Category Archives: Open Letters

A message from a mother: a reformed skeptic of the newly installed highway barriers, written in the third person because it was only yesterday

It was the first day of winter and a Saturday. The weather had turned sharply a week before and there had been constant rain for a week. Her son fell asleep at the wheel at 5.30am on the way to work. He had put his hand up for overtime. He is a good boy; a nineteen-year-old Diesel Technician apprentice. Usually, when someone falls asleep at the wheel the pressure on the accelerator pedal reduces. Still, it doesn’t usually end well. There’s always a tree, or an embankment, or another car. Her son was on the Western Highway at the speed limit of 110km per hour. He woke up when all four tyres hit the dirt. His tyre tracks ran through the new grass and then his car slammed into the newly installed barriers. His car spun out across the highway enough times to give him time to articulate the thought he was going to die. His mother is at once dizzy at that thought and then her heart cracks wide open as she puts herself in his experience.  He slammed into the barrier again, taking out another six or more posts but the wire held firm. The wire saved his life. His own car was in the shop so he was driving a very old ute that his Pop had bought for a runaround. The roadworthy had stipulated new seat belts so they had been replaced. The car was towed straight to the wreckers but he walked away without a scratch. Police attending another accident where a car had hit a pole on an adjacent road watched the whole episode unravel and walked over to comfort him immediately. It still feels like the worst day of her life. If the wire wasn’t there he would have sped down the small, sludgy embankment and most certainly would have flipped his car and most certainly died.

The Mothers cracked heart is only holding together with strings of constant tears and a new appreciation of what it is to be anxious. A state too filled with too much of everything.  She is grateful for the wire but her experience needs to be filled quickly with new hellos and goodbyes and more hellos so her son telling her I thought I was going to die becomes a distant troublesome memory. Is that even possible? She woke this morning at 4am wanting to wake her son to check he hadn’t bled to death internally overnight. Irrational but compelling. It reminds her of when he was a baby and if she woke in the night she would check for his breath. The universe guides her but it’s Sunday and she wants him to rest so she resists for a few hours. Is resisting strength or a deviation to remaining true to who she was before? This is now the mother’s anxiety. At least in the quiet hours on the road, when sleep is the enemy, she can be comforted that the barriers will guide the way.

The lost parent

July 17th, 2015

Empty Nest you say? I think you’re mistaken. That phrase belongs to that moment in time when you saw your fluffy little chicks off to school. This is so much more.

You once marveled at how cute they looked in a uniform and with a heart ready to burst you waved goodbye. The oversized backpack marched off full of importance. You may have turned around with an invisible elbow punch to your thigh or if you needed to earn a living – went to work guilt free. Knowing all the while that you would pick them up at 3.00pm and continue to micro manage them, shaping their little souls and being amused at their emerging personalities and proud of their achievements.

Now they are driving around independently, they have friends you don’t know, and when you see them off at the airport you know its only going to fuel the desire to travel. You may lose them for years. They are no longer yours to manage. You find yourself breathing so shallow that if something else distracted you—you worry you may forget to breathe altogether. There is a disconnection and it threatens to undo that sense of purpose you only discovered was possible when you had your chicks in the first place.

When they were born and during those first few years you occasionally contemplated about your past life and tried to remember what motivated you. Then life got so busy you forget to reflect and plan. You may perceive that you are multi dimensional but your first characteristic, the thing that defines you the most – is that you are a parent.

You might be in your forties. You feel like a teenager again without the invincibility. There is peril everywhere for them and for you. Your path is uncertain. Here’s hoping, you are only halfway there – so what the hell happens now?

Dear Mrs Walsh

July 6th, 2015

I hope that you can grieve for your husband in the same way that you would if a stranger had murdered him and had been brought to swift and appropriate justice and showed deep remorse for his actions.

I hope that you can grieve for your son, for his drug use, his addiction, his mental health past, present and in the future, and the calamity he has brought upon himself – as if he had murdered a stranger who had no ties.

