With Her By The Sea
In June 2014, on the first anniversary of mum’s passing we drove for what seemed like hours on corrugated pindan north of Broome to a privately owned cove. My sister impressively handled the ever-changing road surface without breaking a sweat. This road terrified me. Not even that far from Broome, the roadside subtly wore its victims like medals. Certainly not the most vicious, but vicious enough to make me wonder how long it would take to be rescued if we broke down — always one to indulge in planning for worst case scenarios, I quietly decide I should have brought more water with me, and definitely more sunblock.
The owner of the land and bungalow we’d be staying in greeted us as we pulled in, it turned out to be my husband’s aunty, whom he hadn’t met before. She was very welcoming. The place felt right, I felt at home. The bungalow stood high on cyclone resistant stilts and overlooked the lip of a small cliff that sloped down to the water. Coarse pindan-stained beach sand made up the shore and turquoise water you only think exists in the photos of professional photographers led right out into nothing. We’d missed the whales, but you could never complain. It was Eden. Thick bushland surrounded the homestead, and when I stared into the scruffy greenery it felt like it was staring back. All of the elements up there felt like living entities, and maybe everything in the city does too, but you become numb to it. Being out there makes you feel vulnerable and strong all in the same second. What it is to really feel human I suppose.
Mum would have loved it. She’d have loved the sparse and non-uniform garden the owner kept, the fact that it becomes unreachable in the wet season, and she’d have loved being so close to the water. It was perfect for her. The day after we arrived, we all headed to the northern end of the cove with mum’s ashes and a bottle of champagne. It took a lot to get to that point. It took me an unreasonably long time to build up the sense of urgency to collect the ashes from the memorial park they were being kept at, it took months to decide what the best thing to do was, and after finally coming to a conclusion that suited everyone we still had to orchestrate ourselves. It was a momentous occasion of togetherness.
My husband, sister, nephew and I each scooped up handfuls of her ashes and waded into the water. Silently, we let the water take her. She swirled around our legs and faded into the surf.
I haven’t believed in any gods since about age 7 or 8, so I don’t believe in heaven, and grieving as an atheist is beyond confusing and challenging, but the last remnants of spirituality in me, that my mother herself planted, feel so happy that we freed her ashes into the vastness of the Indian Ocean. My visits to the beach are now accompanied by long stares into the water, wondering what she’d be doing that day if she was still alive, missing her advice, hearing her voice, wishing so hard I’d had more time with her. In that little moment, it’s just me and my thoughts about her, and the energy of the water. My mind unwraps what I have left of her like a fragile ornament. I feel them in my hands, smile, and carefully wrap them up again.
Sometimes I worry I talk about my mum too much, or that I dwell on not having her. Other times I lay curled up in agony, grief ripping me apart. I reflect on my time with her honestly, no-one becomes a saint just because they died prematurely. I don’t have any regrets except for her not being here, that’s not my action to regret. Her death has affected me beyond measure, it’s what broke my tolerance for bad people and bad jobs. I’m finally realising and acknowledging that my mother dying shortly after I turned 25 changed me, and it takes strength every day to make sure it changed me for the better.