The year of firsts

Yesterday morning I woke up with a song in my head. It goes round and round, an itch that needs to be scratched until I listen to the song. This was Billy Joel’s Allentown a song I loved as kid in the 80’s, and one that become infamous again with my Father in law when it was his 60th and he hosted a massive weekend of a party at the farm filled with his friends who travelled from all over the world. It’s a great song, nostalgic and comforting. I hadn’t heard it for years and then when we were away a few weeks ago on it came and I was like, THIS. This song.

Of course.

The day after Alan died, New years day, the first morning of this shite year 2020, I woke up with the Waterboys The Whole of the Moon going round and round my head. “I saw the crescent, You saw the whole of the moon” it kept coming up, swirling around my head all morning and I had no idea why because we were in shock and it was awful and it’s not a song I’ve known or really loved in my lifetime and yet here it was. So I looked it up, I played it, and on I went. It’s popped up time and time again throughout the year. Moon River, Moon this and that.

These songs, these clues have followed me around all year. Elton John’s I guess that’s why they call it the blues, I think it’s going to rain today, Van Morrison, The Beatles, they swirl and fill my mind until I finally stop and listen and usually cry and then move on. Sometimes I think they are messages, a code that needs to be unlocked. A lesson or connection to another time or place that I try and decipher. Sometimes they are just songs. Looped songs that get stuck on repeat in my mind until I listen and that’s that.

Yesterday I had a look through my photos of this time last year – you know those memories that get served up to you and you end up down a rabbit hole of memories through a photo roll where you see how much things were different and so much the same this time last year. The hydrangeas were out earlier, the drought was so bloody awful, those fires. God what a miserable time it was this time last year. Yesterday this photo was served up to me.

A weekend where Rob and I escaped up to the farm with just the two of us and Frank. Mum and Lucy held down the fort at home with the kids (remember that video of Mum trolling me in front of my mirror saying how good she looked?! ha!) and we made a second last trip to that special place to be with Rob’s Dad and his step mum, her brother who was out from the UK and just hang out. We knew that Alan was sick and getting sicker, and this weekend was a chance for just the four us to be together without the kids, to be the couple that we were when we started going to the farm 16 years earlier just us. I have mentioned throughout the year what great friends the 4 of us were. We travelled parts of the world together, chose to go on holidays together, we all just got on as very good friends rather than parents and in laws and kids. We made eachother laugh. We could sit in silence, we could sing and we always told eachother how special our relationship was. We knew.

We had a lovely weekend, this day last year. There had been terrible fires and the drought was crippling the countryside. There was a smoke haze of orange that hang in the sky with the stench of smoke and dying all around. Frank didn’t leave Alan’s side all weekend. I spent some wonderful moments with my father in law – it was the last time we were actually able to have a conversation with each other as when we came up 4 weeks later he was mostly in and out of consciousness and couldn’t talk.

I remember hopping into bed with him on Saturday morning, like my girls have done their entire lives every time they have been to the farm, wedged into their grandparents bed. We had such a great talk that morning, I asked about a big holiday they had been on, we talked about worries about what we both knew was coming. I got to ask questions that I was thinking and wondering about like “are you scared about what’s coming?” “What are you worried about?”  “I wonder what your funeral will be like?” All the dumb questions people think but because I am Beth, I ask. I loved that conversation together, it sits right in the very centre of my heart as I have missed him this year. I also remember sitting at this feet in his chair after dinner with a wine in hand. I sat and cried at his feet asking the other dumb question “what are we going to do when you are not sitting here?!” and neither of us knew but we knew we had now so just sat and thought about that instead.

I listened to a podcast a month or so back (Dying for Sex) about a friendship losing someone to cancer. The last two episodes of it were profound for me thinking about death and I know when I told Rob about it and he listened to it, he felt the same too. Molly, who is drying of cancer talks about a disconnecting from this world as she got sicker and  loser to death. I wonder about how those last few weeks for Alan and I wish I had asked more questions. I think about his final days, that last passage he took with his family by his side, his music playing, much like how we birth and go into a trance when we birth a baby, I think the journey out must be similar. In any case he was at peace, at home, safe and so loved. I wonder if it’s not scary because we are all on the other side anyway waiting? Remember this poem?

