Disappearing Bit by Bit

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Photo: Photofunia.com

I didn’t really know him very well but his death hit me hard.

Why?

Because, although I wasn’t really a part of his life now, he had been a significant part of mine when I was fifteen. Because, as I get older and as life moves on and changes, I’m coming to realise that there is a decreasing number of people in my life who knew me Before.

Before I bore the name I do now. Before I was seen in the context of my spouse, my children or my occupation. Before my dreams of becoming an author or an astrophysicist became just that. Before sorrow, loss, responsibility and struggle left their scars. Before my life was so defined.

Time is relentless and as it passes bits of who we were disappear. Places we lived, studied, worked, played. People with whom we shared laughter, tears, stories, dreams. The ideals we held for who we thought we’d be.

The tapestry of our life in the past becomes increasingly threadbare as the threads are pulled one by one.

I wrap that tapestry around my shoulders, shelter in it and hold fast to the memories while I can.

In memory of Noel.

 

Parenting Postscript: The title for this post comes courtesy of my 17-year-old youngest son. Sharing our usual “How was your day?” conversation in the car on the way home from school, he asked me if the person whose funeral I had attended was someone close to me. As I explained the connection and why I was so sad, he said “It feels like your past is disappearing bit by bit.” He understood. As a mother of three sons, the responsibility to raise good men falls heavily. It is moments like this that make me feel proud and more than a little relieved that I must be doing something right.

 

Mourning Clothes – Why Queen Victoria Had It Right

Why do we no longer wear mourning clothes? Why can’t we, like Queen Victoria, have an outward sign for others to know that we are still grieving?

When you suffer a loss, it often hits hardest three to four weeks after the death. Why? Because that is when the realisation sets in that this is how it will be from now on. And because by then those around you have moved on with their lives.

People are uncomfortable with other people’s grief. They can respond appropriately in the immediate aftermath but weeks later they can find it difficult to know how to react to someone still in pain.

Of course, those grieving often don’t help themselves. Not wanting to make others uncomfortable, they act as if nothing has happened, that everything is normal.

But it did happen. And nothing is normal. In fact, nothing will be as it was ever again.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning. She dressed in black and continued to wear black until her death in 1901. Her mourning clothes were a constant reminder to others that she had suffered a great loss that would always be with her.

Queen Victoria & John Brown at Balmoral Photograph taken by George Washington Wilson in 1863 (Public Domain)

Queen Victoria & John Brown at Balmoral
Photograph taken by George Washington Wilson in 1863
(Public Domain)

Unfortunately, there is now no obvious way to indicate to those around us that we are still suffering.

In the absence of a mourning outfit, I offer the following:

Just because the funeral is over, please do not forget that I am still grieving and I may need you.

If I am laughing and joking with you, it is because sometimes I need to remind myself that there will still be joy.

If I am arguing loudly with you about a topic, it is because it stops me from screaming.

If I ask you casually, “So, do you want to meet up for a coffee?”, what I’m really saying is, “I need to be with someone doing something so I don’t crawl into bed for the rest of the day.” Please be there for me if you possibly can because it is more than just coffee to me.

If I seem to be getting on with life, it is because I know it makes you uncomfortable to see me sad all the time so I act ‘normal’ to make it easier for you.

I may look to have it all together but inside I am broken and while I may eventually heal, the scars will always remain.

And finally:

Please be patient. This will take time.

 

 

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Garden of Sympathy

A garden sprang up in my house this month. Flowers of every colour mixed with the traditional white. A garden of love and sympathy.

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There were words too. Awkward, loving words from those unsure of what to say. It’s not the words that count, I wanted to tell them. It’s that they’re there is all that matters.

There hasn’t been a garden like this one for more than twenty years. That garden was just as beautiful in its love and sympathy but it was tainted by feelings of horror and disbelief that these things should happen.

In this garden there was an understanding that this is the way of it. It is painful but it is as life is.

