Untitled

8 Dec

I’ve been up at Port Pirie, starting the sorting out what remains of my father’s house. The house where I lived during my formative years. The house where my mother was living when she died, the house where my father wasn’t exactly living when he died. (long story).

Because of reasons (mostly to do with redback spiders, dust and loneliness), I stayed in a hotel. In fact, I stayed in the same room we stayed in when we first moved to Port Pirie and the removalist van broke down just past the ‘thank you for visiting Clare, we hope you enjoyed your stay come back soon’.

I spent a few wonderful days wandering around Port Pirie, putting the finishing touches on my novel (though not quite as many touches as I envisaged I would finish – things will be a bit quiet around here this week too),  sifting through crockery and pieces of paper, and visiting old haunts and new.

I know not every one would get it, but to me, that town is a beautiful place to be.

The mister and our boys came up on the weekend to help me with boxes and things. And just to make sure I was all right. Which I thought I was. When we got home last night I said to the mister ‘I’m ready to say goodbye to it now’ I think I even said ‘I feel good’. But this morning, I feel absolutely shattered. Do you know that feeling after you’ve been at WOMAD for the whole day and the whole night and you know you’re exhausted, but you’re not sure what kind of exhausted you are? That’s how I feel. Hollow would be the best one-word description I could come up with right now.

Much of how I feel at the moment is how you might expect I would feel and how I would have guessed I would feel. Sad and lonely and very, very grown-up. But something unexpected has come upon me too, something I have been wondering why I hadn’t seen.

For some time now, I’ve kept an eye on the seven stages of grief. Partly out of curiousity, partly because I think it is helpful to know what other people have experienced and discovered. But the one stage I’ve never really got to is the anger stage. I have noticed it playing itself out in different ways (the classic transference etc etc) but I’ve never had what I could identify as your actual rage or anger. Not about my mother’s or my father’s death.

But over the last little while, I’ve noticed what I would call anger, and this is particularly in relation to my mum’s death. And not that I’m angry on my own behalf, so it’s not a kind of anger about why did she die. But I’m mad about the fact that she missed out on so much.

Over-thinking this, as I am, I think that this feeling is emerging as I become increasingly aware of the depth of what my mum missed out on in her life. A sudden death, and one without any warning at all (she died in a car accident) really does make a difference to your life. Yes, I know how obvious that sounds, but I don’t only mean what you miss out on, but I also mean the way we build our lives in layers and stages, and how each of those layers does have a retrospective impact. (I’m struggling a bit with how to explain this to myself, but I’ll give it an awkward try now and refine it another day.)

A sudden death means that you not only miss out on the things you might ordinarily have planned (taking your long service leave, for example), but it also means that all the intangibles, like relationships, get suspended too.  And that matters more than I realised. Not just in that ‘if only we hadn’t argued that morning’, but in a much more wholistic and layered sense.

I guess I can keep playing around with the words all I like, but it all gets down to the same thing. She died when she was 46 which means she got ripped off, and I feel mad.

Anyway, all of this is nothing new. It’s not an emotion I’ve invented or an insight that hasn’t been sighted before. It’s just something I wanted to write down, because if I want to understand all this, I’ll need to come back to today later on.  And finding, as I did yesterday, my Alphabet Soup game from when I was six years old, it reminded me that we really do forget things easily. I loved that game, but I’d forgotten all about it.

And in case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t get the shed done.

PS Earlier this year, I also had to sort out my grandfather’s house (along with an aunty and cousins, we were all there sorting). Can I just say – and this is the singularly best piece of advice I will ever give you – go to wherever it is that you store your pieces of paper and remove eighty five percent of those pieces of paper. Leave enough that treasures may be unearthed, but honestly, see all that paper – that is a hard job you’re leaving someone to do. And it’s a privilege to do the job, it really is, but yeah, do chuck some of your paper out.

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19 Responses to “Untitled”

  1. Pavlov's Cat December 8, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    See, this is why God invented red wine. She wants us to have some compensations.

    You are so right about the paper; at 55 I have begun what is in my case the ludicrously massive task. And not just the paper, but (again in my case) the staggering array of small-scale junk.

    And I know what you mean about being ripped off at 46. My old schoolfriend J died of cancer at the same age, when her kids were 13 and 15. Which was, like, not fair.

  2. franzy December 8, 2008 at 10:38 am #

    As an addendum to your PS: if the reason that you have so many pieces of paper is because you’re a hoarder and can’t throw anything away because everything you’ve ever touched and owned is either precious or potentially (in your mind) useful, then I have A Solution:
    Keep all the paper in cardboard boxes.
    Keep those cardboard boxes in a shed, right near the walls.
    Sit back and let condensation do its beautiful work.

    When we moved to Queensland this year, I cracked open my Utterly Special Never To Be Tampered With boxes of files and records in Mum and Dad’s shed and found that about 80% of those papers were now papers mache. Artsy and so convenient!
    I haven’t felt a twinge of loss since.

