MURWILLUMBAH, NSW, 6 FEBRUARY
Hours later, I am freed from the neck brace. Trying to be gentle, Tweed Heads Memorial Hospital staff hoist me on and off various platforms and gurneys for tests like a CT scan, a chest x-ray, and an ultrasound. I am told I have two crushed vertebrae and soft tissue damage from the airbag and the seatbelt. Otherwise, I am uninjured.
I find myself deeply naked.
I’ve lost everything: cell phone, handbag, shoes, wallet, money, credit cards, driver’s license, shawl, glasses. What isn’t lost has been cut off me.
My life has been lost in the river — never to surface.
Without glasses, I can barely see.
I have no identification, no identity.
This was the death we feared.
About 2 am two police officers from the local command materialize in my hospital room, looking exhausted and drawn. I guess the nurses let them in, as I was clearly awake, adrenalin coursing through my veins.
“We’re so sorry,” one says, scuffing a muddy boot on the linoleum floor.
I struggle to listen, even to breathe, welcoming them, feeling so sorry for them. I explain that I am a crime prevention planner with a long career working with police. I hear myself announcing, somewhat formally, “The New South Wales Police are welcome at this bedside.”
The man hands me Karl’s wallet, watch, and wedding ring. I slip it on my wedding finger. Safe now.
He explains about the morgue, the autopsy to be conducted hundreds of kilometers away, the Coroner’s report, the expected delays in releasing the body.
They’ve confiscated a small zip-lock bag of cannabis.
“Sorry,” he whispers.
We permit ourselves a weak smile.
They’ve driven hundreds of kilometers to our home to locate my address book and notify Karl’s sister in Perth. I thank them for that.
I give my statement. The male officer records it on a tiny notepad. His young female colleague cries softly.
This was the death we feared.
* * *
Later still, Narelle, a middle-aged nurse, peeks in to ask if I need anything.
“A cuppa? Would you like a magazine?”
“I can’t read,” I explain. “Lost my glasses in the river. Can’t see much of anything, actually.”
“No worries, dear. I’ve an old pair of readers from the pharmacist in my bag,” she smiles.
“I’ll get them and some magazines from the nurses’ lunchroom. And that cuppa.”
She helps me adjust the pillows, minding my injuries (now emerging as purple bruises on my chest and shoulders), and administers more painkillers and a tranquillizer. I struggle to hold my head up.
At some point, Narelle returns to the dimly lit room and asks, with a hesitant smile, “Are you by any chance religious, Wendy?”
This gentle inquiry thaws something in my shattered mind. I put down the magazine and try to focus on her.
“I’m not sure,” I mumble. “Maybe. I guess I’m spiritual — is that religious?”
“Good enough for me,” Narelle says softly, looking at her shoes.
“My shift finishes in a few minutes. So I’m going to ask Jesus to hold you in His arms until I get back if that’s all right with you.”
“Please do that,” I sigh.
“Yes, please do that. Thank you.”
Evening blends into night. I relax back onto my pillow, cradling a mug of tea in my bandaged hands.
I breathe my first full breath in twelve hours.
This was the death we feared.
But it is not the end of life.
Only hours ago, I held one of Earth’s precious beings as he embarked on his next, sacred journey. My dearest Beloved. I know he is finding his way.
The river water that claimed Karl’s life flows from the same life-giving source as the Deep Creek water that soothed me decades before, calming my vulnerable, terrified heart and nourishing me so that I could unearth, celebrate, and sing my courage. Now I must trust that courage.
River and creek. All one. Each one a source of life. Each potentially a source of creativity. Creekcells dancing in my blood now dance in Karl’s, reciprocating.
A narrow window admits the pale shimmer of a waning moon.
I consider my circumstances. My life has been spared. I have been flung back into life. I have been permitted one glimpse of the sacred blue light. Now, struggling, free from the shelter of my old life, I must stand on new ground. I must find the courage to accept my circumstances. I must bless the life that has been returned to me.
And, ultimately, I must find the courage and the words to speak about it.
And so, what now?
What does this mean?
What is left of my life? What is in front of me? What beckons?
What is my next step?
* * *
I am too shaken to return to Nimbin from the hospital with Karl’s brother, Shane, and his sister, Christa, who has flown in from Perth. So they drive back without me. I am terrified of driving past the crash site, a long drive in an old truck on a narrow, winding road. I cannot face Nimbin, my neighbors, our home, and what remains of my life…
I have no idea how to stand on this ground, to embody my new being, to inhabit my new situation. Far beyond unstable, I am crushed.
What can the future possibly mean? Karl is gone. My Beloved is dead. I am alone. I am a widow. I have lost all my identities. Everything else is a grey cloud on a distant horizon.
I have no idea what to do next.
I need to be alone and collect myself before I face my life, my losses, and all that I must do. All of it looms gigantic: the burial, the memorial, guests, arrangements, insurance, my grief…
Already bouquets of flowers are crowding my hospital room. Desperate telephone calls from overseas. Word is out, and I cannot face it.
I am in shock.
My close friend and surrogate son, Andrew, arrives at the hospital the morning after the crash with a set of clothes, underwear, sandals, and toiletries. He looks so heartbroken. I do not know what to say to him. Andrew stays for three hours, as we begin the process of ordering replacements for my credit cards. (Later, a nurse enquires, “Who was that amazing man with the IPad?”)
I overhear a conversation in the corridor: “She must be very brave, that elderly woman. Did you hear: she climbed out of the wreck of her car after watching her husband die?”
On day three, Vivienne, the hospital social worker, kindly (and with a touch of wry humor) gently explains that I cannot live the rest of my life in Medical Ward 3. She also diplomatically tells Christa and Shane that the hospital believes that I’d be better off in Brisbane for a few days. I am impressed by her tact.
My old friend Geoffrey drives down from Brisbane, collects me from the hospital, and drives me to Wendy’s Truer’s Brisbane house.