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What I learned in the gutter

Emma Grey

Last weekend, my five-year-old son had a meltdown outside a Byron Bay surf shop, and we gave into it and cried in the gutter.

He was upset about Daddy dying and telling me how sad he felt.

We have these conversations regularly, within our family and with the various psychologists we’ve begun seeing over the last couple of months. This was a case of experiencing the same emotions as we do at home, but in a warm, tropical setting. And why not?

The old song lyric, ‘pack up your troubles’ makes a lot of sense sometimes. We took our grief on the road for a week, and took a break from the place where it had been unfolding for weeks. And it was good for us.

Going away doesn’t magic away your worries, but the distraction of a different perspective and place can be soothing. If we’re going to be melting down here about this, we might as well melt down about it on a beach on the far north coast, in T-shirts and shorts.  

We don’t want to put off ‘living’ until we feel better. No matter how bad we feel, things feel marginally better — or at least different — somewhere new and pretty.

My daughter turned 18 while we were away. We set our alarms for 4.30am and drove from Ballina to Byron to watch the sun rise over her adulthood, from the most easterly point in the country.

We’ve been doing these life-affirming things since the day after Jeff’s funeral when we re-purposed the floral tributes for strangers in hospital, and these experiences — bitter-sweet though they are — are forming precious memories, at a time when it would be easy to write off any positivity altogether.

We spend a lot of time waiting for circumstances to be right. We wait for the ‘right time’ or think, ‘I’ll be happy when …’

There is no right time. There’s only now. And there are almost always things we can choose in every moment to improve our context.

Since we returned from the trip, and after an inevitable ‘low’ coming home to the house we now associate with the worst experience of our lives, things have been marginally easier. I’m not keeping as many lights on at night. I’m not shutting as many doors.

Even if something improves a situation by five percent, that’s a step forward. Every step forward, no matter how small, is worth taking. It’s a philosophy we can all apply, any time, no matter what we’re dealing with, and where we’re dealing with it. Days don’t need to be perfect or idyllic. A single day can have its ‘gutter’ moments as well as the promise of a sunrise on a new future.



Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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