Grief and the Seasons


I spoke to a friend on the matter of grief, and she said something profound. She mentioned that those grieving would be best to give themselves a year before making huge changes. “They have to endure the four seasons…when you think about it, each season contains first’s. There are birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The list of first experiences without their loved one is excruciating. Enduring those four seasons will take all the strength in them.”

 

Grief can be felt in a myriad of ways. There can be grief for what was left unsaid, and for what was spoken in haste. It can present as regret for what never was and for what had been. The relationship you wished you had, compared to the one you experienced. The pain of an empty chair at your dining table, or felt after reaching for the phone to call. It can present as it’s twin, anger. You may be so bloody angry at everything, not least what others concern themselves with. Don’t they know that an angel just died?

Grief is complex; one moment you may feel fine, and the next be in the foetal position on the floor. It is not a linear journey, rather it is a mass of swirly pathways. Grief is messy, it’s trajectory launching you into a future wherein you have to leave the fallen behind. You take only the memories, and the love, with you. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies escorting the bereaved as they rest in a cave. The walls perhaps lined with glow worms as they sit and weep. It can be a lonely journey, and certainly a puzzling trip, for which nobody wants a ticket.

Piercing through the hymns, the eulogies, the visual displays and the flowers, is the love you hold in your heart and the promise of what might have been. It sears through the ICU monitors, silencing the alarms and machines. At the end of it all, we leave with only love; that which we gave and accepted in turn. If you can endure the first four seasons of bereavement,  hope and love wait on the other side.

 

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A Gentle Bear is Farewelled


My friend often talked to me about her boys, her voice softening in timbre, her eyes glimmering. She was so very proud of her boys, the eldest of whom, Liam, was twenty. I looked forward to meeting this young man. I had heard he was a talented musician. This sensitive, gentle giant ended his life a week ago. I went to his funeral today, and I tell you, if love alone had been enough to save him, he would still be here. There were so many young people of his age, openly weeping. There wasn’t room enough in the chapel, and the mourner’s watched on screens outside. His brave parents stood up and spoke his name; spoke of the memories he has left behind, delicately wrapped in gossamer. I talked to his friend’s parents, whom are in despair that young people have waiting lists- stretching a year or more- to even be able to access youth mental health services, such is the demand. Where to go and what to do, to keep these precious young people alive? Liam was a commendable young man. Always helpful and kind, he was due to perform with a fellow rap artist, until he heard  that he had put his partner through a violent hell. He pulled out of the gig, spending that night with friends instead.

Oh darling one, I talked with some of your friends today. I heard them speak about you. You were loved and always shall be. May I never attend the funeral of another young person taken too early. May we have an open dialogue about depression and suicide. May whole communities look after each other’s young. May we rebel against sanitation on social media. Sure, I want to look at the aspirational pictures and hear friend’s happy news, but I also want to hear and see real and raw imagery when those whom I love are struggling. As the mourner’s said their last goodbye to you, Liam, they were urged to take a can of beer with them. They were asked to take it home, and on the 8th July (which would have been your 21st birthday), crack it open, and toast you.

You are loved, young Liam, always were and always shall be. May your legacy be openness and honesty and love, as you deserve. May your legacy also contain the willingness to talk of our trials and struggles. To be able to declare when we aren’t coping, or need support, whether that be needing company in our home or to be distracted by a movie and chat afterward. We need to lead the way for our young. You are not a burden and you will be heard. Liam, you will live on, and as the celebrant advised, we will look up at the night sky tonight, and locate the stars.

Liam’s music is on SoundCloud.

Depression, Grief, Animals and Butterflies


I saw my bus coming, and stepped aside so an elderly woman could climb down. She paused at the door to compliment the driver on his thoughtfulness and driving ability. A conversation began between two older ladies, both of whom reiterated that he was a safe driver, steering the bus smoothly. He said goodbye to his passengers down the road at changeover, giving a cheeky wink to these two, and the ladies gushed some more over his impeccable manners. One of the women was born in Portugal, the other, Italy. Both had lost children in road accidents when the kids were seventeen years old. The people responsible were each handed a suspended sentence. The shared horror saw the women sit in stunned silence at their chance meeting, until the other lady departed the bus at a shopping centre. The Italian lady’s daughter was a girl called Lisa, and she had died alongside a young friend. Lisa’s father, overcome by grief, took his life shortly after her death. Her friend’s mother also took her life a few years later. The Italian lady, Rosa, felt she had to keep going for her other children. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, and found help with the aid of counselling and medication. I was so moved by her openess, her courage and quiet dignity. I squeezed her hand as we said our goodbyes. I thought of her Lisa at the train station, and how astounding it was that Rosa had survived that dreadful volume of tragedy. At that moment, a Monarch butterfly fluttered down to my daughter and I, resting on the bench beside us.

