For all we do in the dark

A story for my mother

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  • Published 20211102
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-65-8
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I DEAL WITH grief the way I deal with most trauma. I keep it locked away in a dilapidated archival box – one of the brown ones from Officeworks that you have to fold together yourself – only to be opened during my darkest moments. When you experience death and loss during early childhood, you deal with your grief by mirroring the people around you. My mirrors taught me that stoicism and retreat were acceptable forms of grieving and that crying was for your pillow in the night. Drugs and alcohol were normal coping mechanisms. Violence could, in fact, be an answer, especially in a small coastal town where fighting was our only constant. I learnt to turn my emotional dial to the lowest setting and find comfort in the numb. This is a precarious foundation on which to build a life.

In her 1986 poem ‘Every Morning’, Mary Oliver recounts her experience reading the morning paper, where ‘death / combs everything into a gray rubble before / the camera moves on’. Oliver glimpses these fatal tragedies from a place of warmth, bathed in sunlight. And yet she remains emotionally distant in the poem: ‘What / dark part of my soul / shivers.’ This line encapsulates the idea that you can remove yourself from tragedy. It also leans into the notion that each time you do this, the horrors you’re trying to avoid affect you more in the long run. This reaction to tragedy is not uncommon, even when that tragedy happens closer to home, to you or someone you love. Throughout the poem, Oliver states facts but is never fully connected to the tragedy she reads about ‘with my cold, sharp eyes’. This removal seems taciturn, but it could also be a coping mechanism. How much tragedy can you endure, even from the safety of your own home, before you just…switch off?

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