For Julian

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I wrote this goodbye to my brother’s farmhouse, when his family moved back into town in June 2016, a few years after his death. Glad to say, his brood have all moved forward and are building strong lives – guided, I’m guessing, by a strong sense of him. Happy Christmas dear Julian! Thinking of you now.

Julian was in the sentinel trees which mark the spot of entry, where he first invited me to his country, his place, on the Old Winton Road.

He was at the corner of Jenner’s Lane where his widow Marie and I walked, before we turned towards the Baiada poultry yards and the chooks called out to us, beseeching us not to be angry with God for taking him too soon.

He is no longer lurking in the audacious ‘Hay for Sale’ sign, that sits beside long spears of grass and sight-blocking trees, ready to taunt us as we pass – too close to that dreaded and ambiguous intersection of private and public roads.  

He is no longer in the proud but dishevelled country cottage, with its path of red bricks and the heater disassembled on the living room floor. Nor is he in the garage where firewood is now being dispersed and chopped by Wayne, and where bits of old motorbike lay hidden.

Today, for a matter of only hours, he was in the mournful Leonard Cohen melodies that sang out as I criss-crossed the Oxley Highway and drove down the Wallamore Rd, taking a hodgepodge of belongings, bric-a-brac and boxes of Christmas trinkets, marked ‘green tinsel’ to his family’s new place at the northern end of town.

As his spirit dispersed this morning, it latched on for a minute to my aching belief that if only they’d moved to this trim little cottage, so close to the school where he worked, but still with echoes of the old Australia he was chasing, we would never have had to say that permanent goodbye.

And then he left.

My brother Julian now resides in his widow’s subconscious twist of the neck, in his eldest son’s shy smile, his daughter’s sassy tattoo; in his youngest son’s long foot with its bony toes. If chaos comes and mayhem rules it will no longer be his gentle, goofy, smiling sort. It will be something else, entirely new.

But I will still see him in windmills, scattered about the countryside, those lumbering ageless souls, who suck in air to make blades rotate as they pump the water below, their life-force, like my dear brother’s, drawn unseen yet purposeful across the landscape.

Now that the funeral is over

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Margaret Rice Good Grief and Doris Zagdanski My Grief Assist

Introducing Doris Zagdanski, who works with one of the largest funeral providers in Australia. She is also the author of many books about grief.

Doris is currently giving a lot of thought to that most difficult of times – when the funeral is over.

“After the funeral we shut the door and everyone’s life is supposed to go back to normal. But it often doesn’t. That’s when grieving people often need the most support, when the busyness of the funeral is over and they’re left on their own.

“How can we make that better? It’s a challenge for all of us.”

Doris has started a webpage called My Grief Assist.  https://www.mygriefassist.com.au/

She is also author of the book “Now that the Funeral is Over – the common sense guide for grieving people.” (First published in 1993, to be reprinted in 2018)

Doris’s other books are:

Something I’ve Never Felt Before

Stuck for Words: What to say to someone who is grieving

What’s Dead Mean? How to help children cope with death

When Pets Die: It’s alright to grieve

Teenagers and Grief.

 

Grief can last forever can’t it?

Facilitated a discussion tonight about grief, with the Funeral Celebrants Association of Australia.

We challenged our culture’s notions about how long you’re allowed to grieve for: “Grief can last forever can’t it?” suggested Judy.

Some shared stories about bad deaths. This included a chilling story about a death certificate being signed by someone who couldn’t look at the person they were ‘signing off’ – or the grieving step-father and his family.

But there were plenty of sunshine moments too, as the celebrants present shared stories from their personal experiences. Some were excited about the eulogies they’ve helped write. Others gave tips on the ways to find something positive to express when someone dies who is unloved.

We asked some big questions and lingered over little ones…as we enjoyed spring rolls, salt and pepper calamari and a fresh salad.

Thank you for having me folks, and for allowing me to be the touchstone for an important conversation.

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With funeral celebrants, Sharon Swinbourne, Judy Pryor and Isla Tooth

The cleaning lady’s gift

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Our cleaning lady finished up today. Completely unexpectedly, it was her presence one day a week that helped to lift me out of the doldrums when I hit a double dose of grief some years ago. Every Thursday her busy polishing and dusting was a real comfort at a time when all I could manage was to sit in a chair and lift my legs up so she could vacuum underneath them.

At first it was just her consistent presence that was so helpful. Then as time passed we started to talk, to share stories and before I knew it, she had me laughing at her hilarious take on life. I knew she wasn’t your typical cleaning lady when she asked if she could borrow my copy of Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. From there we developed a mini-reading group, sharing thoughts on books, enjoying working out why she gave one title the thumbs up, when I gave it the thumbs down and vice-versa.

When I turned back to writing, one day I was lamenting that I couldn’t find someone to transcribe some tapes. “I can do that for you,” she said. Turned out she’d had a busy professional life as a secretary before turning to cleaning, and as well as transcribing she became a great proof-reader. 

I am so lucky to have had her in my life. Now, like Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee before her, she moves back home to brighten up a little corner of Surrey on the other side of the world. I will miss her but how lucky I was to have had her in my life: and she taught me an important lesson – when we’re grieving, the comfort and encouragement we need can come from the most unexpected quarters. The secret is to let it happen. 

The grief of a child

IMG_8664“Children can experience grief and loss from a very young age. Like adults, children have their own ways of grieving. It is important to recognise that your child has feelings of grief and to help them express those feelings.”

“Children are curious, so be prepared for regular and repeated questions. Be clear and honest with your responses.”

“Don’t pretend that you are not sad – express your feelings to your child. This can help your child feel able to express their own feelings.”

These ideas come from a great resource to help manage the grief of a child.

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/grief-and-children

The fig tree

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Troubled stories from recent deathbeds remind me of a sign at my daughters’ old school: “Beware falling pods!” The sign sat at the base of an enormous native fig tree and when those pods fell, they were like malevolent missiles. Dropping from a great height helped the pods to crack open (along with trampling by school shoes) to reveal their large seeds. Maybe families are like those trees. They grow large and strong and when an elderly parent is dying it’s a very common time for conflict and tension within families to erupt – whether over management of care, how the person’s wishes should be respected or the inheritance of important items from their life, like a ring or a chair. So it’s a time we need the “Beware falling pods!” sign. The pods hurt when they hit, but their forceful drop to shatter open, although unpleasant, is part of the life story of the tree.

The Grief Kaleidoscope

A book by Su-Rose McIntyre

Su-Rose  says:

“I began my grief journey eight years ago with the unexpected death of my only child and son, Carl – a beautiful young man, loved by many. His loss left me feeling bereft and fearful about what lay ahead…No day was ever the same. One thing became very clear to me, grief kept changing its form. It was kaleidoscopic in nature, unpredictably variable. During my reflections, metaphors came to me often. I wanted to share many of these – hard-won as they were.

“It could be used as a grief self-help book, as well as a resource for grief and loss counsellors to stimulate discussion and raise grief themes to assist struggling clients. “

Su-Rose’s book is published by Morning Star Publishing. 

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