Less than a month after my 27th birthday my partner of ten years died. Two years later, still struggling, I got on a plane and went to Australia. This blog was meant to be a travel diary and it has been.
However it is also the chronicle of my transition from a grief stricken widow to a travel addicted wanderer. Thoughts on posts tell the story of this transition so if that's why you are here have a look at them. I hope they help.
I have said in the past that I am an extremely fortunate person and now I consider myself a lucky one too. Having sorted out my Aussie phone, bank account and tax number fairly easily I find myself in the fortunate position of finding work within my first week of arriving in Sydney. Even more fortunately they are providing accommodation saving me a good deal of money for the three weeks I shall be with them. Having found work so quickly I started to plan ahead a little. I had decided that after my three weeks working I would either head up the east coast on a hop on hop off greyhound ticket, look for harvesting work or head to Melbourne and look for work there. However I have just been offered an interview this Friday for a four month position at a ski resort. If I am successful there then I shall definitely take the time to explore the east coast from Sydney to Cairns before it starts. All fingers and toes are firmly crossed!
Unfortunately this happy news does not fill me with the joy it normally would as I heard early this morning that my beloved little hamster Sawdust had to be taken to the vets to be put down yesterday. He was a happy little thing and had a good life but despite this and despite the fact I am on the other side of the world I am sad that he has gone. He brought such happiness in to my life at a time when I really needed it and I know he was much loved by many others in my life as well. RIP little Sawdust.
As much as I have been sorting myself out I have given myself time off to be a tourist too, after all I didn’t come half way across the globe to sit in a hostel online all day. In the last week I have visited Hyde park and the botanical gardens a few times when the weather has been glorious. I have also visited the Art Gallery of NSW and the Australian museum.
The Art Gallery was full of interesting exhibitions including a Sydney Nolan exhibition. For me this was one of the more interesting exhibitions because he shows a great range of styles, I would never have guessed that they were all by the same artist. I was pleased to be introduced to Russell Drysdale and James Gleeson whose works were striking, seeming to capture how alien the land can be in the inner desert regions. Other artists showcased the greener side of Australia so there was also a really feeling for the climate diversity across the continent. The other highlight of the gallery was the student exhibitions which were stunning in their quality and insights especially considering the age of the artists.
The museum was interesting though it seemed small compared to the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington. I had great fun positioning Zack with the animals of bygone times and taking his photo. I found the aboriginal exhibition extremely interesting as it was the most comprehensive exhibit of its kind that I have seen. The museum also houses a comprehensive display of past and present native flora and fauna. There were many bugs and spiders to be swiftly perused before moving on to the less terrifying snakes and crocs then on to the friendlier and much cuter looking marsupials. Amongst these displays I came across a memorial wall. They have these all over the place in America and I always find them quiet moving but this one was different, this was a memorial to the Australian species which had become extinct due to direct or indirect human actions. It had the definitions of extinct and levels of endangerment engraved on it and under these pictures of extinct species and how their demise came about. It was sad yet I was incredibly moved to think that someone cared enough to make sure these species would not be forgotten.
I suspect that the indoor activities are designed not to take too long as the weather here is so fabulous. In London I was more than happy to spend a whole day indoors out of the rain but here I was delighted to explore the gallery or museum for a few hours before returning to the glorious sunshine outside, even if it did mean putting on my silly hat! Stil there are more places to go and things to do so maybe they will take longer. I shall endeavour to explore as many of tham as possible next week and let you know.
