Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Community of Jill

It has been a very sad week in Melbourne.

Last saturday I began to see information shared via social media relating to a local woman going missing on her way home.  On sunday we were seeing images on the news.  By monday, as I drove to work along Sydney Road, Hope Street was sectioned off by the Homicide Police.  Peter and I used to live in Hope Street, but down the other end in West Brunswick.  It began to feel incredibly close to home.  As I drove along, almost every single pole had a 'Have you seen Jill' poster.  I drove past the last two places she drank at late friday night.  Seeing her husband on the news earlier that morning made my heart heavy.

As the week rolled by, more posters were put up and even printed out and placed in people's front windows.  Each news day brought a little more information about her movements on the early hours of saturday morning, walking home from her local pub after drinks with friends.  As I drove to and from work each day, I saw reporters and news crews everywhere.  It felt like driving through a crime scene every day.

On late thursday, news broke that a man had been taken in for questioning.  On friday morning, as I lay in bed listening to my clock radio, the news announced that Jill's body had been found.  Everyone's worst fears had been realised.  She was randomly abducted less than 500 metres from her home, raped and then murdered.  My heart grew heavier still.  The person charged by police was from Coburg, the suburb I live in now.

I chatted with a friend during the week, and she said that the 'hood doesn't feel safe right now.  She reminisced about when she still lived at home and caught the train home late.  Her parents would tell her off for walking home alone at night from the train station.  They told her what my parents told me..."it's not that we don't trust you, it's everyone else we worry about".  We talked about going out when we were in our 20's.  I used to walk back streets of Fitzroy in the early hours to my car alone.  However, I remembered tips about keeping myself safe.  I always walked 'with purpose', alert to everything around me with my car key firmly protruding between my fingers.  This way, if I needed to punch someone I had a ready made knuckle duster.  I have in more recent years walked over a kilometre home from the tram late at night after drinks with friends, when I lived in Essendon.

I guess part of what has been so distressing is the randomness of the attack.  It could have been any one walking home alone.  Danger doesn't always come with a red flashing light.  It can be an average person walking down the same street as you.  There has been discussion regarding the increase of CCTV on busy streets.  I have to admit I don't think this will solve anything.  It may help with burglaries or assaults outside pubs, but it wont stop sexual assaults or murders.  Not everywhere can be covered with cameras, and these types of offences are likely to happen down dark out of the way places.  CCTV may help piece together what happened after the worst has happened.  But it won't stop it.

The reality is that terrible things happen to people.  I don't think our conversations should be about the offenders, because in all likelihood there will always be people drawn towards rape and murder.  I think the discussion should be about our own personal safety.  There has been a huge outpouring of grief by the community.  There was a candlelight vigil in Sydney Road on friday night and flowers left in a couple of places along Jill's walk home.  Today there was a massive Peace Walk with people taking a stance on violence towards women.  I hope this gets people thinking about their own safety.  Perhaps next time we will take up an offer for someone to walk us home rather than going it alone.  Perhaps we won't walk down industrial streets late at night.

I remember when the AIDS epidemic hit in the 80s and 90s.  There was saturation advertising about safe sex and the Grim Reaper ad caused a stir on telly.  This had a huge impact on the spread of the disease as a generation of us grew up aware.  I have heard recently that AIDS diagnosis is on the rise, and of course I realised that a new generation of people, who may not have been born when those ads were on TV, are the one's being sexually active.  It made me think that we need to keep having particular discussions with each generation.  We need to harness what has happened this week and turn it into people focussing on their personal safety.  It is an unfortunate reminder, but perhaps the memory of Jill will ensure we all keep an eye out for friends and on other members of our community.  Maybe what happened to Jill will be a difficult, heartbreaking wake up call...and the beginning of awareness and education for the next generation.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The slow burn

I got some lovely and amazing comments on my last post.  Thank you all so much.  I have been thinking recently that writing this blog enabled me to find words when I needed them.  It's enabled me to process thoughts as I write, and be brave in sharing what's really going on in my head.  Who knew that something that started as a multimedia assignment would turn into this?  It's taught me so much, and probably changed who I am.

