Grief and distance and ...


Why now? Why here? I’m about to cross a road in central Melbourne, it’s mid-morning; no children are passing holding their mothers’ hands. And yet here you are, in my thoughts, seven-and-a-bit months after the fact.

I’ve not been hiding, not deliberately. I’d prefer the sharper emotions to cut through. I’m surprised and embarrassed they haven’t yet, or that they have but not emphatically, and only in fits and starts. I want to know what’s there, beneath the grief blanket, what still needs to come out. 

The lights change. I don’t cross the road. Someone knocks my shoulder, barging past. I stand back, wait for the next opportunity.

I’m nearing 40 and, despite myself, can’t help thinking: is it unmanly to miss a mum? I mean to this degree, at this age.

As a child I was scared of vomiting. I’d spend the night in bed with nausea rather than purge. You told me as a girl you’d been the same. It was a fear, I think, of being overwhelmed, of the body taking over. Is that what’s been happening these past months?

When the news came from my sister, your daughter, by phone, I was at work. I hung up, made excuses, made it home, told my wife. We hugged. When she went to get our boys from kinder and childcare, I sat alone, on the back decking, and cried – part release, part relief. And then it stopped.  

Since then I’ve been stringy-bark dry, in unbroken drought, wracked by doubt. That’s no reflection.

You were so far away from me when it happened, and I from you. And yet we’d been so close. A friend said I’d regret not returning for your funeral, and I do. But you’d asked me not to just three weeks earlier.

I’d flown to Scotland to see you, to care for you, in a state of denial, then flew back again, only half admitting to myself it was over, that you would end.

I attended the ceremony via my brother-in-law’s mobile phone. He held it in his hand, in the front row, the camera forward-facing. A celebrant who hadn’t known you gave a speech based on what your daughter and dad had told her. And then your daughter read out the speech I’d written, a thinly disguised excuse letter for my absence.

I saw the white cardboard eco-box they’d put you in, as per your wishes, felt my eyes darting to that part of the screen. Were you really in there? In body, not in spirit. I heard sniffles but didn’t see whose they were, didn’t interrupt to ask my brother-in-law for a panning shot of the coterie. I held the sides of my iPad, half a world away, hoping the connection wouldn’t drop out.

But then of course, it did, in its own, more profound and bewildering way. 

If I cross the road it doesn’t mean I’m moving forwards or that you’ve been left behind.