A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

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Sometimes the darkest clouds have the brightest linings…

Last Saturday night I attended the Tuxedo Junction Charity Ball… a stunning and heart-tugging experience all wrapped up in one.

Tuxedo Junction is a charity organization gathering corporate sponsorship for Cancer Council Victoria and plays a major role in funding cancer research projects undertaken by Peter Mac Cancer Hospital and other organizations.

A few months before Rosie died last year she and I were stunned and humbled when close friends from MiTec Medical Publishing, a leading medical publishing company in Australia, announced they were sponsoring a 3 year Rosie James Cancer Research Award through Tuxedo Junction!

Tuxedo Junction have an annual Charity Ball as their main fundraising event each year and this year I had the privilege of being invited to attend.

The event was held in the Regent Theatre Plaza Ballroom in the Melbourne CBD. The unpretentious entry doors on Collins Street lead to a long staircase taking you down into the foyer. When I reached the top of the staircase my breath was literally taken away. It was like walking into a stunning underground medieval castle complete with rock walls, windows, balconies and chandeliers.

Walking into the ballroom was another ‘wow!’ moment. The underground ballroom is huge, with the stone walls decked out with more windows and balconies and numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A large stage occupies one end of the ballroom with a dance floor in front of it. A second smaller stage was set up in the centre of the floor surrounded by dining tables, all set up with glittering table lights reflecting off an array of sparkling glasses and tableware. Around the sides of the ballroom an amazing collection of donated items were on display for the silent auction.

My breath was again taken away when I saw a slide including a photo of Rosie and I displayed on the large projector screens on either side of the stage… it was a photo taken at Rosie’s funeral… I was standing on the church stage sharing my reflections on Rosie with a large photo of her smiling face projected behind me.

I found the table hosted by MiTec right next to the central stage. I was relieved to find I was seated next to my friends from MiTec as I didn’t really know any of the others on our table. It turned out they were all members of my friends’ extended family who very significantly had experienced the sudden and traumatic loss of one of their own to cancer earlier this year. I was not alone… they too were on the same journey as me.

The night for me brought a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions. The venue was stunning, the entertainers were top level performers all generously donating their time, the food was superb, the drinks were included (so I indulged in two glasses of champagne… rare for me!), and the auction was ‘out of my league’ with people bidding for items going for thousands of dollars.

Early in the evening I felt somewhat awkward. The family on my table were all understandably catching up with each other … I took a few walks to take photos and check out the silent auction items to avoid just sitting at the table. As the evening moved on (and the alcohol helped bring down our social barriers!) a number of family members made a special effort to talk to me, warmly communicating their care and support while sharing some of their own painful story. By the end of the evening I felt very welcome and at home in their midst.

The photo of Rosie and I kept appearing on the big screens as the projector cycled through the sponsor logos and the major items to be auctioned off later in the evening. The final auction item was the corporate sponsorship and naming rights for a new 2016 Cancer Research Award. The accompanying slide included our photo to highlight the existing 2014-2017 Rosie James Research Award as an example. I happened to be wearing the same suit and tie as in the photo… I only have one formal outfit!

The toughest part of the evening was immediately before the main auction. A slide show of people involved in the Tuxedo Junction projects including those touched by cancer was played on the big screens accompanied by Debra Byrne singing a beautiful song to set the atmosphere. The first two photos hit me hard. The photo of Rosie and I was now displayed full-screen, followed by a beautiful photo of Rosie and her dear friend from MiTec, both beaming with smiles of delight as they often did when together. I struggled to not burst into tears… it was a painful but very special moment… I haven’t broken down and wept since the night Rosie died and I came within a whisker of doing so at that point.

When the formal part of the evening was over a great band started playing and an Elvis look-alike singer hit the stage. The dance floor quickly filled with people including most of the people from my table. While I thoroughly enjoy dancing and had no desire to be sitting at the table alone, it’s difficult at the best of times to be a bloke going up to the dance floor on your own.

I spotted my friends on the dance floor and found the courage to join them. It turned out to be the final dance of the bracket so we stood on the dance floor while the raffle prizes were drawn. I was feeling uncomfortable when the music started again and I was starting back toward our table when one the gracious women in the family grabbed my hand and headed back to the dance floor with me in tow. It was the first time I’d danced since Rosie’s passing and great to have fun with a family who had warmly drawn me into their midst.

Each time I reflect on the night I still feel the sense of wonder and blessing I felt during that incredibly special evening.  More than just a special event, it was the gift of a life experience to be remembered and treasured for years to come.

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