I’ve been up at Port Pirie, starting the sorting out what remains of my father’s house. The house where I lived during my formative years. The house where my mother was living when she died, the house where my father wasn’t exactly living when he died. (long story).
Because of reasons (mostly to do with redback spiders, dust and loneliness), I stayed in a hotel. In fact, I stayed in the same room we stayed in when we first moved to Port Pirie and the removalist van broke down just past the ‘thank you for visiting Clare, we hope you enjoyed your stay come back soon’.
I spent a few wonderful days wandering around Port Pirie, putting the finishing touches on my novel (though not quite as many touches as I envisaged I would finish – things will be a bit quiet around here this week too), sifting through crockery and pieces of paper, and visiting old haunts and new.
I know not every one would get it, but to me, that town is a beautiful place to be.
The mister and our boys came up on the weekend to help me with boxes and things. And just to make sure I was all right. Which I thought I was. When we got home last night I said to the mister ‘I’m ready to say goodbye to it now’ I think I even said ‘I feel good’. But this morning, I feel absolutely shattered. Do you know that feeling after you’ve been at WOMAD for the whole day and the whole night and you know you’re exhausted, but you’re not sure what kind of exhausted you are? That’s how I feel. Hollow would be the best one-word description I could come up with right now.
Much of how I feel at the moment is how you might expect I would feel and how I would have guessed I would feel. Sad and lonely and very, very grown-up. But something unexpected has come upon me too, something I have been wondering why I hadn’t seen.
For some time now, I’ve kept an eye on the seven stages of grief. Partly out of curiousity, partly because I think it is helpful to know what other people have experienced and discovered. But the one stage I’ve never really got to is the anger stage. I have noticed it playing itself out in different ways (the classic transference etc etc) but I’ve never had what I could identify as your actual rage or anger. Not about my mother’s or my father’s death.
But over the last little while, I’ve noticed what I would call anger, and this is particularly in relation to my mum’s death. And not that I’m angry on my own behalf, so it’s not a kind of anger about why did she die. But I’m mad about the fact that she missed out on so much.
Over-thinking this, as I am, I think that this feeling is emerging as I become increasingly aware of the depth of what my mum missed out on in her life. A sudden death, and one without any warning at all (she died in a car accident) really does make a difference to your life. Yes, I know how obvious that sounds, but I don’t only mean what you miss out on, but I also mean the way we build our lives in layers and stages, and how each of those layers does have a retrospective impact. (I’m struggling a bit with how to explain this to myself, but I’ll give it an awkward try now and refine it another day.)
A sudden death means that you not only miss out on the things you might ordinarily have planned (taking your long service leave, for example), but it also means that all the intangibles, like relationships, get suspended too. And that matters more than I realised. Not just in that ‘if only we hadn’t argued that morning’, but in a much more wholistic and layered sense.
I guess I can keep playing around with the words all I like, but it all gets down to the same thing. She died when she was 46 which means she got ripped off, and I feel mad.
Anyway, all of this is nothing new. It’s not an emotion I’ve invented or an insight that hasn’t been sighted before. It’s just something I wanted to write down, because if I want to understand all this, I’ll need to come back to today later on. And finding, as I did yesterday, my Alphabet Soup game from when I was six years old, it reminded me that we really do forget things easily. I loved that game, but I’d forgotten all about it.
And in case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t get the shed done.
PS Earlier this year, I also had to sort out my grandfather’s house (along with an aunty and cousins, we were all there sorting). Can I just say – and this is the singularly best piece of advice I will ever give you – go to wherever it is that you store your pieces of paper and remove eighty five percent of those pieces of paper. Leave enough that treasures may be unearthed, but honestly, see all that paper – that is a hard job you’re leaving someone to do. And it’s a privilege to do the job, it really is, but yeah, do chuck some of your paper out.