Till Death Do Us Part

“I, Rachel, take you, Chris, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part. This is my solemn vow.”

Chris & I

I, Rachel, take you, Chris. People say you can’t help who you fall in love with. I don’t agree. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you make a choice to invest in a relationship which eventually leads to love. That being said, I didn’t go looking for Chris. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, and even though I thought he was gorgeous, I had sworn off any and all relationships. But he swept me off my feet. I couldn’t tell you whether it was his cheeky smile, the way my head fit so perfectly on his shoulder, the way he made me feel fiercely protected or his little idiosyncrasies, like the way he had to have the volume in the car on an even number or it would drive him nuts. It was despite the fact that he was a morning person and I was a night owl, despite him being one of the most impatient people I had ever met and me being perfectly content to sit in traffic or line up at the supermarket, despite the fact that he was a creature of habit and I was probably far too relaxed about most things. Because of and in spite of all of those things there was no going back. He would never have admitted it, but he was a softie and a closet romantic and before I knew I was head over heels.

Chris & Me

To be my lawfully wedded husband. When we first started seeing each other I had made it very clear that I never wanted to get married again. He said he didn’t care and, at the time it made me love him even more because it spoke volumes about his character. Considering patience was never his strong suit, he never put any pressure on me and considering the fact that if nagging was an Olympic sport Chris would have won the Gold medal every time he was never the one to bring it up in conversation. I did hear, much later down the track, that the very first night we met, he told his mate that he was going to marry me, and imagine my surprise when I realised that somehow or another he had slowly changed my mind. It certainly wasn’t the most romantic of proposals, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he loved me and without hesitation, I said yes. He did pick my engagement ring (albeit with a little bit of help from his mum) and I loved it. On the 18th November 2006, I married my best friend and partner for life. The date had no sentimental reason, we actually just chose it because it was one of the only dates the guy we wanted to do our music was free for. It was a great day and the cherry on top was Chris serenading me with “Angels” by Robbie Williams, changing the lyrics from “I’m loving angels instead” to “I’m loving Rachie instead”.

Wedding

To have and to hold from this day forward. I am a naturally affectionate person, I like public displays of affection (within reason of course). For all of his tough guy image, Chris was really a big softie and was just as affectionate as I was. No matter where we were he would reach for my hand or drape his arm across my shoulder. As sappy as it sounds I always felt 100% protected and safe in his arms. There were times when, being the emotional, heart on my sleeve person that I am, I would be sobbing and those same arms would say so much without saying anything at all. Annoyingly, those same “safe” arms would grab me and cuddle me so I couldn’t escape when he had done something to tick me off, knowing that I could never stay angry at him for long. On the rare occasion when that didn’t work he would use a quote from a movie which was a great Plam B. The one he quoted the most was from one of his favourite movies, “Once Were Warriors” and with his cheeky grin he would say “you love me” to which I would quote back (with a touch of poetic licence) “that’s the problem Chris, I do”. On the rare occasions when Chris was as upset about something as I was, I hope that he felt the same comfort I felt when he held me.

Have

For better, for worse. There is no doubt that we had lots of “for better” times, in fact, I would go as far as to say the “for better” times were as numerous as the stars in the sky. There were a few major things, the birth of our beautiful daughter Georgia and our wedding just to name a few. There were also the hundreds of seemingly simple times which made up our “for better”. The times when we would laugh till we cried over something silly one or other of us had done. The times when I would laugh watching him laughing at one of his stupid redneck shows like Swamp Rats or Jackass. The camping holidays we took together, even the home projects that we started but got in way over our heads and had to pay someone to come and fix. The date nights which included the night my big spender bought us $2 hot dogs from Costco. It was all the times we sat around the dinner table together for tea, the birthday celebrations, the BBQs we had with friends.

Of course, life would not be life if we didn’t have our share of “for worse” as well. There is no doubt that the worst of “for worse” was Chris’ mum’s illness and death. I have never met anyone who loved and protected her family as fiercely as mum did. She was the glue that pulled everyone together and to say we were devastated when Mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour would be a huge understatement. There were days when “for worse” meant forgiving the hurtful things we said to each other or the clashes we had over differing opinions about things but all of those paled in comparison to the day we lost mum, followed quickly by the day of her funeral. There was also the time when a plumbing company that Chris was working for called him in with no notice and told him they were laying him off due to no work. My hard-working, first there and last to leave, always willing to put his hand up to help when needed husband was gutted when he got the news. It was a pathetic move on their part and if it sounds like I still harbour a grudge against them, I do! Such was the work ethic of my amazing man, he quickly found work doing odd jobs until our “for worse” turned into a “for better” when he landed a job at Geocon, a job he loved. At the end of the day, the “for better” days far outweighed the “for worse” days and that is something to be very grateful for.

Date night

For richer, for poorer. Chris and I had two totally different views about money. I was the one who looked after the finances in our relationship because Chris, by his own admission, was hopeless and would have had our bank account cleaned out in two seconds given the chance. Having said that, one of his favourite catch-phrases was “just another excuse to take a man’s money”. It was more bluff than anything else because if any one of his friends needed help Chris would always do what he could to help. There were definitely times when things were really tight, and we were living payday to payday but Chris had an amazing work ethic and he always prided himself on providing for his family and I loved him for it.