I hope that you can separate these two, long-term for both are burdens enough to bear and to reconcile these grievances’ is beyond comprehension for any mere mortal.

Finally I hope, that on reflecting upon the relationship between your husband and your son, as we all would upon a husbands natural death, that you keep close to your heart the idea that they both coveted a reconnection of spirit and loving bond, for how can a father and son not?

Know that please, it was only the scourge on our society that irreparably damaged this possibility and we the Australian public, football followers and others, grieve with you. Let us make ICE the dirtiest word that ever existed and maybe our youth will steer clear.

God Bless.

(I’ve made assumptions here and I apologise for any offence this may cause. I wrote this as an emotional reaction to an event as it was portrayed on our screens, which I acknowledge should never be accepted as the full truth.)

Why not seek out a writer for a funeral service?

I appreciated my writing ability more than I ever thought possible, when in March 2016 I wrote and performed my younger brother’s eulogy.  Much like a performing artist, what makes a good writer, one that our fellow humans will respond to, is fearlessness and authenticity. While I knew writing my brother’s eulogy was going to be difficult I knew in the marrow of my bones it was going to be my privilege and my gift to him. I have in the past written and performed my mother’s and my maternal grandmother’s eulogies, so I knew that if I could get through it, an exalted sense of closure would be my reward. Ajay was only thirty-five and I had placed upon myself extra responsibility to do a good job for my father, who as you can imagine was the person I was most worried about. Dad gave me one direction, he said ‘Don’t make it about me or dwell on his (decade long) illness’. This one remark was invaluable – the essence of a eulogy should not be about the speakers grief or on behalf of someone’s else grief; apart from introducing your relationship to the deceased at the beginning,  the eulogy should remain focussed on celebrating the deceased person’s life, leaving any purely personal note short and at the end.

In hindsight I was grateful that we had a little extra time from what’s normally the case because Ajay had made a detour to the coroner before his service – for some routine tests due to him being so young and dying at home. It was comforting to hear from our funeral home representative and our private celebrant, Anne Young, who I couldn’t recommend highly enough, that there is never a need to rush the scheduling of a service, and that there was no reason in our case why Ajay’s service could not be booked for two weeks hence. This would allow the coroner plenty of time and remove any conjecture on the date. Nevertheless, it took me until two days before his service before I found my space –  I had a late afternoon nap and started writing at 11.00pm, finishing at 3.00am. I stepped outside the following morning at 7.30am,  relieved but bedraggled and incredibly sad and puffy to drive my son to the bus stop. I was greeted by the most beautiful morning sky I have ever seen in suburbia. It was a Toy Story sky at sunrise, with great bands of sunlight emanating from the horizon like an iconic image on a festival poster.  At once I knew Ajay was with me right there on the path. I choked up a sob of joy steeped in grief. He was sending me a message, ‘Well done, you got it done, good job, and thank you.’

Later, while munching on a sandwich at Ajay’s funeral, much relieved the service had gone well I had a tap on the shoulder from another (not our own) uniformed funeral-home director. He introduced himself and apologised immediately for interrupting me but said he felt compelled to come and talk to me. He explained that while he wasn’t eavesdropping on Ajay’s service, he could hear the audio as the microphone traveled beyond the chapel into other parts of the building. He said he wanted to tell me that he had heard hundreds of eulogies and that the one I had done for Ajay was one of the best.

It got me thinking that if a grieving family can hire a private celebrant to MC a service within a funeral home or anywhere else for that matter, why can’t people hire a bonafide writer to help them compose the eulogy? It is after all a key component to a service and a daunting exercise for most people; you would not be alone if the thought of writing a eulogy added another layer of stress to the prospect of performing one. What to do? Find someone who can help – and they don’t need to know the deceased – it will be a collaboration of what you want to say with a helping hand of a writer – your memories and your stories.  And if there is no one in your circle up to the task – seek out a professional.  Performing a well set out eulogy will not only enhance the service for all the mourners present but should leave you feeling accomplished, honoured, and privileged to have contributed to your loved one’s goodbye.

Rest in everlasting peace Ajay.