Season 1: March and April 2016

It’s a month after Karl’s death and a couple of weeks after his burial and memorial. It’s still summer, a hot sub-tropical summer. I am living on our rural property in Nimbin. I am in the early mourning time, shattered by loss,  plagued by my injuries and stalled by the suddenness and violence of Karl’s death.

I have lost my bearings and can see no signposts on my path.

I have lost my entire life, all my identities.

I am alone on a rural property in a large house, with an urgent planning permit for the granny flat hanging in the balance. Mired in paperwork, I hire a local woman to help me. I am in constant pain from my injuries. But the worst injuries are the cognitive ones: I cannot add up a column of numbers.

Awash with love

In early March, I find myself deeply touched by how much I can love, feeling my love for Karl much more deeply than my grief at losing him. This experience continues throughout my seasons of grieving. Touched by my own open heart, I reach out to Karl in my daily journal writing. He responds a short while later, and our communication begins.

compensation Lawyers

Residents I helped with a class action against their municipality years before contact a large compensation law firm on my behalf. I engage them to seek compensation for my injuries sustained in the crash that killed Karl. I sign scores of documents in a daze. I am beginning to prepare the half-acre property for sale and upgrade the landscaping so that the garden can grow in the winter before I advertise the property in September. (Spring is best for selling, the agent says.)

In the rawness of early grief, I weep daily. Our village community is also grieving. When I wander into Nimbin Village (a kilometer from my home), community members run out of buildings and fall, sobbing, into my arms. In the supermarket, I scream at God, bargaining. I offer up my arm, a leg, anything … for Karl’s return.

Downtown Nimbin

Before Easter, I attempt a brief trip to Melbourne to visit Andrea, a close friend. It’s a disaster: after I spend an agonizing week in the hospital, doctors finally remove a kidney stone that will not pass. I strongly sense the power of Karl’s support during that painful time.

Andrea Cook

Karl’s wife

Back home, blessing his healing presence, I am proud to be “Karl’s wife”, discovering how deeply local people adore him. It’s an identity I rarely recognized before. Now it’s about the only identity I feel comfortable with: Karl’s wife. Karl and I lived in the same house but often inhabited different worlds. I find the outpouring of community grief both comforting and soothing.

I feel uncomfortable in the rambling, empty house. I glimpse Karl everywhere: in the shed, on the ramp to the front door, smoking on the deck. I see him in his garden, tending to the plants, speaking to the “Green Man” in his special corner of the garden.

The Green man in Karl’s garden

I sleep with his pyjamas, with his teddy bear, inhaling his pheromones under my quilt.

I try — and fail — to give his clothes away.

I realize that a human life can be transformed in an instant. So we must be prepared for transformations. I frame my three new adages:

  1. Speak your truth and don’t let things fester
  2. Deal with your shit
  3. Hold your loved ones close.

My new life feels like a bad dream

Despite my terror that my memory has departed forever, in late April, I chair a professional conference in Sydney. I struggle with the simplest tasks, finally realizing that I have lost my professional life. That anxiety triggers a rush of denial: my new life feels like a bad dream.

I am in a very dark place.