Rule number one when beating jetlag: Do Not go to your bed, even if it is just to read. On my first night in Sydney I intended to read for an hour or two in bed but fell asleep straight away. I thought that I would sleep for at least 10-12 hours as I was so tired but 8 hours later at 2am I was wide awake, oops. Finally 8am arrived and I was able to head out to explore Sydney. I walked toward the harbour stopping in at a recommended bank to open an account in the optimistic hope that I would find work at some point. It was a beautiful day and I found the Opera house and Harbour Bridge easily enough. The views were spectacular and I was delighted to give my camera a proper work out once more. I had lunch outside the Museum of Contemporary Art before heading inside to view the ‘Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990 – 2005’ exhibition. The exhibition was an interesting show with her professional works of celebrity portraiture and more serious photojournalism mixed in with her personal photographs of her life with friends and family. The collection was inspired by the death of a close friend. Some of the photographs were stunning and some very poignant: she said the when someone dies there photographs take on new meaning and that was evident throughout the exhibition. Culture bit over I headed back outside to enjoy the sunshine by walking through the botanic gardens from the Opera House to New South Wales Art Gallery.
Back at the hostel I dug out my laptop and bought some internet time in the hopes of staying awake until a reasonable hour. I never did get round to editing my CV but I did meet up with someone who was interested in going to see the Opera House at night so I headed out again with her and thanks to some good conversation and yet more spectacular views it was after 10pm before I made it too bed. I was knackered but content and best of all slept through until 7am the next day, success!
Saturday’s task was to upload my CV to some job finding websites and go shopping. The weather took a cooler turn which suited my Scottish blood very well, especially as I walked back from the shops with a large bag full of food. It wasn’t the most exciting day but it was a good day of settling in to the hostel way of life. If only the tax website had been working I could have applied for my tax number then I really would have been ready for employment.
One of the reasons I came to Australia was for the weather so it is typical that on my first weekend it rained both days! Despite the rain it was still much warmer than the UK and it was nice to have an excuse to have a lazy day. Having arranged to extend my stay I was under the impression that I was to move rooms on Sunday, unfortunately I was to move on Monday and only discovered this after packing everything up and trying to check out! Fortunately I hadn’t gotten up especially to move out, I had been up since 7:30am thanks to my jetlag. On my return to my room I discovered that my conditioner had decided that it wanted to live life outside of the bottle so everything in my wash bag got an extended wash and I think it’s safe to say that Sunday wasn’t going particularly well! Thankfully my day improved post-wash-bag-explosion. After a quick trip to the supermarket I spent a couple of hours applying for jobs before grabbing a quick meal at the hostel then heading to a local pub with a friend to see the first F1 race of the season. It’s been ages since I watched the F1 and though it wasn’t a very exciting race it was fun and it was nice to get out of the hostel for something other than shopping! I think I shall try keep track of the races whilst I am here, it will give me something to do every other Sunday if nothing else. For now though it is back to the struggle to stay awake until 10pm, this is not helped by the wine consumed during the F1 race. I may be on the other side of the world but at the moment I’m living a pretty normal life and so far I like it. Now if I can just get rid of the last of this blasted jet lag.....
Are you excited? That’s the question of the week and the answer has consistently been no. Despite the fact I am doing something that hundreds if not thousands of people do every year it’s the first time I’ve done it and therefore I am not excited because I am too busy being a bag of nerves and slightly terrified. However if I stay I have to get myself a proper job and other such normal things so off to Australia I go. I keep telling myself it is a fabulous place and even more I am going to love it there, that It will be a great adventure and I will give my camera plenty of exercise but there is that nagging worry that says, what of it’s not? So with that in mind and having had very little sleep by the time I arrived in Sydney once the plane landed I did have the fleeting thought that I could get on a another plane and come straight home, after all I had landed so if I did I could still say I had been to Australia. It was hard to land and enter the country without Josh but I thought of how much he wanted to visit and though it made me sad it also hardened my resolve and so I collected my bag, went through customs and headed for the train.
