I went to sleep sometime after 1am. Nightmares are still very extra for me, which means that no matter how tired I may be, my brain will resist the call to sleep. ‘Danger Will Robinson!’. It doesn’t help that I’m a night owl by nature. It’s quiet and familiar and I am way more afraid of things that boldly come at you in the daylight. For lots of reasons, getting to sleep takes some work.
My nightmares feel so real. It’s rare that I know I am dreaming. The themes revolve around loss and failure but any anxiety provoking scenario will do. Lurching through multiple traumas most nights is exhausting. I’ve spoken about waking from nightmares and having to reorient myself, not only to where I am but to WHEN I am. That reorientation takes effort. It’s not as simple as opening my eyes. It’s more like talking myself back onto the ledge, from the vice-like, sticky fingered grip of the abyss. And the best I will be able to do is cling, shaking, teetering on the edge of the ledge as I begin another day.
A couple of years ago I started a new medication that ‘took the edge off’ my nightmares. There was a threshold I would hit, dependant on the amount of other stressors in my life, where the medication wouldn’t work anymore. Post Covid, I seemed to be above that threshold all the time. And since I take multiple medications for other conditions I didn’t see the point of continuing to take one that no longer worked.
Last night, my brain levelled up, and found a new way to torture me. Our brains are fascinating. In one of last night’s nightmares- was it the main feature? Probably – I was flicking through a folder, with documents in it. I came across a birth certificate, where I was listed as the mother, for a child that I didn’t recognise as mine. I scanned the page, over and over. I could feel the page in between my fingers, the edge of it sharp against my palm as I gripped it tightly, fighting to make sense of what I was reading.
Was there another baby? Did I have another baby? What happened to the baby? Why couldn’t I remember? What happened to the baby? Where was the baby? Why wasn’t the baby with me? Why couldn’t I remember? What had he done to my baby?
As someone who has lost whole swathes of her life to trauma related memory loss it is plausible to me something horrendous had happened and I had blocked it out. But it’s not like I was thinking logically. It was all panicked confusion and ice cold terror.
Eventually my distress was enough to catapult me into consciousness. Where I grounded myself with the warm body of my little dog. My mind and heart still racing I went through a checklist of reality.
There wasn’t another baby. I’ve ‘only’ had one child stolen forever from me. And although she was and will always be my baby, she was fourteen when she died. And that’s the Catch 22 you see. When I am flung from a nightmare into consciousness my reality is still a nightmare. It always will be. Which is exhausting.
I do all the things, to take care of myself. All of the things I have learned to do over all of the years. I focus on the good in my life and my gratitude for it all. I immerse myself in the bigger picture and live to honour my Daughter in the best ways I can. There are many good people who love me, and who I love. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. But some days are hard.
I’m not really mad at God, basically because I don’t believe. I am just really, really angry at the moment. Behind that anger is grief, sadness, helplessness, hopelessness. I know that. My own anger doesn’t scare me. It’s an emotion, like any other. And, most of the time, anger is very motivating for me. So, not necessarily a negative.
This time I am just blindingly angry. I have cried many hot, furious tears that have burned and blistered their way down my face. So much of what I am angry about falls into the ‘accept the things you cannot change’ category, and there’s no motivation or inspiration out of that. No new motivation or inspiration. I’m still out there changing the things I can. But it doesn’t feel enough and I don’t know how it ever could be really. And to be honest, I AM SO FUCKING SICK AND TIRED OF HAVING TO ACCEPT the things I cannot change. Seriously over it. Especially when so many of them are unacceptable. Absolutely.
I am privileged to live in a place in the world that has been one of the most unaffected by Covid. I don’t underestimate that. And yet, Covid has slammed me. It’s the suspense of it. The not having control of it. The ‘SURPRISE! GLOBAL PANDEMIC’, uncertainty, insecurity, suspense of it. I hate surprises. Since roughly March – around the beginning of our Covid experience- last year the symptoms of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been off the charts. My nightmares now are as bad as they were just after Daughter Number One died. The usual themes of loss and grief and powerlessness. Without exaggeration, as bad as they have ever been, My sleep varies in levels of shittiness all the time but is consistently the shittiest now. Getting to sleep. Staying asleep. The horrific nightmares really don’t help that.
As I am writing all this I am thinking of all the people who have been directly affected by Covid in the worst ways. I really don’t ever forget how lucky I have been. And I am grateful. Even though everything is not all about me, this is my place to write down how I feel. I guess if you think I am being too much of a selfish cow then you’ll stop reading?
You know what else isn’t all about me? A young friend who died of cancer last year, having fought it a couple of times before. He wasn’t a very close friend but a friend nevertheless. Genuinely one of THE MOST LOVELY and decent and kind people I have ever met in my life. Just a really GOOD person, you know? Someone whose mere existence makes the world a brighter place. Except he doesn’t now. Exist. Except in our hearts and memories. And that’s another thing I AM SO ANGRY about. IT’S SO UNFAIR. An exceptional human being, a young person with a young family, who every day was offering a helping hand to anyone who needed it. Who was clever and funny and brave. Who believed in the greater good and put those beliefs into action. When I think of all the arseholes still out there walking around IT MAKES ME FURIOUS!
At his funeral service the religious person officiating said he had tried to have conversations with this exceptional human being regarding their beliefs and that the exceptional human being had ‘refused to be drawn’ but that his family could have hope that he would be entering the gates of heaven, despite being noncommittal. I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist.
