I’m sitting on the tiled front porch of my rental apartment in Noosa, enjoying the gentle stream of sunlight hitting my legs and the crisp fall breeze. Sure, I should be inside a dark room watching powerpoint presentations about land acquisition and the need for simplifying planning to focus on policy outcomes rather than procedure, but I’m not and I don’t feel bad about that fact at all.
Yesterday I woke up on a jet plane somewhere near Fiji, and by the time I ate breakfast and watched Avatar I was descending into Brisbane. When I got there at 5 am, I surreptitiously entered the country with a large number of contraband items including but not limited to peanut butter chocolate chip Lara Bars and chocolate chip Clif bars, stealthily bypassing the drug-sniffing dogs and under-caffeinated customs agents. Before they could catch me, I was in a cab, out of cell phone range, in the airport link tunnel. Operation Lara Bar was in the bag.
I entered the Queenslander, unlocked and empty at 5:40 am to find my fiancé gone, as well as the two-dishes of lasagna I’d left him 9 days earlier (a small win garnered for the budding-domestic-goddess-slash-international-granola-bar-smuggler). A quick shower later an even quicker realization that my phone was no longer functioning, led me on a pre-dawn manhunt to find the Telstra agent who could rectify this mess. Completed, fiancée snuggled, and tea consumed, I was soon in another cab to a meeting point at the Chermside bus station, where I’d intercept my manager and journey next to his 1-year-old for the next two hours to Noosa where operation “Attend a Relevant Conference in an Amazing Resort Town” commenced. And, here I am. It’s been a whirlwind.
I spent the last week in the US. It wasn’t planned and that made it sad and wonderful at the same time. Last week Sunday I called my Grandparents, and finally after months of hearing she was doing okay, got a real response to the question of what my Grandma’s condition was (she had battled lung cancer for two years). Within 24 hours I was on a plane. I made it home and held her before she passed. I thank every ounce of luck and grace in the world that I had the resources and ability to do that. And even more, I thank those same forces for giving me the next week to grieve and support my family, particularly my Grandpa, as we all interpreted her loss. My Grandma, as my dad put it, was “steel.” Nothing less. She was a firecracker and a sage. And in her own way, the same way she nurtured her immense gardens, she nurtured her whole family with a frank, unsentimental, but unshakable love. She passed in the evening, surrounded by the edifices she’d built; her family, her gardens, her home, as she lay in her own bed. When she was gone, the lights flickered and within seconds a gale force wind shook the house, bringing down shingles and tree limbs. The wind howled in the fireplace and then the storm passed. And so did she. Without hesitation or uncertainty. Like Grandma would.
I had never seen anyone die.
And I held my Grandpa and he shook. Sixty-four years of life together, ended in that moment. There aren’t words for that. There’s nothing that you can do for that. So I held him. He and I have always had a connection, but there isn’t anything to say. All you can do is let your heart ache as it must and envelope the shaking pillar of your family in your arms. All you can do is direct every bit of the love in your being toward him who must wake up the next morning and make a life anew. All you can do is walk in her gardens and through her kitchens with reverence, and listen to the birds hoping that her spirit is in their song. All you can do is share a kind smile and an ear with the piercingly sorrowful eyes of one who loved her more than I can fathom.
If I could, I would stay there. I would be there to eat breakfast with him each day and to argue over politics to keep him feisty. But I can’t. I always feel the distance, but most keenly now. Here. Far away.
Death doesn’t scare me. And in many ways I don’t find it sad. But life without those we love is terrifying and heart-wrenching. The hole that cannot be filled is more tormenting than anything I can imagine.
People adapt. People are built to survive. And he will. We all will. He will ask himself each day, what Mary would do, what Mary would want, and he will do it. I think we all will, as we have always done. She was steel, and so we need to be too.
Mary Louise Sachs. April 4,1930 – May 14th, 2013.