‘Hey Lisa happy new year! I noticed you haven’t blogged for a while – is everything ok?’
I received this text yesterday morning from a friend, and as I looked at it, I wondered how on earth to reply to him. In fact, he sent it more than 36 hours ago and I still haven’t replied.
Is everything ok??
I’m not really sure where to start with an answer. I’m not sure if I have the words. I’m not sure if I have the words for a text and even as I write this, I’m really not sure I have the words for a blog post. But I’m trying to find the words.
I have been lost for words for a while now.
I guess if I have to find one word to describe how I am at the moment, I would use the word ‘grieving’.
Grieving for the death of a life I thought I was going to lead in 2020. My ‘dream job’ in Peru hasn’t worked out. The ‘dream job’ dream died. There’s a whole backstory but to be honest, I don’t even have the energy, time or words to describe what happened.
The upshot is I’m not moving to Peru. I had to let a dream I’ve had for years die. And whenever there’s a death, grief follows.
The more I sat with my grief, the less I felt like writing. I began to lose my words.
Then in the last days of November I learned one of my oldest and closest friends died suddenly in Washington DC of a rare blood cancer. I was plunged deeper into darkness and sadness. She had been a huge part of my life and just like that, she was gone. I can’t pick up the phone and call her or visit her or have her visit me and have us pick up like we’d never been apart. She, even more than me, was a global citizen, living in many countries around the world, making friends wherever she lived. But more often than not, my home (wherever that has been) has been where she spent Christmas with me and my daughters. Since she was a global citizen and an environmentalist, her family honoured her wishes to not have a funeral and have all of her friends create more carbon emissions to get to Washington DC. Instead, they have asked each of us to do something for the environment, wherever we live around the world. It’s a beautiful thing, and in the autumn, my daughters and I will plant a tree on Red Hill in her honour. It’s the last place she visited here in Australia with us.
Funerals are funny things. I’ve always known they are for the living, not for the dead. Not having a funeral to attend has only increased my grief. It also hasn’t helped that I have no one here to talk to her about her. I carry my grief alone.
The more grief weighed me down, the more the words dried up.
The week after my friend’s death, smoke from the December Australian bushfires rolled into Canberra. The month of December was filled with horror as I watched some of my favourite places in this country burn.
Christmas was a sombre affair. Grief and the heavy atmosphere of the fires combined until my heart felt as solid as a rock in my chest.
In the week between Christmas and New Year I had a chance to visit the south coast and heal some of my grief. I felt called to visit Durras, the beach where this blog was conceived and many posts have been written to see the bushfire devastation for myself. I walked the beach I’ve walked hundreds of times with Reg, this time alone, and cried and cried and cried.
I wanted to write a blog post about the transformational power of fire. But the words just wouldn’t come.
Over the next few days, I walked on other beaches, swam in the ocean and hiked in beautiful forests, connecting to nature, breathing the sea air and feeling some of my grief lift. The words began to flow again in my journal. On the afternoon of 29 December I hiked Gulaga, a beautiful mountain known by the local Aboriginal people as a special, sacred mountain for women. As I sat at the viewpoint (despite the smoke haze) I wrote pages and pages in my journal, letting the words and tears flow for all I’d lost in 2019.
I returned to Canberra on the afternoon of the 30th of December just hours before the bushfires tore through the national parks and small towns where I had spent my week. As I kept watch on the ‘Fires Near Me’ app that everyone here has downloaded on their phone and checks constantly, I grieved for the lives lost, the property lost, the animals and the trees lost. The words dried up again, like the drought-stricken Australian bush.
For the past week, friends and family from overseas have been emailing, messaging, calling to check on me and the girls. I’ve not responded to many messages. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the words.