We were on our way to a special event, the vision of which was spurred by a young war widow whose husband had sadly taken his life. We were going to sing; to gather for these families, and all service men and women, past and present. I posted photos that evening, and a particular friend liked them on social media. I smiled, knowing that we would be seeing each other soon at a mutual friend’s get-together.

The next morning, I was alarmed to find what read as a farewell on her Facebook. A group of loved ones were beside themselves as her phone rang out. We were all eager to hold her, to talk her through the crisis. To simply be there… Tragically, we received word that she had taken her life. The events, people and conversations of those couple of days seemed intertwined. Grief and depression, butterflies, PTSD, remembrance…

Depression is a filthy liar. It wants us to believe that we are alone, isolated. It tells us that nobody can help us, that nobody cares. It assures us that strength is only found in standing alone, keeping our pain to ourselves, and sharing with nobody. It says that we are a burden, an unsightly stain on otherwise blissful lives. It is a liar.

Rosa and the lady from Portugal gave me a gift when they talked of their lives and their grief. I now know these women at a profound level, and look forward to many more conversations, deepening the friendships on our bus journeys. I know about the children they lost, and shall keep them in remembrance. The young war widow who inspired a new way of honouring our soldiers has spurred needed conversations about PTSD and the care of our men and women. A woman in her seventies talked to me-a stranger-about her husband’s suicide and her subsequent deep depression. We need to keep talking, reaching out and sharing. Whenever I see butterflies, my thoughts shall turn to those whom we have lost to the insideous scourge of depression and PTSD. Keep the conversation going; visit those whom are struggling. Make contact with those who seem to have retreated. We are not islands, nor were we ever designed to be. My suicide attempts were serious indeed, and quite frankly, it is a mystery as to why I am still here. All I know is I’m thankful beyond measure that I am.

I sat by the river near my home yesterday, filled with sorrow. Tears pooled in my eyes, and slipped down my face. Within moments, a duck had waddled up, sitting at my feet, quacking away as though it were telling me the secrets of the universe in duck language.

It was soon joined by a dragonfly, a willy wagtail  and then this guy.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at the motley crew assembled. It had been the first time I had left my house in several days. I had finally remembered my own advice to others, that whatever depression and grief urges you do, you must do the opposite. I no sooner desired to go for a walk than I craved root canal surgery, but I knew that was what I had to do. I would never have met my erstwhile friends had I not. Keep reaching out, keep talking, and know that life simply wouldnt be as grand without you. You are wanted, you are loved and you are needed.

Dawn the Diamond


The world lost a treasure a short while ago, named Dawn the Diamond. She would frequent the seats scattered about town, chain-smoking and handing out gifts to children. Impeccably dressed, her favourite colours were purple and red. Wearing green felt hats and scarlet-red coats in winter, she had a style that can only come from being a free spirit.  Dawn would buy the homeless and battlers a cup of tea and sandwich from her favourite cafe, and after time spent with Auntie Dawn, their burdens seemed lighter. Her place was open to anyone and everyone, though of a day she could be found at her favourite pub before gathering admirers on the bus stop seats. She loved my daughter, and they were entranced with each other upon meeting. Throughout the years, we shared many a bus journey, Dawn retrieving some errant goodie from her bulging bag for my little girl.

Our trips aren’t the same anymore, for Dawn became ill and passed suddenly. Winter can be cruel to the elderly, and in her last week, she wanted to get the message out to please don’t smoke, as it makes the bitter season that much worse if you were to fall ill. I went to her funeral, Delta Dawn playing as she entered. The church was packed, everyone in colourful attire as requested. I keep looking for her on buses. I keep hearing her laughter in my mind. Rainbows bring such joy, though when they disappear, the oblique clouds seem to be more apparent. Keep shining, Dawn the Diamond. You made unadulterated love and joy appear easy to both create and come by.

Serena


It was the second anniversary of Serena’s passing this week. I just wanted to get off this crazy ride, for one precious day, but that isn’t how life works. There was an eight-hour school day to attend to. Serena was never far from my thoughts. Even now, I see women who look like her, and have to stop myself from calling out her name. Her legacy is infused within our everyday life. In her last weeks, she would ask about my plans to home school, and would insist that it was the right decision for my child. As a teacher, I valued her input. My daughter loved her ‘Auntie ‘Rena,’ and as evening fell, we lit a candle within the holder I had bought at a party with Serena. It offered the light filtered through trees. She had loved trees. Her mother has planted a Great White Cherry tree (Tai Haka), in her back garden, in tribute to Serena, and it is growing splendidly.

