real life

If you're remembering someone this New Years Eve, read this.

Not everyone is celebrating this New Years Eve

 

 

New Year always seems such a time for hope. Hope that it will bring everything from world peace to weight loss. Hope that the New Year is kind.  Hope that those New Year gods will smile on yourself and those you love and cherish.

For me it’s also a weird combination of celebration and anticipation as well as loss.

On New Year’s Day 2011, I lost my great friend Michael Ward.

I’m sure I’m not alone as I anticipate what a New Year will bring and at the same time mourn those who have been. Those who loved us. 

This is the story of our last days together.

Our New Year and the Impossible Sized Hat 

I have an impossible sized hat sitting on my bedside table.

I’ve always loved hats but I can’t take any credit for this one – it’s all down to Michael and our last shopping excursion on Christmas Eve.

It was our habit, if you can have habits while living in a hospice for months on end, to spend Fridays together wandering the streets of Darlo, drinking coffee and ‘chatting’. Or in those later days, sitting quietly in that room overlooking the rooftops of eastern Sydney.

But Michael was up for a Christmas Eve adventure so on that particularly Friday in December we ventured out of the peace and into the world. The noise, colour and smells of Oxford Street awaited us. That Christmas Eve was like so many other days we spent together in those limbo days that seemed so long. And now so short.

We sat and drank coffee in a ramshackle bookshop and we talked and talked. (Well I talked, Michael had long lost the ability to speak so he wrote in a beautiful sloping script while I peered over his shoulder and responded to those neat and eloquent words.)

Michael and I met when we were 14 and we’d spent a lifetime chatting to each other. But on those Friday afternoon,  Darlo days the talk invariably turned to family

At the heart of all our hours of conversations were Michael’s hopes for his beautiful children, Irena and Max.

His great, great love for them and the steely confidence that he had raised two very good human beings who, despite their young age, would go into the world and flourish.  He was so enormously sad to be leaving them but oh so proud.

So much was said in those days and on that afternoon but it all came down to the same thing. Love.

Finally, as always, it was time to return to that other world.

Michael And Marg at her wedding in 2007

Arm in arm, another of our habits, we ventured back into Oxford street to shop.  It was eerily quiet for Christmas Eve.

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It seemed the population of Sydney had suddenly been transported to another time and space.

First stop; much deliberation over a Christmas card for Michael’s mum. Our next stop was much easier, Michael pointed at a window and despite the clutter I knew exactly what he had spied. A pair of beautiful turquoise and copper earrings for his beloved, red headed Irena.

Safely gift wrapped we hit the streets again and there it was. An enormous, straw creation beckoning from a nearby window. Michael shrugged in that way that said so much.

And so the impossible sized hat became part of our history.

That Christmas Eve was so like so many other days we spent together but it was so also unlike any other day. It was the last day I saw my friend alive.

When it came time to say goodbye we hugged each other as we always did. We held each other for a long time. Scared that if we released our grip then death would continue its relentless march.

But we couldn’t stop life or indeed death so we wished each other a Happy Christmas and Michael returned to that room overlooking the rooftops.

Postscript:

Michael and I continued to text each other over the following week.

On New Year’s Eve, I remarked that I couldn’t believe that he was still with us.

He replied: ” I for one would not have imagined it. Sitting here with Irena and Penny on this stunning day.  Happy NY dearest friend.

Just after midnight we started up another conversation. He finished up with the following text:

” From here I could see the tops of bungers! And i love the sound echoing around the city – what an evening it is here too – just perfect!  Buona notte belle” MW 12.22am 1/1/2011

Michael died at 3.20 am. 

New Year’s Eve 2013

After a long absence, Michael’s children have just returned to Australia for a brief taste of a Sydney summer.

I look forward to seeing them again with barely restrained excitement.

What type of people are they becoming? How are they progressing in the world and building upon the foundations laid by their father?

I am full of hope for them and that is the hope of my New Year.

Margaret McArthur is freelance writer and television producer. She has worked on the Today Show and mostly recently as the evening Chief of Staff in the Channel Nine newsroom  before she decided a break was needed. She lives in ‘Summer Bay’ with her husband, step children, various pets and house guests. Follow her on Twitter here. 

Are you remembering anyone this New Years Eve?

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