Re-connecting


Last Saturday I went to the MCG for the big game against Carlton. Nothing unusual in that, except this time I met up with my two nephews and niece.

It’s coming up to a year since my sister got her nose curiously out of joint and decided to disown me. That’s been no great loss for either of us, except that it means that I’m not invited to family functions, and opportunities to catch up with my nephews/niece – who I do want to see – have been few and difficult.

Up to Saturday I hadn’t seen any of them since May last year, bar the eldest, B, who I caught up with for lunch about five weeks ago. I kept in contact with my nephews by social media, and on one occasion with my niece. I send them birthday cards and Christmas presents. I try, but I’m not an active part of their life.

Despite that I’ve got a good relationship with my nephews. The eldest is a quirky character, but is both decent and sensible. The younger, R, is more sensitive and vulnerable. He’s a little bit lost and so treasures I think the tenuous link to me. Both of them know very well what their mother is like. I don’t know how much they know of my split with her – it’s not something we talk about – but as they have witnessed, and been the subject of her volatile, spiteful temper, I suspect they both well understand.

It’s different with my niece. It’s tricky for me as she’s going through a stage where a lot is changing for her. From a little girl she is slowly becoming a young woman. I’ve missed most of that and so haven’t really known how to interact with her remotely. On top of that she’s a girl while I’m a grizzled bloke, and there is less common ground between us than there is with her brothers.

It was great then to see them on Saturday. It was my eldest nephew’s birthday yesterday. Last week I contacted him to discuss it. He’s a Carlton supporter so in passing I suggested that perhaps we could go to the game together on Saturday, and his brother too (who is an Essendon supporter). He was keen on the idea, and later came back to ask if it was okay if their sister could come too. I could see my sister in that request, but of course, it was fine.

So we caught up outside gate 3 at the MCG just after lunch on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was how much my younger nephew had grown. They’re tall boys. The elder is my height, maybe a smidge taller, but has stopped growing I think. R is a couple of inches taller than me at 16, and still going. He’s a good looking boy as well. All he needs is a bit of confidence and he’ll be a knockout. That’s what I try and give him.

My niece was taller too, but still the bright and cheeky girl of before. She was dressed up in her Blues gear and all afternoon we would tease each other as the game ebbed and flowed, typically calling each other, and the other’s team, pooheads. As you do.

It turned out to be a great occasion. It was an ugly game at times, but turned into a thrilling contest. The kids were enraptured, more or less, as the fortunes changed. The older of my nephews is self-contained and undemonstrative, but I caught him getting excited, then groaning as the game turned. The younger was infected with joy as our team charged back to win a game we looked likely to lose. For all of them it was a rare and memorable experience.

We parted after the game. I’d have liked more time to sit and talk with them – the footy is too noisy for that – but at least we re-connected for a while. There had been the risk of becoming a stranger to them, but was alleviated Saturday.

Still, as the family go out to celebrate B’s birthday tonight I won’t be there. It’s sad, but hopefully I’ll be there for him for many years to come.

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Christmas past


Christmas has always been very good at reminding you of the people no longer around. That was never a thing really for until about a dozen years ago. Sure, I lost my grandparents, all but one of them, when I was in my teens, and with their passing so to did a part of that Christmas lifestyle – but when you’re a kid you adjust.

When I was a kid Christmas day was lunch at one grandparents, and dinner at the other. It was huge and very exciting as a child, but as a kid you take things like that in your stride. Kids are malleable like that because they have less experience of life. Even with grandparents dying off life feels eternal, and many golden years of sunshine still ahead. We’re still in our cocoon, protected from the storms and buffeting winds of life, optimistic and much loved, and knowing. We haven’t yet felt the weight of life, and consequently are not as sentimental as we will become.

I have very strong memories of those childhood Christmas days, and fond, even loving memories of my grandparents. I mourned them greatly when they past, and can recall sobbing with uncontrolled grief when my Nan, my mum’s mum, a woman who loved me as much (I was her favourite) as much as loved her. I was 17 then, but even with her loss I still had family close about me.

