Di Spain Life Story

My wife Di Spain’s funeral was yesterday. She is very special. This is what I said: (Also see below for Tim’s Letter to Di)

Di and snorkel

There are three things I would like to express

  1. Our deep sadness at losing Di.
  2. My learning that you should never waste a moment with those you are close to to tell them that you love them. Life can be unpredictably short so don’t waste your opportunity to live it fully with no regrets.
  3. Di told me she would like us to celebrate her life.

Di was born in Narrabri Hospital, northern NSW, Australia on Saturday 30th September 1958 to Betty and Ken Irvin.

A sister for 3 yr old Joy; granddaughter to May and Roy Colquhoun of Bective Station, Tamworth and Cherry and Eric Irvin from Pambula, on the South Coast. She was christened Dianne Lynette Irvin in Narrabri’s Presbyterian church.

She lived with her family at her grandfather Roy’s, Cooyong Station, just outside Narrabri on the Bingara Rd.  Her father was farm manager at this time.

Di’s younger sister Patricia was also born in Narrabri – in Jan. 1960 but sadly, died in Feb. 1961.

Betty, Joy and Di moved to Tamworth in 1962, after Ken Irvin  passed away after war injuries and a farm accident on January 9th that year. They stayed at Bective Station for 2 months with Betty’s parents, before  moving into their new home – 141 Church St / later to be known as Goonoo Goonoo Rd. in West Tamworth  –  always ‘the blue house’  – in May 1962.

Di attended Peter Pan preschool, South Tamworth, when she was four. She was picked up and brought home each day in the Peter Pan school bus.

She then attended West Tamworth Infants and Primary School – from 1964 till 1970.  Betty started with delivering her daughters to school and picking them up in the afternoon but eventually they walked or rode  home from school. Good neighbours, Brian and Janet Creek, were always around for the adventure to and from school.

Di continued her schooling, at Tamworth High School in 1971, finishing in 1976.  She was girl captain of the school  and was awarded an Honours Sporting Blue from the school, for her contribution to representative sport (swimming, hockey and athletics/cross country) and promoting sportsmanship at the school.

Her success at school academically and in sport enabled her to be accepted into Wollongong University to study PE, Health and Science. She began this 4yr course in 1977.

Betty said she cried for 3 months after Di left for Wollongong. Joy had started a teaching appointment at Albury High the month before Di left. This was the first time Betty had been on her own since the move to Tamworth.

Di’s teaching moved in a new direction after she left Wollongong, by a decision to do a course at Tharwa with Outward Bound and then take up a position on the Outward Bound School staff.

I met Di here and was attracted to her warmth and quiet generosity. I was struggling up a long rock climb on the granite outcrops south of Canberra. I was resting and feeling relieved when I then saw Di smiling and confidently following me up. This impressed me and along with her other resourceful qualities I started to take what became a lifelong love interest in Di.

During this time we exchanged letters in different bush settings along the east coast of Australia from the rainforests and islands of north Queensland to Cape Otway on Victoria’s Bass Strait. A consistent motif was the bundle of love we shared with each other on our letters. Marijke has drawn it on the booklet you have and it’s here again with Di. We had some great experiences and powerful friendships with a wonderful group of young people taking responsibility for running personal development outdoor experiential learning programs around Australia.

After a few years Di and I planned our own expedition to the Nepalese Himalaya. Di was very moved by the mountains but more so by the people and the good grace in how they lived their lives.

She returned to Australia and started a job as a Youth Worker in Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley south of Tamworth. Here amongst personal dramas of children and adults she created a supportive and respectful (loving) environment for kids and operated as a role model for the adults in the young people’s lives. In her spare!! time she started a swimming program for oldies in the public pool next to the youth centre. They laughed a lot in the water.

When I returned from the Himalaya I found myself drawn to be with Di and stayed with her in a big group house on a country homestead with lovely verandahs, chooks and an outside shower under the water tank.

We both started working on a year long wilderness program called Vision Quest for Sydney street kids based in the bush on the edge of the Morton National Park between Bowral and Goulburn. This developed into one of the most stressful times of my life (like Lord of the Flies) but Di handled it well by connecting with kids who had grown up with no trust and consistency from the adults in their lives. She told me about how a couple of the boys held her down on railway track as they heard a train in the distance as a game of chicken. She could break through this type of pressure to build reliable relationships.

In 1985 we got married at Bundanoon and then moved to a valley near Cessnock to live and work on a permaculture farm and community. We lived in a teepee and helped build an earth house with a grass roof with no power tools, tended the gardens and ate some great food from the garden.

