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I found out today that Iíve got the job I most wanted, albeit initially on a temporary basis. Itís a good way to begin the new month and the final month of the year. Potentially it could turn out to be the best possible outcome of all. If I can secure it for the long term Iíll have landed on my feet yet again and all the uncertainty of the last few months will be more than compensated for. Itís almost as though it was meant to be, which of course, hints at things Iíve tended to dismiss of late . . .
Passing the docklands by train this morning I realised Iíve been here a while now as it dawned on me that a construction site barely begun three months ago is now some six stories high. Thatís the thing about time. It passes regardless of the stress and anxiety we tend to wrap ourselves up in as we focus on the daily drama that constitutes our lives. And this evening, attending the annual school carols service and bumping into a former student all grown up and delighted to see me Ė it reminds me how important it is to live in the Now.
It was 100 years ago today that my father was born. One can only begin to imagine how different the world was in 1910. And for all his sins, there are many people on the planet today who would not be if it wasnít for him. Not that he's solely responsible for that of course but itís curious to consider that the birth of a child on this day a hundred years ago could have such far reaching consequences. Whole generations will be perpetuated because he and Mum got together. Thereís something really intriguing about that; really quite mind blowing.
Iím feeling a real sense of sadness at the thought of saying farewell to the wonderful girls Iíve been teaching this term. Gaining the affection and trust of children is one of lifeís finer pleasures and with it comes the responsibility to conduct oneself with the dignity and self respect that informs oneís behaviour and actions when in the presence of the young and impressionable. Itís one of the fundamental things my father neither understood nor practised around children, a sad fact that has informed my own life and one for which, however perversely, I am actually rather grateful for.
These are some of the simple pleasures we have been engaging in of late: enjoying quiet time together at home; going for walks to the South Melbourne Market in search of bargain priced fruit and fresh oysters; gazing out at the ever-changing skyline across the water with its atmospheric shifting hues and colours; strolling along the river and meanderings through the lanes of the city in search of a quiet place to enjoy a decent coffee; and the knowledge that for a little while at least the festive period ahead promises an opportunity to slow down, chill out and relax.
It didnít occur to me when I first started teaching them just how much I was going to enjoy doing so or the degree to which we would become bonded in such a short period of time, but watching them give their speeches this evening and the degree of genuine warmth and gratitude I received from their parents afterwards has left me feeling somewhat triumphant yet equally humbled. The truth is that while they all seem to think Iím the best thing since sliced bread they are arguably the nicest and most enjoyable group of children Iíve ever worked with.
Is it really still 2010? Sitting in the stifling heat beneath the spotlights of the Cultural Centre last night ready to address the relatives and friends of the Year 6 students whose primary school journey is fast drawing to a close, it seemed extraordinary to think it was less than a year ago that I was trudging through snow to get to work in one of the coldest winters in London for many a long year. As years go this has been an incredibly full and demanding one, and itís still got some way to run before itís finally over.
The girls organised a surprise party for me today. I was forewarned and so played along, feigning surprise while at the same time demonstrating genuine delight. And when the time came to bid them all farewell there were hugs and tears and promises to all keep in touch via email. After all the uncertainty of the last few months the time spent with these girls has been heartening to say the least and I feel as though my faith in childhood has been restored, as has my belief in my own ability to create the magic and spread the love.
Itís always a little sad and somewhat weird when a group of kids move on. Walls that were bursting with pictures and stories and diagrams are restored to their former blankness. It becomes possible to see the ceiling again, while pigeonholes and lockers are uniformly scrubbed and cupboard doors are rendered void of all the little telltale signs that only a couple of days ago proclaimed Ďkids at workí. It confirms the fact that a room is just a room, a blank space over which the layers of human activity create an ever-changing canvas of colour, shape and personal expression.
It was a really satisfying way to finish my second school year in less than five months; firstly acting as Kris Kringle for the Junior School staff, then attending the farewell assembly for some long-standing staff members with whom I worked during my previous time at the school and finally as one of the last people to leave the Christmas luncheon, polishing off the last of the wine with the school principal. Now that itís all done and dusted Iím once again winding up another chapter while mentally preparing for the next one. And what a good chapter itís been.
