2017: The Year I Lost My Mum (and Gained 927 Miracles)


My earliest memories of my beautiful mother are of her sitting at her desk, surrounded by piles of papers, writing. Mum wrote thousands of letters in her long life. She wrote them by hand, letters of love and encouragement and news and support to people all over the world (or sometimes, just around the corner). She mentored and befriended people easily and quickly, and people were drawn to her sparkling eyes, her ready laugh, her stories, and her unbridled enthusiasm for life—including their life! And when I say “all over the world”, I really mean that—in her personal travels, as well as her role as a counsellor in the Bahá’í community, Mum travelled and connected with people from every single walk of life, from Mongolia to Fiji, Canada to Bhutan.

After a long period of dementia, surrounded by an army of loved ones, Mum slipped away from this world on Feb 7 this year.

Mum’s death had a profound effect on me. I felt like it shouldn’t have. After all, it was part of the natural order of things. Parents get old and die. Mum was nearly 91. She had lived an amazing life. It was her time.

But when she passed away, I felt rudderless and anchor-less all at once. With the death of my husband, Greg, 3 years ago, I had become a widow, and now I was an orphan. They were my two greatest teachers, supporters and mentors – my living examples of faith and grace and scholarship. And they were both gone.

The reality is that Mum “left us” years ago. Alzheimer’s Disease had replaced the exquisitely rational and brilliant mum I knew with a childlike and innocent creature. It seemed an unfair exchange. The cognitive decline caused by this disease is brutal.

And yet, her life force was still there … Her belly laugh, her sense of awe and wonder, her love of flowers. It was somehow comforting to have her physical presence in my life. To call out ‘Mum’ and have her answer, even if, at times, she had trouble believing I was her daughter.

“Mum, do you know who I am?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea!”
“I’m your daughter! That’s why I call you ‘mum’!”
“Well, fancy that! … (silence)… But HOW can you be my daughter? You’re SO OLD!”

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I was her last. The youngest of her four girls. Her baby. And Mum got me in ways no one else ever has. She understood my battles with faith. My lousy sense of direction. My inability to add up numbers in my head, my trouble recognising faces of people I knew. I’d watched her struggle with these very same things my whole life. I loved that Mum thought I was smart just because I could follow the story-line on the telly. Mum always found innumerable ways to utilise my creativity, long before I became a professional artist. And perhaps most importantly, she knew what it was like to be married to a brilliant, creative genius who battled with inner demons unknown to others.

I miss my lovely mummy. I miss her constant presence throughout the whole entirety of my existence, that presence that had my back, no matter what.

And yet.

At last count, 927 amazing things happened this year, most of them after she died.

I know this because I wrote them down daily and I numbered them. (True story).

Mum taught me the power of Gratitude, and modelled it for me throughout the crazy difficult years of her life. But despite mum’s constant example and encouragement to ‘count your blessings, no matter what’, despite every study that’s been published on the astounding effects of this simple practice, it wasn’t until this year that I finally GOT it.

I first started glimpsing its power to help me some years ago during my 7 year adventure with chronic fatigue syndrome. I brushed against its effectiveness as I limped my way through Mary’s long battle with severe anorexia.  I tried so very hard to rely on it as I struggled to keep Greg alive through 4 years of chemotherapy. And in the three years that followed his death I experienced curious combinations of gratitude and grief, sadness and joy.

But THIS year? This year hit me by surprise. I didn’t expect it to be one of the toughest years I can remember. My Gratitude practice became the most important tool I had to stay afloat. And so it became embedded into every fibre of my being – the only discipline I truly have.

What I’ve come to realise about the magic of mum’s ‘attitude of gratitude’ is that it shifts our perception from the ugly or dreadful or sad bits of life (and we all have them), to the good bits, no matter how small they are (and we all have those too). Like a photograph where the focal point is in sharp, crisp focus, and the background detail is visible but blurry—our eyes are directed by the photographer’s skill —and our whole perception of that image is shifted.