I feel like I don’t have the words to explain the anxiety state we are all living in at the moment. We check the ‘Fires Near Me’ app constantly, worried about an outbreak of fire. The air quality in Canberra has now been the worst in the world consistently for more than a week. It hurts to breathe. My eyes are constantly stinging. And we are told that we should wear a mask whenever we go out. But all the masks in the city that filter the particles out sold out before Christmas. It’s only now, two weeks later that supplies are coming back into the city. (I took the photo below in front of Parliament House in Canberra this past Sunday.)
We’ve had the accompanying anxiety worrying about loved ones who live at the coast. Two of my friends evacuated from their property near Eden, last week. They returned to find the fire had come 500m from their home. Today, they evacuated again as they face a new threat from the fire now that the wind direction has changed.
According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages to grieving (and they aren’t always linear): denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I’ve swung back and forth between these stages in the past few months. Right now, I am angry. Especially about the fires. For years, scientists (including people I have lived with and loved) have been warning about climate change. Here in Australia the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, which examined the scientific evidence around the impacts of climate change on Australia and its economy, predicted that without adequate action, the nation would face a more frequent and intense fire season by 2020. We are now seeing the impact of years of bad policy decisions and inaction. Australia is the canary in the coal mine. The rest of the world needs to pay attention.
All of the warnings on climate change have just been words that have been relatively easy to ignore, up until now. Now the accompanying images that are beamed around the world may just galvanise action.
I find action helps with grieving. In a moment when I was at the coast before New Year, I decided that rather than wallow in grief, I would sign up for a drawing class at Summer Art School to be held this week. It was the best decision I could have made.
I have spent the past three days creating. Learning to draw. Facing my fears about my so-called inability to draw. Meeting new people. Commiserating together about the fires and the air quality. And it has got my creative juices flowing again.
The words, albeit not my usual speed or standard, are starting to flow again. As well as the ideas.
In coming days, I may write a blog piece about Australia and climate change. Or a piece about the antics of a new rescue dog who came into my life last weekend and I think you all need to meet. Or about how when one door closes, another one opens. Or about my new found love of drawing. Or, or, or….
I’m just going to take it one step at a time. And see how I feel.
To those who want to know if I’m ok, I’m reminded of that saying, ‘Everything is ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.’
This is the end of this post (finally!) but not the end of the blog. I’m sure I’ll find more words in me soon. Don’t worry.
Dear Kindred Spirit,
I am sad to hear about your devastating year. I was so hopeful that your work in Peru would be transformative in the best way. Sorry that opportunity unraveled. The news about your sister-like friend I can especially relate to because a dear friend of mine died from cancer five years ago, the same year my husband (still living) was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I can’t imagine grieving all those hurts and living through the fires ravaging Australia. Be well. I hope in time you’ll rise as a phoenix from the ashes. I believe Australia will be an important leader in changing our relationship with the earth. Welcome back to the blogosphere, Rebecca
Thank you so much Rebecca. As you know, all things change with time. I think we never stop grieving those we love; time just helps mutes it in a way. I’m sorry for your loss too.
And I hope Australia can be the type of world leader the earth needs at this time. I have my fingers crossed. Thanks for commenting. 🙏💫
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Oh Lisa, No words and lots of words from me. You have been on my mind and in my heart for months, all I had were old email addresses, and completely spaced on your new name–thought it was Wyse, which also makes sense.
I’ve been seeing pictures of the fires and devastation on Twitter and ones of displaced animals are especially heart-wrenching. Probably an odd comparison but the carnage Australia is experiencing is similar to the political atrocities we’re experiencing in the U.S. Too much much awfulness everywhere.
I’m glad to read that you’re plunging back into art-making. Art heals; certainly has for me and may it be likewise for you.
Hi Meredith, good to hear from you. Yes the scenes of the animals in the bushfires get me too. It’s even worse thinking of those that survived only to die of starvation now that their food supplies are burned.
I agree. There’s too much awfulness everywhere. But there is beauty and kindness and generosity and joy too. Those are the things we must look for and create in these dark times. Art IS a balm. Xx