There were always two things that he NEVER complained about spending money on, anything to do with fishing and upgrades to the camper. We would good-naturedly argue about the camper trailer because of the way he talked me into it in the first place. It didn’t take much persuading really because we both loved camping. We had always talked about travelling up through the centre of Australia and around Tasmania and this camper was the perfect fit for us. We had to finance it though and I was more cautious about it than Chris was. So Chris struck a deal with me. He would sacrifice the money he spent on smoko each week and that would be enough to cover the weekly repayments for the camper. I had a healthy scepticism about this deal, but the excitement about the advantages of the new camper drowned out any doubts I had about Chris’ commitment to sacrificing coffee money. It will probably come as no surprise that the deal was broken in less than a month! With the cheeky grin that he knew I was a sucker for, the familiar catch-phrases I knew so well became a part of our weekly routine. “Can I have coffee monies, Friday buy day, Saturday big breakfast” I heard them all, and when I would remind him about our deal he would just kiss me on the cheek and not say a word knowing the money he wanted would be waiting by his keys ready for work the next day. We never had millions in the bank but our life together was rich in ways money could never buy and I was grateful for everything we did have.

Camper

In sickness and in health. Chris found out he was a type two diabetic by accident really. His mum had type two diabetes too and one morning we checked Chris’ blood sugar level at the same time. It was one of the highest readings I had ever seen and I couldn’t believe that Chris had been walking around with such a high reading, practically symptom-free. As a typical male, it still took some considerable nagging to get Chris to the doctor but it was just as well we did because he had high blood pressure which needed looking after as well. Ironically, the man who had pestered his mum when she had a fifty cent soft serve cone from Maccas, all of a sudden became the most non-compliant diabetic I had ever known. I’m certain Chris thought he had lucked out having a wife who was also a nurse and I tried my best to keep him on the straight and narrow. It wasn’t until some new work boots caused a pesky blister which led to a massive infection that I realised how uncompliant he had been.

After weeks of having the blister on his toe cleaned and dressed daily a very on the ball doctor took one look at Chris’ toe and sent him straight to the Canberra Hospital for a specialist consult. Even then I don’t think we knew how serious it was but in the long run, it was the huge wake-up call Chris needed. The Vascular Surgeon who saw Chris told him he would have to amputate his big toe but told him he was lucky they caught it when they did because if they had left it any longer he could have lost half his foot. It was at this time that Chris admitted he wasn’t taking his medication regularly. The sheepish look he shot me while making this confession told me he knew he’d been sprung and that he knew I’d be riding his butt from then on. If he was nervous about going into surgery he didn’t show it, cracking jokes with the nurses right up until they wheeled him into theatre. My ten foot tall and bulletproof husband was not going to let something like a toe amputation slow him down and after two weeks at home on the couch, he was chomping at the bit to get back to work. When he was fully back on his feet (pun intended), for the most part he really did look after himself. He lost a stack of weight and looked better than ever.

Apart from this major event, for the most part, we had more health than sickness, until the day that took Chris from us. The thing I don’t think I will ever get over, or stop being angry about is the fact that Chris’ death could have and should have been preventable. The coroner’s report, which arrived about eight months after Chris died showed that he had had a minor heart attack two or so weeks before. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that Chris probably didn’t even know he had had a heart attack or that if he did, the outcome would have been different. It doesn’t matter that I KNOW that playing the “what if” game will do more harm than good. I will always wish that our “in sickness” had not been so devastating and life-changing.

IMG_0273

To love and to cherish until death do us part. This is my solemn vow. I know some people have a tendency to put people who have died on a pedestal. It’s almost like people take the whole “don’t speak ill of the dead” to the extreme and the loved one they have lost all of a sudden become saints. I am fully aware of Chris’ faults, which, like me are too numerous to list here. Despite or in spite of each other’s faults we loved each other. I used to tell him the song “True Love” by Pink could have been our theme song. He frustrated the hell out of me at times (and no doubt I bugged the heck out of him too). He had a number of idiosyncrasies that drove me nuts but he was my best friend, my protector, my cheer squad, he would even give me a kick up the backside when I needed it. He made me laugh and even though I would never have admitted it to him when he said it, he really was the funniest man I knew. I did love and cherish him. Even on the days when we were frustrated with each other, I still adored him. Here’s the thing about those vows we took on 18th November all those years ago, it didn’t all of a sudden stop when “death us do part”. I will always love Chris, I will always cherish him. Very well-meaning people have said that I am young enough and will find someone when the time is right but that’s an impossibility because Chris has my heart with him. The inscription on his wedding ring, which I now wear says “always and forever”. It’s the way I end all of my blog posts. It’s just the way it is, because even though “death do us part” I will love and miss Chris forever, this is my solemn vow.

Always and forever.

 

C2

Almost Twelve Months On…..

I promised myself there would be no more macabre posts. I mean, in two short days it will be twelve months right. No more weepy tales. At least that’s what I told myself, and if you can bear to indulge me, I will make this promise – no more public posts about my grief save this last one.  There is no doubt that writing has helped me over the last twelve months, but I know that my journey is just that, mine. Sometimes that journey can take on a life of its own but in all of this I really just wanted to assure myself that, while there was nothing ‘normal’ about losing your husband when he was only 40 years old, that my journey was normal. Through all of the ups and downs, the rivers I’ve cried, all of the pain and all of the associated behaviour I wanted to make sure that my journey was just that, a journey and not a place to get stuck in.

stuck

There is no doubt that grief can be self-centred, maybe even self-indulgent but by its nature, there is really no way around that. While two people can grieve the same person, no two people grieve in the same way, and neither way is wrong, it’s just different. Before this, I was the fix-it girl. The one who wanted to look at others and their needs and help them plough through. I never liked to burden others with my “stuff” or put others out. But losing someone takes you from a place where it is totally possible to hide how you’re truly feeling to a place where people will ask you how you’re doing or if you’re okay because grief is a badge you wear by virtue of the fact that someone you loved is no longer there and there is just no hiding from it. It’s loneliness because no one else understands or gets it, and try as people might they have no answers to your questions which no doubt causes frustration for them too. It tears you up inside. It has the capacity to make you mad at everyone, everything and every situation. It’s bitter. You can go from zero to resentful, annoyed and ticked off at the world in 0.01 seconds. It’s certainly not passive or patient and it IS debilitating, intensely emotional and incredibly painful.