This absolutely INCENSED me! As I said, I wasn’t lucky enough to call the exceptional human a close friend and we’d never spoken of religion. We spoke about his partner and the home they were making together and his overwhelming pride in his little toddler. We swapped memes. Did each other the odd favour. I don’t know what religious convictions he held or didn’t hold.
But here’s what I do know. Hypothetically speaking, if there is a heaven, this exceptional human spent his days walking the walk. I don’t expect he was a perfect person, there’s no fun in that. But a genuinely decent person who lived his life with joy and appreciation and in active fellowship with the rest of us. IF there is a heaven then, by God (ha!), this person should be guaranteed entry. Not because he spouted the company line – which he may have done, I don’t know – but because he lived his life in a way that represents what all that stuff is actually meant to mean!
IF there is a heaven then his family shouldn’t have to hope anything! IF there’s a heaven it should be rolling out the red carpet and escorting him to the VIP lounge, ffs!
I was watching an episode of House the other day. House was talking about the lack of dignity in death. I think that’s right. There are certainly more dignified ways to die than others but, yes, I agree, the dignity is in how you choose to live.
In the last almost twelve months of Covid, like many others, I haven’t been able to travel to people I love. Some people I love have gone through/are going through extremely difficult times and I can’t go and be with them. Or hug them. I can’t get to them – another trigger. And again, my privilege acknowledged. I haven’t missed any weddings or funerals or births. I’ve gotten off easily, I know! The irony of me whinging about the effect ON ME of not being able to get to people I love to support them in THEIR time of need is not lost to me. This is an extremely self centred post. I’m not perfect either.
Another dearest heart, beautiful human – another exceptional being I am proud to call my friend – is dying as we speak. A kindred spirit, someone I felt a strong connection to the first time we met. Again, a bright, witty, giving human. Again it’s cancer, although they have lived a longer life than my younger friend. And I know, I know, we are all dying, day by day. I know that. But, yeah, there are more dignified ways to go and cancer is just not one of them. And my friend, who has lived a colourful and inspirational life, looked me in the eyes and said “It’s not fair!”. And they are right, it’s not fair. It is the opposite of fair. The furtherest away from fair it’s possible to get, if you ask me. And that makes me angry too. REALLY FUCKING ANGRY.
And sad and helpless and hopeless. I am still doing all the things. All the things I have learned, over all the years and all the traumas and all the fucking accepting of things I cannot fucking change. I’m still focusing my energy on things bigger than me – although this pity party post probably suggests otherwise. I’m still DOING. ALL. THE. THINGS. Putting my energy into things and people that matter to me. Taking photos. Taking medication. Writing here. Blaring songs on repeat. Like ‘The Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World.
I’m just angry. I’m just sad. I’m just tired. And my Daughter Number One’s birthday is in less than two weeks. Which probably isn’t helping. We will celebrate having known her at all and the time we had with her. But she still won’t be here anymore. It still won’t be fair. And I will still be angry. Because she deserved better. She deserved more. A lot of us do. But we play the hands we are dealt the best that we can. And we keep going, because it’s all we can do. And we choose love, because in the end the love is what we leave behind.
Wear it Purple Day was on Friday the 28th August. It’s a day to celebrate diversity and most particularly young people who are part of the LGBTIQA+ community. Wearing purple and holding events to be very vocal and visible about the fact that there is love and acceptance out there. That even if you feel alone right now there’s a whole community of family you just haven’t met yet.
I started the day helping Daughter Number Two get ready for the events she had helped organise for her school and made her pose for photos before she left.
That evening, with a friend apiece in tow, we headed off to join the Youth Pride Network’s Pot Luck get together. YPN are on facebook and are an exceptional bunch of young people doing amazing things! Seriously, their knowledge and commitment is beyond impressive and I am always in awestruck admiration of it. Their pot luck event was held at Perth City Farm, a venue I had never been to before and it didn’t disappoint. I had been stressing all day about what to make to take for the pot luck dinner; budget and time being restrictions. But I remembered I had fettuccine and pesto in the pantry and threw that together. During the course of the evening I watched people loading their plates with generous amounts of my simple dish and it made me feel warm and fuzzy! Food is definitely one of my love languages! Some genius with a patience level I don’t possess had made rainbow jellies! Sooooo pretty!
After the YPN event we had tickets to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Girls School Cinema – a venue I have had the pleasure of previously! It is, as it says on the box, an old girls school that transforms into a seasonal cinema. It is fabulously spooky and rich in history and, whatever movie you are there to see, it those facts definitely add to the atmosphere. Daughter Number Two’s friend had never seen Rocky Horror before and it was, as always, a kick to introduce him to some history and culture and listen to him muse about the impact this film must have had on release. Without a doubt we celebrated Wear it Purple Day in style! I was exhausted but happy as we arrived home.
I’ve been stumbling through 2020, as I established in my last post. Since I last wrote we have moved house. It’s a good move and I love the new place but still, moving is stressful and change can be hard. In the photo from my last post you can see the little trouble maker we adopted just before Covid 19 changed the world forever. His name is Zorro and I adore him! He is happiest when he is snuggled up with me and sleeping and I am happy to oblige him in that endeavour as often as possible. He is an emotional support/ therapy dog without credentials. Just stroking him, playing with his ears or holding his little paws and playing with his toe beans (which he indulges me in all the time!) or listening to his soft snoring, calms me and grounds me.