We then travelled to South America from Peru to Tierra del Fuego on our own climbing expedition to the Andes. My goal was the 7000m Aconocagua. I got a surprise from Di when after spending two weeks climbing and acclimatising to altitude, 100m from the top Di decided to go down. I had a choice to keep going or go with her. I ended up going with her. This intrigued me about how easily she could let go of being goal focussed like me. The lesson for me was don’t take yourself so seriously and don’t hang onto things so tightly. There is more joy in life with many other things than just achieving goals.

We then came to Canberra from South America with 2 rucksacks and got off the bus in the night and camped on the hill in Civic. We rented a house in Watson and Di worked as a PE Teacher at St Clare’s College helping girls turn into young women. I didn’t organise any heating for winter and realised this was a bit rude when we invited Marilyn and Neil around for dinner and had to get out the sleeping bags. Di’s biggest regret to this day was that we didn’t buy a house for $60k.

In 1987 Marijke was about to be born, but we had to learn how to have babies. Di discovered a fantastic network of women, midwives and doctors who supported natural birth, Canberra Homebirth Association. The key ingredient was sitting in a circle monthly telling stories of giving birth in all shapes and sizes authentically on small chairs at Civic childcare centre. This ancient human methodology of sitting in a circle is a great way to build community and help people discover the energy to change and do things for themselves.

Di now at 29 moved into a new phase of her life – being a mother and nurturing me at being a father.

Babies and children teach a wonderful lesson about life (if you are ready for it) – learning to be in the present moment – not regretting the past or being worried and anxious about the future but doing what is required and emerging in the present. This is a gift that makes life rich, loving and fulfilling. You want to get this experience wherever you can.

Just recently, this was reinforced when my sister Anna and her lovely baby Jessica visited Di and us two weeks ago. Anna had all the time in the world to just be with Di and her baby. It was a pleasure to have them be with us in the present moment and to see her baby so happy and contented.

James was born in 1989. This was also when we started another ambitious project to design and build a wooden pole house on the south coast with people we didn’t know. We had a fantastic extended experience with tears and joy, highs and lows before council gave us approval to live in it 8 years later. We formed strong enduring relationships with Jane and Andrew and Ellen and John and their children.

The real test of character in any project in life whether it be building a house, raising a family, running an organisation, cooking in the kitchen or going on an expedition, is the attitude you choose to take when doing the high or low status jobs. Di had a wonderful attitude to doing any job that needed to be done regardless of the project. This also made it easy for others to get involved and participate fully. You want people like this on any venture you embark on.

Erin was born in 1992. This time I was the only one their to deliver the baby. Di was telling me what to do all the way.

We moved to Kalgoorlie for 3 years in 1997. Di taught swimming and worked at the local fabric shop and enjoyed the strong sense of community when people invest more of them selves in a remote environment. She also valued her role as a carer for the family of a young girl, Katie with spina bifida. Di had a lot of patience and celebrated small and large achievements. We enjoyed the white sands, blue water and granite rocks into the Southern Ocean. The red earth. The gorges of the Pilbara and the abundant reefs of Ningaloo.

Di became a worm farmer in Kalgoorlie. She kept them in a big bathtub under the shelter of some shady trees. She was planning to sell them until she discovered that many of them must have escaped out the plug hole. She always liked a compost heap and wants to be reunited with the earth and the worms. We are all good nutrients constantly recycling our shared atoms and molecules from the earth, water and air. Di was keen that we become more healthy by protecting our food, water and air systems from toxins. I aim to continue her quest to have good healthy food growing and distribution systems for future generations.

As a teacher over time Di moved to work with younger children because she felt uncomfortable about needing to be confrontational with older children. As well as teaching at Hall primary school she worked in Family Day Care supporting the women who cared for other people’s babies and children. She helped them be resilient and resourceful to demanding parents and ensured they created a safe environment for looking after other people’s babies and children. She greatly appreciated some of the deep family values from the women who came from the Pacific Islands, SE Asia and Sri Lanka to be in Canberra managing the caring of this city’s children.

As Di experienced her responsibilities as a mother changing with our children growing up, she decided in her late forties to return to university and do post-graduate studies in Physiotherapy. This was an intense, challenging and rewarding time for Di. She was accepted in the first year of the Masters of Physiotherapy at the University of Canberra but deferred because she felt our kids needed more time to adjust.

In the next year the faculty started asking Di to reapply. Di was concerned that they may have second thoughts about the value of her PE units studied in the late 1970’s and that in this application she would be denied. She insisted that she should be there and then started moving from writing 3 or 4 big round friendly hand written words per line to using a computer and searching for research articles in internet databases. She lapped up the learning and really enjoyed the energy and company of others from younger generations doing the course. She formed some lasting and powerful relationships with this group of people.

I was excited and proud of Di’s achievements. She ended up sitting exams with my mother who had dementia staying in our house and constantly disrupting her studying. Di showed tremendous patience.

