We need a lot of distraction in December. Alone just the four of us when it seems like other families are whole and complete. My husband, Chris, died five years ago, just over a week before Christmas. He was 48 years old, I was 43. Our twins were six, and our eldest eight years old.
Nothing was the same.
School holidays had just started and the girls and I were in Melbourne with my sister and family. Chris decided to remain in Sydney as December was always a busy time for his work. We spoke and texted intermittently Friday and Saturday. Sunday I was unable to reach him, but I wasn’t unduly worried. Chris had a relaxed relationship with his mobile phone and I knew he had a busy weekend, work, an early morning paddle planned and a kayak function on Sunday night.
Plus, I’d asked him to put Santa on the roof.
By Monday morning though when I still wasn’t able to reach him I started to worry. I called his work to see if he’d arrived. No, he hadn’t. His business partner assured me that he had meetings scheduled and would arrive soon. I called a kayaking mate and asked if he’d made it to the kayaking function on Sunday night. The mate called around, called me back, no he hadn’t shown up.
By now I was feeling frantic – perhaps he had fallen from the roof while attaching Santa. I asked the friend to go to the house and check. He called back, the police were at our house and wanted to speak with me. My sister took the phone and it was then we learnt that Chris had been found by fishermen early Sunday morning out of his kayak – his emergency beacon activated. I think I went into shock. Adrenalin coursed through my body. I told the girls immediately, nothing sank in. Somehow we got ourselves on a plane back to Sydney.
The week prior to the funeral passed in a surreal blur. Speeches to write, friends to invite to carry the coffin (who to choose?), photos for a montage to select, catering to organise. Like planning for a wedding but with so much sadness and shock instead of joy.
LISTEN: The grieving process has seven phases. Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey walk through each of them, on The Well. Post continues after audio…
As friends and family showed up at the house shocked and tearful I so often felt the need to reassure everyone that I was “fine”. We could cope, we would be OK. My grief came to the fore with near strangers. The vet, the pharmacist, a dry cleaner were all confronted with racking sobs and bewildered they did their best to say the right things.
Everyone wanted to help, to fix, to “be there” – good intentions abound but there were few people I felt comfortable enough to expose myself. I wasn’t this person, desperate, scared, lonely and I wasn’t prepared to let many people see me in those raw moments. So many days a mask was put on. Maybe people were fooled, maybe they weren’t.