It’s gone now bar the stocky little daisies who like to hang about, sitting in a ceramic bowl that will remain as a keepsake from a friend’s loving gift.

“Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?” – Meg Ryan in ‘You’ve Got Mail’

And the words remain. The words will always remain.

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Saying Goodbye

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

– Kahlil Gibran

It was Dad’s funeral today. It was the chance to say goodbye.

Only…

I’d already said goodbye. I’d sat by him for hours the day he died. Felt him go cold. Knew he’d gone.

I’d gathered my memories and shared my stories of him. Been touched by the responses of so many.

Today was about letting others say goodbye and to share more of who he was. To put together the jigsaw of experiences, of his contact with others into a coherent and impressive narrative. Even those who thought they knew all he’d done, learned something new today.

It’s been unseasonably fine and mild this week. Until today. Today it turned bitterly cold, the wind blew in gales and the rain came down in buckets. Weather gods love a cliché.

I am an introvert and a shy person by nature. I’ve learned, with age, to hide it. But social gatherings are still stressful at the best of times. Today loomed like the Cliffs of Moher.

But I did my best. I listened compassionately to others’ memories of him, accepted gratefully the sympathy and love. It was meaningful.

And now it is done. In my immediate future is some time to myself and, hopefully, sleep. And tomorrow I will have to get on with learning to live without my Dad.

“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”

– George Eliot

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My Dad Died Today

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My Dad died today. He was 83. He had lived a long and productive life. A good life.

But.

He was my Dad. Dads are immortal, invincible and always there when you need them (and even when you don’t). Dads don’t get sick or leave and they certainly don’t die. As my friend Sylvia said, “Your Dad going is what happens to other people, not to you.”

At least, that’s what the little girl in my heart tells me. The adult in my brain unfortunately knows otherwise. She knows people age, get sick, leave us. She knows she is growing older and thus the people in the generation above grow even older.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

My Dad was a healthy man up until a bit less than a year ago when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. At that time, he bragged he’d only been in hospital twice – for appendicitis and for a severed tendon on his left hand. (He ended up with a permanently bent little finger. He always joked about being a nine-and-a-half-fingered pianist.) In the end it wasn’t the mesothelioma that took him but something unrelated that couldn’t be operated on because of the mesothelioma and thus claimed his life. Perhaps it was better this way, not to see him gasping for his every breath at the end.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was forced to leave school early to help in the family business. He completed his high school qualifications at night school, put himself through university and finished up with a PhD in Accounting from the University of Cincinnati. Education was important. We were given the best, even if it meant he was still paying school fees off two years after the youngest child finished school. He retired as Associate Dean of Management at Deakin University. He could have had glory. He was offered full professorships at universities in the USA. But he turned them down, not wanting to unsettle his children, wanting them to continue their schooling where they were. I have a first class education and a university degree and I had a steady upbringing because of the sacrifices he made.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

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Dad couldn’t swim but always took us to the beach every summer. He would sit on his towel on the sand and watch us for hours, occasionally venturing to the water to paddle no deeper than his knees. The beach holds no fears for me because he overcame his own.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was a teetotaller until the day, in his 40s, someone introduced him to wine. It became one of his great passions. And so my memories of family holidays are coloured by the wineries we visited. Brown Brothers, where I learned to love olives (they used to offer cheese and olives with their tastings – too young to drink, I just ate the cheese and olives); Delatite, where they had the best piece of playground equipment ever (it was four connected seats with a handle and footrest that you pushed/pulled and it made the seats spin) that I have never seen anywhere since (sometimes I think I must have dreamed it); Taminick Cellars, with their Trebbiano wine I loved (ahem, when I was old enough to drink, of course, ahem) and we visited so often that when I was 13, the owner Cliffy Booth gave me a bottle of port and wrote on the label it was to be saved for my 21st birthday which it duly was and enjoyed; Tahbilk, which when I first knew it was ‘Chateau Tahbilk’ until the French got snooty about people using the word ‘chateau’ and they became simply Tahbilk Winery. As I write, I have a glass of the best wine I own in my hand. I have an appreciation for good wine because of his passion.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