I awoke today with the knowledge that I didnít have to do any preparation for school, nor did I have to spend time trawling through the employment pages of the newspaper looking for work. Instead I was free to pass the time as lazily as I pleased, which is precisely what I did. After all the drama of the last year Iím feeling in need of a holiday. Given that our finances are tight, Iím looking forward to having a holiday at home. Just to have some down time and not have to think Ė that sounds like bliss to me.
Iím glad I remembered to call. Iím so used to calling her late at night from London. I sometimes forget to do so. I can only reach her during the day. Itís always the same conversation, rarely straying from the familiar script. She sounded quite good, which is always a bonus. How long sheíll be with us still, who can say? Iím just glad we can still talk on the phone, albeit with the aid of a nurse holding the handset. And Iím always mindful when we say goodbye that it may be the last time we ever do so.
I have to admit Iím excited. Tomorrow we take delivery of 40 boxes of our belongings from London that weíve had sea freighted to Australia. Itís going to be a mammoth task to get it all sorted and given the modest size of our apartment a lot of it will have to go into a storage cage weíve managed to commandeer in the basement, but to have all of our things here with us will go a long way towards making our little apartment here in the city feel like home, which for the time being of course, it is.
Itís taken all day to try and get things sorted and the place still looks like a bomb hit it, yet despite all that itís been more fun than Christmas opening up boxes, unwrapping things and trying to figure out what goes where. Itís amazing how much stuff we managed to pack. My arms feel as though theyíre about to drop off and weíre both completely knackered but itís a good knackered nonetheless. Weíve broken the back of what needed to be done. The rest is all just tinkering around the edges as we try to find homes for everything.
For me thereís always a temptation to get just so far into a process and then put the rest off for later. Fortunately I have a partner who doesnít succumb to such temptations. Weíve therefore managed to find a home for everything, of if not a home then at least an acceptable temporary place of residence. In doing so weíve managed to bring a part of London with us and so make our little apartment feel a lot more homely. All thatís left to do is itemise what has been put where in the boxes downstairs and weíre done. Halleluiah!
For the first time in ages Iím feeling settled: settled here in Melbourne, settled in my relationship, settled in the knowledge that I have a job to go to in the new year; settled even that I got paid a lot more than I thought I was going to be paid this month. It feels as though things have sorted themselves out and itís possible to breath a little easier now. Itís been a crazy year and one which I wonít forget in a hurry, and now all I want to do is relax and chill out for a while.
I knew why she was calling even before she told me. It was my sister Cherry and she never calls me and certainly not at 6:30 in the evening.
ĎIím not sure if I should be calling and it may just be a false alarm but Mumís not well.í
Sheís apparently stopped eating and is having difficulty breathing. Sheís been given oxygen. She's turned blue and sheís cold to the touch. It doesnít sound like a false alarm to me.
Iím a little lost for words right now. This has been a long time coming.
Itís all sounding very ominous.
Iíd just booked my flight when the call came to say that Mum was dead.
Poor old Teddy. He was more distraught than I was. In our 17 years together Iíve only seen him cry once. This time he wept like a child. Having lost his own mother earlier this year the impact of the news was crushing. ĎSheís the only mum I had left,í he whispered.
I had no idea how profoundly she had touched him. So here I am, high above the clouds gazing down at the earth below.
I wonder if you're doing the same thing, Mum . . .
I entered the room and there she was, wrapped up in bed, her head tilted slightly to the right, her eyes slightly open and her mouth slightly ajar. Sitting above her head was the oversized doll sheís treasured all these years and her two favourite teddy bears, one of which sheíd clutched until the end. It was the utter lifelessness that struck me, the complete absence of the woman who had inhabited and more recently been entrapped in that small, gnarled body. And amidst all the feeling of disbelief and sadness, an overwhelming sense of relief. Finally Mum, youíre free . . .
Everyone grieves in their own way. For me, the grieving was done a long time ago. Obviously there is a profound sadness that she's no longer with us but in truth, she hasnít been for a long time. What remnants did remain were trapped in a body that had long ago passed its use by date, and the sense of relief that she doesnít have to keep waking up each day in that seized and twisted frame far outweighs any sense of personal loss. Sheís free now, and if I know my Mum sheíll be loving every minute of it.
I flew back to Melbourne today. The funeral will be held later this month; all arrangements are in place and until then thereís nothing else to do but carry on as before.