Grandparents are generally the first wave of loss most people will experience. There seems a gap then, for most anyway. Then a second of deaths occur. If you’re lucky you’ve been spared the random and unexpected deaths of friends and loved one’s in between.

For me it was the deaths of my uncle and aunt, my dad’s siblings, in the early 2000’s. My uncle went first, not long turned 50, a gentle, kind and ultimately weak man who succumbed to cancer. It was such a sad death, and remains sad today. He died estranged not just from his wife, but his children too – none of whom, disgracefully, attended his funeral. In his way a lovely man, but he lived in the shadow of his brother, my father, he admired so much. He never really lived his life I think, trying to be a man he could never be.

Not long after that my aunt, my dad’s sister, died. She’d been a single woman all her life, and though she had lived in Sydney most of her adult life she had a huge part in our lives. She was a bohemian type, opinionated, intelligent and cultured. Every year she would buy me books from the time I could read, wrapped always in silver or gold glitter paper with a red ribbon binding it.

Because she had no partner, and no children, she focused a lot of attention on us. She was an interesting woman in many ways, complex and sometimes combative, but often quirky, and very affectionate. She was one of those aunts that would hug and kiss you like you were something precious.

Much happened in her life, but it’s impossible to overlook her relationship with her mother. They despised each other mutually, and often it was quite bitter on my aunt’s side, and in ways defined who she was – anything her mother was not. For whatever reason she became an alcoholic. I lived with her a little when I was in Sydney, and have some happy memories of that, but remember too the drinking, which was constant.

She was always very good and generous to us, and it was a blow when she passed away – though not a surprise. She was in her early sixties when she too died of cancer.

Neither of them had been directly involved in our Christmas celebrations, except with presents under the tree, but as an adult you have a much greater conception of death, and it leaves a mark. I remember travelling to Queensland for my uncle’s funeral, and surreal it was. A couple of years later I was there again, in the same house, clearing it out with my sister after after my aunt’s death.

At some point death will come to your parents. In my case that came prematurely, and ultimately changed everything.

My father is still alive, but we have nothing to do with each other. That’s a virtual death I guess, though I have hopes we will be reconciled (he’s moving to Melbourne in February). My sister thinks he has only a few more years left in him anyway.

Of much greater impact in my life was the death first of my stepfather Fred in 2007, and more so the death of my mum a few years ago.

When Fred died the ties began to loosen a little, though that’s only something you recognise in hindsight. We still had the extravagant and affectionate Christmas celebrations, but it was tinged with sadness, and the blended family we had become in the 17 years of their marriage began to reverse.

It all came apart when my mum died. She was the person, the glue, that held everything together. She was such a warm person that everyone (except my sister) loved her. She almost childlike in the pleasure she took from Christmas and any significant family event. Christmas with her was always a spectacle, but probably very similar to a multitude of Christmas celebrations today. Christmas is a spectacle.

It’s what you miss. The spectacle of it, the over the top but greatly anticipated ceremony of family, of gift giving, of too much wonderful food and too many bottles of bubbles. And a part of it love and immense affection. Again, it’s something you recognise really after it’s gone. You’re in the middle of it, carried along, bathed in it. Then it’s gone, and you’re on the outside.

The death of mum meant that binding force was lost, but in any case the acrimony following her death destroyed any semblance of family.

I long for days like that again, and will be focused on making it so sometime in the future. I’m happy not to pretend in the meantime. All the same, memories return to you at this time of year like they do no other. I have apps that remind you what you were doing and what you said on this day all the years in the past. Yesterday it was Christmas and I saw the photo’s again, and recalled the moments, looking into the well known and well loved features of people no longer with us.

One True Thing


Woken up and found myself in a ballsy mood this morning. That’s not uncommon. Despite my circumstances, or perhaps because of them, it seems as many days as not that I feel this masculine juice flow through me. I don’t know if I want it so full in me, so often; I wonder often, and even wish, that I could be quieter in that regard. Today is just another day and I am this because I am, or because of the weather, or perhaps as a reaction.

