August 2003
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The story continues.

Friday 1 August.  After breakfast with Simon & his house mate Abbey, we flew into Adelaide to our respective families.  We held a much smaller memorial gathering at Clarence Park Community Centre, which is where Doris & I spent lots of time in our early days, especially in the TOYS workshop out the back.  I was especially pleased to be joined by John Evans, who was instrumental in starting TOYS, Heather, who took over from Doris & Sharon, the current coordinator.  Dad’s wife Bettie was especially blown away when, after she mentioned to Sharon that her aunt had lived in the house next door until the age of 102 & it was sold to Unley Council, Sharon showed her through the house, much of which has been kept in its original condition.  Lots of memories!  Then we had a look through the TOYS workshop & some old photo albums, to find a photo of Doris & me at her farewell from TOYS in 1991.  What a dish she was!

I stayed with Dorothy & Pete overnight.  I thought I was starting to manage to hold it together until the rest of the family arrived & I started to explain some of the detail of what had happened to Doris.  The holding it together is such a thin veneer & it’s just so raw underneath.  I spent Saturday night with Kevin & Edith, which was a very special time.  And I had some time to talk to Dad & Bettie on Sunday morning, before leaving for Brisbane that afternoon.  Our Monday appointment with the lawyer showed quite clearly that we would need to go back to Canberra to do a partial unpack from storage & dig out some essential documents.  And my Tuesday visit to Boeing House enabled to plug back into my work e-mails, which was rather comforting.

Thursday morning saw us driving to Hervey Bay.  We checked in with the dive shop, then went out to do some maintenance on the block, clearing the grass away from the trees & removing the wire guards from them.  I was very pleased to see that all of the trees & most of the palms were still alive & that the coffee bushes were actually producing beans!

Friday 8 August.  The big day.  We held a very emotional ceremony in the exact centre of the block, to transfer to Doris’s pyjama top (a really good water-porous container), her ashes, her silver slave bracelet, the dolphins from the Canberra orders of service & two sand dollars that we had been given in Seattle by an Australian colleague.  Then it was off to the dive shop to “finish the job”.  The trip was marred a bit by me slicing chunks out of the soles of my bare feet on the barnacles on the boat ramp, while trying to stop the boat from getting away.  Even so, we headed out to the dive site, which is an artificial reef about halfway between Hervey Bay & Fraser Island, & in particular to a site called the “3 ships”, at the centre of the reef.

We had a good start to the dive, with dive master Kevin handing the bag of goodies, already in a catch bag, to me from the boat.  I selected a site on a slight rise in the sand, just off the port bow of the first ship & opened the bag.  The ash on the outside, together with all of the paper dolphins, immediately drifted off in the tide.  Cremated remains actually consist of heavy particles, mostly ground up bone fragments, & the actual ash, which has a much finer consistency.  So we were left with a solid mass, which I carefully transferred to the sand & proceeded to disperse it with waving hand motions.  The heavier white material merged into the sand while the ash wafted up all over me.  I guess we could say that Doris surrounded me for one last time, before the ash drifted away in the current.  Stewart also dispersed some of the remaining ashes, with the same results.  After that, I had a few moments quiet time & we then joined Kevin to have a look at the ships.  The other highlights included a stonefish, a huge groper, 2 rainbow fish (very rare apparently) & a very up close encounter with a wobbegong.  After that, we just chilled out for the afternoon, before celebrating with a seafood buffet dinner.  It took us all day on Saturday to get back to Canberra.

Monday 11 August.  The order of today was to partially unpack the stuff we have in storage, to find Doris’s birth certificates & to check that she hasn’t left a will.  My thanks to Philippa & Anthony & Belle Low for helping out.  When we found the box that I had been assured that it was there, I knew why I had been in such deep poo when it didn’t arrive in Seattle.  It contained all of Doris’s birth certificates, resumes, references, job applications, special books to read, course notes, etc, etc.  Mr Muggins was supposed to transfer it from the study to the “no go” zone when the packers were busily packing.