  3. Pavlov's Cat December 8, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    ‘Sit back and let condensation do its beautiful work.’

    And silverfish. Exquisite filigree paper, they make, if you give them enough time.

  4. Kath Lockett December 8, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    All good advice – from you and your commenters. It’s a bit like moving house in general, or ‘de-cluttering’ a house and still living in it when it’s up for sale – whatever you’ve put away that you don’t need, can go. End of story.

    Feel your anger and be glad that you feel that way instead of indifferent. I say this because my husband’s mother died a couple of weeks ago, and I was sadder about the fact that I didn’t know or understand her well enough to feel much.

  5. miriam December 8, 2008 at 8:14 pm #

    do you think your mum would have felt ripped off, had she known how things would end? or are you feeling it on her behalf, but also on your behalf… because perhaps you know all the things about which you have always thought “one day…”, and perhaps you would feel ripped off if you didn’t get the chance to do them?

  6. Isabelle December 9, 2008 at 6:22 am #

    Sympathy.

  7. kate December 9, 2008 at 6:38 am #

    I think my little sister got ripped off every time I see something cool, or go somewhere she would have liked, and when her friends come to visit the neice and nephews she didn’t get the chance to know. Everyone rings to see how I’m doing on birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries, but it’s much more likely to sneak up on me strolling through the uni or going to a gig.

    It’s been three years, and we still haven’t gotten rid of all the junky presents people gave her when she was sick (“why do people keep giving me shit?” “because they’re not allowed to give you flowers, and they need to do something”). As Pav said, red wine is excellent.

  8. Ariel December 9, 2008 at 10:14 am #

    I have nothing useful to contribute … but I really do the new year will be better for you. You’re doing well, really well, just just keep on going and do what you have to do, it seems. Take care of yourself.

  9. shula December 9, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    I feel that way about my mum. Not so much even angry as bewildered.

    Because my mum actually CHOSE not to meet her grandchildren.

    It’s still hard to get my head around, even after all these years.

  10. suse December 9, 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    What a year you’ve had.

    x

  11. ampersand duck December 10, 2008 at 8:18 am #

    She was ripped off, and so were you. Anger is an energy, in the words of the great sage. Use it. Hugs.

    And the only way I can de-clutter is by pretending that I’m moving house. Next year I’m going to pretend I’m moving from a house into a small flat.

  12. Pavlov's Cat December 10, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    It’s a tangent, but on the flowers thing, a useful idea: my friend J had two or three weeks, after all doctors and family had finally admitted defeat, in which to get herself and the paper issues a bit sorted. About a week before she died, she said ‘I wish people would stop sending me flowers. They’re very nice, but it’s as if they expect me to die before the flowers do.’ Which was more or less the case. So our other old schoolfriend L and I went and bought her a flowering plant growing in a pot. She liked it.

  13. elsewhere December 10, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    Great post. Very thought-arousing (rather than provoking).

  14. kazari December 10, 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    I spent the weekend clearing out my parents house – but they were only moving.
    Still, I found my diaries from a long time ago, love letters from my first boyfriend – and a whole filing cabinet of paper I can happily chuck.
    Hollow is the right word, I think. Even without the grief.

  15. kate December 10, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    To keep following the tangent Pav: my sister had cancer, and flowers were forbidden on the ward, because of bugs growing in water and so on. She wasn’t keen on having them after she came home for the same reason, although she did take to sleeping in the loungeroom and looking at Mum’s garden all day. So, instead of giving her flowers people sent stuff. Little Books, and postcards, and plastic flowers, and ornaments, and teddy bears, football memorabilia, you name it. The quantity became overwhelming, she felt like she was going to drown in all the knick knacks, and we threw a whole lot of stuff out. There’s still more though. There’s always more. Every single thing was bought and given by someone who wanted to do something, anything, that might slow down the cancer, and that made throwing it out rather guilt inducing.

  16. ThirdCat December 10, 2008 at 12:56 pm #

    Do you know what has helped me…all those op shopping blogs and flickr photos. I look at how much people love finding things in op shops and it has made me really happy to put things in the goodwill bins. Like I’m giving the things new lives.

    I like flowers again now and I buy them all the time. But tor about ten years, I couldn’t look at a vase of flowers without feeling sick.

  17. genevieve December 10, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    ThirdCat, my heart goes out to you doing that, and you made me realise that my brother-in-law’s sister, who died about two months ago, had clothes and possessions. (And Kate, why do people give inanimate things, I wonder? how strange…)
    I don’t really want to think about her husband giving them away just yet, but it was good to be reminded that people who are left behind have to do this. A thought arousing post, yes.
    Thinking of you this Christmas, hugs.

  18. Deborah December 10, 2008 at 4:39 pm #

    Not just your mother cheated of those years, but you cheated too. I’m so sorry.

  19. Helen December 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm #

    Thinking of you (((Thirdcat)))

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