Poor Air Quality

It is mid-Spring here in Sydney. Summer is still six weeks away and yet there are over sixty bushfires burning around our state. The worst is uncontained and only an hour’s drive west. Over two hundred homes have been lost so far, fifty in my friend Shelley’s street. Her house is OK, but many of her neighbours who lost theirs, were uninsured. Their trauma and grief must be overwhelming.

I heard of one dear woman, with young children, who had recently lost her husband to cancer. Her house and all possessions were destroyed by fire. Every item, image, gift, note or piece of clothing that I still have the time to ponder, caress and treasure in my loss, has been taken from her and her children in the most terrifying of circumstances.

Where I live, the air smells of the burning; there is a heavy, smoke haze over the city, and the sun is an orange ball. Emergency reports are broadcast every half-hour on the radio – more in high-danger periods – and the weather reports end with, “The Weather Bureau warns of poor air quality; all those with asthma or lung conditions should stay indoors.”

Of course, when I first heard that, in this recent spate of fires, my immediate response, as I was driving, was to reach for the phone to warn Ngaire to keep the windows shut. Now, I expect it at the end of the news bulletin, but each time I hear it, it is like a fresh wound.

You see, that was my role: to care, look out for and protect my girl, more and more as the years rolled on. I realised that the pain in hearing this weather warning, however, was not in the reminder, but in the revelation that my ability to demonstrate my love in care and protection, which was so central for so long, has been taken from me. I weep as a write this, because this loss leaves me not only bereft of what was my most important role, but also of a place to put that which I have had prepared for so many years: my perpetual love, care, devotion, consideration and tenderness.

Like the mother whose children are gone, who lovingly prepares meals and waits, like the old man who has been suddenly retrenched after a lifetime of devotion to his job, I wait; I stare; I ponder; I search for that warm place where all this love can find its perfect resting place, but it has gone.

Obviously, the old man, if not beyond it, can be retrained, or find a new direction in retirement; the mother can receive her friends to help share her loss and her meals. But these things are all different shapes.

I am grateful for my friends and my boys, who daily help and receive help themselves, for I am far from alone in my loss. I am grateful, too, for this blog and those who, going through similar things, find comfort, solace and – dare I say – even enlightenment through it, especially those who are struggling to find the words for how they feel themselves.

As I said a couple of blogs ago, this process is all about being in and going through. Because of that understanding and the fact that I am gradually feeling stronger and healthier, I have an almost perverse gratitude for these confronting realities that, almost daily, present me with a different aspect of loss that I can then “gird up my loins” and begin to walk through. There is a strange wholeness in it and, deep within me a growing peace. I don’t expect that I will ever “get over it”, but nor do I want to.

Another poem to sign off:

Upon Retiring 

The guests have gone,

My children in bed;

The echoes of laughter

And conversation are suddenly

Stilled; their shadows,

Like those of silent undertakers,

Skulk on the periphery as,

Teeth done, ablutions done,

Pyjamas assumed,

I stand surveying the bed

That we once shared.

All is silent as I reach

For the lamp-switch, then

Pause before I flick on the radio;

In my memory, I strain to hear

The sound of your breathing,

Your voice, reach to feel your warmth,

The touch of your face, your hand,

See the grace in your eyes,

Your countenance, feel

The love in your presence,

An anchor-point for my soul

Now adrift. Like a storm-swell,

My need arcs up and towers over

The loss and vulnerability

Of my prostrate spirit

And face, misshapen in grief

And tears at your absence:

The queen, who ruled my heart,

Now lost to a kingdom

Beyond my reach as

The radio’s vacant banter

Takes your place.

P1010020

8 thoughts on “Poor Air Quality

  1. Oh Matty, I have struggled to write your sympathy card for months and still it stares at me, awaiting my tears to pass and the perfect words to fill it that will satisfy my aching desire to comfort you and the boys – but I haven’t yet confronted that ache, being reminded of my mother’s passing in February. Selfishly, I have turned away from sending you comfort, because it pains me to confront my own pain. My apology sounds pathetic in light of the bravery of you keeping up with a blog to tribute your beautiful Ngaire. Again and like you, I type through tears. I WILL send that card, but felt compelled to tell you now after reading your blog, just how very blessed the world is having enjoyed Ngaire’s light and now you sharing that light with us through your spectacular albeit grief stricken words.
    My heart aches for you and my love goes out to you and the boys.
    Jen XXXXXXXX

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    • My dear Jen, don’t for one second think that you need to apologise. Everyone has their own journey in this Jen, particularly with you losing your mum, and you must not feel ANY guilt! I appreciate your love so much. Thank you for your kindness and beautiful words. X

      Like

  2. Matty,

    You write so beautifully and from your heart (and your pain), and you seem so chipper and so ‘normal’ at work, that it seems so hard to believe it’s only been a short while since you lost your soulmate…. it’s easy to forget that you are still grieving.

    I remember when my parents died, and how I struggled with it, going through all the different stages, and many people said to take your time grieving, it can take much longer than you think. I feel you are in such a good place, even though you are in pain, that you are working through it, and yes, there is acceptance and happiness on the other side.

    Also, one quick note to Jenny Wilson – your words are beautiful as well, and no need to write that sympathy card – you just did!

    love, Tim

    Like

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