My train stopped very near my hostel and I arrived there at 8am local time only to be told that check-in was at 1pm. I was assured that it was a lovely day and I was able to re-pack store my main bag so I could take advantage of said lovely day and explore. Now on arriving in a new city I always feel disorientated and a bit grumpy, partly due to the fear of the unknown but mostly due to the amount of travel I have to do to get there so you can imagine how happy I was at this suggestion. However I did as suggested and really it was the best arrival in to a new city yet. I really wanted a shower and bed but since that wasn’t an option I decided to keep my distance from folk and do some much needed shopping. I walked down towards the harbour but decided to save the proper tourist stuff for a less sleep deprived me and went in search of a hat and sunglasses instead. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find what I was looking for as apparently winter is on its way here so all the hats were winter hats with hardly a floppy brim in sight.
Many hours later I returned to the hostel with sunscreen (already applied of course), a hat, sun glasses and an Australian sim card in my phone. I only got disorientated twice and was not at all lost. Ok I had to get my map out to check but both times I was right about where I thought I was and how to get to where I was meant to be so that totally does not count as being lost. On my return the receptionist who I should mention had been very patient with my slowness earlier was happy to check me in. As he checked me in and came to realise that I had not only just arrived in Sydney but in Australia from the UK and was happy to answer more questions about settling in as a long term tourist. Tomorrow I shall sort out a bank account and look in to what one need to work around here.
For now though it’s now 12:30 here and 3:30am in the UK thankful the travels have disrupted my sleep so much I have no idea what time it is in my head though I do know I would really like to go to sleep soon. Which of course it the perfect time to write your blog. On that sleep deprived I shall sign off for now and find another way to beat the z’s.
There have been times in my life over the last few years when I have been called an inspiration and every time someone says such a thing it grates on my nerves something awful. I’m sorry I know people mean well but I cannot help but feel like a bit of a fraud and I feel really uncomfortable with the label. I want to say that I’m not because I am just putting one foot in front of the other but I can’t tell people what they feel anymore than I can change the way I feel. The thing is the people that say this, I wonder if they really know me. Sure they hear the good stuff but it’s not like I’m going to shout about the bad things I do because you don’t do you? I mean who wants to admit they aren’t always a good daughter, sister or friend? Who wants to hear about the times I spend in my room hiding because sometimes the world is too hard and too much for me to handle. The fact is that even though I might not say these things I’m pretty sure most people have figured them out by now. Like everyone else on this planet I am far from perfect and I am sometimes selfish. Quitting a perfectly good job and taking myself of to Australia may be admirable but it is without a doubt the most selfish thing I have ever done. So before I go and this become all about me again I wanted to take time to tell you all about the people who inspire me.
I am a very fortunate person. I have had a very horrible thing happen to me but large and horrific as it was it was one thing. When I lost my partner I felt like I lost everything and people who have been through such a loss will confirm that I am not being melodramatic or exaggerating when I say that it felt like I died when he did. I couldn’t see how much I had left and what it was worth because without him everything seemed worthless. It was like someone had taken my nicely ordered working life and smashed it into a million pieces which could never be put together again. I know how hard must that have been for the people in my life to see because eventually I saw it in the people I cared about too and it hurts that I can’t do anything to change it. In the beginning though I was numb and felt completely disconnected from everything and everyone around me yet my friends and family stood by me because it would never occur to them to do anything else.
The people who inspire me are the friends who called me and asked me how I really was. The friends who took me in and the friends who took me out (and often got me drunk). The one friend who came and got me and took me away from my life for a few days when I didn’t think that I could move. The people who took the time to send me text messages, bebo comments, cards and even baked goods through the post just to remind me that they cared. The friends who met up with me and even though it went horribly at times met me again and kept on trying until we got it right. My family and his who only asked one thing of me, that I live: nothing more and nothing less. For the times they fed me and poured many cups of tea into me. The friends who held me when I cried. The ones who took abuse when I had nowhere else to direct it and only asked when I was done if there was anything they could do. I can’t count the number of people who have held my hand in one way or another. There are people in my life who know this path but this is for the ones who don’t.