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Dad took his young family of a wife and four small children to the USA for a year in the late ’60s and for as much of the time as possible travelled with the whole brood (including a less-than-one-year-old me) across the States in a time when travelling with small children was not the done thing. We certainly drew a lot of attention. He went on to travel extensively, returning to the USA to complete his PhD, presenting academic papers to conferences around the world, and just travelling to see what was there. I, too, (and more recently with my husband and children), have travelled the world to see what is there because he taught me the big, wide world is there to be explored and nothing should stop you from seeing all you can see.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was a master of the segue. I think it always bewildered him that he had produced a family of geeks and nerds. At our monthly family dinners, as the conversation inevitably steered towards sci-fi, IT or superheroes (when we weren’t passionately arguing our political views), he was at a loss to contribute. As a man who liked to hold court at the head of the table, this was not acceptable. And so he would listen carefully and at the opportune moment latch onto a word or phrase and execute a breathtaking segue into a topic on which he had much to say. It became a bit of a shared family joke and we would give him a score out of ten for the segue dependant on how tenuous it was. But, at the end of the day, I have a passionate interest in many, many things because of his fierce intellect and insatiable thirst for knowledge. Really, I am a Jack of All Trades because he showed me there is so much to learn.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

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Dad was a giver. He gave of his time and expertise to so many organisations, councils, committees that I wonder, come the funeral, how we will fit in all the people who knew him. While in no way in the same league as my father, I hope I am also a giver of my time and expertise to the things that interest me, that need me. I hope that I make a difference because he made such a difference to so many.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

My Dad died today. It was time. He was ready to go. He is now free of pain and at peace.

But it doesn’t make it any easier.

 

 

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Last Words

Last Words

 

A dear old man I know died last week. One of life’s true saints, the world is a little poorer for his loss.

I’ve lost too many precious Elders from my life lately. Keith – a dear old friend who always knew when life was not going well for me and would greet me with a “let’s talk” at just the right moment. Dennis – my grief already well documented in this blog here and here. And now Jock – who always showed me what being a ‘Man (or Woman) of God’ was really about in the face of evidence to the contrary.

My life has been truly blessed for knowing them.

The common words used to describe Jock at his funeral today were the same I would have chosen. Compassion, humour, humility.

Funerals always make me think about what people might say about me when I’m gone. That sounds self-absorbed but I think it is not unusual to consider your own mortality in the face of grief. And today I had time to reflect, once again, on what the epitaph of my life may be.

In my most whimsical moments, I imagine someone reading an excerpt from one of my books or playing a song from one of my albums. I imagine stories of adventure, endurance or sacrifice or the time I was awarded Mother of the Year.

Realistically, what would I want people to say about me after I’m gone?

“She was a good person.”

No tales of derring-do or international fame. I’d just like to be remembered as a good person.

It is what influences my decisions in life and the reason I take mistakes so hard, particularly those mistakes that cause hurt to other people. Any choice of action that results in me not being the kind of person I want to be becomes a regret held forever.

But it drives me and gives me a reason to do better tomorrow. It is an ideal for which I can strive. I will inevitably fail on occasion – I am, after all, human – but I do not think it is unattainable and so I do the best I can each day. Day after day. Until the day people hopefully say:

“She was a good person.”

What would people say about you? What would you like them to say? I’d love you to share in the comments.

 

 

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Why The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On

My friend who died last week was a stalwart of the local theatre scene. As an actor, writer, director, singer, mentor and founder – along with his wife – of his own theatre company, any person involved in local theatre would have been touched by his life in some way.