So 927 Wonderful Things happened this year. Things that may have just become lost in the fast moving images of life if not for the shift in focus that my Gratitude practice gave me.

Some were Small and Sweet: Like finally having the strength to walk to my cafe and back after days of fatigue and pain. Or having Luke, the owner give me a free cup of coffee, just because. Or getting myself to a friend’s funeral when every fibre of my being did not have the courage to face it. Or discovering the very first rose of spring and drinking in its perfume.

Some were Really Awesome: Like receiving two offers almost simultaneously to buy this painting, Wayfarers, and then selling it to the beautiful Peta, on Facebook, and watching her weep with joy at the sight of it in real life. Her reaction to my art was one of the most deeply rewarding things I’ve witnessed in my 17 years as an artist.

Or visiting the 2000 year old Methuselah Tree in the Redwood Forests of California, and saying a prayer at that sacred spot with my new friend, Kerry, who so kindly took me there. Or visiting the weirdly fascinating, closed-to-the-public campus of Facebook, in Silicon Valley. Or being driven to the tranquil and glorious Bahá’í House of Worship in Sydney to spend a whole day in prayer and meditation.

And some were Epic: Like moving house with the unexpected and surprising help of Shaun, someone I knew only because our dogs run together in the park! He sent a truck, a van, and 4 men, and they moved the entire contents of my house. Just for the sake of kindness.

Or selling the family home to my sweet and wonderful tenants – without even putting it on the market! Or when my neighbour, Nigel, who happens to be a real estate agent, helped negotiate the deal on my behalf because I was too emotionally entangled. Nigel refused to accept anything in return. (His wife, on the other hand, was very demanding. Christine wanted to learn how to make my dhall!).

Or when I spent 19 unforgettable days with my Mary in her new home in the UK. We cavorted around Oxford and Cambridge and the glorious moors and castles and woods and gardens of England. If that wasn’t enough, it was a miracle indeed to witness my beautiful, courageous daughter navigate the new life she’s created from the broken pieces of her adolescence, and the life-threatening challenges she’d experienced for so many years.


But most precious of all, having the indescribable privilege to continue to do what I love most: write, paint and teach.

This year, amongst others, I wrote this, this and this.

I had the unexpected honour of being invited to exhibit my paintings in what became my 10th solo exhibition, and now have my recent work available for viewing and purchase on a lovely new website.

I was right there, while an astonishing 1,046 new paintings were created by my courageous students in 20 classes. Most of them were complete beginners. I watched and cheered as some were finally able to unleash their creativity. And I wept with joy as I read the wonderful messages they sent me, thanking me for helping them overcome a lifetime’s worth of unbelief that they, too, could make ART.

I had so wanted to end this momentous year in a calm and grounded space: bills paid, papers sorted, house de-cluttered, with that feeling of ‘all’s well with the world’. But instead, I’ve spent a couple of days struggling with old wounds and trying to cope with new ones. My magical dog Ruby, who entered my life just a year ago, and has been a conduit to so many miracles this year, has just ruptured her cruciate ligament and is lame (true torture for a Kelpie). As I wonder how I’m going to foot the $5k bill for her corrective surgery and cope with the loss of our daily walks which have kept both of us fit, grounded and sane, I hear my mother’s voice reminding me to be grateful for everything—even the challenges—for they are our greatest teachers.

And I remind myself that from every single adversity that I’ve suffered, every SINGLE one, unimagined providence has been gifted to me. Despite the tears, despite the stomach knots, the feelings of intense grief or helplessness or failure, the gifts are there, waiting to be unwrapped.

Sometimes I don’t notice the gift because my eyes are so blinded by tears, or my heart so broken by loss. But adversity is always a gift. It’s a gift wrapped in sandpaper and I’ve got to be ready to lose a bit of skin in the unwrapping!

Has this been a tough year? Yep. But if I just shift the focus, it was also the Year of 927 Miracles.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein

Wishing you so much love and many, many miracles this festive season and New Year!