The rest of the week was filled with all manner of admin tasks & we flew out on Friday morning.  The good news came at Melbourne airport, when my Frequent Flyer membership bumped us up to Business Class for the international flight!  The bad news was that we were scheduled for an 8-hour stopover in LA airport.  After trying for earlier flights & hanging around watching them leave, we then learnt that the plane for our flight was still stuck in Mexico.  So then we were looking at more waiting around being waitlisted.  Finally, on my third approach to the ticketing counter, Nancy decided to help us out.  She put us on a shuttle bus service to the Orange County airport, with boarding passes for First Class tickets non-stop to Seattle.  It was midnight before we got in to SeaTac, but at least we got there with a bit of comfort & certainty.

The weekend was pretty rough, just getting used to the idea that we’re back in the apartment, but Doris is not.  I also used the time to start going through her stuff & identifying which bits I needed to keep & which ones could go immediately.  It kinda hits you in the face when you find a card from yourself saying, “If I didn’t have you, I would wither away.”  The best description I have is that there is a huge pain in my personal space that just doesn’t go away.  And as Doris & I had such a touchy relationship, I’m finding it really hard not being touched or hugged on a regular basis.  Some people are natural & many are not.

Going back to work was just as tough.  Just getting in the door took a lot of will power, even at 5:30 am with no one else around to see me falling apart.  Fortunately, my boss has given me the time & space that I need, to work at my own pace.  I just can’t seem to focus or concentrate on anything.

Meanwhile, Stewart continues to deal with the situation in his own quiet way, which I find pretty remarkable.  At least his expectation is that he will sleep alone!  He’s already managed to get shifts for his volunteer job at the YMCA gym, so both of us have reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

Still, there are plenty of little things that continue to come back & bite me in the bum.  The first time I used Doris’s towel, for example.  One of the few “luxury” items we brought with us was 3 really BIG towels – mine is pink, Doris’s is purple & Stewie’s is pale yellow, so you can’t really miss whose is which.  I try not to think too much when I get into the “shower with room for two”.  I still expect her to walk in the door & wonder what the fuss is all about.

Wednesday 20 August.  In the evening, the Belle Arts (where we are living) residents’ party, where I got myself completely totalled.  Someone remarked at work the next day that I looked happier.  Who says it’s not for medicinal purposes?

The weekend is here & the pain just doesn’t let up.  I described to someone as, “it feels like I’ve had an arm ripped off” & she said, “Well yes, there’s a half of you that’s missing.”  I keep recalling Doris’s analogy of the rain-water tank, where if you’re using up your daily allowance of water coming in, with getting stuck on memories & emotional stuff that could be dealt with & cleared out, then the level in your tank is going down.  There’s so much going out at the moment, that it’s no wonder I’m exhausted.  At least I’m getting some sleep every night.

Meanwhile, I have made contact with the lovely lady who took all of Doris’s clothes, who told me that those that didn’t fit her, she gave to her boss, who is absolutely delighted.  Meanwhile, Maggie from the Thrift Shop has used Doris’s “J” story at a church camp, so Doris still keeps on reaching out to people.

I have started to develop my own support network, specific to my needs.  In the areas that I frequent the most, like work & home, I have asked a selected number of people whether they would be prepared to give me a hug if I say that I need one.  And I have also asked selected people whether they mind me ringing them at any time, just to let me talk.  And then I have plugged their numbers into my mobile.  So far, so good.  I figure that by the time it gets to unreasonable hours, I’ll be asleep anyway.  And I’ve really hammered the balls on the pool table downstairs lately!  

I've joined the Bereavement Group at the  Overlake Hospital & started seeing a great counsellor once a week.  Talk about stepping out of the comfort zone!

I've found I need to compartmentalise my life now, so that I can devote energy at different times of the day & at different places, to being there for Stewart, to trying to concentrate at work & to having time for myself, to fall apart if necessary.

Doris promised to show me the Rockies, so we’re going to hold her to that.  From 29 August to 2 September, we are heading for Yellowstone National Park.  It's the Labour Day long weekend, so we just hope the accommodation comes through.

Next month