There are so many talented writers in the world yet only a small portion of…
Five years ago, my husband died from a sudden heart attack. It’s ‘yesterday’ and ‘a lifetime’ ago at once.
I’ve never been one for detailed five-year plans, suffice to say if I’d had one, this would not have been it. Not in a million years would I have willingly signed our family up on this trajectory.
A death in a nuclear family ricochets through everyone’s futures in different ways. My 10-year-old son has now experienced half his lifetime without his dad. It’s something I can’t begin to fathom after 47 years, and counting, with two parents.
Someone wrote in the condolences book that Jeff, ‘changed the way we saw the world’. I remember walking by the lake with a friend in early spring a few weeks after he died, sunlight sparkling on the water, the scent of blossoms in the breeze… appreciating intellectually that these sights and sounds were beautiful and feeling nothing.
While I went numbly about the business of ‘starting again’ in my 40s, I made a decision to keep showing up in the world until I felt something for life again. With the imagined path in shreds at our feet, we had to machete our way through the darkness of grief until we found a new footing.
It felt like a fork in the road. Like sliding doors. That way, the planned life. This way, the diversion.
And the diverted path was every kind of wrong. Every kind of hurtful. A second-rate replacement for the first class life we’d lost.
Every box of things from our lost life that we trawled through, cried over and stored or gave away, inched us forward. Forward into what, was rarely clear. Time lost meaning. We’d grapple with a memory or an emotion, work through it, pick ourselves up and stagger on again, only for the same issue to circle back in a slightly different way, two days, two months or two years later.
Somewhere along the line, between new schools and new psychologists and new opportunities and choices, we woke up in this very different place. We glanced around this new life, new house, new careers, new friends—and the path ahead began to soften. It began to feel less diverted. Less second-best. A different path. Not one we’d have chosen, but a real path in its own right, with aspects that wouldn’t have fit into Plan A, and that we’d never have known we were missing.
At some point, after writing hundreds of thousands of words through the gauntlet of grief, I put the keyboard down and picked up a camera. Hundreds of thousands of photos later, on a sub-zero Canberra morning, I found myself sitting on the ground for two hours, capturing macro shots of tiny, frozen dewdrops, melting on single blades of grass. I forgot what day it was, where I was, who I was… forgot our situation, our story, our pain… There was just me, the camera, and a new, addictive way to see this beautiful world.
In retrospect, any five-year plan could have been as simple as it was complex. Do everything you can to fall back in love with being alive. Do this, despite the fact that there will always be days that crush us. We might never feel 100% ‘whole’. We will miss him with an ever-present ache in our hearts, every day for the rest of our lives. But still do it.
Loving and losing him changed the way we see the world. The further forward we go, the more I realise that perhaps there were never sliding doors. Never a fork in the road. Never Plan A and Plan B. Never first class and second class.
Perhaps there was only ever one door. One road.