When we arrived home very early Saturday morning Zorro was his usual beyond excited self to see us and did his happy dance and gave us lots of kisses. When I was ready I let him outside to go to the bathroom. I took some things upstairs and came down to let him inside for bed. Except he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the backyard at all! I realised the side gate was open and he was gone. Daughter Number Two and I started looking for him in the park next door but after 15 – 20 minutes of nothing I called in My Love and his daughter to help. By this time I was beyond hysterical. Zorro is only a small boy and it was a windy and rainy night. I had assumed he had just taken the opportunity for a romp in the park but when I couldn’t see him or hear him in the park or the surrounding streets I began to get really worried.
After TWO HOURS of searching and thanks only to My Love driving further than either of us thought he could ever had been we found the little bugger! He was trotting down an island in the middle of a main road; cold, scared but miraculously unharmed, over a kilometre from home.
On the other hand, I had died a thousand deaths and probably aged ten years. As PTSD has wired my brain to do, every memory involving loss and guilt that I have stored away was matched to the feelings I experienced in those two hours. For those of you playing along, you’ll know there’s a few such memories. “This is the same as that! This is the correct response!” Even once he was safely home and none the worse for his adventure my mind still raced along with my heart.
One particular memory stood out. It happened when my beautiful first born Daughter was four. It was a weekend morning, about six months into my relationship with her murderer. I was in bed with him when Sam walked into the room. We said our good mornings and I remarked that we needed milk. In jest I said “Do you mind popping down to the shops to get some Sammie?” and the the small talk moved on. Sam left the room and I got up to make her breakfast.
Except I couldn’t find her. She wasn’t in the house. She wasn’t in the yard. Like a bolt of lightning it hit me that she may well have just gone to get the milk! To the local supermarket, several blocks and busy roads away. My heart in my mouth, I was paralysed by terror. Her murderer leapt to action and shot off to look for her. Do you know how fucked up it feels to write that sentence? To have that memory? And he found her, safe and sound, on her little trike, with her little bag, almost at the shops and cool as a cucumber! Like her mother, Sam was always a ‘Why not?’ kind of girl.
I, at the time, naturally beat myself up for my offhand comment and, even midst my relief that she was fine, whipped myself with thoughts of what could have happened to her, as mother’s often do.
Now, with this memory on repeat in my head and all jumbled up- the memory of the rush of relief as her murderer brought her safely home, my guilt for being a bad mother, anger and breath taking grief that ten years later the man who ‘saved’ her on that occasion would take her life, guilt for being a bad mother – I do not have the words to begin to tell you how seriously this memory fucked me over.
The day after Zorro ran away I stayed in bed, only getting up to make meals and eat with Daughter Number Two. I mostly slept. Today is the day after that and still I am a mess. My entire body is so sore and stiff. My head hurts and my chest feels like what I imagine it feels like to be kicked there by a horse. Every muscle, every joint, feels as if it is on fire. I cancelled plans I had yesterday and have tried to take today quietly but it will still be some time, probably, before I feel ok again. I don’t need to exaggerate how debilitating this is. If you know, then you know and if you don’t- lucky you! – it is probably beyond comprehension how quickly and thoroughly your own brain can you hobble you. Last week I was shopping in Coles with My Love and a song that had played at Sam’s funeral started playing. I burst into tears and couldn’t move for a while. In the middle of Coles. My Love just held me and only remarked once that it was a very long song! I just suffered a migraine from that experience but it was still enough to knock me out for the rest of that evening.
Because we moved there have been things to sort and unpack. So many memories. It makes it heavy going. Today I was reading through some letters from someone I loved dearly. I realised we are 18 months off thirty years since we met. Son Number Two, with whom I was pregnant when my friend died, will be twenty two years old tomorrow. Life goes on. On the back of one of his letters my friend wrote “Yes I’m still alive! Ha!” and I know that he is, in my heart and my memory. So is Sam, in the hearts and memories of so many. Love doesn’t die. It is what remains. It can still hurt like a bitch though!
It’s surely a billionty years since I last wrote and a whole new world we are living in. I think of all the things I should be doing. Could be doing. My house should be immaculate with all the cupboards sorted. I could be reading all the books. Making and creating. Getting fitter and healthier. Baking!
But actually I am just getting through one day to the next. The Coronavirus situation is so hugely out of my control. I know, it’s out of everyone’s control. I am frustrated beyond belief with my reaction to it. Every day I vow to do better. Be better. Still I feel stuck in a holding pattern.
It’s just so triggering you see. The powerlessness. The lack of control. The anxiety and uncertainty. The massive demarcation of before and after coupled with the ever excruciating feeling of being in limbo.
It brings back all the feelings I had around Sam’s murder. The night she was killed I waited and waited for her to get home. Not knowing. Not understanding. Then, when I was told she was gone there was a two week wait for the autopsy to be performed, so any plans for a service had to wait. Then after my brilliant and beautiful Daughter was cremated – more than she had been in the burning wreck of the car that was used to kill her – we had to wait ten months for the inquest.