grief-straight-line-and-jumbled-circle

There have been times over this last twelve months when the pain was so overwhelming I wondered how I was ever going to get through it. Beautiful, loving, well-intentioned people would tell me that time would make it better and I would feel like screaming “WHEN”? When would I stop missing Chris? When would all of those wonderful memories of him stop being too painful to remember? When would that song he would rooster dance to bring more pleasure than pain? When would I stop thinking I see or hear him in a crowd and be bitterly disappointed when reality stopped me in my tracks like an almost physical blow to my stomach? When will the night time once again become my friend and not my enemy as I lie awake and stare at the ceiling with the weight of the household responsibilities very firmly on my shoulders alone now? When will the anger reside? When will the regret disappear? When will the fear of never really being completely happy again fade? When will I stop just existing and really live? When will the resentment for all of those unfulfilled dreams and plans, not only for myself but for Georgie as well, dissipate? When will I be me again? When will the pre-Chris’s death happy, spontaneous, Que sera, sera me return? When will the plans to prosper and not harm be fulfilled, the plans that offer hope and future be realised? When? When? When? WHEN????????

892F69C6-6DB1-44BD-9439-EECC09D393CE

The answer is that there is no answer. I read an article that said that grief is an attachment. The attachment is a way of holding onto our idea of what was. We want the person we lost to match what we thought would always be, or at least be there longer than they were. When a person dies we are grief-stricken for a few basic reasons, we weren’t ready for them to die and we wanted them to stay alive, so we can continue to feel better (which we say is because we love them). I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason (there’s a song in there somewhere!). I don’t think I’ll ever fully know all the ins and outs of the reasons why Chris came into my life and then left way too soon, but here’s what I do know. There is no way through grief but through it. The only cure for grief is to grieve. And the only way to survive this process is by having people help you through it, to remind you that there is life after someone dies, however painful that may be. The only way to survive is to have people around you who love you unconditionally, even when they don’t know what to say or do. The truth is that most of the time I just want someone to put their arm around me and tell me they love me big, big (like my Grandma used to say) or to hold me up, support me, carry me until I’m ready to live the life I know Chris would want me to live. Sometimes I need someone to tell me I’m not a crappy mother (even though I know deep down I am and have been through this) for all of those times I’ve been less than patient, said things that hurt because I was angry at this horrible place I find myself in or bought takeaway because the thought of having to cook was just too much. Sometimes I need someone to just be there while I cry for the billionth time this year.

The-answer-is-no-answer-hd

So I have come to the conclusion that I may not ever be who I used to be. It may mean I might forever be just a little bit broken, I don’t know? What I am one hundred percent certain of is that I have a broken heart and shattered dreams and a whole lot of questions with no answers (yet). Grief is what it is, there is no way around it and sometimes all I see is my pain, all I see is the loss. But I am still here somewhere. Somewhere behind everything that makes up this strange creature we call grief I am still there. I have no idea how long this journey will take, I just know that I am meant to go through it, not stay in it forever. For this moment grief is something that I have to live with and hope others can too. I can’t say how long this season will last (and there’s a time for every season under heaven right?) but just know that even on my worst days (and I’m certain there are still many to come) underneath it all I am fighting to get out the other side.

Always and forever……

Me & Chris

 

Just Breathe

On the whole, I think I am a pretty patient person. Long queues at the shops don’t worry me, red lights – not a problem. Kettle boiling, boil away. It is the things that are of the more emotional kind that I find harder to handle. For example, Georgia’s bedroom looks like a bomb’s gone off in it most of the time. As a result, Saturdays are spent throwing tantrums, arguing, crying rivers of tears, shouting, and that’s just me! I have tried telling her that if she did a little bit each day she would have nothing to do by the weekend to no avail so far. Even with all of those times I have gently reassured her that mum does have her head screwed on right (most of the time at least), she would still rather spend her Saturdays arguing and WISHING she’d done what I had done what I suggested in the first place. I live in the hope that one day the light will go on and it will be something we no longer argue about.

IMG_1681.JPG

 

As hard as it might be to believe, I do have other weaknesses, all of which err on the side of the emotional rather than rational. One of my other weaknesses is never wanting to ask anyone to do something I am capable of myself, which means that I delegate nothing. I have learned that I do a disservice to myself by doing too much, and to others by denying them the opportunity to do something they are able to do and would probably do better. Sometimes it might take people a while to get it, and it’s in cases like that I have had to breathe and be patient and not rush in and do it for them.

I am a very emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve, you know exactly what I’m feeling every second that I’m feeling it. As ironic as it sounds since Chris died I have become much more adept at hiding how I’m feeling but I also think that I will always be emotional first and rational second. I wish like crazy sometimes that I would slow down and NOT say those things that are both unbecoming to me and hurtful to others or NOT press the send button with that less than conciliatory message about something that had ticked me off. Sometimes I wish I had just breathed, taken a second instead of charging in like a bull at a gate and reaping the consequences of hyper-emotionalism!

emotional

 

Of all of the times I wish I took the time to breathe, it’s at home with my family. I need to give them the chance to do what I hope they will, and usually do even if it doesn’t happen exactly when and how I think it should. For example, I was in the kitchen one night getting tea ready. I was madly peeling, chopping, mixing, and Chris was on the lounge. There was still washing to be brought in, recycling to be taken out, and I thought the least Chris could do was ask if there was anything that needed doing, or heaven forbid show some initiative. Just a side note – all of that seems so ridiculous now and I would move heaven and earth to still have Chris lounging on the couch. Having said that, the crankier I got the fiercer the chopping got. The more frustrated I became the more banging and clanging came from the kitchen. Sure, I could have asked Chris to do those things but it bugged me that I had to ask for something that Chris should have known to do by looking into his crystal ball!!!! At the time I had no doubt that if I had complained the reaction would not have been good so I took a deep breath and said nothing.

