Two cans of sugar-loaded coke, half a bag of M&Ms and 314 kilometres of driving saw me pull off the highway into bushland and onto a dirt track. The sky had been gradually darkening over the past half an hour and it was now gloaming, that hard to define moment when there was still the tiniest sliver of natural light but headlights were an absolute must.
I was returning to a friend’s home after an 18-month absence. I never envisaged an absence that long; for a decade I’d visited at least every two months without a break, ever since my mother had died.
The daily grind of life, however, got in the way and I was now taking roads that I once knew like the back of my hand, but now had to struggle to remember where the dangerous, dark, dusty turns were.
On previous visits, I would have flogged along at nearly 100 kilometres an hour. Once confident driving every bump, crease and curve, I was now trundling along at less than forty, cautious now after a previous high-speed wipe-out that catapulted me and my car 20 metres into the bush.
My visits to this home in the Gippsland lakes were usually raucous affairs, with a carload of friends and a boot load of sparkling, enjoying long relaxed weekends full of amazing food, chickens underfoot, warm log fires and crisp apples pulled fresh from the tree and eaten.
This trip I was undertaking by myself, my only companion a small black tin containing the ashes of Miki, my tiny husky girl who had died eight months earlier. I was bringing her to a place I considered my second home, to scatter her ashes with the other women lost to me, and put her to rest in this beautiful place.
This weekend was to be different, a solitary trip to reconnect and grieve.
This home and its inhabitant had always been a warm and welcoming place to me, with no judgement and good advice. Here was somewhere I felt comfortable with my grief, my disappearances, my walks down to the salt water at 3am when no-one knew where I was. I could be myself and take care of myself here.
Over recent years, life had been frantic and full of turmoil with no time for stillness. It wasn’t until I sat at the fire and started to catch up with my dear friend that I realised how much had been missed in the churn of daily life.
The next day I visited the cemetery, something I rarely do, as there’s nothing there but a plaque and a buried empty container that once housed my mother’s ashes. I sat still in the cold sunshine, listening to a red rosella parrot snap seeds out of the tree above me, surprised at the height of the trees and how much the cemetery had changed since my last visit.
I got sad as I read my godmother’s plaque resting right next to my mother. These two women died two weeks apart from each other, best friends from start to the end.
I got back in the car, brushing dirt off my jeans from sitting on the ground and drove silently back to the water; the salt water river from the ocean that flows through my friend’s farm. The ashes of many loved ones have been poured into the tidal waters here.
It’s not a sad place but a place of weddings, gatherings, love and life both celebrated and grieved. This time it was Miki’s turn, her ashes billowing into the water as her short life was laid in its final resting place. She joined a growing tribe of those we’d loved and remembering them all was like viewing lives through one of those toy photo viewers, where the flick of a plastic lever would show a new photo, with the last one gone.
A week later the grief hit me, smashing through me like a hammer and departing just as fast, leaving an incredible sense of calm and a new need to be in the moment while the moments keep passing.
Row Murray is a guest contributor for Siren Empire. Meet her on our page: Guest Contributors.