Today it’s 5 years since a very dear friend of mine lost her 9 year old son to a brain tumour. I have blogged about this event before, from the perspective of being involved in a community that pulls together in the face of adversity. (As an aside, it seems to me that with the flooding and devastation in Queensland this past few weeks that we will be seeing a lot more wonderful stories of community to come out of the tragedy and adversity that is currently dominating the news.)
Normally, I am away on my annual camping holiday when this anniversary rolls around. The year Harry died, we cut our holiday short so I could come home, grieve with my friends, help arrange a funeral and be here to do the things that must be done at such a time. This year, we cut our holiday short because of the appalling weather and the risk that rising flood waters in and around the mid-north coast might trap us for days in a tent in the terrible weather. In 12 years of camping in the same spot for more or less the same 2 weeks in January, this is the first time it’s been cut short due to weather. In fact, counting the year Harry died, this is only the 2nd time it’s been cut short at all.
Meanwhile, my friend and her family are away on holidays on the far north coast of NSW and may not be able to get out to come home this weekend, as the highway has been cut in a few places by rising rivers.
I remember Harry’s anniversary each year, in a low key way that is designed to remind me that I can’t take my family or friends for granted. I like to mark the passing of this day in some way so that I can consciously think about what it is that is dear and important to me. Usually, I walk across to the beach from the campsite after dark and light a candle in my special ‘dragonfly’ candle holder (more on dragonflies in a minute) and blow bubbles out into the night (we blew bubbles at the funeral and you get amazing special effects if you blow them across candlelight in the dark!). Young Gun always chooses to accompany me as Harry was a school mate and friend of his, but it is something I would do even if he didn’t want to participate. We sit on the beach for half an hour or so and talk about whatever comes to mind – sometimes about Harry but not always. Mr13 has told me many funny stories about things he and Harry did – that I would probably never have known about if we didn’t do this little ritual each year.
I am no longer grieving for my friend, in the heartsick, aching way that I was. I am always sad for her around this time but my perspective on this has shifted. The cliche is that you never know what tomorrow will bring and Harry’s illness and death brought this into sharp focus for me. For a number of years after he died I was conscious of this on an almost daily basis – this vigilance has relaxed a little with time, which is one of the reasons I like to use half an hour out of my day on the 13th of January each year to reflect on how I treat the people I love and resolve to parent/partner/befriend always with love first and criticism, guidance or gentle reproof second.
Dragonflies are special because my friend associated them with Harry after he died. At his funeral, there was a lovely story about dragonflies printed in the service booklet – it’s a beautiful story designed to explain death, loss and grief to small children (but adults really appreciate it as well). My children see a dragonfly in the garden and will often say ‘Oh hi Harry’ – even my mother calls dragonflies Harry now. Most days I wear a necklace that is a long chain with 3 pendants hanging from it – a piece of Navajo silver that used to belong to my mother (to remind me of my past), an opal that was given to me by friends many years ago (to remind me of how important friendships are) and a dragonfly that my kids gave me for mothers day a few years ago (to remind me that children are precious and truly only on loan to us).
My friend has a lovely garden in her yard that is ‘Harry’s garden’ and has beautiful plants and a water feature – it attracts lots of dragonflies. We’re all welcome to sit by it or just visit at any time. Maybe that’s where Mr13 and I will go tonight to blow our bubbles.