The pathologist who conducted the autopsy had retired before completing a good number of post mortem reports. Until it was completed the inquest could not be held. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
The family law proceedings Sam’s murderer’s mother brought against me couldn’t be finalised until after the inquest. Until they were finalised I was legally bound to stay in the area that held so many memories for me. Memories that destroyed me on a daily basis. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
All of these feelings and memories triggered by what is happening now, to the point of paralysis almost. I cannot kick my brain into gear. My mental functioning is operating on a very basic level because my entire body is on high alert in response to imminent danger. Fighting that is exhausting! I try. I do try. Coupled with insomnia and nightmares of a level that sort of impresses me when I disassociate enough to contemplate them. That constant panicky feeling of not being able to physically go to people who are dear to me.
I’m writing this for those of you who are struggling. For whatever reason. I write it for those of you who are grieving; for lost loved ones, lost incomes, lost feelings of safety. I write it because the beautiful Lori wrote a facebook post shortly after this began that resonated with me so deeply that I remembered I wasn’t alone in this grey in-between world. As always I am also writing for myself. So that I can empty out my head a bit and drag these things into the light. Speak their name so they lose their power. Somewhat.
I count my blessings. I am geographically blessed. I am able to spend time with two of my children while being comforted that Son Number One’s daily routine has not changed much and, something that has caused me past sadness, is protecting him now. I have only had friend’s of friends contract Coronavirus so far. What a privilege that is, really. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Clean water and power.
Life goes on. For those of us still breathing it goes on. Whether we want it to or not. So I fight, really hard. to hang on to the love. Because that’s what remains after life has gone. When everything else feels too slippery to get a grip on the love is still there. I put one foot in front of the other. I get up and do the best that I can. I try.
Just before Coronavirus took hold of the world I had a message from a friend I hadn’t had contact with for almost seventeen years. He’d sent me something by mail and had it returned to him. He’d contacted a mutual friend who had a phone number for me, that remains my phone number still, and sent me a message to ask for my current address. When the package from him arrived it contained not only a gloriously hand written letter but a book that I had given him to read shortly after Sam was murdered. It is a book called The Tao of Pooh. He also included copies of a couple of letters I had written to him during the same period. In the intervening years he had moved, literally, from one end of the country to another. All the while my little book travelled with him, cared for respectfully until he returned it safely to me. One of the best parts was the discovery that he now lives only suburbs away from me! So very far from where we both began! I was touched beyond measure by this unexpected and overwhelming gift of kindness. Also awed by ripples in the pond of life we make that travel so much further than we can ever truly comprehend.
I was awake in the early hours of the morning- naturally- the other night when a message flashed up from the son of one of my best friends of over thirty years. He was writing to share his excitement at the news he was to become a father! It was so lovely to talk to him and hear his happiness! Life goes on. Love goes on.
There are things I am unable to do at the moment but there are always things to be learned. I hope we can hang on to the things we’re learning from this. While almost every artist, writer, musician and creative human I know is setting up Patreon accounts and asking for donations via PayPal, the rest of us are clinging on to books and music and movies to try to retain our sanity. The Arts have had their funding stripped and been deprioritised by our current government and the Coronavirus financial assistance currently in place does not cover them. The Arts go to the very core of what it is to be human and my hope is that, out of this, we can raise our voices to make our representatives acknowledge that.
Also worth remembering is the blatantly obvious fact that our social security safety net was not actually enough to live on. When the realisation came that thousands would lose their employment, you know, regular good people who weren’t deliberately disabled, uneducated, single parents or just too lazy to find a job, the payments were raised so that people might actually have a chance to survive economically. Who knew that this would have the added benefit of stimulating our economy? Astounding!
We should also remember that the heroes we recognise now are ALWAYS heroes, just usually behind the scenes. The doctors, nurses, all hospital workers, the teachers and child care educators, the checkout chicks and shelf stackers and trolley boys. All of the people who have suddenly become ‘essential workers’, who are literally putting their own lives on the line to help the rest of us. Maybe they are too scared of losing their income – some of them aren’t making the choice to be heroes, they just want to keep paying their rent but they are still risking their lives, either way. Women and young people, statistically speaking, feature highly in the numbers of ‘everyday heroes’ we are relying on so heavily at the moment. Maybe we should remember to pay them what they are actually worth?
While our government has had to take a break from attempting to legislate vulnerable members of the community into second class citizens, those same sections of the community are part of that essential workforce who aren’t stopping to ask whether you approve of their sexuality or acknowledge their gender before they save your life. It’s ironic but true, people who have faced adversity themselves are usually the first ones to put their hands up to help others. The beautiful spirit who is Johnny Valkyrie being a shining example of that and putting out some great resources on facebook!
The Australia that I hope we can become is the one in the posts made by some of the almost one million members of the facebook page ‘Bin Isolation Outing’, it’s there in the posts on various ‘Kindness Pandemic’ Facebook pages and it’s there in the people who are painting rainbows on footpaths and putting teddy bears in windows. Sometimes the worst brings out the best in us. Mateship and solidarity. A fair go.
We are AMAZING when we work together!
Be gentle with yourselves and others. Safe onward travel x
The other night House Rules was on TV, just running in the background while I did other things. Before I knew it the program ended and the next one started and the first scenes of it involved a grandmother identifying the body of her teenaged grandson. As I reached for the remote the memory flashed through my head; “There’s nothing to identify.” I could see the officer, knelt before me, asking which dentist my Daughter Number One had attended. “There’s nothing to identify.” For the next twenty four hours that phrase pinged around my head. “There’s nothing to identify”. On the walk to school. “There’s nothing to identify.” In Coles, grocery shopping. “There’s nothing to identify.” Washing up at the sink. “There’s nothing to identify.” As the days go on it echoes less, and I write it here to diminish it’s power again. But it’s not a memory I can ever be free from. Burned into my brain like her love knot bracelet into my Daughter’s arm.