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!

We are heading into the last month of our first year without him. It’s been a hard year. It’s been so unusual and scary and is there any wonder if he got intel about what was about to happen in 2020 that he decided at 5.30pm that he was getting OUT of there. We’ve been separated by distance and Covid restrictions and there’s been so much STUFF and overwhelm going on. I never expected my grief to be as big and as emotional as it has been. I am tough, I get on with it and my god we had shed some tears throughout 2019 as we inevitably headed towards his death. I have apologised more times than I can admit to Rob, embarrassed that all I seem to do is cry. It’s so dumb, I never expected this. I wasn’t prepared for all this. I keep going back to this Clare Bowditch song. And the words. The words.

And I don’t even know what any of this is supposed to mean, kind of like those songs that go through my mind until I listen, these words and thoughts keep swirling through my mind so I am writing them down so I can get them out. Give them the space that they need.

Here they are.

The moon. The songs. The disconnect from us when we die. The beauty of death. The overwhelming sadness. The stupid firsts.

I text my mother in law last night though and we looked at pictures of the land from this day and how it was and how it’s turned around a year later.

From orange dirt and sky, low hanging smoke that hung in our throats like grief does at times. To colour and green, to feed for the cattle and fresh water running in the river. On we go, ever changing and moving through our seasons.

A year of firsts for the land, for our hearts for our sorrow and an appreciation for the simple things in life. To love be loved. To have a place we feel happy and safe.

Maybe it’s seeing the whole of the moon.
Maybe that’s just a stupid song.

Comments

  1. Christianna says

    A beautiful post, Beth! Those little moments that remind us that we’re not alone, the spirit of those we love continues to live on. 💕

  2. Debs Sutton says

    A fabulous, meaningful post Beth and very apt for me at the moment. I’m saying goodbye to my Mum next Monday, she was 89yrs old and was ravaged by Alzheimer’s and dementia, I’ve looked for a short poem and you have provided me with it!
    I’m very grateful. Xx

  3. Thank you 🙏

  4. Oh this made me cry too. You write so bloody beautifully Beth. My brother died suddenly (at 36) last December and your words resonated with me so much. What a strange year it has been since, and I sometimes wonder how I would have been in 2020 without the loss of someone, would it have been different? I don’t know. I’m glad you got to make some important memories with your father in law before he died. Take care xx

  5. I have too much to say about all of this but can’t find the words to write them to you. Instead, I’ll just send me love & I hope you can feel it xx

  6. Rach aka stinkb0mb says

    We are never alone when we pass over, there is always someone waiting to take us to the next place (where ever and whatever you believe that place to be).

    I remember when my Dad died the day after my birthday, we’d been out to lunch for my birthday and on the drive home, he was constantly looking up, reaching up and I know without a doubt (mainly because I’m a very spiritual person – my Mum is a medium) that he was seeing people, people he knew, people who were there to help him pass over.

    He did the same thing the whole afternoon back home. That night, he died. I do not believe he died alone, I believe that people he knew, people he loved – and who loved him, were with him when he passed.

    We (as a society in general) are afraid of death and dying and it’s not a subject that gets discussed enough. We are born, we live and then we die. People we love and cherish will die, it’s the cycle of life and it is heartachingly sad when it happens but how fucking lucky are we that we got to love them in the first place?

    To feel grief, is to know that we’ve also felt love.

    I listened to the last episode of Dying for Sex last week (in the gym, I was bawling my eyes out, it was not at all awkward!). I LOVED Molly’s story. I loved how she decided how the last act of her life would play out and she took charge. People may not have agreed with what she did (leaving her husband, exploring sex on her terms with multiple partners) but it was her life and she lived that last part of it completely on her terms, until the big C told her otherwise. What made me cry the most in that last episode? That so many of the men she had shared that last act of her life with, who many may have just seen as ‘quick flings’, saw Molly as something much more and how many of their lives were touched by Molly’s presence in their own, that just made me sob because while no one deserves to die (controversial opinion but…), it always seems that the ones who make the most impact, who light up the world in such special ways, are the ones who go before their time.