So...the funeral.  I think it was as lovely as these things can be.  The celebrant was great and spoke of life being like the chapters of a book.  This resonated with me greatly, being a librarian and a book nerd.  My eldest brother got up and spoke.  Craig left home at 18 because he and Dad used to clash.  He suffered the difficulties that a lot of oldest children do, paving the way for the rest of us.  He talked about many familiar things, Dad's love of golf, wine, Collingwood, Dr Who and the fact that he could never back away from an argument...even one he couldn't win.  I smiled.  He said how Dad's fire had died down as he got older.  He may have been a difficult Father, but he was a loving Pop.  Craig then said how saddened he was to see tears in his children's eyes because Dad had died.  And then he burst into tears.  Noone saw this coming.

Then it was my time to talk.  I focussed on my notes and hopefully spoke clearly and calmly.  I didn't cry.  But when I looked up, many other people were.  I spent the day holding my Mum's hand.  As Dad was loaded into the hearse by my two brothers, my eldest nephew and Peter, we all got teary.  As we said our final farewells and he was driven away to the crematorium we cried.  I remember letting out one huge sob and thankfully Peter came running to hug me.  We headed inside for that most english thing of cups of tea, sandwiches and scones.  A number of Mum and Dad's friends came up to me saying they thought I'd captured Dad in my speech.  One woman said to Mum that Dad would never be gone as long as I was around, commenting on how much I look like him.

The family went back to Mum's and we drank a toast to Dad and chatted.  It ended up being a long day.  I awoke on tuesday and felt drained.  Peter and I just chilled out and had a quiet day.  There were lots of phone calls, but it was nice to take a moment to stop and breath.  I had begun to feel a little weird though.  People's messages were so sweet and caring and spoke of taking time for my grief and what a huge loss it is.  I almost felt like a fraud.  I saw a friend the following day and talked about the last few weeks.  I only got a little teary once.  I felt calm and in control.   The feeling of loss was nowhere to be found.  I then went for a massage.  A treat for myself.  Perhaps it was that or just a delayed reaction, but on thursday I woke up with a heavy sadness.  Up until that point it had all felt surreal, but here it was - the tears.

This hasn't been the same as other experiences of grief.  Losing Robert was a shared experience and hard because he was the first person I lost.  When my cat had to be put down due to cancer, a number of years ago, it was the most acute pain I'd ever felt.  Literally like my heart broke.  Shattered into pieces.  My companion and unconditional love of 10 years was gone.  I couldn't stop crying.  But Dad dying has been different.  I guess somethings in life are a slow burn.  I remember writing just after Peter and I got married, wondering if it would make me feel different.  It didn't at the time.  I wrote something quite different 12 months later, about how being married now has the most deep and profound feeling for me.  Perhaps with big things, it can take time.

I tear up more easily now.  I got very upset heading back to work this week, knowing everyone would be mentioning it.  But it has been a supportive and gentle environment I've gone back to.  I had a little cry just this morning thinking about how Dad is missing the new series of Dr Who.  It's silly, but just the sort of thing to get me reaching for a tissue.  I don't believe in god and I don't really dig the concept of heaven (or hell for that matter).  A number of years ago I read Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.  These filled the void (from Mum, Dad and I) after the last Harry Potter book.  Philip is well known for being an atheist and he wrote about souls being released and becoming particles.  The little glints you see in the air.  Part of the universe as a whole. Star dust.  I believe this was one of the most beautiful thoughts.  I think I will keep this in mind when it comes time to scatter Dad's ashes.  He want's to be thrown out to sea.  I'm pleased that he wanted to become part of the ocean.  That too, holds such immense symbolism for me.  We are part of nature and if we're lucky we're returned to it.

I'm sure by the time we contemplate Dad's ashes I'll be in a different headspace again regarding everything.  The slow burn will continue to change me.  So keep reading dear friends.  There is much for me to learn.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saying goodbye

Ralph Franklin Hurt   5th January 1928 - 4th September 2012

My Dad died this week.  It still sounds weird saying that.  He was 84.  He had heart problems and had been slowly deteriorating for a number of years.  Mum had been his full time carer for over a year, but recently Dad required more care.  He spent the last four months of his life in a nursing home.  The last time I saw him, fittingly, was on Father's Day.  I arrived to find out he had recently stopped eating and doctors had advised Mum to switch from medical care to palliative.  His bed had been lowered to ground level (so he wouldn't fall out) and Mum and I sat on cushions next to him.  We held his hands and he gripped back tight.  I cried like a baby as I watched his laboured breathing.  He could no longer talk and I have no idea if he could see us.  But the nurses said he would know it was us.  I left realising that might be the last time I saw him.

