1965 – 2010
I remember her picking me up from preschool on her old bike. I would wait for her all day, plastered against the gate, watching for the figure in the distance; the slim, upright girl growing larger and more real as she neared. She smelled good; washing-powder, chewing-gum, Charlie perfume. The skin of her cheeks so smooth, her arms unbelievably pale and soft as she held me. She would have been all of twelve years old. We cycled under jacarandas that flung petals at our feet, felt the fading heat of the day on our faces. Once when we skidded and fell; sore, scratched and bruised, she whispered in that calm, authoritative voice of hers: ‘Don’t tell Mum.’ As we both matured then aged, we grew even closer. Once I made her walk from Kings Cross to Glebe at midnight. In heels. She would come to my home, clean my bathroom while I was away. She fed me, listened to my petty woes. She bought me clothes, took me to hairdressers and nightclubs. She let me tag along on holidays and treated me to cafés, held me in that way I’d always remembered since I was four. When I was a baby she would rock me gently, singing a song she made up under her breath. She was the only person that could get me to sleep. My big sister.
Annette Livas (neé Cosgrove) was born in Marrickville, Sydney, on 14 November 1965, to a Greek mother and Australian father. Her parents moved to Summer Hill and she lived there until the age of eight, when they moved to Campsie in Sydney’s inner west. As a child she was extroverted, social and confident, always outdoors on her bike, playing in the long summer twilights, only coming home when the sun went down. She was a bright student and had a band of loyal friends, many whom she kept close into adulthood.
As a teenager she developed passions for jazz ballet, swimming and music in all its forms: rock, punk, pop. Bowie, Blondie, Freddie. She was an inspired dancer. She had a beautiful, untrained voice and her memory for lyrics was astounding. With large, liquid eyes and an expressive face, she had no shortage of admirers. Her reputation for being wild and strong, for assertiveness and a no-nonsense attitude made sure that only the most exciting of friends were part of her inner circle. She often made her parents stay up late, worrying about where she was. Yet beneath the party girl exterior was a daughter mature beyond her years. She looked after her parents and sister, born on the morning of her eighth birthday. She came home from school and cooked, cleaned, folded clothes. She went to church and Sunday-school every week. She worked part-time jobs from the age of fourteen and gave all the money she earned to her parents.
At the age of seventeen, in her last year of high school, she saw a boy five years older at a train station. She was introduced by her friends, liked him but thought he was too ‘straight’; he wore a suit, looked conservative. And he even worked for a bank! He fell in love right away and she allowed herself, slowly, to love him in return. They were so young, their parents and relatives horrified when they said they wanted to marry. People doubted they would last a year. Dire predictions in the Greek community were heard from every side. Nevertheless, the boy became her husband, John Livas. This became a marriage that lasted twenty-seven years and would only be cut short by death. It was a marriage of friendship, desire and the purest unconditional love. Annette and John laughed together, snuggled close at night with their respective books, watched films together, went out to bars and took holidays to their annual retreat in Coffs Harbour. Toward the end, they cried together. The tenderness with which they spoke, touched and gazed at one another in the weeks before she died was heartbreaking.
Annette and John had three children: James in 1987, Alicia in 1990 and Jordan in 2000. Annette was a devoted, fun-loving, highlyorganised mother. Her children were loved, taught and respected in all their precious individuality. The unique challenge Annette encountered at the birth of Jordan, her son with autism, was the beginning of her interest in children with special needs. She went to university as a mature-age student and became a psychoanalyst, working with children and families in her own non-profit charity, Family Solutions. When she became too ill to continue working, she donated the money from her organisation to a Greek Orthodox charity.
In 2006 a large melanoma was found in Annette’s left eye. It was removed in 2007 and an artificial eye put in its place. She rose to the challenge, still driving, still working and managing her household. Three years later, early in 2010, she found some small white lumps on her scalp and had a bloating pain in her stomach. Scans in April showed that the original melanoma had metastasised into her liver and lungs. In the course of her illness it also reached her brain and intact eye.
During the late stages of her illness she still drove intermittently, did some gardening, walked. Soon this became too much of a struggle and she lay on the couch in the living-room, still part of the family dynamic, eyes closed, halfdozing, hearing the sounds of domestic life. She was surrounded by people who loved her. She still laughed, spoke with humour and wit. She never complained, even when there was intense pain. She called it ‘discomfort.’ She prayed, asked God why it had to be this way. Without any clear answer, she kept hold of her faith and the sense of inner peace she had found.
The day before she died, she spoke in a whisper, but with her characteristic humour and care. She kept asking John if he was all right. He would lean over the couch with that tender smile of his and reply: ‘Honey, you’re asking me if I’m all right?’ She held our hands, let us massage her feet. She stroked us, as if we needed comforting, not her. Which was the truth. She was not afraid of death, or of leaving us. She had done all she needed to do, said all she had to say. In death, her face was as unlined and beautiful as a child’s. Her skin pliable as those long-ago days under the jacarandas, her hands as soft. Her lips seemed poised on a secret, as if she finally found the answer we’ve been looking for all our lives.
Annette’s was a life of the heart. She found great love, loyalty, tenderness, bravery and beauty in all its varied stages. Her compassion for others transcended ethnicity, religion, gender or age. She spoke and acted from a position of fearlessness, from the raw openness of her heart and soul. She is at rest now in God’s grace.
14 November 1965 – 23 October 2010