    Much love to you, Rob and extended family. Grief is a funny beast with no rules, no course set out and you never see it coming, it always sneaks up beside you at the most unusual of times. I find it best to invite it to sit for awhile, share some stories and then politely ask it to leave….until next time.

    xxx

    • Thanks for sharing all this with me Each – I appreciate your wise words. I know how much people were with him that day and in the days leading up to his death. And I know he’s still here, all the time. Thanks for taking the time out to share all this x

  7. Denyse Whelan says

    What a way you have to share like this… the raw, the so-called too hard parts from life- Beth, thank you. You really help us understand that life is a cycle & to appreciate & ask many more questions before you can’t any more. My Dad is well mentally, getting frail physically & 97 in January & I am getting more conscious of “asking the questions” more.. about parts of my life too. Love you… sending love too. Xxx

  8. Reading your words about your Year of Firsts, I find myself thinking this is me.
    I lost my gorgeous mum 8 weeks ago, the grief is unfathomable and comes in rolling waves not everyday but most days!
    I’ll start experiencing my year of firsts, which I’m not looking forward to this year starting with Christmas. It will never be the same, it will always be different.
    I love your song and poetry references Beth and find myself looking them all up.
    Sending loving arms your families way this year as you spend your first Christmas without your beloved Alan. 💚

  9. Beautiful post and I feel so sad for you and your beautiful family. You mentioned songs, like messages. As I have mentioned before both my parents died the same week. We had dads funeral, after it was over I asked for the car radio to be turned on, I needed music. The song Living Years came on, so spot on if you listen to the words. I balled all the way home. The following week we had mums funeral, again I turned tthe be radio on, no word of a lie, the same dam song came on, couldnt believe it. Whenever I hear it now, and its a lot, I think of that time. Hugs to you for the next few weeks, i t will be hard but he is still with you, if he is still in your heart. X

  10. Thanks for sharing this, it has moved me.
    Both of my parents are dead, mum died years ago and never got to meet all my children and this will be my 2nd Xmas without my dad. I miss them more now than ever, the grief is just as big but perhaps not quite as painful…or maybe it is but I’ve learnt to live with it? I don’t know I just wish I see them again, hug them and show them who I’ve become and ask mum questions, gosh I have so many questions for her now that I’m an adult with adult children.
    Cheers Kate

  11. Dayna Macdonald says

    His messages are all around you, especially in the music you hear and connect with. He will never leave you guys! Big love to you.

  12. Leeanne Boyson says

    oh how i feel your pain, your joy and everything in between.

    I, too, have just listened to Dying for Sex and found myself sobbing for Molly and her bestie, sobbing for myself and people I’ve lost whether it be last year or years ago, relationships that have been devastated – the raw overwhelming grief just come flooding back – i take it as a positive even though it makes me physically hurt and the ache that rarely leaves me – shows how much i love and loved each person.

    Christmas is coming, it brings a mixture of excitement and dread – sadly but thankfully life goes on – our loved ones wouldn’t want us to not feel joy, love and excitement…

    we haven’t met but i know i love you Beth xxxx

  13. How loved he was and is, and how much he loved and loves you. I adore the way you capture the beauty and pain of everyday life, Beth, both through your words and your images. The ordinariness and the majesty of it all. It’s what keeps all of your readers and followers coming back. I had never read that poem, it’s just beautiful, thanks for sharing x

  14. Sarah White says

    I love you for sharing your grief and the places its taken you this year. My parents are both well, but on the other side of the world to me and the comfort I have always taken has been removed. There is no “quick plane flight” now to get to them. And I clench my jaw every night with the stress of not knowing when I will see them again. It makes every precious memory we have even more precious now, the not knowing. Sending you much love xx

  15. Oh God Beth, the loss this year. The loss!! My mum passed in July and due to COVID I didn’t make it from WA to QLD in time then spent two weeks in iso alone after returning from her funeral which I can tell you was a very dark place to be. Left my husband the month before after 18 years. That’s a whole other sadness to endure. I feel you, I really really do. Onwards with strength and love to you xxxxx

  16. Beth, I think you should write a book. You have a way with words. What a beautiful post. What a lucky man to have been so deeply loved. We will all be happy to close the door on 2020.

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