A couple of days later I headed down to torquay again, amazed he was still hanging on.  When I walked through the door of Mum's place she said he had died just before midnight.  That was it.  Years of watching him slowly become frailer and smaller had ended.  I didn't cry, but I have many times since.  And I'm crying as I write this.

My relationship with Dad was difficult.  I realised recently I don't think he ever said he loved me.  Or was proud of me.  He was of that generation of men who didn't.  In the last few days I have thought a lot.  I don't need to hope to hear those things anymore.  As Peter pointed out, the way in which Dad gripped my hand said what he was unable to.  I had wondered if I would feel regret for never having a deep conversation with Dad.  But with his death, perhaps I am set free from it all.  I can see Dad for who he was.  Completely.  No regrets.  Just understanding.

I spent wednesday with my Mum and two brothers, sorting things out for the funeral.  We chose music, got clothes together for Dad, and went through photos for the Service booklet.  Packed away in Dad's wardrobe was a box.  It contained his life before us.  We were looking for a photo of him as a young man.  There he was, in his 20s cycling through the Swiss Alps with a couple of mates.  I'm not sure I had seen them before.  As I looked at these photos, into his eyes, I had a realization.  They were the same as mine.  All the weird angles I am familiar with in my own face, could also be seen in his.  And I'd never noticed it before.  Peter laughed when I mentioned this.  'Yeah, you look just like him!'

His funeral is today, and I have written something to say.  I wasn't sure I could, but although Dad could never talk about his feelings, his daughter can.  If I wasn't able to say this to him when he was alive, I can say it in front of his friends and family.

This is for you Dad:

I am certain that if you looked up the word ‘cantankerous’ in the dictionary, you would find a photo of Dad.

He was a man of his generation.  Not one for saying much, especially when it came to his feelings.  A friend and I used to joke about this.  She has a father a similar age to Dad, and we both talked about knowing how to translate the ‘men of few words’.  If you got a stir, it meant you were ok by him.  You just had to know how to take it.  When I was going through a tough time a number of years ago, he came up and put his arm around me and asked ‘How you doing kid?’  Knowing him, made me understand how huge this gesture was, as the man who didn’t talk about feelings, reached out.

Every summer holiday of my childhood was spent at Portarlington, and then eventually Torquay.  This was a blessing and a curse, as it meant getting our giant old 70s caravan from Keilor to the coast.  There was much ranting, muttering, yelling and occasional swearing.  It was a battle of wills between Dad and the canvas annexe, as we pitched our summer home. ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ was not written about Dad.  While we were all sun kissed water babies, Dad preferred the shade.  In fact, he became a barometer in the Portarlington Caravan Park.  The weather would have to be so hot and oppressive for Dad to consider going for a swim.  The sight of Dad in bathers meant that the weather was about to change and an enormous storm was coming.

He influenced my sense of humour.  I grew up watching Kenny Everett, the Goodies and Fawlty Towers thanks to Dad.  I have learned to joke and stir from the best.  He is known for his dry sense of humour and I’d like to give him some of the credit for my general smart-arsery.  When it comes to cheek, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  When faced with adversity I think the whole family, even in the darkest of hours, is likely to find a joke to lighten the mood.  In speaking to the funeral director last week, we smiled at each other as we asked if coffins came in mission brown…Dad’s favourite colour.

I followed in his footsteps and became a Doctor Who fan.  I can’t see a Cyberman without thinking of Dad.  It makes me smile to know that he is currently wearing the Doctor Who socks I bought him for Father’s Day last week.  Craig jokingly said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if the coffin left to the sound of the Tardis!’ Yes, that would have been cool and I’m sure Dad would have laughed. I was pleased to introduce him to Harry Potter.  He was next in line to read all the books and watch the DVDs after me.  I can’t think of a time I didn’t see a pile of books next to his chair in the living room.  I have a similar ‘to read’ pile next to my bed.