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Whenever I got my knickers in a twist about a mean person, or some trivial matter, she would smile wryly until I too saw the folly of giving the issue such importance. She was practical and no-nonsense. She would just get on with it, and continued to do so until the very end. I learnt so much from how she went about life. Her eyes would light up when she talked about her travels, regaling me with her stories of what she had seen and whom she had met. I swore I saw star dust in her eyes at such times. A scientist once told me he finds it miraculous that we are all made of stars, and is incredulous that we fail to acknowledge it. Serena, you were certainly made of star dust, and are now the brightest star in our galaxy. img_9511-0

Onwards and Upwards!


I have lived in over twenty places, some better than others. There was the place infested with rats, whose walls were reinforced with flattened cardboard boxes. That was a quick stay! There was a former horse stable. There was a bitterly cold cottage in the mountains and flats in crime-ridden areas. When I came to this cottage, I was spent in every sense. The two years prior, I had broken my back again by slipping over in the street, and had three surgeries. I thought that it would be a good resting place, at least for a little while. Five years later, I am packing up and moving on, astounded at the intensity of the emotions I am experiencing.

  
In the little kitchen, I picture Serena, washing up, laughing as she does so. I picture her baby being cradled by my friend on the back porch. I envision Serena sitting at my dining table, as the children play. Every room has a memory of her. I need to leave this place. You know when it is time. I need a bigger place; one that is peaceful. I don’t want to leave her here. This place contains lingering memories of her. I would come home and find little gifts left by her near the front door. We would walk to the river. In the end, its the simple times we remember most, isn’t it? The grandiosity of balls and the like are wiped away over time. Its her being at my sink washing up… It makes that sink holy. The lounge is holy too. The mirror over the bathroom sink, where she would glance at herself. This beautiful, gentle woman.

    
A home is just a place. It is when precious souls imbue their energy onto a place that it comes to life, having a force-field of its own. I have laughed in this home, and I have cried more tears than I have ever thought possible. I have been terrified here, and I have come undone. I was told it wasn’t possible to have more children whilst living here, and I have had to craft a new life for myself. By leaving, I am saying it is done. I am ready! My memories of Serena are coming with me. See you on the other side of this move. xxx

Serena’s Anniversary


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Another year has passed without you. Always remembered, treasured and in my heart. X

November has been tough this year. Now that Facebook offers daily memories, it has been quite harrowing. I have been able to revisit my status updates from November 2014, which were all updates on Serena. They reveal the confusion, fears and hopes as they occurred. Today is the anniversary of her passing. I can’t believe it’s been a year. I don’t feel as though I have scratched the surface of the cacophony of emotions her passing has proffered. This year has seen me stretching myself, and becoming more adventurous at a time when all I hankered for was to be found in retreat. She was an explorer, having travelled by herself many times. She would have been devastated at what has transpired in this world the past 12 months.

I have seen so many women who look like her walk by, little boys in tow. Her long auburn hair and steady gait has been replicated many times, and its all I can do to not tap these women on the shoulder. I expect to see her waiting at the bus stop; run into her at the park. I expect that she is visiting family in the UK and shall be back shortly. I am comforted by the fact that her dulcet voice is still in my ears, and her memory hasn’t dulled. It never will. Serena taught me to be ever-vigilant when it comes to my health. She has taught me to do what floats my boat, and also to be aware of the machinations of those I let into my boat. Are they helping me paddle, or drilling holes when I’m not looking? I had a dream about her a short while ago. She was teaching me how to fly. She surely is.

Hitting the Wall and Bouncing off.


It was the end of  a heavy week, and I felt smashed.  I would have touched base with Serena over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend… I miss you so much. We probably would have gone to see a movie, then ventured to the park with takeaway coffee. We would have giggled and talked about a myriad of things, completely unrelated.

Sunday, I went to a Biggest Morning Tea to raise funds for the Cancer Council. My friend’s home was awash with balloons, bobbing at the ceiling. Bright yellow, they represented those we have lost to cancer. Bright yellow, like sunshine and trilling canaries and everything hopeful. It was a solemn moment, writing messages and names onto the balloons.

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We then released the balloons into the air.
We then released the balloons into the air.