The reaction would be to last night. As I sat here writing last night the TV continued in the far room. The next program had commenced and was 10 minutes in by the time I returned to the loungeroom. On many occasions I would have switched the TV off and gone to bed to read. My bedside lamp is packed away though, and I was not ready for sleep, so I sat and looked at the screen.

The movie being shown was distinctly not the sort of movie I normally watch, and certainly not in my ballsy disposition. One True Thing could lazily be described as a woman’s movie. It stars Meryl Streep as a wife and mother who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Renee Zellweger is the daughter who returns home to look after her at the urging of her father, played bu=y William Hurt. I think that’s why I started watching initially. I like William Hurt.

Regardless of it being a woman’s movie or me being ballsy or anything else clearly a movie such as this has relevance to me given what happened with my own mother. Somehow, with Christmas coming, it had added piquancy.

Initially I was struck by the concept of the family home. That’s not something I ever really think about, but here it was seemingly presented to me in a way I could not ignore. Like so many American movies this family lived in the cosy, almost clichéd family home – pretty and elegant without being pretentious, warm and welcoming, trees in the yard, an apple pie in the oven, and genial small town about it. Our version is different here in Oz, but it was still very recognisable to me. Truth is I grew up in an upper-middle class family, much as is portrayed in this film, in a nice house and generally amid a loving family and community. You’re a kid, you don’t think twice about it, but looking back you know it fondly.

That’s the thing about the family home – you miss it when you don’t have it. These thoughts ran through my head as I watched the movie. I guess typically the family home is the home you grew up in, but doesn’t have to be. The house I grew up in was sold by the time I was 18, and it barely made a difference to me. Your family home consists of people in a loving, fond and familiar environment. If I look back over the course of my life I can pick out those moments when I’ve returned to that place and felt a comfortable relief at being there. Here I am safe. Here I can walk about in a pair of shorts or raid the fridge at midnight. Here I am loved without condition.

It’s a lovely, even necessary thing, but easily taken for granted. I don’t have that now an miss it keenly. That was my safe place. I don’t have a safe place now. For me, and I presume for most, that place, that home, is where your parents are, the place that everyone gravitates to in those big moments in life. Christmas is one of them.

Mum was always so big on Christmas, like a kid really, that it was infectious. You got caught up because you couldn’t bear to disappoint her. But it was fun. She would do the full extravaganza come Christmas – the tree obviously, the wrapped presents, the Christmas carols (which would drive me batty – a little goes a long way), the egg nog, and the delighted clues left for us regarding the gifts we were getting this year. For so many years – for almost all of my life – I would return to that environment and just feel like I was home. I really do miss that, and will do more as these weeks pass. The ‘family home’ is a concept that should be kept close.

The movie went on, little moments triggering memories in me, but the big moment of course was all about the reality of dying from cancer. The last 30 minutes of the movie hit me hard. I feel it now again as I write about it. It was like I lived it all again watching the events on-screen. It’s a terrible thing. I can see my mum’s drawn face. The laboured breathing and gasping for breath, the search for escape from it, the despair and helplessness of those who love her watching her slowly dwindling away.

It’s a movie that maybe I shouldn’t have watched. I’m the strong man, the ballsy one, the man who was there with mum throughout her struggle. That was a role I played because it came natural to me and because someone had to do it, and ultimately, I realise, because it was a role I wanted to play. It’s who I am and what I do, but part of that is moving things from one place to another.

People don’t understand what lies beneath that, and always. I don’t want to show my frailty to people, and see no point to that. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. I wish people realised that sometimes, that I’m not entirely the blithe, strong man  appear outwardly. I feel deeply, I share the same emotions as everyone, and sometimes more because I think I am more sensitive than most. I need as much as anyone, and in many ways now I know that I am lost and adrift. I get away with that because I look ahead, am positive, have a history of resilience, and so people expect – as I do – that will change in time. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a hug now. God knows I could.

Being ballsy is nothing more than attitude. Useful maybe, but somewhere beneath there lies the boy. Don’t forget that. My true thing is that I’m haunted still, and will be I think until I can find the things to replace what I lost.