A friend’s daughter asked why I don’t drive. “I’ve never driven.” I said “I catch public transport. You get used to it.” And all that is true. But I didn’t mention that during any car ride I take, when anyone brakes sharply or swerves or merges into traffic or just does nothing but be on the road at the same time as the car I am in; that I see, time after time, the impact if the cars were to hit each other. In my mind’s eye, in less than a heartbeat, I see the crumpling of metal and the flailing of limbs and possessions in slow motion flying through the car. Time after time. I didn’t explain that I will never drive. That I could never be anything but a liability on the road, reacting to things before they might happen. Because sometimes they do.
Ironing Daughter Number Two’s shirt the other day for school I almost called out her Sister’s name. Almost. The sister she is uncannily like but never got to meet. They are both their own people but still, having Daughter Number Two at high school now and fast approaching the age and stage Daughter Number One was at when she died is more challenging than I had anticipated it being. Mostly because I hadn’t anticipated it. In the first week of Daughter Number Two starting high school I went to pick her up and as I approached the school a girl who looked vaguely like Daughter Number One walked out the school gate and my heart leapt in recognition before plummeting as reality kicked in. Just a moment, fleeting but breathtaking.
Through all of these things time marches on. Mother’s Day is on Sunday. The next week is Daughter Number Two’s birthday. The day after is Son Number One’s birthday and ten days after that will be the 16th anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder. And I iron uniforms and pack lunches and plan birthday celebrations but part of me is just so sad. So tired and so sad. I am always grateful for all of my children. I know how lucky I am. I have so many wonderful friends and people who love me. But this time of year is hard. It is heavy.
I was speaking to the Beautiful Friend, who was talking about her own Mother and her focus for this Mother’s Day; which was to celebrate all that she is and has because of her Mum. Because of Her.
Those words really resonated with me. Celebrate all that I am and have, because of Her. There are things that I wish with every fibre of my being were different and things that I wouldn’t change. But you can’t go back anyway and every step on my path has been one that has led me here. So, even if I am moving a bit slowly at the moment I’m still putting one foot in front of the other. Celebrating all that I am and have. Because of Her.
Content warning: Violence against women, Domestic Violence, sexual assault, violence against children, suicide.
This is not your regular Mother’s Day post. It’s not even MY regular Mother’s Day post, although it starts about the same. Earlier this week I was at an appointment and the doctor asked how many children I had and I answered her and I cried. Then I had coffee with a friend and there was a Mother’s Day promotion on a card in the middle of the table so I turned it around to face the window. So I couldn’t see it. So it couldn’t see me. Yesterday, on the phone, a stranger told me to ‘Have a happy Mother’s Day’ and I hung up my phone and blinked away hot tears.
It’s a SHIT time of year for me. Mother’s Day is about three weeks out from the anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder. Fifteen years this year. And the day before that will be three years since her father killed himself. And the day before that will mark twenty years since a beloved friend killed himself – the fun never ends at this time of year.
Then the news broke of Australia’s worst mass shooting in decades; a murder suicide with four of the dead being children. There’s been a screaming inside my head and a dagger in my heart ever since I heard.
For the innocent lives lost and the friends and family they have left behind. The first responders and all who will be touched by this in a professional capacity going forward. To their wider community, in all the various communities they were a part of. My heart just bleeds and bleeds. The devastation and destruction and just incredible wastefulness. Happy fucking Mother’s Day.
I’ve had a post half written in my head for weeks now. The more usual, for me, Mother’s Day one. The one where I acknowledge the Mothers who are without their children and the children who no longer have their Mothers. Where I remember the Step Mother’s and the foster Mothers and all the women that step up in that capacity without deserved recognition. But in thinking about it I’ve realised it’s SO MUCH MORE than that. Because if you are a woman, whether you have had children or not you can be DAMN SURE you’ve been mothering someone! In fact, it’s not just women but girls too. If you are female the chances are you mother someone in your life; partners, siblings, friends, colleagues, parents etc. It’s what we are trained to do. It’s what is expected from us.
To mother, the verb, means “look after (someone) kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.” And we do. We do. I know my Daughter stayed silent about the sexual abuse she suffered because she thought she was protecting those she loved. She literally died doing so. It’s why I can’t shut up. It’s why I won’t. Until I literally die.
We use the word ‘mother’ to denote things of import – Mother Nature, mother load, mother ship – but where, exactly, do we pay more than lip service to the significance of mothers? To the significance of women? Unicorn slippers and breakfast in bed tomorrow just really don’t cut it for me!
Let’s get some perspective on this, shall we? Counting Dead Women Australia count every known death due to violence against women in Australia. As of yesterday the tally sits at 23, so far, this year. Which means we are currently SMASHING our national average of one dead woman per week in this country due to violence against women. And this tally doesn’t even include children lost to domestic violence.
Please keep in mind that I live in The Lucky Country. A first world country. A ‘civilised’ nation. And yet I also live in a country where my sanitary products are taxed under a goods and services tax – literally taxing me for being a woman! – even though condoms are exempt. I live in a country that will pay me less than a man for doing the same job. I live in a country where abortion laws vary from state to state and abortion is technically illegal in two.
