Sandra Lee

Twenty years ago today, smack bang in the middle of a Mothers’ Day picnic, my beloved Mum dropped dead of a heart attack.

There was no warning. No signal that anything was wrong. None whatsoever. Mum was 60 years old, healthy, happy, fit and in love with life. And then, just like that, she was gone, decades too early.Sandra and Mum

Twenty years is a long time ago but the loss is no less painful today than it was when I heard the devastating news over the phone from my older brother, who had been with Mum when she died and who, despite his decades of training in the Australian Army, was unable to resuscitate her.

The paramedics, who arrived within minutes of being called, similarly could do nothing for her. Mum was dead before she hit the ground. No number of medical miracles could have reversed that fate.

There are no words to fully express the impact of a sudden, unexpected death, just as there is no way to fully account for the constant ache that remains as the legacy of loss. There is no closure and time does not ease the pain.

Instead, you find a way, or ways, to live with a new reality. At least, I have. There are times, like today, when the phantom ache of Mum’s absence is especially pronounced, but there are other days when memories of her indefatigable life force remind me how lucky I was to have such an extraordinary mother who left an indelible mark on the lives of her family and, similarly, on the lives of all those who knew her.

ThisElle memoir 3 year, to commemorate the two decades since my darling Mum – Valda May Lee – died, I wrote a memoir of grief and loss. But most importantly, it is a memoir of the primacy and power of mother love, the greatest love of all.

The memoir can be found in the current edition of Elle magazine, with Rose Byrne on the cover.

The photograph of me and Mum above is one of my favourite pictures and never fails to make me smile. I’m about three years old, and we are at her squash club – remember squash? – with Santa. That smile!

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum. You are never forgotten, and forever missed.

And a very happy Mothers’ Day to all you lovely Mums. Know how loved you are.







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Caesar the Australian Army's tracker dog. Picture courtesy of Geoffrey White

A few weeks ago at the State Library of New South Wales chance dealt me a top hand and I met a couple who had just bought a book about a dog rescued by Australian soldiers during the First World War and  secretly repatriated the scrappy mutt to Australia against military orders.

As they were talking, I mentioned my book a on modern-day hero hound from the war on terror in Afghanistan,  Saving Private Sarbi

The man, Geoffrey White, said he knew of Sarbi, a highly skilled Explosives Detection Dog in the Australian Army (now retired) and explained he had a historical connection with military working dogs from our fine Army during the Vietnam War when our Diggers’ used tracker and guard dogs.

Geoffrey (pictured below outside his home in Vietnam) was the First Secretary at the Australian Embassy in Saigon. He took ownership of the maverick black mutt named Caesar in 1971, after he was retired from active service due to burn out from three hard years of duty during which he repeatedly saved the lives of his handler and and fellow Diggers. Caesar was one of the first two Australian four-legged warriors sent to the Vietnam war to see active service. Unlike our current canine corps who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, their pooch-troop predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s never came home.

As I write in Saving Private Sarbi, strict quarantine regulations in Australia prohibited the dogs’ return and they were found new homes upon retirement.  Caesar’s handler, Peter Haran, had enlisted in the army at the age of 18 and Caesar was his tracker dog when first deployed to Vietnam. Haran was gutted when he returned to Australia after his tour of duty was over without his beloved four-legged best mate who was passed to the incoming rotation of troops. [click to continue…]

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The Australian Army’s top dog Sarbi steals the show again

March 6, 2014

How good is Explosives Detection Dog Sarbi? The 12-year-old bomb sniffing dog came out of retirement again to take part in an event to honour animals who have served in combat since World War 1. The Of Animals In War event at the magnificent Australian War Memorial in Canberra on February 23 was a huge success, but [...]

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Twenty-two years ago my older brother was deployed to war-torn Cambodia to help that country prepare for a free and fair election. Last week as part of the Australia Day honours, he and his fellow members of the Australian Defence Force were finally honoured with a Meritorious Unit Citation for their courage and “sustained outstanding [...]

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Being a wife has its privileges. They’re called in-laws.

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Just before Christmas I headed to London to conduct some interviews and do research for my fifth book, which will be published in 2015 in hardback by Random House Australia. The subject and title are still under wraps. For now, at least. While in the United Kingdom, my thoroughly charming father-in-law, John Charles Clemence, QPM*, [...]

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With the government in a polling free fall coupled with toxic talk about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s leadership as she enters the last sitting week of Parliament before the September 14 election, her top strategists have decided to side step the harsh political reality to sell another soft soap story about Real Julia. And that [...]

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