Imagine my surprise and delight when two minutes after I had decided not to say anything, Chris took the rubbish out and brought the washing in! Just breathe!

Chris & Me

 

So I am emotional, complicated, simple & hard work. And I have learned that life is emotional and complicated and simple and hard work. There is a saying that lots of people have framed and hang on their walls – “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” So it’s not just a matter of having the patience to breathe but it’s also the ability to recognise the moments that take our breath away. Here’s the thing, it’s the very simple that costs nothing in terms of monetary value but are invaluable in terms of the way they add to my life by filling my heart to capacity with joy and hope and peace and love. And once there, in that place where my simple heart feels happy, the capacity of my heart expands. Where do those simple places exist?

It’s my eldest son curled up on my lounge cackling to some of our favourite sit-coms after our family tea together. It’s the big arms of my second son draped over my shoulder and the quietly spoken “yeah I can do that” when I need his help with something. It’s my girls who with a flurry of activity rush out of the house to get ice-cream together  “just because”. It’s the lame family joke which is repeatedly shared but which always results in everyone dissolving into laughter and tears. It’s the sound of plates and glasses clinking, and the noise of conversation over meals shared with extended family and friends, which is a symphony to my ears. It’s the banter of friends which to anyone else would sound like we don’t like each other at all, not knowing that insults are our love language. It is celebrating wins, big or small, like a role in a musical production or starting a course someone had always wanted to do but had never had the chance to do before now. It is those moments that fill my heart to overflowing – my emotional, complicated, simple, and sometimes hard work heart.

So I am going to try and do two things – just breathe AND wait for those moments which take my breath away.  Always and forever……..

What Should Be

I’ve always said that too much time on my hands is dangerous. It leaves me with time to think about things I successfully avoid when my mind is otherwise occupied. For the last ten weeks, for the most part, life has been busy with the Bella Course and a few other bits and pieces which has helped to fill my thoughts. The trouble with some, probably much-needed downtime, is that those things which have been successfully buried for a short time bubble to the surface again. I don’t know who coined the phrase “this too shall pass”, but right now I feel like slapping them up the side of the face with a wet fish, and I’m a pacifist! Why? Because even though things have been meant to get better with time, it has not been my experience at all. I say this reluctantly for two reasons. The first is because somehow, having so much support, it seems ungrateful to be still puddling around in my grief, but more than that is the fear that I have become that one person in people’s lives who is never quite right, always sad, no matter how hard I try to hide it. Today is ten months since Chris died, and it’s been hard not to think about what should have been.

not-quite

Of course, there are the blatantly obvious things which I have mentioned in my previous posts but I have discovered that it is not necessarily the big things that bring me undone in the worst way. Tonight is the second game of this year’s Rugby League State of Origin series. Here’s what SHOULD be………

It’s a Sunday night so tea should be something light, which nine out of ten Sundays Chris would offer to cook. I should have been nagged incessantly all day long about making sure I had sufficiently stocked the cupboard with things like “chippies and dip” or cheese and crackers etc to “mung” on while we watch the footy. We should be having the same argument we have had every year since we met about which team Chris follows in this series and I should be trotting out the same line about it being almost grounds for divorce, having a husband who is NSW born and bred who supports QLD in the SOO. Chris should give me the mischievous grin I fell in love with and then mutter “what a load of rubbish”. I should be able to tell exactly what’s happening on TV, whether I’m in the room or not because my passionate football loving husband would always leave no doubt about how things were going in his running commentary. Depending on the result I should be showing a modicum of restraint by telling Chris there was always next time or he showing no restraint whatsoever and totally giving it to me for at least a week. That’s what should be.

SOO

In a few weeks, it will be Opening Night for the 2018 ACT Guide and Scout Gang Show. This will be the third year Georgie has participated in Gang Show and she really, really loves it. It has done wonders for her self-esteem, and even though it is a lot of work I love how much fun she has. I am very proud to say she has four solos this year, no mean feat for a twelve-year-old. Here’s what SHOULD be……..

Chris should be commenting on what a big commitment it is and wondering whether every second year might be a better deal, knowing full well that when Georgie asks us next year if she can participate he’ll say yes. Both Chris and Georgia should be nagging me about buying tickets for both Opening Night AND Closing Night and Chris should be nagging me (see a theme here??) about making sure the seats are good. I should be waiting for the inevitable suggestion that Chris take me out to tea knowing that I would actually be the one to organise and book it, knowing afterwards he would take the credit for it being a great idea. Georgia should be warning her dad NOT to embarrass her by shouting out “go Georgie” at the end of every scene she performs in and Chris should be ignoring her warnings by yelling with great gusto, so loud that we see Georgie smile and slightly shake her head, not really embarrassed, secretly pleased. After the show, we should both be telling Georgia how well she did and how proud we are of her. When we get home, despite the fact that she is twelve Chris should be tucking her into bed because it was always their special time of the day. That’s what should be.