Elisabeth Moss, who stars in and produces The Handmaid’s Tale gave an interview recently in which she said hates hearing that someone won’t watch the show because it is ‘too scary’. That she struggles with the idea of that because “This is happening in your real life.” There is no question that The Handmaid’s Tale is confronting viewing. There is graphic violence against women and sexual assault. Yes, it is scary. But what is even more petrifying? Is when you watch it and realise that we are not so far removed from that possible reality. So, please, be scared, be uncomfortable, Watch it anyway and then be OUTRAGED.
Tomorrow and all the other days after that, let your outrage inspire you to action. Speak your truth, shout it loud, share it widely. Support your local woman’s refuge or collective or your next door neighbour who’s struggling a bit. Read, learn, question. And take care of your own damn self.
We are through the first half of 2017, and almost halfway through July now as well. I made it through the 14th anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder but only just, regular viewers, only just. I am still here, still breathing, still putting one foot in front of the other.
I don’t try to pretend it is easy. It really hasn’t been. During the first five months of this year two beautiful souls I had the privilege of connecting with died and in June another, most precious, followed. On top of my own personal grief, watching people I love in pain is almost more than I can bear. I say almost because there isn’t a choice. I love them and they are in pain. If the most I can do is bear witness then it needs to be done. But I have been so sad. For me, for them. It all hurts so much. My body hurts, my soul hurts and oh, I’m so tired. So very, very tired.
In the week before the anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder we had the bombing in Manchester, at Ariana Grande’s concert. An attack on children. An attack on music. Shortly after came the London Bridge attack, again involving young people on a night out and shortly after that came the Grenfell Tower disaster. Babies and children, whole families, living their lives, losing their lives and all of these events in quick succession hit me like a ton of bricks. The weight of it, mixed with the other losses in my own life. The pointless waste of snuffed out potential. The reinforcement of how tenuous our grip on life is. How quickly everything we have and know and hold dear can be gone. It was crushing.
As always, during these times, we were offered the very best and the very worst of humanity. Stories of homeless men running to give aid and strangers holding children, comforting them as they died. But the overwhelming aftertaste was of man’s inhumanity to man. These are the things I try not to hold onto. I really try. Consciously. I choose to look for the good and to be better, not bitter. But every ‘Missing! Hasn’t been heard from’ photo on facebook and each confirmed fatality, each snatched glimpse of footage showing billowing smoke and bereft people before I quickly changed the channel, took me back to a policeman’s face and the sound of his voice saying “There is nothing to identify. We’ll have to use dental records”. Over and over and over again.
I am still sad. I am still scared. I am scared because at some point, in some way, love will equal loss, because that is the deal. And I choose to keep loving. Is it better to have loved and lost? Still, yes, I guess. For me at least. But the loss bit is just so very hard.
Still, I get up in the morning and I put one foot in front of the other. Some days are slower than others, but I try and I try because the best way I know to honour the dead is by living. All the dear ones I have loved and lost, none of them would want me to not live my life. It would not give them back theirs.
I have spoken before of the privilege of being adopted by a network of ex servicemen and women of all designations; military, police, fire and ambulance: Their support and generosity of spirit are second to none. A friend wrote recently to share his positive experience with a new medication he was trialling. Traditionally a blood pressure medication, it is said to have the bonus side effect of getting rid of ptsd related nightmares. As someone who routinely screams herself awake this sounded almost miraculous. In truth, after all these years I cannot imagine what life might be like without them. I just know it sounds good to me.
After using antidepressants for over ten years I stopped taking them four years ago. A doctor said to me that she didn’t think my depression was biologically based, rather a reaction to events. I thought ‘Abso- fucking- lutely’ and at that moment there didn’t seem to be much point in continuing to take them. I only speak for myself. I don’t make judgements about what does and doesn’t work for anyone else. I was under medical supervision. But for me, I have not had any more bad days or anymore good days since I stopped taking them. That’s what I know.
Four years down the track from that decision, hearing about a medication that specifically targets the nightmares was pretty exciting! So I made an appointment with a gp and asked. The Dr I was seeing had never heard of using this particular medication in that way so she rang a registrar for more information. She confirmed what my friend had been so generous to share. So, I got my prescription. And I don’t know that it will work for me but I don’t know that it won’t. And hope is a fine thing!
One foot in front of the other until you get to the other side, while sirens in the distance have me listening for the voice that will never come.
Safe onward travel to all my lovelies, wherever you are and wherever you are headed x
This morning I woke up from a nightmare in which I was getting my children ready for some imminent apocalyptic event. I don’t remember what it was, I just remember speaking to my kids and trying to prepare them, in a detailed way, including instructions on what to do if separated from me, or from each other. They were smaller, younger, more vulnerable versions of themselves, just to add to the ambiance. I was talking to them in a very matter of fact way while in my head I was screaming because I knew it wasn’t enough, wasn’t enough, wasn’t enough and the very bad thing was coming and I couldn’t keep them safe.