PS I’ve often been asked how I’ve managed to stay grounded throughout the storms of life. The truth is I have a LOT of help: the most excellent mentors and coaches in the world. You too can access their free resources here, and consider joining the amazing year-long mentorship programme, Your Year of Miracles, that I’ve had the privilege of being part of for the past two years.

Comments 65

  1. Oh Mal, of all the beautiful, heartwarming thoughts you’ve posted through the years, this is the most beautiful! Thank you for remembering our Mum in all her specialness, and putting into context the dross of her last few years. And might I say, your courage and ability to reframe life and loss is one of 2017’s most abiding miracles

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      Okay now I’m crying again. 2017 – the year of the Wus?!!

      Thank you so much for your beautiful words and encouragement, big sister. (Despite the occasional punch in the belly when I was six) you too have had my back my whole life.

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  2. Dear Malini
    This honest, moving and uplifting letter is so inspiring, because it is so REAL. Thank you for the re-focus on GRATITUDE , it does change everything. I hope to remember this as I face my Mum’s decline and what seems like bitterness at 97.
    I feel blessed by your family in many ways, your Dad in Philippines in the 70s, your Mum later, Padma in NZ at university and Susheel with the Virtues Project. Your impact has been “virtual” but no less powerful as you write so much from the heart and with authenticity. Thank you

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      Wow, you know my whole family!

      I’m so sorry about your mum. This is such a hard disease. But it really forces us to dig deep, doesn’t it?

      I’ve often mused on how the beginning and the ending of life is so full of drama. It appears that in order for us to prepare for the next world, we and those around us often have to go through a bunch of pain. It’s one of the mysteries of life.

      Much love to you and thank you so much for these kind words.

  3. Dear Malini, Thanks for drawing us close and letting us in. It seems this year has polished your aquiescence as you navigated its heartache and its gentle wisdoms. Thankful for this reminder to reflect upon the miracles as we navigate the rougher roads.. much love to you✨

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      Hey Jen,
      I’m aiming to get to “radiant acquiescence” by 91 … hoping I will make it but it’s more likely to be “doddering dementia” instead 🙂

      Thank you so much for reading my words and leaving such kind ones. Our shining and enduring friendship helps make everything a bit easier.

  4. Dear Malini – i wish i could say in such beautifull words as you did.
    AMAZING! I too lost my mom this year – in August. It truly was a tough year – years actually – since she coped with the cancer for more than 14 years. Losing her leg piece by piece until the tumors spread into the lungs…. So many worries…hopes….and worries…
    …and than again a quite incredible year too. I am glad i can still talk to my mom and can hear her answers – and actually see her all smiling and well. That is such a big comfort and help. Sometimes she seems so much close now than ever before.

    Well – like your mom too now. All smiling and well and still talking to you :o)

    Thank you SO much for sharing! And for sharing it the way you did! Just love it!
    I did not number my miracles – but you and your mom inspired me to do so now.
    I just LOVE the way you write. And the picture you did!? Gee – thats sooooo beautiful!!
    I am so happy and glad that you do what you do and that you share it with the world!
    God bless you Malini.
    A big hug.
    Love and light

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      I’m so sorry for your loss, Silke. Losing a parent, no matter how old we are, is a challenge. It seems like your mum truly suffered in those last years, and your love for her shines through your words. Thank you for the sweet feedback on my story too. It warms my heart. I hope 2018 brings you so much joy and love xxx

  5. Absolutely love how you are living your life so fully and to the best of your ability. Finding joy and positivity even amidst all your loss and the difficult things in life. Wishing you continued blessings Malini. xo

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      Thank you dear Suzanne! You’ve been such a lovely friend-across-miles on the other side of the world for so many years now, as we navigate the crises and victories of our lives! I hope 2018 brings you and your family many blessings !

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  6. Thank you for your words Malini. This year has been a tough one for me too but I am reminded of the lovely moments through your words.
    I wish you a beautiful Xmas and a an even better 2018. You are an inspiration!.
    X

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      Hi Christine, thank you so much for your warm words. I am truly sorry you’ve also had a tough year. I think it’s been the case for so many, as we are being called to greater fortitude and resilience. So much easier if we were called to more chocolate and naps 🙂 May you have plenty of those in 2018!