Georgie gang show

In two short months it will be the anniversary of the worst day of my life, the day Chris died. In two months I will make my way to Boorowa Cemetary, not for the first time and not without crying another river of tears. I will be joined by family and friends who love him and miss him. We will swap Chris stories, laugh together, cry together and wonder for the millionth time how someone who was so full of life could have been snatched from our lives so young, too soon. Here’s what SHOULD be……….

The 24tth of August 2018 should be only what it will be, my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. It should be just another work day, ordinary, normal. It should be a day where, once again, I am nagged to the point of almost committing acts of violence to ensure the cupboard is adequately stocked for Friday night football. Before kick-off, Chris should be scurrying around, packing and repacking the bag we take to the football so he won’t have to do it tomorrow after work before the final home game of the season. I should be reminded for the umpteenth time about plans for the next day. Before bed, I should see that cheeky grin as he asks me AGAIN for “coffee monies” for Saturday big breakfast at work and then watch as he winks at Georgie when I blow up about being nagged. That’s what should be, ordinary, normal, familiar, loving.

If only……

Always & forever.

img_0422.jpg

P.S. By the time I finished writing this post the mighty Blues have taken out the series by winning the first two games. So my love, all I have to say is – YES! The better team has won the day!!!!!!!!

 

The Day You Went Away

Disclaimer – These blogs are really just a means for me to try and sort through my grief. This post is about the day my whole world turned upside down, the day Chris died. While writing is helpful for me, I don’t want anyone to be unnecessarily upset so PLEASE if you think it will be too much for you please don’t read ahead.

You wake up from most nightmares and they’re over. Mine was different. I was awake when it started and I’ve barely slept since. It was August 24th, 2017, a date when life, as I’d known it, stopped forever. It started out as it had hundreds of days before. I felt the familiar tickle of whiskers on my forehead as Chris kissed me goodbye on his way out the door to work. He had always been an early riser and so 6am starts suited him perfectly unlike me who was grateful to have a couple more hours of sleep before I was forced to face my working day. As Georgia and I headed out the door for school and work two or so hours later she reminded me for the hundredth time that it was her Book Week parade the next day and there were things I still had to get to complete her costume. Nagging was a trait she and Chris shared and between the two of them sometimes I thought they were going to send me to the brink of insanity. Still, having faithfully promised to have the costume complete by the time I picked her up that afternoon I continued on my way to work.

As it was, that particular Thursday not a usual day at work. We had four students from a church in Melbourne doing a placement with us for two weeks. They were a great crew and I had really enjoyed the week and a half they had already been there. The four of them planned to be in the city that morning to do some work at an organisation who provides meals for the homeless and I was going to catch up with them later. Knowing that’s what they were doing I had expected the office to be empty and was surprised to see my dad there when I rocked up a little after 9am. It was his and Mum’s 49th Wedding Anniversary and romantic that he is, he was organising a few lovely surprises for Mum.  In the end, I was incredibly glad he was there. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been there on my own.

work

It was around ten when I got the first phone call. It was from a number I didn’t recognise so I almost didn’t pick up. The person on the other end of the line introduced himself and said there had been an “incident” out at the Murrumbateman site, that they thought Chris had had a heart attack and asked if I wanted to go out there. I’m certain that this was probably the hardest phone call this man had ever had to make, and in the days, weeks and months that have followed I desperately hope that all of Chris’s workmates who were there and involved on the day have not been too adversely affected by what must have been a traumatic day for them as well.

I don’t think my reaction to the first phone call was what this man expected because I didn’t rush to go out there. In my nursing head, I thought, by the time I got out to Murrumbateman Chris would have been in the ambulance and well on his way to hospital.  At that time, in my mind, there was no way my big, larger than life husband was not going to be okay. He hadn’t had any chest pain in the past, no cardiac symptoms whatsoever, so this had to be just a small thing, it might even be a bit of a wake-up call in the same way his toe amputation had been a few years ago. So I thanked Chris’s workmate for letting me know and said that I would wait to hear from them to tell me when he was on his way to the hospital and what hospital it would be and I would meet them there.

Proving that you’re never too old to need your dad, I went into my Dad’s office to tell him what was happening and to get a reassuring “everything is going to be okay”, even though I was still confident that it was nothing too serious. I mean, how could it have been? Chris was in the best shape of his life. His weight on the scales was as low as it had ever been, he had been playing Oz Tag and football and for the most part, was eating a healthy diet. There was no way Chris was going to be anything other than okay.

IMG_1582

My stomach didn’t start to churn and get knots in it until about fifteen minutes after the first phone call. Surely they should have called by now to tell me which hospital Chris was being transferred to. Mum, who had just happened to have called the office not long after the first phone call and could tell that I was starting to get anxious, suggested that I call Chris’s mobile which I did with no luck. From that moment on I was tossed between my normal optimistic self and a growing uneasiness that something was VERY wrong. My head was being bombarded with questions that were being fired at an alarming rate. Why hadn’t anyone called to tell me which hospital Chris was being taken to? Was he still in Murrumbateman? It couldn’t really be that serious, could it? Should I get in the car and go? WHAT WAS HAPPENING? And then, less than half an hour from the first phone call, the second call came. There was no hesitation this time, my hands could not move quickly enough to pick up the phone and answer the call. Of course, if I’d knew then what I know now I would never have picked up the phone.

It was Nick Georgalis on the phone, the big boss of Geocon and someone Chris really admired and had a lot of time for. Once again, I have no doubt that it must have been one of the most difficult phone calls he had ever had to make, but I will remember exactly what he said for the rest of my life. “Hi Rachel, this is Nick Georgalis. I am really sorry to have to tell you but Chris is gone”. And with those twenty words, my world completely fell apart.