Yesterday I woke up from a dream that left me so disoriented that it literally took me a full sixty seconds, without exaggeration, to work out – first – where I was, but then, when I was. In that order, which is weird. Yesterday disappeared into a bit of a hole that I was unable to crawl my way out of. The level of exhaustion is hard to describe. I read somewhere that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder feel so tired all the time because you are basically on high alert constantly. After nightmares all night (I will wake up several times during the night and even if I go back to sleep all I remember are nightmares) I slump into some days. My head pounds, I have chest pains and my limbs all feel like they are made of concrete. My whole body aches with heaviness. Everything, every. little. thing. requires such effort that, even if I can be bothered, a small task can take up most of the day. There are days I can’t even pretend to be a functional human being.
I guess this is my annual Mother’s Day whinge. Feel free to stop reading. I don’t claim any exclusivity. Everyone has hard days and Mother’s Day is hard for lots of people, for many reasons. Childless mothers, motherless children, women who mother other people’s children, children and mothers who are separated by whatever circumstance. I don’t pretend my list is comprehensive. You all know who you are.
For some, it will be their first Mother’s Day and for some it will be their first Mother’s Day since. For some, it will be both and that’s just the way it is. What I know is that as soon as Easter was over, literally the day after, shops were full of Mother’s Day merchandise. Mugs and slippers and photo frames everywhere you turn. Brochures in the letter box and advertisements on television and Mother’s Day espisodes of television shows. Choking up my newsfeed in every direction. A constant assault that is impossible to escape. And for me this year the added bonus of a later Mother’s Day bringing it even closer to the anniversary of my Daughter’s death. Two and a half weeks to go. Bonus.
Would I have been a grandmother by now? I cried on the packed train today, silently, after scrolling past a mother guessing her daughter was pregnant on a facebook post. Bit, fat, hot tears that dropped singly from my lashes and felt like lava carving their way down my face.
After tomorrow there will be marked down slippers, mugs and photo frames and that is nowhere near as fun as marked down Easter chocolate, nowhere near as fun at all. But the days, even the hard ones, pass. Just a bit slower.
Tonight I am baby sitting three rascals of the four legged kind. Two very special babies and the big brother of the little girl Son Number Two and I have staying with us; precious souls all of them and I am glad to be here.
A friend asked me to edit her manuscript recently. I cannot possibly put into words what it meant to me to be trusted with that task, but it meant so much. It worked for me on a number of levels.
I have friends I can text random things to and they will meet me where I am. I recently went to see a performance of live theatre. It was an incredibly moving adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank hosted by the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts. I’ve had lunch in the quiet, leafy grounds of a University and laughed at my Daughter Number Two and my Sons. I have felt the relief of cool nights after just warm enough days. Videos of small boys and big dogs that melt my heart. And, you know, marked down Easter chocolate.
The best of times and the worst of times.
For the rest of my life; the best of times and the worst of times.
Safe onward travel x
Well, here we are again. Another year. 2017. Donald Trump is the American president and it’s safe to say the times they are a changin’, for me personally and on a worldwide level. It’s safe for me to say that because times always do. Change is our constant.
My current psych is trying Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with me. Part of that is mindfulness. Be in the now. Sure. Still, as much as I acknowledge that the past is the past and cannot be altered the inalienable truth for me is that the absence of my Daughter Number One is my present. I acknowledge that she is gone but that loss, the great, gaping, abyss-like wound caused by her absence is with me always. And most days, most minutes of most days, it takes everything I have not to just fall right in. Some days it takes everything I have not to just jump. Or to simply let go and drift gracefully into the warm, inky, welcoming, comforting, NOTHING blackness.
Because for me, there is nothing beautiful about my own struggle. It is me, hanging on by my fingernails as I feel them splinter, grazing my knees and elbows as I stumble along, blinded by my tears and struggling to breathe against the constriction of my chest. Aching joints, aching head, aching heart. And that is me being mindful. That is me living in the now; where my other children grow older and my Daughter’s friends get engaged to be married and my first born Daughter never does and never will. Where I accept the reality of her absence but that will never make it ok.
After George Michael died last year, after Prince and Leonard Cohen, I commented somewhere that it was the year the music died, but of course I was wrong. The music is eternal. The gifts people give the world, that is what they leave us to hold onto. For someone who only lived fourteen years the legacy of love my Daughter Number One left behind is immense. I am awed by it. Sometimes I am even comforted by it. But it is not enough and never will be. Call me a greedy bitch if you like, I know some people have much less. But I want more.
Since I have told you what there is safe to say and what is fair, let me tell you what is UNFAIR and not safe to say out loud. Ironically, as I wrote that last sentence I wrote ‘fear’ instead of ‘fair’ and I allowed myself a wry chuckle, that, sitting on a crowded flight with tears escaping from my eyes, could only enhance the aura I imagine surrounds me!
This year I face the fourteenth anniversary of my Daughter’s murder. No anniversary is easy and I have told you before that the months between her birthday and the anniversary are progressively excruciating. As the years have passed though (how is that even possible?) I have been aware of an increasing dread. As we start off another year I can tell you it has now grown into a creeping, cold terror that wraps itself around me. It is crushing. It is paralysing.
It is the knowledge that at a certain point this year my Daughter Number One will have been gone for longer than she was here. And for some reason the thought of that is DEVASTATING to me. For a start, it doesn’t even seem possible. To continue to be living this long without her. It is a thought my mind has trouble containing because it is just so wrong. JUST SO VERY WRONG. Incomprehensible. Perhaps it is the simple fact that we are not meant to outlive our children. It isn’t the way it is meant to be. Which is why, when Debbie Reynolds died so quickly after Carrie Fisher, I thought ‘Oh, that’s good’.