Ripping the wings off a butterfly


Spent the day listening to old David Bowie and Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and the Smiths, the Models, the Divinyls, Tears for Fears and Bryan Ferry. It’s a lovely sunny, quiet afternoon otherwise, I’m squirreling away in the rooms of my mother’s house going about the now regular, not altogether happy task of sorting through her things: this thing we keep, this thing we give away, and that gets thrown out. It’s a ruthless business requiring a ruthless attitude. Still, I stop more than I should, hesitating over old photos, or finding my mind cast back years to memories long forgotten, insignificant moments that now, here, doing this business and with the shaky knowledge that I’ll never see mum again, now loom large.

I don’t know if I can say it enough: I find it hard to believe that mum is gone. I know it, consciously, but it seems too bizarre to accept without question. Perhaps that makes this job harder. It feels intrusive, invasive, to be tipping her home upside down, to dismantle all of the things she put together over a lifetime. And why it feels so shocking when people fight over what remains. I’ll never forget this. I don’t doubt that there is a part of me that will be forever changed now.

In your eye


I’m back in the house, much of the meat plucked from the bone by the vultures that came before me. It’s quite a bleak outlook. The place is, I guess, about half empty now – much, though not all, of the furniture remains, but little else. Most of the prints are gone from the walls, the multitude of knick-knacks and decorator items mum had have been removed, all the lamps are missing, a coffee table, even some towels, mugs, and so on. What remains paints a pretty sorry tale. It hits home to you again, mum’s gone, and this, her home, will soon be no more.

I fired in my protest this morning, complaining of the way things have been handled, how we, my sister and I, have been disadvantaged, if not downright discriminated against. It’s too little avail except to my spleen, but that’s reason enough. What’s gone now won’t be seen again, not the lamp that mum promised me, or the little $20 brass Buddha I might have added to my collection, nor the Chinese banner I bought in Hong Kong years ago and gave to her one mother’s day.

I’ve been going through what’s left, their seconds if you like. There are a bunch of photo’s I’m trying to separate into meaningful piles. And a million recipe books and magazines. These evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Many have been in use for nearly 40 years. They are scuffed, stained by meals long ago consumed in happier times. To sort through them is a poignant exercise. Most will end up in the rubbish now, but some I will take with me, less for the recipes inside them than for the memories they glow with. I guess I am sentimental after all.

Of the rest of the stuff remaining I will take little, if any. A friend is visiting to take a keepsake or two, and my sister threatens to load up on the pots outside. We are supposed to seek ‘permission’ to take anything, her children, but bugger that, or, as mum would say, in your eye.

Circling vultures


What a sordid year this has been. And, just when you think it must be settling down, it gets even more sordid.

For the last 24 hours odd, while I’ve been cooling my heels away from ‘home’, at my sisters, at the Cheeses, tooling around the suburbs of Melbourne trying to kill time, the hillbillies have ransacked my mother’s home – or is it the Huns? They’ve emptied the cupboards, the drawers as I’ve been informed, have cleared the shelves, taken things from the walls.

On Thursday night I walked out of the place with it neat and tidy, with just a pile of things on the dining table arrayed for easy access. Despite my displeasure at being evicted I had even taken the time to vacuum the place for my ‘guests’. It’s how I was brought up to be.

Last night I got a call from one of mum’s dearest friends, who had been called over to the house to see if she wanted anything. She described the scene to me, much as I detailed above. It looked, she said, as if someone was in the process of moving out. She went on to tell me of all the things that had been ‘acquired’ by the Huns, quite outside the terms of our agreement. I was shocked, angry, and though I was out with friends for the next few hours, felt my every thought shadowed by this news.

I don’t need to go into any detail, but the basics. We had requested some items extraneous to the will. We had been instructed to itemise what we wanted. We did that, with the understanding that the Huns would do the same. After much wrangling, as I’ve previously noted, we were given permission to take all but one thing on the list.

