25 years ago I grabbed the keys to my black death trap but uber cool Convertible VW Beetle. I started to head to the door, to go and see my Mum. She’d called earlier in the day to say I love you. I’d said I love you back, and had organised to go and cook with her. I’d moved out of home into a small flat, so any cooking skills I could pick up were welcome. This was my third time out of home. The first time, she thought it was a good idea and sent me to live in a caravan park at 16 (it wasn’t). The second time, we’d had a fight and she had slapped me hard across the face so I went to live with my best friend at the time and her family until things were repaired. She hadn’t liked my view on her life choices. The goody two shoes child vs. the rebellious and troubled parent who’d started nightclubbing with a vengeance. She’d apologise, I’d move home and try to help her.
This time, I had moved out of my own accord – I thought it was the right thing to do. I was looking forward to cooking with her. She was quite the cook. It was how I first explored the world – Thai, Italian, Mexican, Hungarian, Indian, Egyptian and then of course the Aussie staple of meat and three veg. It was how my love of difference and diversity started.
My flat was tiny. I think it would fit into the loungeroom and kitchen of the house I live in now. I had made this decision to move out for a few reasons. Not like the two times prior. The main one being her depression was something I felt myself being sucked in to, and I figured that maybe, just maybe, if I moved out, if I was no longer the go to, the crutch, the 19 year old trying to solve problems that I really had not skills for, maybe Mum would fight. Maybe I would be in a better position to help her. I knew if I started to sit in the hole – in the dark, it wouldn’t be good for either of us. I could feel myself being sucked in. Yet the guilt of that choice – even though I have made my peace with it – it still rears its ugly head from time to time in what if moments. What if I stayed.
God, how I wanted her to fight. To fight for herself, for her happiness. For our family. I wanted her to fight her depression. I’d tried – without the knowledge at the time – encouraging her to take up activities like golf, to get back in to art, to choose what would make her happy. I’d prayed my ass off. That she would fight. That I would have the right answer to help her.
Yet when it came to being asked what she should do with her relationships – I probably told her what she wanted to hear, over what I believed. I told her to choose what would make her happy – I don’t know if that was the right thing to say. I just wanted her to be happy.
She was in the midst of moving out of our home and in with another man – that is a whole other story. Her life is a whole other story really. It wasn’t easy. There were packing boxes everywhere. Half her stuff was at one destination, half at another. Yet we still had this plan on the 12th of January to cook.
I walked to my door, only to be greeted by a knock. Timing. What if I had gone sooner?
My energy that was positive and full of hope in going to see Mum as I opened the door soon shifted. Something was wrong. Really wrong. There stood my step dad with my younger sister.
“Hi! What’s up? I’m just on my way to see Mum – I’m running late”
Something was wrong. Their faces looked wrong. My sister looked wrong. My step dad looked wrong. His eyes red, his lip trembling amidst his bearded face. My sister stood behind him. Silent. Light out. Dark. Scared. I didn’t know they had already been punched. I didn’t know I was about to be punched. I didn’t know I was about to get in the ring with God, the Universe, and have my 19 year old life – my house, my scrappy foundations, obliterated.
“Bee – you can’t go…..”
“Mum’s dead, she’s dead”
They hadn’t even stepped inside my house. With those words, I felt the full force of the universe reach in and rip my heart out.
Like being winded. Knocked backward into my tiny flat. Past the small hand me down wooden lounge chairs covered in brown and cream tapestry. Past my bare walls. Back into my tiny kitchen where we had cooked Spaghetti days earlier.
Where did all the air in my lungs just go. Where did all my thoughts go? I wasn’t expecting this. I’d moved out of home two weeks ago. Wrong move. I walk back into a wall. Slide to the floor.
I can’t breathe.
She’d lost her fight – and it had been a long one. Now I had to start mine. Get back up. Back up off the floor.
Shock comes first, then tears, then shock again, then not sleeping, not knowing what to do as you watch not only your own world crumble, but you watch the people you love crumble and disappear. Disappear into their own void. Their own story and experience of grief and loss.
You try, as best as you can to stick the pieces of your broken family back together. You try, as best as you can, to hold on tight to who you are, to put your wounds to the side, to pick up your wounded family and try, as hard and as heavy as it is, to move forward. Slowly.