  7. Just like your mum was to you…you are one of my mentors and teachers in my life and I feel so blessed to witness the beauty you continue to find in the very human adversity you have faced. Thank you for your eloquent, heart-felt and beautiful reminders to be grateful for it all. xxxx

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      Aaaah Kate of the magical, miracle hands. You were definitely SEVERAL of the 927 miracles this year, my dear friend. So much love to you! xxx

  8. Malini, you are a true pillar of light and forever inspiration! You share your life with such honesty and feeling. It is a joy to behold – even the sad bits. You opened my creative world in your workshop which allowed me to dabble in some writing too. May 2018 manifest the feelings of hope and peaceful joy I am sensing. May we continue to be bathed in your light and hence, become a light of our own.
    I am so grateful for your presence on this earth.
    Bountiful hugs
    Jennifer xxx

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      Hi Jennifer, your message was so very very sweet, and I’m grateful, SO grateful, to have helped you in this way. Write, paint, make as much art as you can, and fill the spaces with your creative magic and love! Thank you so much and hugs back! x

  9. Thanks for your lovely words Malini and reminding me of things that matter. I try fitfully to practice gratitude and fail often. I don’t always open your emails but just seeing them in my inbox reminds me that art as a career is possible. I haven’t yet “crossed over” but I will. Best wishes for the Christmas season whatever that means for you.

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      Hello there Heather! You can cross over in small bits, it doesn’t have to be a Big Leap 🙂 Thank you for stopping by this time, for opening THIS email, and for taking the time to say ‘hi’. May 2018 give you the gift of TIME to flex those creative muscles, and all the joy that brings you! x

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  10. Thank you Malini for your beautiful reflection. Attitude and gratitude changes things. You changed my attitude when I thought I couldn’t do art and I am grateful to you for that. We need to look for the positive in life.May this season of joy be a time of peace for you
    Kathy

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      Kathyyyyyyy…. always so lovely to hear from you! To stay in touch after all these years, when you first attended my workshop in my backyard — was it8 year ago? So happy you popped by then – and today! Much love to you, and all the best for the festive season and New Year! xxx

  11. Wow Malini I feel like I was directed to read your beautiful letter. I too have had a testing year, well 18 months actually with many surgeries and health issues. You remind us all to put a positive slant on the things that are sent to try us and make us better people. My art is my saviour and brings me joy. I hope that we can connect in 2018 so that I can learn from someone who is so in tune. To have so many blessings in one year is truly a miracle. May 2018 bring you many many more.

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      Hello Jill, I’m sorry to hear of your health issues. It makes life very hard and I hope that you’ve had some support throughout the trials. Making art is certainly a source of solace. I would love for you to come to one of my workshops, but if that’s not possible, stay in touch this way, and of course there’s also my e-course: Finding Your Way Home. Take care, and may 2018 be a happy and beautiful year for you, with lots of health and lovely art! xx

  12. Malini to experience continuous hardship and tragedy with no let up and yet find the grace to see the beauty and wonder God has created in this world and in your life is truly inspiring. To have had such wonderful mentors and love as your mum and Greg in your life is something to be thankful for and your post remind us to be GRATEFUL for the little blessings in our lives that we overlook.

    Thank you for putting life into perspective for me this day and I wish you a joyful festive season. xxx

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      Hello Sue, I’m so happy that you dropped by and took the time to share a little slice of my life at this busy time. Yes, I’m so very fortunate to have had mum and Greg in my life. I keep telling myself that they are still here, I just can’t see them. May your loved ones surround you, Sue, as you head into 2018, and let’s hope it’s a good year for all of us! With love x

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      Hi Ann, courage is a tricky one… most of them time, I feel anything BUT brave 🙂 But yes, so much learning, and so much love! May 2018 be a beautiful year for you too. Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for stopping by to say hi. Much love x

  13. Thank you Malini for your thoughtful sharing and of courage in a time for flux. I too had a sImilar journey with my Dad who passed away last month. Your words mirrored my thoughts. You are right, with gratitude our heart opens up to a whole new perspective. Good wishes for a happy ending to the year and even better beginning.

