once a nurse, now a wife/visitor.  Life continues to throw curveballs to you both, so don’t sit on your laurels, you have a couple more years of them yet. Mark now is using a wheelie walker. The stick is still lurking around but rarely used. Following Marks hospital visits, and the fact that treatments aren’t working, you both make the decision that it is time for you to quit work and care for him 24/7.

2018  invited Mark  back for more hospital visits. This time, a blood clot and another back fracture. More ICU visits and back to see staff there. However there is respite from all the illness and drama in 2018, when you will be visited by Matthew, Charlotte, Jack and Grace.  It’s a visit that’s been a long time coming for Mark and one he has been waiting for. Trips to the koala sanctuary, Australia Zoo and more, leave memories for everyone.  Best advice….enjoy every second because times like this fly by. Take heaps of pictures and videos. You never know what’s around the corner. You will also be visited by Sheila, Mick and Kevin. A mum having all her boys together will be precious time. 

2019 is a strange year. Emotionally you deal with everything. The amazing. The fun. The unbelievable and the devastation. It starts off just amazing. You won’t know it at the time, but as you head away to O`Reilly Rainforest Retreat, it will be your last holiday together, ever. You plan 4 days up there. Every night you dress for dinner, and drive to the restaurant. While  you are away from the table on one occasion, you come back and find out that your holiday has an extra day/night thanks to your husband. We spent the last day staying in our pjs. We didn’t leave our villa. We ordered room service all day and watched movies, just relishing time together with no one around. Always do that. Relish those moments. The little things in life are the big things.

Less than a week after you get back, your house will be filled to the brim with 4 people that you are so proud to call your friends. When 4 people fly from the UK to Australia for 6 days (yes, you read that right), you know that they are friends. They are 30 + year friends. They are family. Your calm and relaxing time with Mark is the total opposite of what you have now. Now you have laughing, joking and drinking.

30 year friends on a 6 day trip.

Best advice….enjoy every moment.  In one of those moments that needs no words, every one of you…Mark and yourself included, you all know this was a goodbye trip, but saying it makes it real. They came to say goodbye to someone who was as close as family to them. During those 6 days, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll throw insults at each other. You’ll go out and have fun. You’ll stay home and cook. Every moment will be precious.

Early 2019 also hands you devastation. You are told that your mum is sick and it is cancer. Life takes strange turns. You had a great holiday, then friends visit, and now it  feel like your legs have been kicked out from underneath you. You continue to be the woman you are, which is ‘life goes on, keeps moving’. You go to your parents as much as you can in between caring for Mark, but it never feels that you are doing enough. Your brother and sister in law come from the UK, to give their help and they are lifesavers. Lifesavers to your parents, but also to you as well. Knowing they were there, allowed you to take a breath, not worry, and be able to care for your husband.

In August, your soulmate husband is back in hospital. Back fracture, blood clot and septicaemia. He is in Intensive Care again and this time, he does not come home. On the morning of 31 August at 0430am your phone rings, and your life changes forever. All I can say is that nothing prepares you for that. You’re a widow. 

Ashes scattered at GlassHouse Mountains Lookout.

You follow your husbands wishes to the letter. He leaves you specific instructions. Non attendance funeral, Specific funeral director, Clothing choice, &  ashes scattering.  

Sheila was able to meet Marks friends at his life celebration, after flying over for it. She was also able to spend 1:1 time with you. That’s time you both will treasure.

Top Gun Tickets.

You spend the rest of 2019 fulfilling things that need doing. Clearing the house. Selling furniture. Packing things for different people and so on. You spend lots of time with your mum too, just chatting and enjoying time together. You get to spend time with your brother and sister in law, including a trip to go and see Top Gun. That cinema trip, just you and your brother is precious time. It seems strange to go the day after Mark, but the best advice I can give is “Mark would say, as long as he doesn’t have to go , feel free…get going!”

2019 is spent grasping how life has changed and realising what being a widow is starting to mean. Lots of things changed in life and all I can say is, expect the unexpected. People you considered friends disappear from your life. People you considered friends, don’t understand how your life has changed. Mark has gone for them, but life continues with their family and life around them. Mark has gone for me but the difference is, he was my life. My life does continue, but there is a huge hole where he should be.

When it comes to early 2020, your brother and sister-in-law start to plan to go home. They know that they cannot stay here indefinitely, so plans made for a flight home at the end of January. Ironically they end up leaving just before the world went covid/lockdown crazy.  The plan is that you will drive them to the airport while your dad cares for your mum. You will stay with your dad for a few weeks and then make plans from there.

That’s the plan, but you don’t go home again. Apart from to continue clearing your house. Your dad and mum suggest you move in and rent your house. Even though you know it’s a good idea, you still ask your brother what he thinks! You decide to do it and bit by bit, start bringing up what you need. Some goes to your room. Your Dad sorts out a lounge area for you. Odds and ends find their way around the house. Cutlery. Painting on the wall. Chairs and (larger) TV.  

An album that Mum and Dad grew up with.

Life  keeps moving, as covid takes hold of the world. The one lovely part of 2020, is that it’s your mum and dads 50th wedding. You realise how much like your mum you are. You order cakes, balloons, flowers and lay the table for a lovely meal that you book. You open the champagne that you never opened on your 25th. While it’s a little strange to open it now, trust me when I say it’s the right thing to do. Even your mum has some. You help your dad with taking care of your mum. You clear out your house and in October 2020, it’s ready to hand over to the real estate agent.  

In 2021, devastation hits again. You lose your mum. Grief as a spouse,  and grief as a daughter are incredibly different.  It’s something that there is no advice for. All I can say is, you lose your first friend and your best friend. You have so many memories of your mum and they will never leave you. You support your dad as much as you can. Tragically, it’s not long since you have been through this with losing Mark, so you will remember what needs to be done. You provide as much support as you possibly can. The saddest part, you know how he feels.

2021 will find you going away on a few trips, even a house sitting one for friends.   Change of scenery is the name of the game and something you are both keen for. It’s something you both will need. You enjoy whale watching, walking through sunflower fields and quality time, just you with your dad. Every second I guarantee you will enjoy. It’s fun watching him realise how much you are like him, and of course which bits of you are your mum. 

It’s the year of your 50th. When you get to your 50th, you don’t know what to expect. You know it will feel strange without your mum and Mark. It does feel strange, you can’t get away from that feeling. You ask your dad for your Mums eternity ring as a present. You will then have a ‘piece of her’ that you wear everyday. Mum always said that your dad chose it, so it’s like having a 50th gift from both of them. What you have no idea of, is that your dad has taken a trip to buy you something special from the glass shop in Montville. He made the day so very special.

2022 is already bringing you new ‘medical’ challenges in the form of a rare chromosomal syndrome. That’s something nobody saw coming! You will see a geneticist and from then, who knows what!

Mum taken at Happy Valley , Caloundra
Your 50th present from your Dad. A Tina Cooper original.
Sunflower Heaven. Kalbar Sunflower Fields.

Advice from now……..

Buy the shoes. Eat the cake. Read the book. Listen to the music. Say I love you. Stay with those people in your life who will support you and be there for you. If you want to do something, go do it. What’s stopping you?

Life is too damn short. This is not a rehearsal. Live every day. 

See you when I am 60, for another retrospective.