I’m currently rehearsing for a play with his theatre company which is due to open in less than three weeks. A number of friends, when they heard the news of his death, assumed that the play would have to be cancelled. Admittedly they were non-theatre friends. When I explained that of course the play would go on, they looked at me askance. My response? “Theatre people.”

“The show must go on” may seem like a trite cliché to outsiders but to theatre people, it is what they live by. We could no more stop the play from going ahead than stop the rest of the world from going on its merry way. Anyone who has experienced grief knows, to quote another seeming cliché, that “life will go on” even if at times that seems impossible.

“The show must go on” is just the theatre world’s version of “life will go on”.

The play is one by Agatha Christie. It’s the third Agatha Christie play I’ve been involved in, the two previous productions having been directed by my friend. What more fitting way to honour his memory than to do what he loved?

Besides, I’m pretty sure he would be sending thunderbolts down on us all if we dared to cancel. “What are you thinking?” he would say. “The show must go on!”

And so it will, my friend. And so it will.

 

 

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Grief and Story

Grief and Story

A dear friend of mine died the other day. He was an irascible old bugger but one of the biggest supporters of my writing.

I once wrote a short story for his wife (another of my biggest supporters) as a thankyou for a theatre piece I was involved in with the theatre company started by them both. He was a tad jealous, I think. He wrote to me soon after and said how much he had enjoyed the story and so he thought he would write a sequel to it.  This he duly did and emailed it to me. In response, I emailed back a continuance of what he had started.

And thus a back-and-forth formation of a story developed. That is, until the day he asked if he could make some minor alterations to the last bit I had sent him. I agreed but when he sent back my bit with his next bit added, only about 300 words of my more than 800 word contribution remained. I then suggested that perhaps he should drive the story home as he obviously had more invested in how it should end than I.

He hadn’t thought he’d done anything wrong. When his wife pointed out how hurtful and inappropriate his action had been, he was mortified. Such a frustratingly endearing man.

I had thought we were just having a bit of fun with the story and so in one of my additions, I moved the action to Peru. There might have been a bit of political intrigue in there. When you’re just writing for fun, it’s no holds barred so why not be ludicrous?

Unbeknownst to me, my lovely writing partner was actually formulating a plan to present the story as a radio script at a performance opportunity.

What??

It went ahead. I was slightly embarrassed. Particularly as I had to sit through each performance as sound and lighting technician.

Fortunately, the local theatre critic was complimentary if not effusive. At least he wasn’t abusive.

For his 80th birthday I wrote my dear friend a story of his own. I left it open-ended so he could add to it if he wished. Which he did and we had a minor back and forth but life had changed for both him and me and it never quite took flight as the other did.

In honour of Dennis and in his memory, I give you the original story I wrote just for him.

The Old House

He stood on the other side of the street, trying to suppress his disappointment. It had been more than fifty years, he reminded himself. He had tried to prepare himself. Of course, it will have changed. It will be a different colour. Maybe even have been built onto. In the cloud of his misery, he had to admit he had not been prepared for this.

The house had gone. Completely. Not even the large beech tree in the front yard, at the top of which he had hidden on more than one naughty occasion, remained. The new house was a monstrosity, creeping right to the front boundary, edge to edge, no room for grass, trees or the freesias that used to pop up every spring, even though no one could remember ever planting them.

He noticed a curtain twitch and looked away, studying the map in his hand as if looking for something. Out of the corner of his eye, he tried to make out a face, but there seemed to be no one there. Perhaps he had imagined it.

Never go back. That had been his brother’s advice. Never go back. It will only hurt you. But he had to go back; had to see the old place just one more time. This would be his last trip back to the old country. He was getting too old for trans-continental travel.

Scanning the windows for movement, he crossed the street. Standing in front of the house, he peered down the side, hoping against hope that perhaps the old magnolia tree was still there. It had been his mother’s favourite tree. He had hated it as a child, having to pick up the dead flowers as they dropped in their multitude all through the late spring. Of course, it had been nothing but trouble. Temperamental as an old maiden aunt, it had driven his mother to distraction. His father had threatened to pull it out one year, but Mother had insisted it would improve. As if to snub his father, the next season it was at its most glorious. The following year, it refused to flower at all, but Mother had made her point.

