real life

Nikki Gemmell reflects on the day her mother chose to take her own life.

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Thanks to our brand partner, Telstra Smart Home

Have you ever done what you dread to do, identify someone close to you in a morgue, on that thin steel table? I did. Just now.

And I have to write this out, to piece together what has happened into some kind of coherence. And because writing is my ballast through life’s toss.

Carry me in on a stretcher from this experience, carry me in.

Nikki talks to Mia Freedman on the latest episode of No Filter about the loss of her mother.

Air from another world. In this concrete box of another world, an other-world, that is hushed and windowless. It is a morgue. It is too close to death. ‘The mouth is always a shock,’ T, the coronial assistant, is warning us.

Eh? What?

Bird-like, half our age, a face marinated in kindness, T is doing her best to prepare my brother Paul and myself before we step into the viewing room where a body awaits us. A body that the police need identified urgently on this sunny weekend of too much life everywhere else. ‘No one’s ever prepared for, er, how the lips look,’ T adds.

Here, now, stopped of talk. My mouth a fistful of feathers. In this public service waiting room that is too public service for its task. Glarily new, foreign. Neither Paul nor myself have ever stepped inside such a place. Morgue. The very word a moan, a sullenness. And this building has seen too much life, in all its variety; has seen what it means to be deeply, vulnerably human, too much. You can feel it. The too many tears in this sparsely furnished room of strategically placed tissue boxes. That’s a lot of weeping. These walls, the collectors of tears.

Paul and I are bound together within the fresh shock of this world. It feels like us against everything else. It is all too new. Every conversation feels mined. Full of barbing surprises we do not want to know about. So we prefer not speaking, if at all possible. Can’t. Much. Stopped. T seems to understand.

Nikki Gemmell's new book After. Image: Supplied.

But so much. To ask here. In this public place of too much death. Unpicking the knot of whatever has gone on. Head burning. Yet my brother and I are treading carefully where we do not want to tread at all. And amid the weight of the un-knowing there are formalities to be carried out, fast.
Like this. Identification of Body. Which we have seen in countless television police procedurals that are nothing like this. This pedestrian world, and our mouths, stopped.

A rupturing. As I wait for The Identification. So that matters can proceed. I feel like a child who has done something wrong. Called to the headmistress’s office and not sure why. Something is peeling away. Within. It is monumental. It feels akin to great splinters of ice falling from an iceberg, it feels like a slipping into vulnerability I have never known. Huge walls of defence are crumbling here. I am forty-nine for God’s sake. Have never been this. Have never felt this.

So. Right. Not as strong as I’ve assumed. Cannot contain the vulnerability flooding out yet no one knows it is there. A vulnerability I’ve managed to contain my entire life and now, and now, cannot. I am hurtling into the unknown.

Listen to Mia's full interview with Nikki here:

I look across at Paul. Just as stricken as myself. Does he, like me, know too much yet not enough with all this? Everything is too complex, messy, muddy. A longing right now for simplicity, that great medicine of life. For the fatness of normality. The restful quiet; all those nibbling little challenges of an everyday life, which are no challenges at all I now know.

Brain, flooded. With too much. With this death too close and branded suspicious. Which means police involvement.

A likely autopsy. Endless questions beyond it. And I’m the person who walks through Customs at an Australian airport blushing over the box of chocolates I do not have in my suitcase but am thinking about. Here we go on the shipless ocean, here we go.

This is an extract from Nikki Gemmell's new book After, to buy the book click here. You can buy all of Nikki's books by going to iBooks at You'll also find any books written by the Mamamia Team here. 

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Telstra Smart Home.