You try, as best you can to protect those you love – not realising that as you carry the wounded with you, your own scars are forming underneath the armour. We don’t know what we don’t know. I’m sure she didn’t realise the impact of the death punch that her choice delivered. I’m sure I didn’t realise the walls I would build and the fear of experiencing sadness I would develop in the process.
“You seem to be coping well, you should go to the house and look for a suicide note. You should go and look for a will. You can pick out the coffin. Did she want to be buried or cremated? “She told me she wanted to be cremated” “We think it would be better if there was a place to go and visit” “OK, but she said she didn’t want to be worm food” We think there should be an open casket. It might help some of those come to realise that she is not coming back. “She never wanted to be viewed that way, but ok – if it will help.”
You can find her make up and lipstick. You can choose the church – should it be her church? It’s kind of a basketball shed… You should find a nicer church…You can write the speech and do the eulogy. You can walk past the casket and to the pulpit. You can stare at the faces of her brothers, her father, her children, her friends as you say your speech. Read your poem. You can get over a fear of public speaking as if you can do this at 19, you can do anything.
You can see the hole in the ground – the dark deep hole. Not as dark and as deep as the one she battled, and not as dark and deep as the one she left behind. You can speak to your father and tell him that his behaviour right now is not appropriate. You can tell him he is not to come to the funeral. You can call people and tell them that she has died and pass on the details. Do you think you should go and speak to a grief counsellor. Why? She is in denial.
Denial. Punch Back.
You try, as best you can to navigate all the horrid things that death can do to people. Denial. Anger. Blame. Regret. Shame. Withdrawl. Abandonment. Rejection. Disconnection. While some of your family are rooted firmly in denial, others have disowned you for you trying to protect who you love – for fighting the good fight. Those once your allies, draw lines where all forms of communication cease for two years.
I didn’t just lose my mother that day. My father, my sister, my step father – they all got lost in the haze and daze that the death punch delivered. Some lost for almost two years – some longer. Their memories (for those still alive) are different to mine. Some of them say it’s a blur. Some of them placed her on a faultless flawless pedestal. For me, 1994 – is a crystal clear clusterf*ck year with No Rain by Blind Melon playing on repeat as I drove between the funeral home, the house she had lived in, and the house she was moving to – looking for whatever I was tasked with looking for to make the burden a little easier on those I loved. Because I loved them. Because I chose to do it. Because I’m strong and had weathered different storms before.
And you try, as best you can to navigate the life you still have to live. Your 19 year old world keeps turning with the big fat gaping hole left behind from a death punch.
I’ve always, always tried to look at my life, as a gift. When things have happened, and I am still standing, I try (as much as it may seem like I am focusing on a loss right now) to remember the things that I can do because I am here. How lucky I am. I have not lost a child. I was not born in a third world country where hunger and other basic needs are a struggle (hello future aid worker me – life goal). I can walk, talk, eat, sleep, speak freely. I can do good in this world.
I believe I was gifted these hard tough lessons for a reason. Life is a gift. A choice. Something worth fighting for. That maybe, just maybe I can tell others who might be in my Mum’s position that no, your absence would not make this world better. Fight for your light. That no, your loved ones don’t just feel a death punch once, they feel it repeatedly. Fight for their light. That yes, you are worthy, yes, you are loved, yes, you should punch back. Yes, things are shitty and tough some days.. We have a choice. Fall down, sure – we are human. Then…Get. Back. Up.
And for the love of God, for the love of life, for the love of those you think don’t need you – believe me – yes, in 25 years, you are still missed, still loved, still wished for that you had fought against the darkness one more day.
If you break an arm, you go and seek help. You don’t leave your broken limb dangling there in an odd shape.
If your thoughts are broken, your beliefs are broken, your love of life is broken…same goes. Go and seek help. Because you are worthy of fighting for you.
25 years on.. I still look for all the good things in the world.
25 years on…I still feel that death punch when I allow it’s memory to crystallise.
25 years on… I still want people to be fighters, be warriors because I believe that life is a choice worth living, and that you are worthy.
Delphys Lynette 11-8-1944 – 12-01-1994