World bottom

I remember screaming out at the top of my lungs “Noooooooo”. It was guttural, it was painful, it was utter disbelief and shock. I looked across the table at my Dad and the look on his face told me I didn’t have to say anymore. Dad picked up the phone I had dropped and left the room to finish the conversation with Nick, desperate to find out any details that would make sense of something that seemed so nonsensical it couldn’t be true. I remember hitting the wall over and over again, hoping that the pain in my hand would overtake the pain that had taken up residence in my heart. Such is grief, days later I looked down at the bruises on my hand and couldn’t figure out how they got there. With each blow, all I could say was “no”. Dad came back into the office and we hugged each other and sobbed, and still, the only words out of my mouth were “no”. It felt like someone had reached into my chest and ripped my heart out. Something they don’t tell you about the death of a loved one is that it is a complicated thing and that there was no time to be self-indulgent because even though I was still in shock and disbelief, there were people to notify and phone calls to be made.

I sat there, phone in hand trying to figure out how I was going to tell people that my big, handsome, wonderful husband had died. How was I going to tell Georgia, the other kids, Chris’s dad (who I also call Dad), his sisters, his extended family, my extended family, our friends? Through blurred eyes, I looked up numbers and made call after call between talking to family coming to the office. They were the hardest phone calls I have ever had to make and that, along with the trauma of seeing the grief on the faces of my children, in particular, will stay with me for the rest of my life. Each phone call had the same response, disbelief that a wondeful forty-year-old, loving and funny man who everyone just knew was ten foot tall and bulletproof was no longer here. Each phone call was punctuated with moments where neither party could speak because we were crying so hard, crying enough to fill an ocean. Each phone call ended with some version or another of “I just can’t believe this has happened.”

Each time someone new came to the office we would hug tightly, not willing to let go of each other. Each time someone new came to the office, the same shock and disbelief that was there in the phone calls manifested itself in the silence where words were not necessary. From the second that second phone call came through the minutes felt like hours, the hours like days and at the same time, it felt like the time had just stopped completely.

sadness

In the middle of all of this were phone calls from medical staff letting me know that Chris had been taken to Goulburn Hospital. They explained what would be happening in the coming days, all necessary and yet it seemed cruel at the time. Because Chris had died in NSW they were not able to bring him to a hospital in the ACT. I know to some it may seem ridiculous but I didn’t want him to be there, I wanted him to be brought back here to Canberra. This was where he was living, it had been his home for 12 years. It would have meant that he was closer to his family and friends, not alone in an unfamiliar place. I totally understand that this was completely irrational but it was how I was feeling at the time. I hadn’t even had a chance to wrap my head around the fact that five thirty would come and go that day and Chris would not be coming home, and something that seemed like bureaucratic red tape was just adding to an incredibly stressful time. It seemed so unfair that even though Chris had only just gone, there were practicalities that needed to be made and even though they were necessary, it seemed absurd that these “necessities” had to be interjected into our grief. It was almost like things were being compartmentalised into, on one side the overwhelming grief and enormous loss and the other, those practicalities that had to be taken care of. On autopilot, I did what I had to as quickly as I could so I could give my time to what I considered to be more important, the people around me.

I had to go home at that point, people would be starting to arrive and I needed to be there. I was torn at the idea of going home because people would be starting to arrive. On the one hand, the thought of going to a house that would never be the same because Chris would not be there anymore to make it a home was overwhelming. On the other hand, the idea of being where he could at least be felt through photos and where memories were close won the day. As close family and friends began to arrive all we could do was hug each other and cry, words seemed so inadequate to express the unfathomable loss and sadness. I will be forever grateful for everyone who came that day.

Even though not much was said or done for the rest of that day, I was actually dreading people leaving, terrified of being alone with my thoughts. I was willing nighttime not to come because even though I was physically and emotionally exhausted I knew that the nighttime would not be my friend and sleep would not come. I also knew the battle that nighttime would be for Georgia, whose bedtime routine of being tucked in and kissed goodnight by her father would never be the same again. The night inevitably came of course and with it a darkness more than night descended. A darkness which came in the form of questions I will never know the answers to but which plagued me nevertheless. Things like, what were his last thoughts? Were they of us? Was he scared? Did he want me there with him?  Did he know how much I loved and needed him? How were we going to live without him? Why him? Why now? Why wasn’t I given the chance to say goodbye? But the biggest question which tormented me that night and continues to torment me is this – would he have fought harder to stay if he had heard my voice and knew I was there?

darkness

That day, the day Chris went away, the day that has changed my life irrevocably ended in the wee hours of the next morning when I eventually cried myself to sleep. When the next day arrived and I woke up the realisation of what had happened the day before hit me with such force that it felt like I had actually been physically punched in the stomach. I remember sitting up in bed and saw the sun peeking through the curtains and wondering how that could be. It seemed incredulous to me that the earth was still turning, that the sun was still able to shine and the birds able to sing when my world had completely shattered. How dare the rest of the world continue to act as if nothing had changed when EVERYTHING  had changed. As I forced myself to get up and out of bed I remembered a poem I had heard that hadn’t made sense before but now described so well how I was feeling that morning.

                               He was my North, my South, my East and West,
                               My working week and my Sunday rest,
                               My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
                               I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

                               The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
                               Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
                               Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
                               For nothing now can ever come to any good.

You wake up from most nightmares and they’re over. Mine was different. I was awake when it started and I’ve barely slept since. It was August 24th, 2017, a date when life, as I’d known it, stopped forever.