Her dreams came true when she graduated and started to work with a lovely community of people at Tim Maher and Associates. The values in Tim’s business strongly resonated with Di and she was excited and grateful to care for and heal patients in this practice. She was looking forward to a rewarding and stimulating future. Matching her love for water, she immediately established and built a successful hydrotherapy practice as a part of Tim’s business. She received many letters of gratitude and warmth for her healing results.

After feeling a pain in the stomach while we were camping on the north coast last year 18 months ago Di was diagnosed with aggressive secondary cancer in her lymph system. The primary cancer was from one of her internal organs but could not be found. It was treated as pancreatic cancer and told she had 6 months to live. As well as undertaking the chemotherapy and radiation treatment with no possibility of recovery we also explored other approaches to strengthen Di’s immune system and self healing possibilities.

Di was positive, resourceful and determined to do her best. She didn’t want her cancer to be a burden for anyone else or fill our family life. She died last Sunday at home very weak and exhausted. I was holding her hand and looking into her eyes when she told me that she loved me. Claire and Jess were with us continuing the great team of family and friends constantly being with Di over the last few weeks of her life.

The most valuable legacy that Di leaves behind and has nurtured to grow into its full potential is our three children Marijke, James and Erin. It is terrible to lose a parent before you’ve fully stepped into the world on your own behalf. Sometimes the right moment comes before you are ready. Both Di and I feel confident that Marijke, James and Erin will engage with the world and create the future they desire and that the world needs.

Each of you are also a part of Di’s story and you carry a part of Di with you as you continue to weave your own life story. It is with deep gratitude that I thank you for being here and being a part of celebrating Di’s life.

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19 Responses to Di Spain Life Story

  1. Hello Mark, I am terribly sorry to hear the news of your wife’s death. Your children are the same age as mine. So I have no words of wisdom to pass on…only to tell you all that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • markspain says:

      Thanks Sarah, Di and my children were lovely homebirths with excellent support from a professional network of midwives with helpers and doctors. Keep up your good work empowering people.

  2. Karen Mazur says:

    Hello Mark,
    I was so very sad and shocked to hear of Di’s death today. I worked with Di at Central Canberra Family Day Care.
    Di made our days at Central Canberra Family Day Care so much fun. She could laugh at anything. She was always so very happy and positive and I will always remember her big smile and infectious laugh.
    My thoughts are with you and your family

  3. Tony Spain says:

    Nice one. She will be missed, even from over here.
    Tony Anette Emma and Sophia.

  4. Anna , Denison, Jessica, Andrew, Harry and Liam Scanes says:

    Dear Mark,
    It was a great story and a great life, told so stoically. I just can’t stop crying because Di had so much still to offer in life. I miss her.
    You did great.
    love Anna Denison Jessica Andrew Harry and Liam

  5. Jenni Judd says:

    Thanks so much for sharing those details of your life with Di over the last 25 years or so. I am very grateful to have known her in the Wollongong Uni part of her life. Her laughter and smile will continue in my memory. Life is prescious and you have so nicely captured the importance of living in the present moment. I am sending you love and light. jenn

  6. Sue Torr says:

    What a wonderful tribute Mark. Thank you so much for sharing it. I have wonderful memories of Di from our time in Wollongong and to read about her achievements from that time on is inspiring. Her gentle ways, positive attitudes and that amazing smile will live on in the hearts of her loving family and friends.
    Love to you, Marijke, James and Erin. Sue Torr

  7. markspain says:

    Here’s Tim Maher and the physio team’s Letter to Di

    Thank you Mark, Marijke, James, Erin, Betty, Joy and family in giving us the privilege to share in celebrating the life of your Di

    Dear Di

    We are writing this letter to you to tell you what a delight you have been for our practice and how we are missing you.

    You rang to tell me that you graduated from university and it was so good to get the call. I did not realise at the beginning of the conversation that you were interested in working with us. You had been with us as a student and it was inspiring to witness your commitment to your new profession taking on study in your 40’s. Whilst you were still learning the theory and practice you demonstrated a level of comfort when dealing with patients which reflected not only your maturity but the balance within yourself.

    Within 24 hours of you calling to tell us of your successful completion of your Masters degree, someone resigned at our practice and I was able to return your call and offer you a position. You were so excited and so were we.

    You came into our workplace with an energy and enthousiasm which intoxicated us all. You were excited about learning and you were full of life. It was a joy to witness this.

    You set up the hydrotherapy programme at our practice with intelligence and practicality. Mark had told us that you loved being in water, swimming and exercising in the medium. You created a wonderful environment for these patients to come together, improve their health, laugh and create community. When you became ill it was very important to you that the practice keep this programme running. Indeed Paul continues to keep the hydrotherapy sessions going to the present day.

    You would draw those of us with more experience into a closed room to discuss the progress with a patient or to share the difficulty in dealing with a prickly personality or a sprained ankle with accompanying foot odour that would prevent you being able to get into the treatment cubicle let alone close to the limb or an over friendly male patient with groin pain.

