How Do You Explain?

How do you explain a grief that never really goes away? How do you explain to those who’ve never experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one why the grief still lingers after decades?

I’ve written before about losing my sister and niece in a car crash in 1993. (In fact, I can’t believe it’s already been nearly five years since I wrote about it.) It’s an experience that has become woven into the very fabric of who I am and the anniversary of their deaths is a day to be endured even so many years later.

Yesterday would have been my sister’s 60th birthday. I always find her birthday difficult, coming soon after mine, but the significant birthdays are the hardest.

I had to work. I am lucky to work with a very caring colleague and I had wisely already discussed what was coming up. So when I disappeared into the toilets not long after arriving at work and reappeared some time later red-eyed and subdued, she was attentive and protective.

The day was exhausting. While I was teaching, things were fine. I have a lovely class and they fill me with joy every day (okay, yes, also frustration at times but that’s teaching, right?) and they gave me bright moments in my day. It was just the ‘down’ times that were hard. And so, when the music played for the end of recess, I suddenly lost it and had to pull myself together in the kitchen before the kids came in. (To be fair, they’d chosen that day to play “You Are The Reason” by Calum Scott. Seriously. Luckily, for lunchtime, they switched to “Nutbush”.)

I made it through the day but I was pretty exhausted by the end. I was fortunate to have a community singing session that night so even though I was tempted to stay home and go to bed, I went and it lifted my soul as it always does.

Today, I got to work and my colleague asked how I was after yesterday.

“Okay,” I said. “But a bit embarrassed about yesterday.”

Because here’s the thing. There’s a part of you that wonders if others think it’s ludicrous that you’ll still burst into tears at the memory of someone gone for 25 years.

How do you explain?

How do you explain that the years don’t matter?

How do you explain that the pain never goes away?

How do you explain that you never really get over it? You learn to live with it and you learn to find joy and happiness in your life again but you never, ever get over it.

How do you explain that the sudden and unexpected death of someone so young leaves a lasting scar that tears open again at every birthday, every anniversary, every family celebration (births, marriages) that highlight their missing presence?

You can’t.

I’m lucky. I work with someone who is sensitive and understanding and she made it clear that I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

I hope, if you’ve experienced the same devastating loss, that you are also surrounded by people who understand.

The grief never really goes away.

It’s hard to explain.

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The Gift That Counts

Last year I celebrated a significant birthday. As much as I tried to bury it in a marathon effort and fundraising for refugees, there were friends and family who still snuck in some gift-giving.

I received some wonderful presents from people who clearly know me well. The generosity of my work colleagues blew me away and also their perspicacity in choosing a gift that happened to be on my bucket list – a session in a flotation tank.

Birthday gifts that also made me happy were the many friends and members of the family who generously supported my bid to raise money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Surely the best birthday presents help someone else in need.

ASRC Fundraising

However, the birthday gift that touched me most deeply and for which I was most grateful did not come wrapped in colourful paper.

A few weeks before my birthday, a friend asked if I could babysit their baby son so she and her partner could go out for a date night. I eagerly agreed. With three now-grown sons, time with baby boys is always a joy. With an arrival time set on 6pm, my friend insisted that she provide me with a meal. I argued that it was ridiculous to be going out for dinner and still have to provide a meal and I was more than happy to provide for myself. She insisted again and stated she already had it planned. I reluctantly agreed.

I arrived at the appointed time and was surprised to see her mother and brother there but then inwardly shrugged and decided it must be a family dinner out.

As I stood there, waiting for them to leave, my friend looked at me, smiled and said, “You’re not babysitting.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re not babysitting. My brother is babysitting and we are taking you out for dinner.”


“We’re taking you out for an early birthday dinner.”

I stared at each of them trying to comprehend. Then it dawned on me. And then the tears welled up.

In a year when my trust in friendship had been badly shaken…

In a year when I wondered if my worth lies only in what I can do and not in who I am…

In a year when I felt so confused about how to read people’s motives that I have become increasingly socially reclusive…

…Such a gift was unexpected.

More was in store as I arrived at the restaurant to find other friends part of the secret. More emotion. More confusion and joy.

I received some wonderful gifts from people who took time to think carefully about what I would like and I will treasure them always.

But, in the end, all any of us really wants is to know we are loved and wanted for who we are and for others to want to spend time with us. That is a gift that truly counts.


What is the gift that truly counts for you?


The Grief Never Leaves You


Woven grief

The grief never leaves you, you know. It lingers on, hidden from view but an eternal presence woven into the fabric of your being.

You move on. You accept that this is how life has to be from now on. Joy returns, new life grows and living can be good again.

But the grief never leaves you.

You realise this at times both obvious and unexpected. Anniversaries, holidays, significant family events… How could that absence not be noted?

It’s the unexpected ones that catch you, though. That bring forth the pain so suddenly it seems impossible that you could have moved on, that your life didn’t stop the moment they left you.

A song on the radio, a photograph, a name in a book. Reminders of a life taken too soon, of memories you shared and of memories you have had to create without them.

