Sunday, August 24, 2014

The stuff of grief

The weather’s on the turn.  I’ve seen the first of the pink blossoms out in the neighbouring streets.  My mother’s body is decomposing in the ground near to where we had buried my father but my life goes on. 

On the day of my mother’s funeral I looked into the deep hole in the ground where her body was soon to rest to look for signs of my father. As if the gravediggers would allow for that, but some part of me hoped to see signs, bones perhaps, some testament to my father’s existence where we last put him over thirty years ago.   I saw none.  

These two, my parents, united in marriage in 1942, their bodies together again in the earth, despite all their trials while living.  

This morning I needed to use a long stick to dislodge the newspaper from out underneath our car.  The indignity of it all, me in my dressing gown on all fours poking underneath the car as far as my arm could reach to roll out the newspaper that the deliverers insist on chucking in over the fence.  But that’s small indignity compared to illness and death.

Still my mother is not far away and images of her during her last few weeks pop into my mind unbidden.  When I find myself clearing sleep from the corner of my eye I see my mother’s pointy finger nail on her index finger as she tried to brush aside the conjunctivitis gunk that had built up in her eyes as she lay dying. 

Is this the stuff of grief? 

Somehow I do not imagine myself grieving for my mother anymore.  One of my brothers sent an email and called it something along the lines of ‘Closing the file on our mother’. 

Closing the file.  As if it were so easy.  But grief is at the other end.  When we grieve we cannot let go. 

I sense a too-easy ability to let go.  My mother comes in and out of my thoughts, but she is not there at the surface most of the time. 

I run into a friend for the first time since my mother’s death and she asks me meaningfully with a special tone in her voice, ‘How are you?’ and for a minute I go to say ‘I’m fine,’ but then I recognise the intent of her question and I have to modify my tone.  I go back to the week of my mother’s death and talk about how hard it was then, but for now it seems I’ve entered a protective bubble that tells me I have too much to go on with to grieve for too long. 

It was different when my mother was around and I sensed my deep obligation to her, especially in her last few years, unlike it had been from my early twenties through to more recently.  Now I am free of her, and yet it jars. 

For the past two Sundays, the day on which I visited my mother regularly during these past few years I factor in a visit to her, only to remember I will not go to her any more. 

I will make one last trip next week to my mother’s old room in the retirement village to help my sister and whichever other of our siblings might show up, to move out the last of our mother’s belongings. 

And thereafter, my sister, one of the executors, will distribute my mother’s few possessions to which ever of the siblings most expresses a need or desire.  

We will divide up my mother’s belongings as best we can, much as we did when I was little, when on Sunday nights we shared a rectangular block of Neapolitan ice-cream for dessert.  Strawberry, chocolate and vanilla in three tight layers.  My older sister took a knife and divided the block into ten, if we were all at home. My father, a diabetic in those days, missed out. 


I’ve ordered Helen Garner’s latest book, This House of Grief, about the Farquarson murder.  This is the story of a father who has been found guilty of murdering his three sons by driving them in his car into a dam.  According to court and news reports, Farquharson claimed he had suffered a coughing fit and had lost consciousness at the wheel. He managed to get himself free from the car, but his sons were trapped inside and drowned.  The event took place on Father’s Day during a custody visit.  There is evidence from witnesses that Farquarson had said he wanted to pay back his wife, and that he knew she would remember every Father’s Day for the rest of her life.  This is yet another story that ranks among the particularly spectacular examples of revenge enacted.  After two trials, including an appeal, the jury held that Farquharson was responsible for the death of his three sons. 

Helen Garner’s a brilliant writer I reckon but she turns people into characters   Should there be a ‘but’.  Isn’t this what writers do?  Isn’t this what I do when I write about my mother as though she is now only so much decomposing matter in the ground and for the rest she is a memory, a fiction, a fantasy, a person who once lived but is now no more.

My mother, and those three little boys drowned in the dam, like ghosts they hover over us.  The skies are filled with their invisible spectres. 

I cannot figure out the maths but I imagine there are many more ghosts in the sky above than living people on the ground. 

As for me, still alive, I have a day to meet; a daughter who complains jut now that some unknown person – not me – has bought ‘caged’ eggs.  We do not eat caged eggs here.  We abhor the cruelty shown to hens kept in cages. 

‘The cat food stinks, too’, my daughter says.  The food I serve the cats first thing in the morning a mixture of dry and wet from a can - pilchards and something else - offends her sensibilities.  How can she eat breakfast with that smell up her nose?    

And I skulk off to write.
Life is back to normal 




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