Rationally I know that this year will not make my Daughter any more gone but I can only tell you how it feels. And how it feels is like I am losing her all over again. That, somehow, she is getting farther away. That she is disappearing further and I literally do not know how I will bear it. I do not know how to do this. To keep doing this. I am so scared. What I don’t expect people to understand unless they have similar experiences (and I don’t wish that on anybody) is that it isn’t and has never been one finite loss. Clear cut and contained. It is a million, billion losses that still – daily – assault me. Sometimes with the force of a sledgehammer and sometimes more of a pin prick but they are chronic and unending. My loss does not diminish. It is infinite and immeasurable. I have simply lived with it longer, the longer I live.
My other children, my beautiful friends, my family of the heart; they are the reasons I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know I am so lucky to have them. I know I do not walk alone. But oh, gosh, it’s been such a long walk. I am so tired. It is not so much good days and bad but better days or worse. I know joy, I feel happiness but they are bittersweet. Part of that is guilt. Even when I am happy I am sad. Trying to ‘pass’ as a functional human being is exhausting.
Today I am travelling and I enjoy that. I love being up here in the air. When you get above the clouds the sun is always shining. I am sitting in the emergency exit row. My first time ever. I don’t like having to put my handbag above me in the overhead locker and not having it easily accessible but, eh, I took out everything I hope I’ll need on this short flight so ok. It seems a small price to pay for the extra leg room! I am actually sitting here with my legs crossed! Which is probably really bad for my circulation but feels so comfortable!
This is the second of three flights I will take today and as usual I am taking the long way around. The road less travelled. My first flight took me south. This flight takes me north, over and past the point from which I started and the flight this evening will take me west and home. Five flights, four airports and three states total in forty eight hours. I am lucky to be able to spend time with people I love on this journey. But parting is always such sweet sorrow. So I am in a state of agonising ecstasy today.
I knew early on, after my Daughter’s murder, that it would be terribly easy to slip into a cosy state of detachment. In fact, completely switching off emotionally is what I constantly, consciously fight against. It would be so easy, to just not feel. It would be So. Much. Easier. And some days I need the reprieve. But as a very dear, much loved kindred spirit reminded me today, indifference is the opposite of love. And I choose to keep loving. And feeling and living. Because how is any of it worth it otherwise?
My not so little now Daughter Number Two said to me yesterday “It is hard when you are always missing someone.”
A couple of nights ago Son Number Two woke me in the early hours of the morning. I had been having a nightmare that something was coming at me out of the dark and, in my dream, I had been screaming his name. He said, in real life, that he couldn’t understand what I was crying out, but that I was clearly distressed, so he woke me up. It wasn’t the first time, it will not be the last. He wakes me up and talks to me for a couple of minutes as I reorient myself and then he goes back to bed. And in the morning he gets up and goes off to school.
Last Wednesday was Son Number Two’s eighteenth birthday. That seems incredible to me but there you have it. My beautiful Daughter Number One died when he was four years old and he has very few memories of her. Life ‘After’ is life as he knows it. I wanted his birthday to be all about him and I think, I hope, that he felt that it was. The birthday video I made to post to facebook had only one photo of him with each sibling; the rest of an increasingly good looking boy across the years. So many memories as I trawled through photos to pick the best ones.
And I got things together and I organised his birthday dinner but by the big day I was exhausted from the effort of containing the unfairness of his big sister not being here to celebrate this milestone with him and the brutality of the knowledge that she never got to see her eighteenth birthday. Or any birthday after she turned fourteen. Each night this week brought a nightmare that didn’t really stop when I awoke.
On his birthday Son Number Two went off to school and I attended to the last few details. I went to visit a friend and while they were sweeping outside I stood in their kitchen with music on full blast and sobbed the kind of heaving, full bodied sobs that leave you unsure if you are going to vomit and bring you literally to your knees – and they did, and they did. But before my friend came inside I had wiped off my face and regained my composure and the day wore on.
I came home to my Son and one friend, followed by another, then another. We all got ready to go out for his birthday dinner and there were many laughs. The general consensus amongst his friends seems to be that I am cool, as parents go. But they have no idea of how hard my Son’s life has been at times. We have had some adventures though, he and I, and I guess we have both made it this far. That’s saying something in itself even if I’m not sure what that is. What I do know is that he has a solid group of friends who, like him, are loyal smart arses for the most part. But funny as fuck.
We all prepared to go out and I sent them off to the bus stop and waited for my own lift at the top of my drive way and with their laughter travelling around the corner to me I felt the tightness in my chest and the change in my breathing as the grip I held so tightly once again started to slip. I sent an emergency text to one of my oldest, dearest friends and then my other lovely friends picked me up to go to the restaurant.
The birthday dinner was a good night out and a jolly good time was had by all. I limped through the rest of the week and here we are, on Father’s Day.
Once again I feel for my son and all that was stolen from him but more than that, I am so grateful. I am grateful beyond measure for the truly good men who have been in his life. The ones who came to his birthday dinner and clapped him on the back, shook his hand and hugged him goodbye. I am grateful for all of those men who have spent time with him over his life and who have cared enough to make the effort. I am thankful for the beautiful men and fathers I have the privilege of knowing, the true good guys that mean I continue to have hope. Lastly, I am grateful for my Son, who he is and who he is becoming.