Giving away something that once belonged to them feels like giving away a piece of the person they were. If you gave it all away would they cease to exist?

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been – months, years, even decades.

The grief never leaves you.

As the pain takes your breath and the tears cloud your eyes, you ask yourself, “It’s been so long. Why this pain? Why these tears?”

It’s hard not to chide yourself. It’s hard not to feel indulgent, ridiculous even.

But you’re powerless to stop the feelings of loss, of sadness, of wishing things were different.

Because the grief never leaves you.




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Say That Again

I have spent the last many years steadfastly remaining 23 years old in my head while my body continues to defy my wishes and rudely insists on ageing. So, if I were ever given the chance to time travel, guess where I’d go back to?

There was a solid point in my life at 23 where I chose a particular path. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I’d chosen differently. Who, what and where would I be now?

So, let’s go back and make that call I didn’t make the first time……….

Hi Mum, it’s me.

I’m fine. Really good actually. The people here are great.

I had a bit of cold last week but I’m feeling better.

Mum, I need to tell you something.

No, no, nothing’s wrong. It’s just… Well, I think…. it’s….

Yeah, sorry, keep forgetting about the time difference. Of course you want to go to bed.

Listen, can you contact the Kreisers and tell them I won’t be in Cleveland for Christmas? Oh, and you’d better let the Massies know I won’t be there for New Years.

I’m not going to go to the US in December. There’s a bunch of people from here heading to Budapest for this big youth event and I want to go.

No, I can’t actually extend my ticket. I’m going to have to cancel the return leg.

I don’t know. It kind of depends.

Well, of course I’ll come home. Eventually. I just really want to see where this leads me. Leave it open, you know?

Thanks Mum. I knew you’d understand.

Not ’til the end of December. Starts on the 28th, I think.

No, I’m still going to leave here next week as planned but Hamish is heading to Lourdes so I thought I’d tag along. I’ll have to extend my rail pass or something but…

Yeah, it is exciting. Different, you know?

It’s nearly dinner time, I have to go. I’ll let you know where I am next week. Can you explain to the others what’s happening?

Oh, I forgot about that.

No, I won’t tell work until I know when I’m coming back. I might hate it in Budapest and still want to come home in February.

Yeah, probably not the best idea to throw away a job until I’m sure.

Sorry, bell’s ringing, I gotta go.

I love you too. And Mum?


I wasn’t brave enough at 23 to make that decision. To throw away certainty for an open-ended journey. If I only knew then what I know now.

Of course, as I’ve said before (see this post), going back to redo only works if you can go back with what you know now. Otherwise you’ll just make the same choices. That’s when you need a time machine, not just a do-over.

Probably rip a hole in the space-time continuum, though.

Hmph. So worth it, though. (Sorry, Doctor.)

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Time Machine.

TARDIS Phonecall



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Chasing Time

Chasing Time

I’ve lost half an hour. I’m not sure where or when I lost it exactly but it’s definitely missing.

I’ve been running constantly late for everything recently. I figure if I can just insert another half an hour at a strategic point, I’ll be able to catch up. A Time Winder would be helpful right about now. Or a TARDIS. Or any time machine really. I don’t want much. I’m not asking to go back 20 years and do a reboot (as tempting as that may be). Just a little hop back, or maybe a couple of hops so I can get ahead.

I love time. Since hiding behind the cushions from the Cybermen or marvelling at a town that can have a shop that survives hundreds of years with the same shop window dummy, I’ve found time and its mysteries a fascinating topic.

The magic of time is its simultaneous steadiness and rubberiness. I mean, scientifically, time progresses in an orderly manner – 60 seconds to a minute*, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day**, 365 days to a year*** – and yet in our day to day living the same amount of time can take all day or only a moment. Spend an hour in a tedious committee meeting and it feels like it’s gone on all night. Spend the same hour doing something you love – singing, fishing, sorting your sock drawer – and the hour disappears in seconds.

Time even changes depending on how old you are, have you noticed? When you’re a kid, summer holidays seem to last forever. The start of school is years away and you’ve got all the time in the world to do what you want. As you get older, the years seem to take less and less time to get to the end. It’s already well into October and I’m still somewhere back in the middle of May. It’s no wonder I’m running chronically late.

It gets worse when you have children. One minute you’re battling sleepless nights and toddler tantrums and the next minute they’re young men and women. (And you’re still battling sleepless nights, waiting for them to come home from a party. Time doesn’t change everything.)

Whether your life is moving through time like you have a jetpack attached or like you’re riding on the back of a giant snail, in the end the time you’re given is the time you’ve got. All you can do is make the most of it while you can.

The following song says it all. (It should. I wrote it.)

By the way, if anyone happens to find my missing half an hour, I’d appreciate a prompt return. Thanks.

*Except when they have to add that extra second every now and again because all the numbers are approximate.

**Except that the Earth actually rotates on its axis in 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09 seconds.

***Except for leap years when they add another day because really a year is about 365 and 1/4 days.****

****I told you the numbers were approximate.



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