The Huns were visiting to collect their bequests, and theoretically to pick up the things on their list. What’s transpired in fact is that they’ve pretty well helped themselves to anything not tied down. At all times we, my sister and I, have been reasonable, and acted with restraint. There are many things – mostly quite small – I’d like to take away from mum’s home, but I’ve chosen not to. We could work that out later, I thought, like civilised people; and if it’s not on my list then I’ve no right to help myself.

As my sister says, what’s the point of us being decent and reasonable if we lose by it?

That’s what’s happened. The Huns have helped themselves regardless of whether the items have been listed or not. As I said, they’ve gone through every cupboard, every drawer, have emptied the shelves. It’s awful, but what makes it worse is that they’ve done it in collusion with one of the executors.

There’s an executor we haven’t heard from for over a month. It’s become clear that throughout that period she has been in close communication with the Huns. Not even the solicitor acting for the estate was aware of this. In effect it means that the Huns have been given a free hand, without the same courtesy being extended to us. In fact we – who have done nothing, made no representations, asked for nothing unreasonable, have in fact been fair throughout –  have had no courtesy given us. And we’re the children!

I’m disappointed with the Huns, but to a degree I understand. They are self serving. Greed is an unsavoury quality, but not so uncommon that it is unknown. The executor is another story.

It’s hard to explain how bitter I am at her actions. Her role is to represent the wishes of the deceased, and to be impartial. Well mum would be horrified by what’s happened. Mum was very particular about everything, and the undignified jockeying for profit would break her heart. So much for love you think, and affection, as the vultures descend on the carcass. As a mother she would be angry at the treatment meted out to us, and the blatant favouritism we’re victim of. And she would feel mortally betrayed that a friend of such long standing would not just permit it, but be actively complicit in the proceedings. It’s an absolute disgrace.

This morning I went out with the Cheeses, and another friend, for breakfast. I talked, I played with their daughter, but I felt gutted. How do these things happen? How can people be like that? As my sister asked, what profit is there in doing the right thing when others won’t?

I left them, feeling lost. I had no home to go too, and a full day to kill. I called my friends, but couldn’t get through to any. The clutch of women I normally have about me have dispersed over the last 12 months, coupled up some, others interstate, and the rest gone dormant with my quiet social life or unwillingness/inability to commit. I felt forlorn, a grown man driving the streets looking for something to occupy me, someone to connect to..

Then I got a return call, from the yoga teacher. She’s lived in Barcelona for 6 months since I last saw her. We met for coffee. I began to tell her of some of the things happening. Then I recounted mum’s last days. I went to tell her of mum’s last words to me and found I didn’t have the breath to speak. I looked out the windows as the tears came to me. She clutched my hand, it’s ok, she said, but I had to get it out. I gathered myself, I breathed deeply and repeated her last words as the tears continued to come.

Once upon a time I’d have been horrified at such a breakdown. To be clear it’s not something I welcome today, but I’m a lot more accepting of it now. I’m changing. “You need to be a better friend to yourself,” the yoga teacher said. I nodded my head. She’s a kind, sensitive person. I felt no shame at showing my emotion to her, let it out, she said. She stayed with me for much longer than a quick coffee, concerned, caring, a good friend.

It’s a measure of how deeply affected I am by this sordid imbroglio that my emotions are so near to the skin now. Like no-one else, I think, I think of mum, who she was, her legacy, our memories of her. She doesn’t deserve this crap. It’s just wrong, but maybe I should just let it be, as the yoga teacher says, let it wash over me and live my life.

She’s probably right, and I probably should stop fighting. It’s not about the things, they count for little really. It’s about respect and decency. In the end the profit in doing the right thing is the right thing itself. It’s not about gain, but about what is just and true. If you’re a believer in karma, as I am, you believe that the things will even up over the journey. Besides, as I said to the yoga teacher with a wink, it’s the privilege of feeling superior. Can’t be it if I’m in the muck with the rest of them.

About love, missing it, etc


I slept in an extra hour this morning. I could blame it on the advent of daylight savings, or even the fact that it’s Monday morning, except it wouldn’t be true. I woke up at the usual time and realised I had no interest in getting up. I feel that quite regularly, as I’m sure many people do. The difference this time was that I had just woken from a long dream. It felt warm, and I didn’t want stark reality intruding on it. I wanted to succumb to the sleepiness and return to the world the dream presented to me, and so I slumbered for another hour.