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      Hi Elena, I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. It’s really hard to lose a parent, no matter the circumstances. I wish you a grace-full ending to 2017 too … and yes! Wonderful BEGINNINGS in 2018! x

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  14. Dear Malini,
    That was beautiful and joyous and sad – it took me to places I keep to myself (my Dad’s dementia journey and death, my daughter’s personal struggles), but you have inspired me to pull out that special book I bought recently, with a query as to who to give it to, and start my being grateful journey for the NY. I consider myself an eternal optimist and always try to see the good, my regular walks also keep my head and heart clearer and I am learning much about myself often – I hope one day to join you for one of your art classes. For now may happiness and good health find you heartilly savouring life’s precious moments in the NY.
    Merry Christmas

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      Hello Barbara
      I would love to have you in one of my classes. It would be my honour.
      And I LOVE that you are going to use that special book as a gift to YOURSELF!
      So very sorry that you’ve had to cope with loss too.
      Barbara if you can’t make it to one of my ‘in-person’ workshops for now, do investigate my online course, FINDING YOUR WAY HOME. It was born out of the period after Greg died, and it’s a lovely, affordable journey into art and personal reflection – with many uses for that new journal of yours! You can find it on my website under ‘ECOURSES’.

      Much love to you and I hope the New Year brings beautiful moments of peace and reflection.xx

  15. I remember helping your mum type up what became a second edition of the Malaysian Bahá’í Prayer book in Fiji when I was waiting for a visa to the USA in 1980. Everytime I see that prayer book, (and we have many for our devotionals so I see it often!) I think of your lovely family in Suva – and a kitten on the bed that leapt straight up in the air when it sniffed a spider and it moved, making us laugh so much it brought tears to our eyes, although if I remember right – you were all laughing at me not the cat 🙂 What a life we have all lived in all out different ways. Joy upon Joy with a hint of sorrow occasionally to spice it up like salt and bring out the ever present taste of Joy.

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      Hello Bryn! What a lovely memory! Mum loved cats and they loved her. She also loved to laugh 🙂 Yes, we’ve all travelled a long way since those days in Suva. It’s been a remarkable journey. Thank you for stopping by and sharing a part of it through my stories.

  16. Oh Mal… I feel like I’ve become an orphan too this year… but then I remind myself that I also gained a wonderful brother (a whole, entire, brand new brother!), a kind and strong sister-in-law and an adorable, angelic niece. And none of them would be in my life were it not for my father’s death. So yes. Even though it’s hard to remember when my heart is breaking from loneliness, I have so, so much to be grateful for. Thank you for reminding me

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      Carina dear one… so much pain entwined in your newfound happiness. I continue to remember you in my prayers daily and I know that 2018 is going to bring even more healing and joy into your life. It’s hard to imagine that we first met in one of my workshops just a few years ago – it seems like a lifetime of friendship and love exist between us. Thank you so much for being part of my life and my stories. Hugs xx

  17. Dear Malini……..what a truly gorgeous, inspirational woman you are. I was only today thinking how much difficulty my daughter is going through at the moment and how I could possibly encourage her to remain positive and find the good in things however small they might be.
    I will never forget how much I enjoyed meeting you in Melbourne and attending one of your one day classes. What pure joy it was to hear your stories and watch your creativity.
    I hope you wouldn’t mind, but I believe that your story about your beautiful mum and how she taught you to be grateful for everything is something that may just help my beautiful girl, so I will forward it on to her.
    Thank you lovely lady for your generous sharing spirit. Have a wonderful Christmas & may 2018 bring forth all the wonderful things you desire. 🙂

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      Dagmar, you are so sweet. I would be honoured and happy for you to share my story with your daughter. If it could help her in some small way that would be truly precious. We all learn so much from each other’s foibles and failures, and I’ve certainly made a bunch of those!
      And I’m beyond delighted, that you still recall your time in my workshop with such joy! It was a pleasure meeting you too, Dagmar, and I wish you and yours a truly happy and bountiful 2018! xx