    You would have us in fits a laughter at lunch time as you described the various personalities who came into our practice. You would tell us a story in great detail, with precision and have us all listening to drink it in. You used your body which was lithe and expressive to tell the stories. You would laugh too. You would laugh with your whole body. It was truly infectious

    The story of James new car which had belonged to an old chap. You said you did not know what he had done or carried in the car but the smell was stifling. You scrubbed the inside of the car whilst James was away to reduce the unholy stink. You proclaimed that vehicle could only be driven with all the windows down even in mid winter in the best interest of the health of the driver.

    You could even joke about finding bad news regarding your illness on your CT scan reports. You said to the doctor ‘Are you sure that is my name on the top of that report? Check the date of birth.’

    You enjoyed your visits from Sue and Julie. You loved the walks around Lake Gininderra with Debby and Jenny. You were fun to be with as well as honest and sincere. You shared your life and they shared theirs. One day Debby found you in the front garden shovelling an enormous pile of soil just after your chemotherapy treatment. There was work to be done and the outside was calling you as it had always done.

    You have sung a song in our workplace which will resonate with us all forever Di. You have touched our lives with your warmth, your serenity, your acceptance of all things, this includes the most difficult of all things to accept, your illness which has taken you from us now. You lived your illness with this acceptance but as well with a determination to beat it.

    You had so much more life to live as wife and mother and daughter and sister and relative and friend and therapist. You told me in January that you had no choice but to beat this thing called cancer.

    You sang your song of life and danced your dance among us and with us. While we will never be able to sing it just as you did, you have left us with snatches of words, bars of melody and runs of steps that we will remember you by and be happier and richer for it.

    Your example to us a human being has inspired us all gathered here today. Thank you for the inspiration you have been to us. We are truly privileged to have walked with you this short part of your journey.

    Much love always

    All of us at physio

  8. Jacqueline Buckingham says:

    Although I never met Di, I feel I know her through your words. I’m left with the sense of a woman who took life at a run, lived it fully, loved every moment of it, and profoundly touched everyone she met. An inspiration to us all. You have profoundly touched all of those with whom you’ve shared Di’s story. Thank you.

  9. Jane Monk says:

    Thanks for capturing the gift of Di’s life so poignantly. Although I never met Di I feel grateful for the gift of her life expressed so well by you. Thanks to you both for your courage and enormous heart!

  10. Leigh says:

    Dear Di, I never met you but I know through meeting Mark that you were loving and supportive. Mark bravely spoke of you to his work colleagues like me, and his post with your photo brings you close to me too.

    Thank you for posting this Mark. Your message is heard deeply as I look to my own family and draw them close this day. Love to you and your kids, please let me know if I can do anything.

    The mountains are beautiful at the moment…

  11. James Neill says:

    Mark, This is greatly moving – thanks for sharing about and celebrating Di’s life and your life with her. Although you and I have only met recently since you started work at University of Canberra this year, as you and Di obviously both know, Outward Bound lives weave deep threads of connectedness – I met Jackie, my wife and mother of our children there too, 10 or so later after the two of you. My thoughts are with and your children, Mark. I have much admiration about how you’ve shared about Di’s life and the caring humanity Di seemed to exemplify.

  12. Cindy Eiritz says:

    Dear Mark :-),
    Your analysis of Di is beautiful, very clinical, mathematical, she sounds absolutely amazing, like someone who ticked every box that life had to offer. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet her, to have known her. She seems really inspirational, someone who knew what she wanted to do and then just made that happen. Her love of people, learning, exploring, discovering and growing seems awesome and incredible. She sounds like someone who was extremely spiritually fulfilled. Her passion for sharing and helping people sounds incredible, quite superhuman to the rest of us mere mortals. It seems that she loved with every ounce of herself and really gave everything every moment of her inspiring life journey. It breaks my heart to read that after a lifetime of giving so much to everyone, everywhere she felt that she shouldn’t be a burden whilst she was sick. There are so many of us who would have loved to have met her and hugged her and thanked her for being such an inspiring pioneer. Particularly many of us younger women have never had the chance to find really inspirational role models. She sounds like she was what so many of us aspire to be. I feel so sad that there was a living legend hurting and suffering alone right here in my own town. Though her physical presence is no longer with us I’m sure she’ll be able to still inspire, help and guide many of us. I really appreciate you introducing her to us.

    lots of love, Cindy

  13. Fiona Edge says:

    Hi Mark

    A long time has passed since I last saw you both, however I often think of you as various things reminded me of you both : ) How time flies…

    I only found out about Di yesterday and of course I was shocked and deeply saddened.

    I’m sending you all my love to you and the kids and will always have a soft spot for the gorgeous and generous Di

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