Over the weekend my sister visited. It has been school holidays, and she reported that she had felt mum’s absence more keenly now than she had before. It’s no surprise – it was in the school holidays that mum was most active with my sister and her kids. She’s gone, and left a great hole. We fell to reminiscing. The auction on Saturday had us recalling the time many years ago my sister bought her home, and how afterwards mum took us all out for a splendid lunch to celebrate. Mum was a great one for celebration, we both agreed. The smallest excuse was sufficient to pop a bottle of bubbles, or go out for a big meal, or have an impromptu barbecue. It seems hard to believe now, but those days – and for years on end – were rich with that. Looking back they seem days full of colour and noise, crowded with people and activity. Now all that is left is my sister, her kids, and me. It seems hardly conceivable.

For the last week or so I’ve missed things very keenly. I’m sure it was there before, but kept at bay. In retrospect the perpetual struggle to get things right has probably kept me so occupied that I haven’t really had the time to feel these things, but rarely. And it’s true, I’ve probably shied away from them also. The time for that has passed though.

Yes, I miss the warmth and community of family life as it was before, but accept that these things can’t last forever. It’s sad, but it’s also reality – people pass away, nothing remains in stasis, no matter how permanent it may seem. What I miss really are more intangible things. I miss being in love. I miss being loved. I miss that sense of anticipation and mystery and urgent need that goes with being in love. I miss the hope and light it showers you with, the shining star you can fix on even while everything else crumbles to ruins about you. I could use that, and regret that I did not use it better when I had it. I’m hard put to say that I’m a different man now, though the dramatic events of the last 6 months must do something. What I do say is that I’ve never been more ready for love than I am now. I feel I’m right to accept it as I couldn’t before. The problem is, I can’t.

I’m not exactly the misty eyed type. I’m directed by my mind, though with crazy-ass mix of instinct thrown in just to keep things interesting. I’ve been pushing shit uphill for a long time now. I’ve been resolute much of that time, and largely because I’m rational. People don’t see it, but I waver sometimes. There are times I feel very fragile inside. At those times I really miss the things that make life bearable. I’d love to have someone – other than this damn blog (and this only gets a fraction of it) – I could speak to. I’d love to close my eyes sometimes and be comforted like a boy. I’d like to switch off and know that someone was there on the look-out for me. I’d like to feel cared about.

I’m not fragile though. Fragility suggests something that could break at any time. That’s not the case with me, at least I think not. I feel I’m being used up though. Like one day I might reach for that thing that has kept me upright and find that there’s nothing remaining. I don’t want to be stoic.

Which brings me back to my dreams. I’ve been feeling wistful, and guilty of that masculine foolishness that blinds us to the important things when they’re there in front of us. My mind has drifted off. I find myself day-dreaming sometimes, closing my eyes to recall people and moments, laying in bed in the dark and feeling drawn back towards the things I no longer have. I find myself sentimental, desirous, angry. I fall asleep with it.

So I dreamt a serialised dream. The details elude, as most times. I know I worked with a girl. She was from the country, but was a long way from being a yokel. She was good and intelligent and caring and through the dream, like in a developing soap opera, I fell for her, and she for me. It felt good. Easy. Unfussed. Natural. In those brief moments of waking clarity in between I wondered why it can’t be like that in life. Or why it isn’t. Then I would return to the dream, and though nothing dramatic happened, you could believe that this was something that could go on forever, that in truth one could live happily ever after. She was no-one I knew, and waking I realised what I missed was the truth of a loving relationship. I had personified it in my mind, which is probably natural, but it was no more than a symbol.

I drifted off to sleep again past my get up time. Just to complicate things I had a different dream this time. Again, not much happened – I visit an office where a friend works, while I’m there I bump into a woman I know, visiting herself from another office. Nothing happens, we nod, or something, and as she goes off my mind spins.