| Alischa Herrmann
It is hard to believe that it has been one year already. One year since overnight it felt like our entire worlds collapsed around us. One year on since the unimaginable happened, one year on, it is crazy that it has been one year already.
Before I reflect on what a year it has been, I must stress how incredibly fortunate we have been. How little our country was ultimately impacted, how fortunate we have been that our own family, our friends, our communities did not suffer the unimaginable that so many countries and pockets of the world have been. It is unfathomable and my heart breaks in so many pieces for the reality that became in so much of the world.
In so many ways, we are so fortunate, and I am immensely grateful for those tough decisions that were made by our government, our communities our culture which protected us so much from what could have been.
But March last year, one year ago, we had no idea what was ahead. Having only just manage to catch our breaths (finally) after months and months of horrific and incredibly scary bushfires, yet again we were thrown into a land of fear - but unlike the fires, we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t smell it, water, rain, no wind, nothing was going to “put it out’ Having just come out of a period of immense fear, yet again we were cast into a whole new fear, one we had never experienced, and one I pray we shall never experience again.
I so violently recall the day - what I call the worst day. After a slow fear of this virus, that turned into a very rapid fear, two weeks in of its global spread, the fear was running high. The impact we were feeling in our 3 businesses, and my husbands career as an airiline pilot was feeling very real, and incredibly scary. Everything we had, everything was tied up in the industries most to suffer - airlines, retail, hospitality and travel. We were utterly screwed. We had no other backups.
I had not slept, nor eaten for nearly 2 weeks, I was completely incapable of functioning for decisions. And on this day, that worst day, we had to travel 2 hours to our closest Ikea, to buy a kitchen of all things. The time was ticking - we had a cottage were going to rent out, to a family very much in fear and struggling with the realities of the virus and its impact on their lives. We had an empty cottage and with all our finances falling around us, being able to rent out this little cottage was a glimmer of hope, of a small amount of funds, and also allowing us to help another family who desperately needed somewhere to live.
But to rent it, it needed a kitchen, We had to act quick, and to Ikea we went. I am not much of an Ikea devotee, those huge Ikea complexes feel so lifeless, so temporary, so busy, so much that is so not me, but kitchens they do have, and pickup that day we could. So off we went.
Ikea was empty, dead empty. The whole country was in meltdown. No one needed to be shopping for kitchens, except us. It made the heartless Ikea building feel desolate. The world had surely gone mad if Ikea is empty.
Making decisions on a kitchen with no sleep, no food, not bodily functions left, was an impossible task. We also felt the incredible burden that we should not be spending $10,000 when the world around us had crumbled. We didn’t have $10,000, but we couldn’t not do this, we had promised.
So we sat with the consultant, distantly minded while he asked about cupboards and drawers, our phones going off with our staff updating us on announcements from the government. Shut down was here, tomorrow, tomorrow the world would stop. Tomorrow what slivers of businesses we had left, they would be gone. All gone. Our phones buzzing like crazy, the consultant also distantly minded, but we had to make these decisions, now, here, this was it.
Kitchen order placed, we then had to sit around for 4 hours and wait, wait for them to gather all the hinges and doors, panels and handles. 4 hours. An impossibly long time when it felt like we had no time left in the world. We sat in the deserted cafeteria. Totally deserted. Just us, and food we couldn’t stomach. We had our 8 month old with us who I was still breastfeeding. Feeding when I hadn’t managed to eat in 2 weeks, feeding when there was nothing left. Right in that moment it felt like rock bottom.
Car loaded, we made the 2 hour drive back home. I don’t know how we drove, I don’t know how we managed to function. Driving home our baby was throwing up violently in the back - our stress, our beautiful baby, he was wearing all the stress. It felt impossibly hard.
We drove back home and stopped at our then cafe, we unlocked its doors, we looked at the tens of thousands dollars worth of food, of produce, of coffee, fridges full of milk, so much food, what would happen. Would we be allowed back in the doors, what would happen to all this food, if tomorrow was the day that all our worlds lockdown, what would happen. We were in a very very dark place. This secret, scary, hidden virus - a threat we couldn’t see, we couldn’t smell, we couldn’t run from. How could we survive this when we had only just survived the last threat. It was impossible. Our businesses were already running in the red. Months of bushfires had killed our regions economy, how could we do this all over again?
The next day, and the day after that, and the one that followed and the next. They were hard, stressful days. The government didn’t lock us totally down - they locked down, did what they needed, but we had fragments we could still run. Our cafe could do takeaway, one of our stores could stay open, but our Sydney store has to close. But it was still impossibly hard. My husband was stood down without pay, his stable income gone. All our accommodation bookings cancelled, we had days where we sold one card. One card, that’s $7.95. For a whole day, that’s all we sold.