Dad grew up in a small town in England.  His world became larger when he began working on the trains.  It became larger again, as he saw England and Europe from the saddle of a bicycle.  He saw more of the world on the trip to Australia by boat.  In retirement, he and Mum went back to the UK and he made the Englishman’s pilgrimage to Spain.  He visited relatives in Canada and saw the Canadian Rockies from a train.  But in recent years his world began to get smaller.  Due to ill health he stoped coming to Melbourne.  Torquay became his world.  Then as he gave up doing things he loved, like playing golf and hydroponic gardening, his world became his home with Mum.  Recently, his world became smaller again, in the form of a room at Geelong Aged Care.  And ultimately smaller again last week when he was unable to communicate with us and could only hold our hands.

He was a difficult old bugger and I have complex relationship with him.  But he was my Dad, and I loved him.

I’d like to thank you all for being part of Ralph’s life.  I’d also like to thank Mum for doing such an amazing job of looking after him.  I hope you will all now help us to look after her.

Thank you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

For the love of language...

Have you ever noticed that there are those people who seem to have a gift with words?  Some people just make language sing.  Wit, heartfelt honesty, clever analysis and thoughtful critiques are the things that inspire me.  They make me think, and feel.  It is quite something to connect with a person because of words on a page or screen, or be amazed by the effortless artistry of an off-the-cuff quip.

I have written before about my love of Stephen Fry and David Sedaris.  One very early conversation Peter and I had was quoting Oscar Wilde.  We both love the joy and humour of his work.  Carrying on the smart and funny theme, if you haven't treated yourself to David Mitchell, can I suggest you see his work on Soapbox.  You would think it impossible for someone to argue the merits of necrophelia, but David does...convincing us all with a wry twinkle in his eye.  But it's not just the humourist I adore.  Seeing Virginia Trioli take down Peter Reith was as fulfilling as watching her interview John Waters.  Intelligence should be celebrated and revered.

Language can be powerful.  Words can connect people and create communities.  It can inspire greatness and support us through hardship.  To be able to communicate is one of the greatest gifts we have.  I love writing my blog, regardless of who reads it.  I write for me.  I am a bit of a facebook fan, and really adore Instagram.  Somehow people seem really interested and supportive and chatty on Instagram.  For me it's where I've connected with people I've never met and we talk about our lives through our photos.  Some people are just gems.  I lurk on twitter, and I feel that's mainly because I never have anything pithy or insightful to say in 140 characters.  I'm MUCH better at quipping from the couch, but I salute and enjoy those that can.  I guess sometimes I'm loathe to say what I think on twitter, as it would be reactionary and sweary.  Particularly if it had to do with politics, the environment or religion.  I am well known for dropping F and C bombs like a dockworker.  Which is why I love those people who can communicate insightfully.  Yes - it's better to create a tumblr page of Tony Abbott looking at things than it is to be the 3,460th person to call him a prick.  No matter how personally satisfying it may be (he really is a hate-mongering arsehole).

And that's why the news this week about trolling online has been so awful.  For anyone living under a rock, Charlotte Dawson ended up going to hospital after a bullying attach via twitter.  There has been much said about this issue, looking at the argument about trolling from many angles.  Some insightful, intelligent, inspiring women have written about this.  Sadly, many of them have written from their own unfortunate experience with 'the haters'.  I suggest you check out: Marieke Hardy, Clem Bastow, Helen Razer, Catherine Deveny and Clementine Ford.  Marieke says it best, there is a difference between a rash comment pushing the envelope of taste and good manners, to structuring a hate campaign hoping to destroy someone.

I guess this is what breaks my heart.  When language and words can be used to reach great heights, there are many people who simply want to use them to hurt.  There is nothing clever, insightful or humourous about wanting to break someone.  And as some of these women point out - what does this say about society as a whole?   'The haters gunna hate' line is true.  But I guess this is a timely reminder for us all to look after ourselves and try as much as we can to surround ourselves with things that nourish, support and inspire us.  Keep our friends close, and do our best to block the drainers and haters.  If you've every felt bullied you'll know how hard this can be.  I guess I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to those people who do make me think, make me laugh and make me learn.  And those that make language sing.