Grief - my brother's coffin is carried from the churchMy eldest brother Tony was 69 when he unexpectedly died a few weeks ago. The emotions associated with grief aren’t static, they evolve. When the death of someone close to us occurs, nothing appears black and white. I oscillate. I have described how I have felt since as cloudy. I am probably not one to compartmentalise, I like to wear my emotions. So, it seems I wear a fog and it lingers.

Perhaps this lack of clarity is the brain trying to process, understand and decode the emotions that are being worked through.

A family photo circa 1963

I am the youngest of 7 children. Already, two of them have died. My brother Mark died a in July, 2008, Mum in October 2012 and my father when I was in my early twenties.  My father’s death was the most painful. I was too young and not yet at ease in my relationship with him. I thought at the time, that it was impossible for someone to know what the feeling of intense pain and loss is like until it happens to them. But each time it is different. Each is a reaction based on my emotional journey with that person.

My mother’s death at 92, a release from her suffering, was almost a celebration. She was very loving. In her last years, I had spent what I considered a lot of time with her and a lot of that time was also with Tony. The three of us, and whoever else we were with, enjoyed chatting away, enjoying simple pleasures like basking in sunshine. We felt we were making hay.

My brother tony dies 2 days after this photo

A couple of days before he died, Tony and I walked around Centennial Park with one of our nieces. The last photos I took of him of him alive are naturally special. More than that it is a record that we had made the time, and appreciated the simple pleasure of being with each other. Too often these are too few.

All family are special, but many would attest to the importance of Tony in their lives. I was/am no different. Tony was going to be a very important part of the next stage of my life. We talked a lot, used Skype, facebook, emailed, phoned. We talked about lots of things like the mystery of life, sex, music, but mostly we talked about family, his family, my family, our family. For Tony, the families’ happiness was the foundation of his happiness. These conversations, this time spent has been an important part of my sense of well being and I had banked on this essential part of me being around for a while –  another decade I had thought. As his wife, Robbie said; we have been robbed. And there’s the sorrow, there’s the cloud.

Our last words to each other were I love you. We didn’t always say it but it wasn’t unusual either. That helps. It is the memories that help with grief. The little things, the snippets of conversations, the enjoyment and the understanding of what we had going that makes the loss,, while painful, bearable.

The 16th century saying is such a profoundly simple truth.

‘Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say. Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away’

Tony and I lived and loved together, we made the most of it.

We are in the wettest June for six years, though it seems wetter. It has rained and rained and on this wet Sunday morning, the sun has appeared, the first time, it seems for days.

My remaining brothers at the wake

Shoal Bay – God’s country

Zenith Beach and Shoal Bay.
Zenith Beach and Shoal Bay.

I don’t know from where the expression ‘God’s country’ is derived but it seems an appropriate one for such an extraordinary place. It isn’t the built up part of Shoal Bay, that isn’t particularly nice nor particularly bad, but it is the surrounds.

The built area sits fringed by Tomaree National Park. Tomaree has these fantastic, windswept, heath covered hills atop igneous foundations or huge sand dunes covered with littoral rainforest. Between these hills are pristine beaches, Zenith, Wreck and Box, remote enough that even in the Christmas holidays they are perfectly peaceful and often deserted. On the opposite side to the coastal beaches in the photo above is the estuary of Nelson’s Bay.

The photographs are from our recent week away and a few days in spring. Most days we walked to Wreck Beach.

I love Australian plant families. They’re iconic. I love the genus Banksia, its family Proteaceae.

In the sheltered woodland behind coast, I thought the flowering species above was Banksia aemula which are a lot like Banksia serrata, B. aemula has a narrower leaf and they are often squat, technically they are separated into their respective species by the length of the stigma. The Banksia flower is actually a collection of hundreds of flowers, each with the potential to form an incredibly well armoured seed. These seeds are ready for the long wait and the possibility of one day being burnt, opening and falling to the ground in a nutrient enriched patch, courtesy of the fire, just right for germination.

The B. aemula doesn’t persist on the coastal side. There resides B. integrifolia, B. oblongifolia and B. spinulosa growing in the harsh environment.

Allocasuarina distyla dominated the slope closest the beach or at least that part that the track traversed. Big hills either side, so who knows what else dominated. The weather could change quickly producing the briefest moments of fantastic light.

Beachside Acacia longolia var sophorae and a little herb in flower – Cakile edentula (Sea Rocket) a native of north America.

The birds produced interest, noise and movement. Curious insects also.

But it was the sea and the time with family amongst this special environment that produced this feeling, fleeting as it was of bounty.

Mother-in-law and daughter
My mother-in-law and her daughter; my wife.

A fortune of sun, perhaps not heaven sent, but with beguiling beauty that really requires a catch phrase like God’s country to convey my joy in being there.

Sunrise from Tomaree Headland
Sunrise from Tomaree Headland



My five remaining brothers
Michael, Paul, Matt, Luke, Tony and Graeme

I was born the youngest of seven boys. There are now six of us, Mark sadly died a few years back. Yesterday we got together with our families to celebrate Xmas. It is a wonderful experience having so many in a family. Sure, they annoy you from time to time. I am sure I annoy some of them. But, the ability to share time and often but not always thoughts and feelings with so many who have meant so much is something that I am very grateful for.

After Mark died we decided to start having brothers meetings. They are non-structured meetings where we may or may not have any issues to discuss. Though our mother who also dies recently was often the major area of concern. Yesterday was our first meeting with our families since Mum died. It went well, there is a great amount of concern and care for each other and each other’s families.

Our family history is no richer or poorer than others. But it is funny how the stories, values and traditions which we are brought up with, such as the Xmas pudding, seems to make or family just like the Xmas pudding from Mum’s recipe, that much richer.