As he was craning his neck to see down to the back fence, the front door opened. A woman emerged and stared at him curiously. Embarrassed, he stepped away, for a moment considering the option of walking away quickly as if he had not been staring pertinently into another person’s backyard. This is ridiculous, he thought.

“I used to live here,” he said. “Well, in the house that used to be here.”

The woman, small and dark-haired, nodded and smiled. “Would you like to come in?” she asked.

He stared at her, uncertain if she meant it. Then he ducked his head and nodded. “If it’s not too much trouble,” he mumbled.

She led the way through the door and into the front passage. The house seemed even bigger inside. It was all gleaming white marble and pristine ivory walls. Nothing like the dark and cramped childhood home he remembered. He caught a glimpse of large plate windows at the back of the house, open to the view, and tried to spot anything recognisable, but there almost seemed to be no backyard at all.

“My name is Annie. My husband is in the study. He’d be very interested to meet you,” the woman said as she ushered him down a shining corridor. Coming to a large white door, she knocked and entered.

“Peter, this is… I’m sorry, what was your name?”

“Martin.” He followed her into the study. Seated at a large oak desk was a man who seemed twice the size of his tiny wife. He rose and reached out a massive hand.

“He used to live here,” Annie said as the two men shook hands.

“Ah. Well, then, I’m very pleased to meet you, Martin. I have quite an interest in the old house.”

Martin pushed aside the thought Then why did you pull it down?, just nodded politely and sat in the chair Peter was indicating. Annie slipped out of the room, hardly noticed.

“Can I get you a drink?” asked Peter.

“Just soda water, please.”

As Peter walked over to a sideboard and poured two drinks, Martin took the time to glance around the room. It was only then he noticed the pictures on the wall. They were all of the old house. Not quite as he remembered it; it was in a pretty poor state and someone at some point had painted it orange. But there was the old beech tree and, he gasped, the magnolia in full flower, even amongst the ruin of weeds and long grass of the backyard.

Peter handed him his drink and looked up at the photos. “It was in a bad way when we bought it. Irredeemable, according to our builder. We had no option but to demolish.” He said this last line softly, his eyes on Martin.

Martin nodded and swallowed hard. “Even the magnolia?” he asked.

“It had to be moved. I guess it had spent too long in the one place; it didn’t survive.”

The two men sat quietly for a moment. Then Peter said brightly, “But as you can see, we took as many photos as possible of the house. We figured its history was linked to the new house in some way.”

“How long have you lived here?” Martin asked, trying to match Peter’s bright tone.

“About 15 years.”

“Do you have a family?”

“Two boys, both away at college now. Yourself?”

Martin shook his head. “I was married, once. It didn’t work out. Always just found it easier to be on my own after that.”

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Peter drained his glass and stood up. “Would you like to see around the house?” he asked.

Martin nodded, rose and followed him out of the study.

As Peter took him through the house, Martin found himself trying to superimpose the locations of each room of the old house. Here, was the good sitting room where nobody ever sat, except when Great Aunt Gemma came to visit. He remembered it as a place of stuffy discomfort, forced to sit for hours in his best clothes – always too tight – but never allowed to speak. When Great Aunt Gemma finally died, the sitting room was never used again.

There, would have been the bedroom he shared with his three brothers. Crammed into a room barely bigger than the pantry in this new house, the boys had fought and played. Martin remembered, as the youngest, he always seemed to get the worst of it. He hardly saw his two oldest brothers now, one living in South Africa, the other in the United States. The siblings had been flung all over the globe. He and his next oldest brother, Jerry, were the closest, both based in Melbourne, Australia. His sister Prudence was in Brazil, while the baby of the family, Millicent, was a truck driver in the West Australian mines.

