Milestones are a funny thing. They can mark great achievements, the coming of age, the passing of time, a promotion, a union or simply a reason to drink one too many bottles. They are generally a time of celebration. They however become a completely different thing when you have lost someone. They become something you dread with every bone in your body.
Tiney’s birthday has just passed and it was a milestone that we were all aware of in the weeks leading up to it. It also happened to fall on a Sunday which is a vicious enough day as it is. A day that marks the passing of yet another week in a world that is less bright because of her absence. I concluded a little while ago that I was not coping and the reason I was not coping was because I had not said goodbye. I decided that for Tiney’s birthday I would mark this significant milestone by returning to our childhood home. I would spend some time with Tiney and I would say goodbye. I had to do something as I felt like I was going fucking insane.
My behaviour often reminded me of Dylan Thomas and his famous words, ‘do not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ I had thought that the last 10 weeks were about Tiney. But in fact, she was not the one who was raging against the dying of the light. She was not the one who needed to be told to go gentle into that good night. Tiney had made her choice, it was just me who couldn’t accept it.
My mourning and my grief has been as unkind to myself and ultimately Tiney as I could imagine. I was raging against the fact that she had gone, I was screaming at the moon, I was ensuring that there was nothing gentle about my grief. It was like Gollum had developed razor sharp teeth and talon like claws that he was casually scraping up and down my spine repeatedly so that my insides were exposed and raw.
My brother told me that she was at peace and that he knew it as a certainty. He told me that he would have gone and got her if he had any doubts. I would let him tell me, I would ask him repeatedly to assure me, but I never once believed him. I was raging against the dying of the light. A crazy addled part of me thought that if I screamed and fought and gouged ‘why’ into my arms and body with a rusty psychological scalpel that somehow things would change.
I hit my lowest when I dumped my anti-anxiety and sleeping medication down the sink, which was not exactly what the doctor ordered, and then went into three days of withdrawal. The highlight of that time was when I started to get suspicious about Kevin’s affection and grabbed his face and I asked Tiney if she was in there. Completely bat-shit crazy. The last creature that Tiney would have selected to use as a conduit for some message from beyond was bloody Kevin. I was so desperately raging against the dying of the light that there were times I would have believed anything. I believed if I could go backwards and take back time, that if I didn’t go overseas that I would have saved Tiney. I blamed myself for something that had nothing to do with me. What a selfish, ignorant bloody git.
For Tiney’s birthday weekend, Al, my very much-loved brother-in-law decided to spend the weekend with me and I arrived with a knot inside of my heart that was driving me up the bloody wall. Sleep was a thing of the past. The only way I was looking after myself was eating well and exercising. Everything else was out the window and I could feel myself physically declining. Occasionally I would stumble and at bad times my gait was affected. Physical pain had returned as my friend. There were extra sensory treats that had reappeared as part of my life and joined my mate Gollum in creating a world around me that was dark and twisted and completely fucked.
I had arrived on the Gold Coast to say goodbye to my Tiney and to commemorate her birthday with someone she loved so very dearly. This process took us on a complicated rollercoaster ride of emotion that had Al and I taking turns in weeping, laughing, talking and re-assessing our reality. We spent time with mutual friends, old friends and a very special friend of my Momma’s who for me is a unique bottomless well of compassion. We visited restaurants where Tiney used to work and listened to stories. Al and I walked on the beach for hours and talked endlessly and did battle with those fucked up demons who constantly encircled me along with Gollum.
On the Saturday night Al and I were wandering into Surfers central for dinner and realising it was all too loud, I suggested we drive to another restaurant a short way away that Tiney had loved. We found the restaurant and I pulled into the wrong driveway, then I spotted the proper driveway and headed that way, not realising I was driving on the footpath. Al looked at me, shook his head and said, “Where the fuck did you girls learn how to drive?”
It was funny, as at the memorial, most of what was said and done remains a blur but I do remember Al mentioning in his speech that when he first started to fancy Tiney, he would hang out by the car park to take the piss out of her when she tried to park her car. That stuck in my memory as I thought, hang on a minute, Tiney is a good driver, just like me. 10 weeks later as I was crawling along on the footpath after having done an 18-point fuck you turn for Al in the car-park I realised that I was not as good a driver as I thought I was. Just like Tiney. I also realised at that time it was ok to laugh.
When we parked, I asked Al if he could remember Tiney and her talk about anal fissures. I remembered that Tiney was one of the foulest and funniest people I had ever had the privilege to know and the conversations we used to have about anal fissures could almost make me throw up. We would compete to see who could outdo each other and she always took it one step further than I did. For some reason the thought of anal fissures made me laugh. Laugh so hard that I had to stop before I entered the restaurant as I thought I was going to wet my pants.
When we sat down for dinner that night, I felt it. I felt Tiney at peace for the first time since the nightmare had started. I also felt something shift. I still had a long way to go but I felt that finally I could start to deal with my grief. I was so terribly sad but I realised it was ok to be sad, it was also ok to smile, it was ok to remember how precious this amazing person was to us all. I mentioned to Al what I felt and he said that he felt it too. That night, will always stay in my memory as one of the most healing nights of my life. I felt like I had just gotten off a never-ending roller coaster ride and I was emotionally and physically drained. However I was experiencing a peace and a sense of hope that I had not felt for a very long time.
We woke early on Sunday morning to see the sunrise at Howard Street. As Al sat with Tiney I went for a wander along the area that had been so much a part of my life. There was a beautiful tree that provided a silhouette against the rising sun, very reminiscent of the tree of life that was on Tiney’s urn. I realised at that moment that I was ready. I felt the tears roll down my cheeks as I told her that I loved her and said goodbye. But it was only then that I knew what I was saying goodbye to. I didn’t have to say goodbye to Tiney, she would be with me forever. I was saying goodbye to my anger, to my fury, to the belief that I could have changed things. I was saying goodbye to circumstances that prevented me so completely from being kind to myself, to Tiney and to those around me.
I stood there in that beautiful place, wishing my sister a Happy Birthday and remembered how much she was loved and how much we were loved in return. I had stopped raging and I knew it was time to be gentle and to be kind.
We had been lucky enough to have this incredible creature in our lives for almost 42 years and we were loved.