I had many breakdowns, many publicly, on Instagram stories, sharing things I can't believe I shared, emotions so raw, so deep, It was so hard to hold positive, so hard to see that this could ever end and we would have anything, anything at all to show. We had always diversified our businesses, our careers, so we always had protection, But how wrong we were. All we had was risk, and a hell of a lot of it. I broke down, so badly, so publicly, so scared and unsure.
But what I learnt through this, is that we are strong. With a little bit of sleep in us, a little bit of food, we just had to go on. One foot in front of the other. With a community ready, with its jumbo parachute out to catch me, I could make decisions. Have hard conversations, just do. All we could do was do. We could ask for help. Reprieve on mortgages, desperate conversations to delay payments, anything, anything to survive.
One foot in front of the other, we just kept on going. We fought back. We rented out our holiday accommodation for 6 months. It didn’t pay its mortgage, but it was something, anything, it was better than nothing.
We fought on with the cafe, we diversified, we tried, sometimes failed, sometimes didn’t, but we tried with all we had.
I put my head down and went on with Bespoke - I kept on designing, printing, producing but all in the back of my mind a horrific fear of a fledging economy and people just not spending. But I put ALL my trust in what I knew, and what I knew was pretty stationery, so I put ALL my energy into making that as best as I could.
My husband still stood down from the sky, he had to learn to keep his feet grounded. To be home, a homebody, to take on home and yard duties he would have previously outsourced. To be with our kids, to take on primary caregiving so I could focus on Bespoke. To be the one holding my hand while I fought onwards to try and salvage our business and bring it back. In many ways, I am forever grateful for these days, and how much of an exceptional father he is. Our children so flourished during this time. To have two parents at home, was a life they had never known. It became such a blessing in disguise.
We made tough decisions, we realised all our plans to diversify, they were the plans that were our undoing. It was time to say goodbye to the cafe, and our flagship store. We made tough decisions about where we found our joy, and where we had the best ability to “control” our future.
We just got on with making decisions. We sold a house in Brisbane. The first house we had ever bought, the first house we had tiresly renovated and made so many memories. We sold it. We simply didn’t know how we would pay our children’s school fees, so we sold it. In retrospect we wish we didn’t it, but at the time it was an answer, and we needed answers.
We got on with business, we slowly crawled back out of the hole, and we came out into the light with clarity, understanding, appreciation and respect in ourselves and being able to fight on in what was the most stressful period we have both ever experienced. We opened a new Bowral store, and opened our Sydney store back up.
On year on, Our life still isn’t the same, but hand on heart, I think our life is better then “before”. My husband is still part stood down, he is still home so much more, he still isn’t on his former income, and probably won’t ever be. But we are so thankful. So thankful that we are still here.
We are so thankful that we had the last year to be able to look at ourselves, our lives and our family unit. To be able to see that our life “before” although we felt more secure, I definitely don’t think we were happier. We were in a fog of just doing, of living a fractured family life of when dad was home (hardly ever), and how we managed our work/family life. In retrospect we saw our former life was circus, and not the funny kind of circus, but the sad kind where the clowns don’t smile and the music is somber.
We realised how much our kids craved that time of us, all five of us, all of us together. We were so busy “being” before, we just never made time to “be”. It’s the biggest lesson we have learnt. Time is a thief, and we need to capture it more.
So one year on, as it feels that the world may one day beat this pandemic, one day it will just be a story we tell our grandkids, one day it will be something that we don’t hear about any more, one day it will just be that time in history when the world went mad, and way in the future when your great-grandchildren have their baby vaccinations it will just be one of those diseases their parents ask huh? Why do they get a vaccination for that.
Our story, we are so fortunate is our story. The reality for so many, is so different. For some there was no way to fight back, no way to capture their business back, for others no government support, no helping hands, and incredible suffering, loss and sadness. That invisible virus, it has taken so much, from so many, and our hearts continue to hurt for all those who have lost so much.
But I hope we will look back and remember that this time in our story, is a time which made us stronger. Made us more appreciative, made us realise the values, the lifestyle, the community and the country we are so fortunate to call home.
So one year on, it is crazy to think that this invisible virus, that invisible fear, it is still there, but in many ways, it has become accepted. Accepted that this is the reality. But as humans we are strong. Deep down we are strong. One foot in front of the next, deep breaths and finding the glimmers of sunlight to shine light.
One year on, we have learnt so much, and I thank you for your support, for sharing our journey, for being part of our story, for helping us be. For helping me push on day after day, It means more than I could ever express. Most of all, what this past year has taught me is that I am eternally thankful, and life, life is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing this beautiful life with me.