He remembered the boys had always been jealous of the girls. The two of them shared a room bigger than their own, an unforgivable injustice. Their parents had excused the inequity by pointing out the boys’ room was the furthest from the front of the house and thus from the attention of the neighbours. Enough aware of their raucous behaviour, the boys had no answer to this logic.

As Peter ushered him from room to room, Martin had the disquieting feeling that it was his home, but not. The view out the windows was much the same. Some trees were taller, some had gone altogether. Some of the old houses remained, some, like his own, had disappeared from the landscape to live only in the memories of old men.

They were standing at the back of the house, in front of the enormous windows, when Peter asked “Sorry, Martin, did you say what your surname was?”

“No, no I didn’t. It’s Randler.”

Peter nodded and returned to his contemplation of the view. Suddenly he turned to Martin and said, “You’re not related to Henry Randler, are you? He was a teacher.”

“He was my father. Why? Did you know him?”

Peter laughed. “He was my father’s history teacher. The old man talked about him all the time. Apparently he used to do these crazy stunts. Once, they dressed up as knights and held a tournament in the gymnasium. Another time he had them building a pyramid on the oval using hay bales he got some farmer to ship in. Dad was always keen on history and credited your father with giving him that passion.”

He looked at Martin and shook his head. “Imagine if Dad were still here and I could tell him I had Henry Randler’s son in my house. That I lived where Henry Randler lived. He’d be tickled pink.” He smiled. “Dad said your father used to go digging out in the farmlands somewhere. He’d come into class with his latest find. Arrowheads, potshards, that sort of thing. Although, Dad did say he once came in with gold. It was a misshapen lump but your father claimed it was probably a crown. Never told anyone where he got it, of course.”

“I remember that,” said Martin. “He used to get into a fearful row with my mother because he’d clean them in the kitchen sink and she was forever scrubbing mud and muck out of it. We always wanted to go out with him, but he’d never take us. Top secret, he said.”

The two men laughed. Then, Martin, a memory churning in the back of his mind, asked “Is the old brick kiln still here? The one in the back corner of the yard?” Even as he said it he was scanning the garden below, but could not see the distinctive red brick walls of the kiln and his heart sank, even before Peter replied.

“The walls were pretty unstable. We had to knock it down.” He glanced at Martin. “We still have the bricks, though. Down the side of the house.”

Martin looked up at him and grinned. “Feel like going brick-hunting?” he said.

Peter looked at him quizzically, shrugged and said “Why not? How much stranger can today get?”

Peter took Martin out a side door and down the far side of the house. The bricks were stacked neatly along the fence line, their reddish hue just as Martin remembered them. He scanned along the bricks.

“What are we looking for, then?” asked Peter.

“There should be one with a sort of purple stripe through the middle of it,” replied Martin.

The two men searched along the pile, but, to Peter at least, the bricks all looked much the same. As they reached the end of the pile, Martin slumped. “I guess it was a bit much to expect it to still be here,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure we put all the bricks here,” said Peter. “It should be here somewhere.”

They moved back along the pile, more slowly this time. Just before they got to the end, Martin felt his shoe scuff something in the grass. He looked down. Half buried in the grass was a brick that had obviously fallen from the pile some time ago. He dug it out and picked it up. Turning it over in his hands, he smiled as he picked out the distinctive purple discolouring along one side of the brick.

With Peter eyeing it expectantly, Martin took his keys from his pocket and used one to scrape along the edge of one side of the brick. Then, using it as a lever, he slowly removed a small panel.

“How did you know about that?” Peter asked breathlessly.

“I watched him once when he’d been out on one of his digging adventures. I saw him hide something in one of the bricks. I managed to find the brick but I couldn’t get the panel open. I forgot about it after a while. I didn’t think it would be anything important anyway.”

Peter stared at him. Martin shrugged. “I was a kid. My father was always doing something odd. We didn’t pay that much attention.”