Cancer may have threatened the lives of our loved ones, and taken some beautiful people away, but it can never steal the fight against this bastard of a disease. We will continue to fight you, smite you, sneer at you.

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The event raised over a $1,000 and I know that as long as there are people willing to stand up to you, the battle shall one day be won. I once toured the Children’s Cancer Institute. I saw young researchers crouched over cramped desks in stuffy rooms without windows. They were working twelve-hour days, and their commitment was without end. One day you will be no more, but their names shall be written in the annals of time. When I hit the wall, overwhelmed by how many I love are seriously ill, flattened by grief over the loved ones lost, I think of these researchers. I think of a young cancer patient I know who was part of a trial and whose cancer has retreated rather than advanced. To know what is happening behind the scenes-to have seen it with your own eyes-is a wondrous thing.

 

 

Mourning and Death Exhibitions


Death exhibition, Casula Powerhouse
Death exhibition, Casula Powerhouse
I heard last week that a friend had passed away. She was a mum of three and had fought cancer with grace and might for a number of years. I had only seen her recently, giving her a hug at a local fair. “I would love to catch up soon,” I said, and she smiled her radiant smile. I felt numb with shock when I heard the news. I wanted the world to stop spinning for a little while, but it refused. I had to take my daughter to an art workshop early the next morning. After I had ordered breakfast at the art space, I turned around and saw a hearse. Here I was, trying to distract myself with business, and death was all around. I couldn’t escape it.
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A death exhibition had just opened. I couldn’t avert my eyes, so decided to embrace it. This feared wild state called death… The cessation of all that was and all you were prior, leaving lasting memories and the love you carried in your heart. A gift to those who love you.
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"Grief" by Helen Shelley
“Grief” by Helen Shelley
I viewed the exhibition, the works using a myriad of mediums. Photos of those who looked asleep, a TV set to distribute white noise. It was peaceful. It wasn’t morbid or frightening, just silent and respectful. I don’t understand why people die, particularly the young. Two women I adored have died the past six months, and I have raged and wept and reminisced. I now found myself ensconced in a death exhibition, as though it were a preview of coming attractions. It is my duty to live a good and full life, in tribute to those who only had half of their expected years on earth. When I pop off, I want to leave my daughter enough wondrous adventures and memories to last her all her days.

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My daughter decided to dress up in one of her classes as a pilot bride. Just before the actual wedding, she leapt out of her plane and parachuted to earth. I thank God for each day I get to spend with this exquisite little girl.
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On behalf of my late friends, I promise not to take this painful, ecstatic gift of life for granted. Just a few weeks ago, my friend was working, helping an elderly lady in her home. She wasn’t dying. She was living to the end. Every second was accounted for and respected. Now is all we have. Let’s make it count.

  

Grief and Homecoming (Part 2)


 

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A woman with auburn hair was walking in front of me. She was holding the hand of a little boy. For a moment, I thought it was you… I kept seeing you everywhere. In the shops, in the park. You can’t be gone! The horrible realization struck me afresh.

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You should be living in Balmain with your boys, your heart condition carefully monitored. I should be preparing to meet up with you, to share a meal for your birthday. The tears came as I sat in the park. Grief absolutely flattens you, like a tidal wave. It was a physical pain, so much so that I felt winded. What sets it off on any given day is a mystery.  I went from weeping to laughter  when I recalled you telling me about a party your eldest had attended. He was going to a religious preschool at five, and upon seeing the procession of fairies alighting from cars outside the venue, he hollered, “oh no! Not another #$%^&*# fairy party!” You were aghast, as all the mums heard him, though laughed uncontrollably on the retelling. Wiping my eyes, I went to get my daughter.

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I was bemused to receive her worksheets. She had felt sorry for Dr Karl, as he didn’t have much hair, so she thought she would style him. She asked a lot of questions about guinea pigs  which he answered concisely. When I asked why she had focused on guinea’s, she replied huffily, “they are a biology topic!”  I took her for lemon gelato, and then she climbed trees in the main street.

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We went home, and I received a message from Serena’s mum. She had sourced a Japanese Cherry tree. It became extinct in Japan and one specimen was found in an English garden in West Sussex. It was propagated from that tree (many more are now back in Japan due to this one specimen). Serena’s family were going to plant it tonight, and scatter her ashes around it. Serena was a world citizen and ardent traveller. She would have loved this. I looked through old photos, and lit a candle for my friend.
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You said in your school yearbook that you wanted to be remembered for as long as possible. Oh darling, you shall be. Until we meet again, happy birthday Serena. I hope you can hear me sing to you.

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