One year down, one to go

5 Jan

I took the lads back to Berri (the mister’s home turf) via Adelaide for Christmas while the mister stayed here Abu Dhabi.

Landing in Australia, putting credit back on my Australian SIM card, I felt the relief that you feel on arriving somewhere that takes no real effort. The relief that comes from knowing the language, the laws, and what to do if you lose your purse. We could get sick, robbed, lost, but it would be okay and, anyway, we wouldn’t get sick or robbed or lost, because we were home.

Except I was a little bit lost.

Well of course I was.

I’d just taken my lads to Paris for what must surely be, even if I am only half way through it, one of my life’s highlights. I’d dropped in at Abu Dhabi just long enough to remember how incomprehensible it is; to have a farewell coffee with a wonderful friend who won’t be here when I get back; and for the mister to wash my knickers and shove them back into my suitcase not-quite-dry. Then I pulled my clot-preventing socks back up and collected my boarding pass.

Back in Adelaide, I found, as people always do when they return, that everything was all at once different and the same. The light and the smells and the sound hit me with their forgotten familiarity. The air was dry, no crane in sight. But our house is rented out; we wouldn’t be spending the Christmas-New Year break on Kangaroo Island; the people who bought my Grandfather’s house have knocked it down and built a new one in its place; and a few days after I arrived in Adelaide the sale of my Dad’s – our family – house was settled. Dusted and done.

I was home, but not.

Mostly though, I was lost, because this was the second Christmas after Dad’s death. The second Christmas of being parent-less.

I think that in the grieving cycle, seconds are a bit more complex than firsts. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. In the second year, it all becomes real. In the second year, the shock has worn off and the protective numbness is receding. In the second year, that loss has been layered by births, illnesses, marriages, break-ups, break-downs, deaths, graduations, birthdays, bushfires, redundancies. Life has gone on as it does, layering our experiences minute by minute, days at a time. And so, at the second Christmas, you look around and you realise that this is how it is. He’s gone.

Intellectually, I know that I am a middle-aged woman without parents. I know this. But emotionally, I’ve lost my bearings, and I’m still not quite sure where I fit in this post-parent age. Even physically, I have to adjust, because my body still feels the absence of my parents as an emptiness above and around me. Somehow or other I have to work out how I can grow into that space.

As much as I try to keep Christmas low-key, it as at Christmas time that absences loom large. I do have places to be and people to be there with. Other families, of which I am a part, love me, welcome and care for me. Really, it’s quite something and even just thinking about how beautiful people were to me, I cry. But the absences are still there.

I’ve got welcoming places, but I haven’t got parents. I have safe harbours, but my anchors are lost.

Still, however lost I did feel, however overwhelmed, I was always glad that I’d made the trip. I watched the lads play with their cousins and have sleepovers and trade pokemon cards and go for swims in the river. I sat in backyards and in cafes and on the beach with my aunties, uncles, my step-family, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

I drank too much and stayed up way past my bedtime every single night (one time, almost til dawn, and it wasn’t even New Year’s Eve – brilliant times). One of the things I especially liked was sitting with my cousins and my friends, the ones who are around the same age, people I’ve known a long time or through tricky times, all of us who have looked, or are looking, around and thinking, ‘my goodness, look where we are, how did this happen and what are we supposed to do now?’

We cried and laughed over the years we’ve just had and the decisions we’ve made and the things that have turned out right and the things that have turned out wrong and the things we’re glad we’ve done and the things we should-oughtta have done. I wallowed, then get over myself, then wallowed, then get over myself again.

And it’s interesting, that even as each conversation acted like a little anchor, each one adding to the other, giving me more and more steadying weight, I felt myself able to leave them again, able to return to this incomprehensible place and say to the mister, ‘We should go and buy a bougainvillea to plant in the courtyard this weekend.’

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14 Responses to “One year down, one to go”

  1. Kate January 5, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    This was the first year since my dad died – exactly a year the week before christmas. It was strangely not much of an issue. We all just did it, got on with it, and I felt like I’d achieved something when it was over, just because I got through it without tears. I expect you are right and next year will be harder, in many ways.

    I remember that feeling of familiar unfamiliarality. Nothing has changed, but everything has…

  2. suse January 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    I hope you bought the bougainvillea.

    x

  3. kate January 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    The first year can feel like an event someone chose to skip this time (as if s/he is travelling this Christmas or visiting the inlaws) the second and third time it starts to sink in that the absence will happen every year.

    My sister in law comes home from the UK for Christmas every second year, and there’s always a fuss about how we “only” see her for a few weeks every couple of years and this year I was tempted to yell “You get to ring her up! You get to see her grow up! You know she’s happy!”. But I didn’t, because only seeing ones daughter for a few weeks every two years does suck, and it’s not a competition.

  4. Deborah January 5, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Wanting to plant something is good. I miss all my old friendships very much, but I’ve been feeling a bit happier here, a bit more content to be doing this living abroad thing, and it’s mostly evidenced in a green garden (well, not so green right at the moment, but the green will come back).

  5. Ali January 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    I always notice just how easy it is here when I’ve been away. I have even had friends move here from the UK recently and say this. I think it is the easiest place in the world. I’m so glad that you were able to create some anchors here so that you can begin to love being there too.

  6. planetnomad January 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    You have so perfectly described so much. I’m glad you got to spend Christmas with extended family. I have not yet been “home” since my mother died and I’m not looking forward to it.

    Did you buy the bougainvillea yet? Which colour? I like the red ones best personally.

  7. Zoe January 6, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    ((((thirdcat))))

    lowercase kate, what a grace-filled attitude you have. Big hug for you too.

  8. mary January 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    You brought tears to my eyes with the eloquence of your writing and how precisely and acutely you write of that weird feeling of displacement – not just with being without parents – but also on returning home to a place that is , oddly, not quite home..

  9. kate January 6, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    Zoe the graceful bit only comes after you’ve reminded yourself that if you knock yer mother in law out at the airport the Feds will totally be on to you.

  10. pam January 7, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    Mary’s comment expressed well how I felt on reading this. My parents and husband’s mother are ageing rapidly. Eventually when all the oldies are gone, we will probably be leaving Adelaide and mover interstate for various reasons. I can relate to the feelings you have expressed so well. I seem to be grieving already, particularly with the recently sold family home,Dad’s dementia,and knowing I have to deal with , at this stage,an uncertain future in another state without them.I live one day at a time.We are all here for now,and rather than boost me up,that puts a lump in my throat too!! Parts of that in itself, are very sad but I smile through it. It is so good for me to read of others experiences with these issues, and how I might deal with it down the track.Big hug.

  11. Helen January 9, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    my body still feels the absence of my parents as an emptiness above and around me. Somehow or other I have to work out how I can grow into that space.

    What beautiful writing.
    Hello from the South Island of NZ where my SO is reconnecting with his extended family.

  12. Isabelle January 10, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Yes yes yes. My dad died nearly three years ago and I still wonder where he can possibly have gone.

  13. Isabelle January 10, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    Gosh, I didn’t mean yes yes yes as in “Not that again”. I meant it as in “I know exactly what you mean”. Tone is all.

  14. cristy January 11, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    Any photos of the bougainvillea? I wish I could give you a big hug.

    Your writing about losing your parents has been so central to my starting to see how Mum must have felt when her mother died. I really didn’t get it before then. I don’t think that I could face thinking about it.

    Thank you.

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