He stuck his finger into the exposed cavity. Wriggling and twisting, he eventually pulled free a yellowing, torn piece of paper. As Martin carefully unfolded it, they moved their heads closer to peer at the tiny diagram.

Martin looked up at his new friend and grinned. “Well, what do you make of that?”

THE END?

 

 

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A Sister Lost – Remembering Keryn

Twenty years ago today my eldest sister and her newborn daughter died in a car accident. In the space of a little over a week we went from celebrating the joy of new life to the horror of sudden death. We were a family not so much ‘touched by the road toll’ as slapped, kicked and punched by it.

As we each struggled to recalibrate our lives in this new reality, the family fractured. In time, most of those fractures have healed, some forming a bond stronger than before, but some have never mended and remain a constant reminder of the scar of family tragedy.

Nine years older than me, Keryn was my Big Sister. The most alike of all our siblings, in looks and interests, we had a unique bond. It began as that of small child and substitute mother. She was always the one to care for us when our parents were out or away, particularly when we lived overseas in my earliest years and there was no other family to help. When my mother was hospitalised for several weeks when I was three, it was Keryn who dropped me off at childcare on her way to school as my father had to be at work very early.

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I have a scar on my forehead. As a recalcitrant five year old, refusing to get in the bath, I was dragged to the bathroom where my head accidentally connected with the door frame. I needed three stitches. For many years I blamed this incident on a sibling with whom I had a fractious relationship. It was not until after Keryn died I discovered that it had in fact been my beloved eldest sister who had inflicted the damage. It’s interesting how our childish brain can rearrange an historical event to fit the more obvious narrative. I wish I had learned of it before she died. I would have apologised for my behaviour.

It was Keryn who introduced me to theatre, specifically musical theatre. She had been a member of the local Gilbert and Sullivan company for a number of years and when I was sixteen, she took me along to join the chorus. We spent nine years sharing the stage. After she died, I couldn’t bring myself to perform with the company without her. I didn’t join another theatre company for 15 years but when I did, I joined one that had known and loved my sister and that still honoured her memory.

In my late teens, it became my turn to play babysitter as I took the role of occasional carer of her children. After I married, our lives met on more equal terms and our relationship grew to that of friends. Then, just as it seemed our lives had synced, she was gone.

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When my husband and I decided to start a family, we always planned to give a daughter my sister’s name as a middle name. We had three boys. But in the way of the universe sometimes, for our third and last child, we had chosen the name Kieran if the baby was a boy. We chose it just because we liked it. It wasn’t until he arrived and I had to accept I would never have a girl that I realised how similar the name we had chosen was to my sister’s name. It became a way to remember her in the only way we could.

When Kieran was five years old, he was at a well-known fast food restaurant for a birthday party. The young man running the party was asking each child their name and what they wanted to order. When I asked to see his list to check what my son had ordered, the young man had spelt my son’s name ‘Keryn’.

She is never far away.

Keryn and Me

Grief takes an unusual and sometimes confusing path. As one would expect, for the first few years birthdays and anniversaries were highly emotional days to be confronted and endured. As time passed, these seemed to become easier. Sometimes the day would pass barely noticed. Then, a few years ago, so many years after the event, these days became difficult again. Perhaps it was the realisation that she really wasn’t ever coming back. Perhaps it was my own arrival at significant life moments that triggered memories of what I had lost. Perhaps it was the signs that life had moved on and I secretly yearned for it all to return to ‘normal’.

So now I sit simultaneously in a state of acceptance and denial. I accept that she is gone and our lives have adjusted accordingly and yet I still find myself wanting things to be as they were even whilst knowing they cannot.

All I can do, in light of the unimaginable, is remember the time that we did have together, hold on to the memories that last and continue to miss her every single day.

(I felt a very strong need to write a song to remember my sister this year. It wasn’t easy but this is my song for Keryn.)

 

 

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