Itís strange. I keep expecting to feel something Ė pain, grief, whatever Ė but while on the one hand there is unquestionably great sadness it is tempered by the knowledge that her life in recent years has been so limited in scope and stripped of dignity, the overwhelming sense of relief cannot be overlooked or denied, and nor should it be, for wherever or whatever she may be now, sheís finally free . . .
There have been many lovely condolences and they are all very much appreciated, but thereís the assumption behind them that Iím feeling incredibly sad. There is a sadness, yes, most definitely, but what is so much more apparent for me is this continuing sense of relief, which can be difficult to explain to people because thereís another assumption that one should feel devastated by the loss of oneís mother. The thing is, weíve all been feeling devastated for a long time now and devastation by degree is very different to the kind of devastation caused by a sudden, unexpected loss.
When Mum started to lose her marbles we tried to argue it away as a symptom of aging. We didnít want to dwell on the possibility that she might be losing her mind. But as time went by and she continued to deteriorate, albeit very slowly but surely, we had to deal with the awful reality that the person we knew and loved was disappearing before our eyes and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. Weíve all had to grapple with the havoc heaped upon our mother by the scourge of dementia and the devastation it wrought.
Mum used to like Christmas. It brought out the kid in her. Dad couldnít be bothered with it towards the end of his life but Mum and I would get into the spirit, decorating the tree and playing corny Christmas music on the stereo. On Christmas Day weíd pile into the car and go up to Cherry and Horstís for Christmas dinner. Mum would take her famous Christmas cake that sheíd baked months before and then iced with icing you needed a hacksaw to cut through. It seemed so sickly at the time but Iíd kill for a piece now.
It occurs to me that if there is some kind of hereafter into which youíve passed you may be feeling disoriented and confused. After all, so much of your mind was lost before you departed and whoís to say you regain it again so quickly, if at all? So I try to focus my thoughts on the person you once were and hope and pray that maybe by some means of which I have no knowledge or control you might find some kind of anchor to help you regain and reclaim that which may help you on your onward journey.
Itís taken a little while to get beyond the memory of the shrunken shell that slowly came to entrap you and the gradually deteriorating brain that robbed you of your memories but I am beginning to get there. In doing so I begin to reconnect with the woman you once were, so full of zest and humour and passion for life. I miss that person. I miss our talks, the easy flow of conversation and the sure, unquestioned knowledge that no matter what else there was always one person on the planet who would love me unconditionally and without reserve.
The scanned photograph reveals far more that the naked eye would otherwise see: a young woman gazing innocently out at the world, her whole life ahead of her, oblivious to the eyes gazing back at her from the distant future, eyes that were born of her own being; eyes that wonder who this young woman once was, so young, so beautiful, so alive and so full of herself. To have lived so long and experienced so much yet still leave something behind that speaks so eloquently; a visual record of a long ago world from whence we all have sprung.
Iím not really sure what I imagined Iíd feel after you were gone but I didnít anticipate this. Itís the absence of pain that has caught me off guard. I have no overwhelming sense of loss because in truth we lost you a long time ago. I have no overwhelming sense of sadness because those tears are also long shed. I just feel relief. I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like to keep on waking up in that same room, in that same withered body, day in and day out. It must have been hell.
I was doing well until I saw her laid out in the coffin surrounded by her two teddy bears and looking better that she had done in years. Then I cracked. Having said that, she couldnít have wished for a finer send off. Never have so many of our far flung family been gathered together in one place. Even my sister Ferne managed to emerge from the massive Queensland floods to be in attendance along with children, great grandchildren, great, great grandchildren, friends and acquaintances and the wonderful nursing staff who so tirelessly looked after her in her final years.
So that is that: youíre gone. I could travel to every corner of the globe and never find you. Nothing of you physically remains, yet for as long as there are those now living who have known and loved you then without question you will live on. For some, such memories will be fleeting, while for others like myself they will be long and lasting, for you were not merely my mother but also my dearest and most trusted friend. There was nothing I couldnít tell you and no other who has ever loved me so fully or so well.
As if to herald a change of season, a 40 degree heatwave has swooped out of seemingly nowhere to blanket the state. A starker contrast to the start of this year is hard to imagine. And what a year itís been. So much has changed. So many who saw in the New Year are no longer here to mark its passing. Some years come and go with little to distinguish them while other years like this one are so full of incident that they remain permanently etched in the mind.
But for now, itís time to turn the page.
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