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  18. Beautiful Malini! Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection on a year mixed with grief and loss, as well as joy and gratitude. You so profoundly captured the oceanic patterns of life–the gentle times as well as the hurricanes–and how they all have their place and, by going deep and sitting with it all, we can also find the silver lining and what is good. You have captured the truth of it all with a very real, raw truth. I am so grateful for knowing you and sharing your journey of 2017 and its 927 miracles! I hope you will continue to write and share your insights as it is truly a gift. And thank you for the photos. The one of you and your Mum is so filled with love! I wish you and your doggy all the blessings of heaven and earth. Have a wonderful holiday! Sending much love!

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      I am so happy and honoured to see you here, Suzanne. Thank you so much for this love-filled message and for being the conduit to so many miraculous insights I received this year. I have no words that can adequately express my gratitude. So much love x

  19. Hello lovely Mal.

    What a beautiful blog. I remember and feel immensely blessed to have been the recipient of your wonderful mother’s love and mentoring. I met her at the South Perth Baha’i Centre: I clearly recall seeing her across the room and feeling incredibly drawn to her, I wanted to meet her! And I did, when she took us for Book 1 – what a wonderful warm personality, and then to receive one of her loving letters, complete with a generous gift to the Baha’i funds on my behalf! I cried and cried!! She never could remember me if I turned up out of context though 😀

    The lesson on “attitude of gratitude” is very timely for our family, thanks for the beautiful reminder and encouragement to stop thinking about it and actually put it into action!

    Love your work 🙂
    Karen xx

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      Sweet Karen, I had no idea you even knew my dear Mum! She obviously recognised that special spark you have, and wanted to help you fan it into a flame. Thank you for your kind words and for your friendship this year. Wishing you every lovely thing in 2018! xxx

  20. Weeping with joy reading this! My father has Alzheimer’s and my mother (who does not) is steeped in the negative of the world – the total opposite of your mum’s attitude of gratitude. And yet, as you so beautifully portray, if we look, and are open to see, we are always surrounded with miracles and blessings. Sometimes though, we need a reminder especially at this time of year when the challenges/stress can overwhelm, and that is what you have given me my dear Malini – a reminder that will stay in my heart. Much great love and blessings to you, Beth

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      I’m so sorry Beth, it is a very very hard thing to witness a parent’s loss of cognitive abilities and your mother is obviously suffering greatly too. She is fortunate to have you there to model a life-affirming attitude and you have such a well of kindness that you draw from and share with everyone. Thank you so much for sharing that kindness with me in your words. So much love to you and may 2018 be a glorious one. xx

  21. Hi Smum!!Thank you for the reminders about gratitude. I read this post a few days ago and it has stayed with me– I loved reading about beautiful grandma and it was sad too… some happy and sad times for sure but I reckon 2018 will be brilliant for you.
    As always I am so grateful to have you in my life… in our lives.

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  22. Thank you so much for sharing! You are such an inspiration both in your words of wisdom about gratitude and in your beautiful art. Blessings to you as this year comes to an end and all the very best in 2018.

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      Thank YOU for stopping by, Melody. I’m glad you found my stories and my fumbles around life’s ups and downs helpful to you 🙂 May 2018 be all about love and lovely surprises (and delicious naps and yummy chocolate!) xx

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  23. Love reading your story .. This one especially, very touching. I have just lost two of the closest people in my life, 3 months apart .

    Bless you dear! Wish u all the best!

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      I’m so sorry to hear this Munirah. What a difficult adversity to live through.
      I hope things ease for you in 2018. Much love, and thank you for your kind words.

  24. My beautiful friend, your words resonate with me in ways that no one else’s do. Thank you for sharing your profound and loving insights with such humility and beauty. You are a gift to me and I am truly grateful.

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  25. Thank you so much for sharing, Malini. Such a beautiful post.
    Wishing you many happy moments and many many miracles along your path. Cheers!

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