The people in my life who have no idea and tried to help me anyway in any way they could. I know they hurt to see me hurt, most had hurting of their own to do but took on some of mine anyway. When I think of all the little things that people did it makes me cry with wonder. I feel blessed and I have no idea what I ever did to deserve such people in my life but I am grateful. For all these people I can say without hesitation or regret I am grateful to have you in my life. You all inspire me to keep on going. Never underestimate what you have done for me because when you lose your rock and anchor every single person and every single gesture counts more than I hope any of you will ever know. My life is completely different from what it was. There is a rather large and obvious piece missing from the puzzle these days and the pieces that were left don’t seem to fit so well but the fact is they do fit and they make up a new life that in its own way seems to work. So thank you to all my friends and family for being there and inspiring me to put the pieces together to make that new life.
As to the ones who have travelled a similar path now it’s your turn. For the replies to my posts, the facebook messages, the ‘likes’ and the hugs, for simply being there and reassuring me that yes you felt that too and you know in all those different ways I thank you too. More than that you have shared your stories with me. You have shown me that there is life 'after' and that it can be good again. You have reassured me that I will always miss him and that's ok but there will be more to life as well. To see how far you have, to see you stumble still yet pick yourselves up and carry on, that is inspirational too.
For all my friends from before and after I thank you and remind you that if I inspire you then you are probably inspiring me right back.
On the 17th of March 2010 it was one year since life as I knew it ended. It was a strange day because everyone remembered. People sent message and got together and reminisced. But for me it was something different. I said at the time it felt like everyone was stepping in to my world for the day but the next day they would leave it and I would still be there. I know everyone remembers Jonathan and he isn’t forgotten but most people don’t think of him dozens of times every day. Most people are living there lives, albeit with a nasty hole in them, but a year later I wasn’t living I was surviving. It sounds sad but it’s not because I was surviving and had been for a whole year. I never thought I would make it but I did. For me the 17th of March was something of a personal victory day when I could say I did it, I survived and I am still here. I was sad beyond words and full of grief but I was also proud (and somewhat relieved) that I had survived and guilty that I was proud and guilty that I was here and he was not. Life changed for me that day in 2009, all I thought I knew felt wrong and the world became a frighteningly unknown place. It’s the day everything changed and the day I started to become who I am today, me without Jonathan. Since even writing that still hurts being proud of any of it even briefly, well lets just say that took some time to get used to. There were so many emotions flying round that day that I will never forget it just as I will never forget 17th March 2009. Now I wonder if I will remember this day every year forever and I don’t know if that would be a good thing or a bad thing, it’s one of many things I still don’t know.
As the 17th of March 2011 approaches I am surrounded by images of a stricken Japan and I know there are many people who are going through what I went through and much worse. I have no idea how they will survive what has happened to their country, their friends, their families and to them. Some won’t survive but many will and they will be the strongest generation Japan has known for decades, a nation of survivors: I really wish I didn’t know that. The bittersweet relief of knowing I had survived which I felt last year is missing this year. This year I am sad, so very, very sad that almost two years have passed since I saw his smile or heard his voice. Sad that there are no new photographs and that I have over a years worth of stories that don’t include him and I wonder if this is how most people felt last year as the dreaded date approached and is this how they feel now.
I’ve been called an inspiration but I know others who have done more and gone further in their time. I also know that if asked they would say the same as me, I put one foot in front of the other and take it one day at a time. Two years on and I still cannot plan for the future so for now I am taking a path that does not require me to. I don’t talk about him all the time because though people are kind and patient there is only so much you can ask of them but I think of him. Just because you do not hear me say his name it does not mean he is not in my thoughts. Two years on and I still do not know how to live without him. I don’t know how to live with all that we have lost. All I know is that everyday I have to try. I have to breathe in and out and put one foot in front of the other in any way I can and then one day I’ll look back and see how far I’ve come. Because even now with the sadness of what is lost there is happiness at what was and gratitude for what remains and one day I hope that they will outshine the sadness so I can hardly see it and only remember what was and smile.