 

 

La Dub

The heart is an incredible organ. It’s a life force! On an average day, it will beat 115,000 times, it will even continue to beat after it’s been disconnected with the body! It’s the first sound a baby hears as it’s growing inside his or her mother’s tummy. It’s not that big really, roughly the size of an adult’s fist. Although it’s never been proven, the heart has a memory too. Heart transplant patients have woken up from surgery and have craved foods that beforehand they had not liked, only to find out later that the person who donated the heart loved whatever it was the donor-recipient was now craving! As a student nurse, one of the most amazing operations I scrubbed in on was an oesophagectomy, because from a physiology and anatomy perspective it was truly amazing seeing the heart doing its thing.  Way back then we were taught that the sound we had to listen for if we were checking someone’s blood pressure or listening to the heart was a “la-dub”.

Ecg

La-Dub – It’s the flutter of my heart when a good looking man who told me he was the Mayor of Boorowa asked me what my name was. The flutter of my heart every morning without fail from day one when he would ring at morning smoko to say good morning, or at least every day but one.  The flutter of my heart when he took my hand for the first time or had our first kiss. It was the flutter of my heart on those nights when he was in Boorowa, and I was in Canberra, and closet romantic that he was, he would remind me that even though we were apart, we could both look up and see the same Southern Cross or Saucepan. The flutter of my heart when he would say “Love you girl”, or call me by his pet name for me. The flutter of my heart when he would show me he loved me through the little things like offering me my preference when there was a choice of two dishes or offering to cook tea or get takeaway when he knew I’d had a rough day. The flutter of my heart when he would fiercely protect me, making me feel bulletproof because no matter what he was on my side. It was the flutter of my heart, all these years later, when I would hear his ute pull into the driveway or the way he could look as gorgeous in a singlet and footy shorts as he could in a three-piece suit!

Chris

La-Dub – The memories my heart holds and will forever treasure almost like it’s inscribed on the very walls of my heart. Memories of his big calloused hands which would always reach for mine when we were out together. Or the scruffy face that would kiss me on the head before he went to work. Memories of the big strong arms that would come over my shoulder to give me a hug while I was cooking so he could stick his fingers into whatever I was making for a taste. The coffee he bought me every Sunday morning from Maccas, knowing what a coffee snob I am and didn’t want me to have to drink instant.  The silly car dancing he would do, singing the wrong lyrics to the songs on the radio, partly because he really didn’t know the lyrics but mostly to get a giggle out of Georgia.

It’s memories of the looks we exchanged which no one else would notice but would speak volumes. The inside jokes that I would pretend were really lame but pretend so unconvincingly that he would tell me he was the funniest man I knew, and he was right. The hundred things he did that drove me nuts, the million things that made me love him in spite of those things. Memories of his favourite aftershave, the way my head fit so comfortably on his shoulder when we would curl up on the lounge. Memories of the way his fat fingers would wipe away my tears, tears that seem so few in comparison to the rivers I’ve cried since he’s gone and not there to wipe them away!

flutter

La-dub – It’s an actual, physical, continual almost overwhelming heartache for all of the things that will no longer be. The heartache of watching his ute and our camper drive away, even though I know he would have been happy to see them go to good people. The heartache of trips we planned but never took. Afternoons we spent mapping a plan through the centre of Australia and around Tasmania, Chris bragging about how good it was that he had talked me into buying the Camper. Nights, when I listened to his pie in the sky, plans to take a year off to travel around Australia, secretly hoping we’d find a way to pull it off.

Heartache over things he’s already missed in the not quite six months since he left us – birthdays, our anniversary, Father’s Day, our daughter’s graduation from Primary School, Christmas, New Years, our usual Christmas holiday down the coast, our daughters first day of High School…….  Heartache for all of the things he’ll miss in the months and years to come – birthdays, anniversaries, Georgie’s graduation from High School, University, all of the kid’s weddings, walking Georgia down the aisle, grandkids, long days fishing when he eventually retired…… It’s even heartache for the stuff that, to most, would seem silly but are things that break my heart because Chris isn’t not here to experience them with me – pacing the floor late into the night waiting for Georgia to get home after curfew, retelling horror stories of narrow escapes as we teach Georgia to drive, worrying together about the kids, being proud of their accomplishments, laughing at each other, with each other.

heartache

La-dub – It’s shock. Not the sort of shock that jolts your heart back to life but the sort of shock that damages your heart for life, knowing that no matter how hard you try, it will never be the same again. The shock of the phone call that turned my world upside down – shattering news that my husband had died of a heart attack at just 40 years of age. The shock of watching the face of a beautiful 11 year old crumble as she tried to come to grips with the fact that her dad and biggest cheer squad wouldn’t be around anymore to pick her up from tennis or tuck her into bed or kiss her goodnight. The shock of having to call family and friends and tell them the devastating news and listen to the initial disbelief and then grief on the other end of the line. The shock of planning the funeral for a man who had such a big personality that the hole he left will never be able to be filled.

The shock in the days and weeks that followed, going to the places we once went together, desperately searching the crowd for Chris’s face because my heart kept telling my head that it must be all a big mistake and if I look hard enough I’ll find him, all rationality lost in the overwhelming grief. The shock in the months since when I think I see him in a crowd or whip around when I think I hear his voice or laugh. The shock that compounds at the end of every day because it’s another day without him, the reality still too painful and too hard to believe.

shock

I have been told that having a broken heart is possible both physically and figuratively. Broken heart syndrome is caused by a rush of stress hormones from an emotional and/or stressful event. It’s my new reality and this what has become as constant and unalterable as the la-dub rhythm of my heart? La-dub, he’s not here! La-dub, he’s not coming back! La-dub, he’s not here! La-dub, he’s not coming back! Always and forever……

game over

Dear Death……

Dear Death,

It’s me, Rachel. I don’t know whether you recognise me but you came to visit my family completely unannounced and stole my husband from me! I have heard people say that you are just a natural part of life but there was nothing “natural” about your visit. I have also heard people say that you are one part of the duo of life’s certainties – death and taxes, but I am certain that you came too soon. So, all things considered, I have a few things I’d like to say to you. I realise that it won’t change the circumstances but I thought there are some things you should know.

