On Wednesday, June 27, award-winning Australian journalist Liz Jackson died at the age of 67. After a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the much-loved wife, mother and grandmother died peacefully in her sleep while on holiday in Greece with her husband by her side. Today, we are thinking of the incredible storyteller, her husband Martin Butler and their family.
The below article is from November 2016, and we are sharing it now, on June 29, 2018, to remember her.
The ABC’s Four Corners was brutal to watch last night.
There were no front lines, there were no politicians, there were no “ground breaking” investigations. There was five-time Walkley Award-winning ABC reporter Liz Jackson as the subject in A Sense of Self, an episode that let us into her new world where she is now a woman of 66, suffering from Parkinson’s and perhaps Lewy Body disease.
It was not easy viewing.
We watch Jackson with her new body: frail and failing.
We watch her have severe, debilitating panic attacks, we watch her in pain, we watch her use her journalistic skills to try to unravel this beast of a disease and we watch her husband Martin Butler, a filmmaker she met in 1974, stand by her, talk to her, look after her, hold her hand.
In the last moments of A Sense of Self, Jackson, her once fit body so thin, her shoulders so large and concave, looks straight down the camera and says with slightly slurred speech:
“It comes back to haunt you – your trust in their affection, because you’re feeling ‘why would you stick around?’ you know. People say it’s because he loves me.”
“I think he does like me. Quite a lot. He’s used to living with me and he likes the kids.”
Then Jackson’s voice breaks. Butler watches her fight back tears from the doorway.
"And we're a family. And we respect each other, which I think is really important. It's important that I keep my intelligence because I think one of the things Martin respects about me is that I'm reasonably smart - or I was.
"I'm usually okay to have a good time with and I think there's enough of that left.
"I sound really pathetic. Take the pathos out of that and that's what I think."
The camera then turns to Butler in the doorway - always watching his wife.
"You know that's been my view from the very beginning," he says. "Liz is the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and I have done it. It's been truly fabulous."
A Sense of Self is more than an intimate look at the ravages of Parkinson's disease on a family member. Much to Jackson's horror, I think A Sense of Self is also an examination of romantic love.
We live in a time where beauty and youth matter more than they ever have and, more than that there is a belief that good looks can be used as the basis and beginnings of a relationship (think dating app Tinder and The Bachelor type reality TV shows).
Everywhere I turn, from movies to music, to girls at work talking about their Friday night out, love is about finding the perfect beginning (and who is worthy of that beginning).
It is rarely about the middle. It is never about the end.
It is never about commitment and vulnerability, fear and failing. But that is where some of the best love happens because it's strong and real.
In A Sense of Self, we saw clips of Jackson interviewing Prime Ministers and coup leaders, in the back of army vehicles in the Middle East. Her sharp intelligence and energy so clear. Her vitality and strength simply part of who she is, or was.
It's a totally different Jackson than the one today, the one we see in the documentary helped by Butler to walk down corridors, into rehabilitation swimming pools. A husband who logs his wife's medication so he can see if there is a pattern to her symptoms. A husband who would not be so foolish as to pity Jackson.
There is a photograph of them both in front of a still lake, Liz reaching up to kiss Martin, their two lithe bodies entwined, the sun behind them. That is surely what love looks like?
Beautiful, young, strong, clear. The future in front of them.
That future gave them children, travel, work they both loved, independence and, no doubt, struggles we have no idea about. But that future also changed them. Made them older. Made them not so beautiful. Changed the way they would probably define strong.
In A Sense of Self, they still stand together. They still kiss. They still hold each other. They also go to the doctors together. They look after their granddaughter together. They laugh together.
About 10 or so years ago I used to go the beach early on a Saturday morning with my daughters. My husband worked long Saturdays and I would trudge down in the early morning and sit in the sand hoping to tire my kids out - a little miffed I was surrounded by "families" on a weekend.
Often I would see Liz Jackson, fresh from an ocean swim, with her girlfriends. I knew who she was because I had admired her from afar.
One time, Liz and her friends emerged from the ocean and sat on the warm rocks after their swim. They were wet and dried out in their bathers as they laughed and chatted. Their bodies cross-legged just like those of the toddlers around them.
One of my daughters had been collecting shells and walked near their group. Liz asked what she had found in the rocks and my daughter opened her little hands to reveal half a shell. They both thought the broken shell was fabulous. A lucky treasure to keep.
A Sense of Self showed what really matters in life is never usually perfect. What really matters in life never comes with a guarantee. What really matters in life are the people you love and who love you back.
Jackson and Butler gave us a documentary that was about so much more than Parkinson's disease. They showed us the power of love, commitment and respect too.
But I would take the pathos out of that before I mentioned it to Jackson.