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

Associations

Perhaps I’ve touched on this before, but it follows on from last time. I was driving to work the other day when “Georgia” by Boz Scaggs came on the radio. Within a few bars I was a blubbering mess, not because the song held any special significance for Ngaire’s and my relationship, but because it was a song from an album that evoked the era in which we established our love for each other. In fact, the album was released that very year. They were the years of our late teens, full of passion and life, with the world and our destinies before us.

The first night that we went out together – May 3rd, 1976 – I brought her back to my parents’ place for coffee (they were overseas at the time). As we sat at the kitchen table, I recall so clearly that we both felt that a sudden shift had taken place in our reality and we were each staring into the eyes of the one we would spend the rest of our lives with. It was an amazing, profound evening.

It was also a time of powerful emotions forging the foundations of our lives together, and a time of great music. I did a bit of a web search and compiled a far-from-exhaustive list of artists from that era. When I saw the names and remembered the great music, it kind of made me understand why so many of us old-timers are a little underwhelmed at the general state of music these days. Look at these names of the ‘70’s:

Bob Marley, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, The Doobie Brothers, Boston, Neil Young, Carly Simon, John Lennon, George Harrison, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Blondie, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones – in their 2nd decade, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rod Stewart, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, B-52’s, Abba, David Bowie, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Wings, Michael Jackson, The Ramones, Donna Summer, James Taylor, The Knack, Jackson Browne, Billy Joel.

As I sobbed my way through the traffic, it didn’t help to drift in my mind from song to song of that era that I won’t be able to hear again without the associations of that love, passion and life that put their indelible stamp on so many great tunes that we listened to over and over. Now that she is gone, the intimacy of those associations is no longer shared; the memories that each evokes are now mine alone, and it underscores the loneliness and loss.

Of course, music has an incredible ability to evoke memories. My parents’ “song” was Moon River and even now, many years after they have gone, I find myself drifting into melancholy whenever I hear it.

Smells are the same. Ngaire had a favourite expensive Estée Lauder perfume that she wore on our first date. I bought it for her from that time on; she never ran out. Someone wore it the other day in a shop in North Sydney and I made a hasty exit, choking back an involuntary sob.

I must sound like I’m crying all the time, but it’s only these moments now, although they do have a way of hitting when I least expect it. And I’m sure that these associations will be the things that will make getting over losing Ngaire that much harder and yet, they are a tie that we alone shared and I don’t want to ever find that they become just another memory.

I bought the Santana album, Amigos right around the time that we first went out; our “song” was an instrumental, a powerful, majestic lead guitar break from the album called, Europa – Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile. Strangely fitting……