We have already established that you are a thief, you took my husband from me without warning and way too soon but your thievery doesn’t end there. You see when you took my husband you also took my “we”.  It may not sound like much to you but it was everything to me. It covers a hundred little things and a multitude of big things. I’ll give you an example.

Camping

It’s the Christmas holidays and this time every year “we” would have the car and camper trailer packed to within an inch of its life ready to head to the coast for a two week camping holiday. “We” would exchange smiles as we climb into the car, the anticipation of everything that the following couple of weeks would be was always almost palpable. Once we got there “we” would fall into a familiar routine. I would spend my time reading and swimming, our daughter would spend her time playing with friends and nagging us to take her to the beach to swim and Chris would become the best fisherman on the south coast. At night “we” would sit around the campfire toasting marshmallows and holding hands while we sat mesmerised by the beauty of our campfire into the wee hours of the night.

It’s a nice picture, isn’t it Death? It’s laughter and fun, it’s familiar and comfortable. It is the memory of past events and the hope and expectation of this picture continuing in various forms for many years to come. When you stole my husband Death you stole moments like this as well. The Camper Trailer no longer sits in the driveway and the ute has been sold, the thought of going back to a place that brought “us” so much happiness now fills “me” with dread because the thought of being there without him would be too painful. But Death, it doesn’t stop there. You stole the trips through the centre of Australia that we talked about taking, the trip to Tassie, the weekends away with friends and worst yet, the daddy/daughter weekends that Chris and Georgia loved so much.  Did you know any of that Death before you took Chris from us? Would it have made a difference if you did? Tell me Death, how do I live with the pain of loss? Have you got any tips on how to make the transition from “we” to “me”?

we2me

Hey, Death! Are you still there? Are you listening because I have more to say and I want your full attention! So, we’ve established that you are a thief but you, Death, are also cruel. Yes, it’s the bleeding obvious, the cruelty of losing my husband, best friend, partner in crime WAY too young. But you are cruel in so many more ways. Here’s  an example. My daughter had a great relationship with her dad. All you need to do is take one look at her Instagram account and you’ll see that 90% of the pictures there are Georgia having fun with her dad. They were so close that sometimes I would feel like a third wheel. One of the reasons Georgie was a self-assured confident young lady was because she had a one man, one-eyed, totally biased, totally adoring cheer squad in her dad. So much of who she is comes from Chris – her mannerisms, whacky sense of humour, even her temper shouts to the world that she is her father’s daughter. Now I realise there’s nothing cruel about that but just hang in there for a minute Death and I’ll connect the dots.

CnG

You see, losing your father at 11 years old changes you. A death in the family has a huge impact but when a child loses their parent at such a young age it changes them. But, Death, it’s not that which makes you cruel. You are cruel for depriving our daughter of so many precious moments which she deserves but will no longer experience because of you. Every Father’s Day she will feel the sting of your cruelty. She will not have her father when she graduates from High School, gets her car licence, to walk her down the aisle. There will be all sorts of moments big and small that will be tinged with sadness because Georgia won’t be able to share them with her dad.

But your cruelty, Death, doesn’t end there. Because you took Chris away so unexpectantly we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye and now, our daughter, who used to say “I love you” a dozen times a day now says “I love you” two dozen times a day just in case you come again too soon. It’s almost become a compulsion for her. But what’s worse Death, such is your pernicious nature, a once care-free child (because that’s what she is Death, a child!) now worries about me, no matter how hard I try to hide my grief from her. Once upon a time, her biggest worry was getting her homework done on time. Now she is anxious if she is separated from me for more than a day or two. You did that to her Death! Do you take any responsibility at all, or are you proud of your work? You probably thought you just took a man, but that man was part of a family and a family is like a body, when a family loses a loved one it’s as if they have lost one of their limbs.

broken family

But wait! There’s more! Besides all of the obvious things, there are a million things unnoticed by most.  According to the great sachmo Louis Armstrong, a sigh is just a sigh. Somebody else told me that sighing is a sign of unresolved grief and for this present time, that’s a more accurate description.  I sigh all the time Death, do you hear those sighs? Do you understand that those sighs represent lost opportunities, helplessness, sadness and frustration? I don’t mean to sigh so much, I didn’t even notice I was doing it until someone pointed it out to me. I don’t really know what to say to people, do you have any suggestions Death, seeing as though you are the cause of each and every one? I suppose you think I’m being too harsh, or laying too much blame t your feet, but the truth is that prior to the day you took Chris from me a sigh really was just a sigh!

Here’s another thing you can take the credit for Death. This one’s a little bit left of centre but is nevertheless your doing. I get to the end of the day and find that my jaw would be aching and on particularly hard days I would also have a splitting headache. I realised that I spend the majority of the day clenching my teeth. I don’t exactly know why I do it, or how to break the habit but it’s just another way you have intruded on my life.

I could go on Death, I could list all of the ways you have interrupted, upturned and ripped my life apart. Your wanton disregard for those of us left behind is disturbing. Your callous act will continue to impact us, probably for the rest of our lives. You took Chris and in his place, the loneliness birds have begun to lay their stone eggs around my heart. They say you come to us all, and I know that it’s true, but all things considered Death I ask just one favour. Please don’t visit us again, at least not for a very long time because my damaged heart, I fear, would not recover.

 

Sincerely,

Rachel

broken heart