• Lara Flanagan

Lessons of drought, fire, loss and virus



It was Tiney’s birthday on the 18th June and I made an effort to ignore it. I have been known to compartmentalise, and on this day I was so busy compartmentalising that I went to bed exhausted from compartmentalising. Naturally I woke up the next morning missing Tiney so much it hurt, but at least I got through her birthday.

One of the things I miss most about Tiney is our endless inane conversations about nothing. Sometimes she would make me laugh so hard that my stomach hurt. Her often whimsical, yet profane view of the world made me believe that there was always a silver lining to any dark cloud. She made me believe that on even the darkest of days.

We are living in crazy times and the last 18 months has been a roller coaster. I have learnt so much about myself and others and I would love to sit down and shoot the breeze with my dear friend.

Lessons of drought, fire, loss and virus.

You never stop missing someone you have lost.

It was only going through grief that made me realise that you can’t understand it until you have lived through it. I loathed those initial few months and I would not wish them on my worst enemy. Grief is something that is with you forever, some days are easier than others. For me grief is the ocean and I have a little cottage on the beach. Some days you know the ocean is there, but it doesn't bother you, some days the tide rises and it laps at your door. Some days you are surrounded and all you can do is float. Occasionally there might be a tsunami warning and all you can do is batten down the hatches and pray that you survive the wave.

Some events bring out the best in us, some bring out the worst.

Drought and fire seemed to bring out the best in us. Especially in my little neck of the woods. 2019 involved an ongoing, very cruel succession of events. The drought was long and cruel. It was something you could only truly understand if you lived in the country. Dams dried up, farmers struggled with dying stock. Some farmers contemplated their inability to plant their crops. So-called drought relief was a dark-comedy of bureaucratic promises, endless red tape and pots of money that were impossible to access. The whole world knows that Australia was burning late 2019. What many forget is that Tenterfield and other smaller regions that did not capture the imagination of the city, started burning in February. For almost 10 months we dealt with dust, ash, warnings to evacuate and the endless sounds of choppers and planes.

Our volunteer services worked on the smell of an oily rag and were pushed to exhaustion. Then we had storms with destructive hail. Our water became undrinkable and the ash continued to fall. Yet people came together, they worked to support, donated and remained chipper despite it all. I was awe-inspired by the strength and magnificence of most.

Then along came the pandemic and toilet paper became an essential item. In the space of a few months our world changed and nobody really knows what our new normal will look like. I have seen people abuse those who work in supermarkets and people bitch about restrictions. All I can say is I am eternally grateful for whatever restrictions we had because compared to most of the world, we are very blessed and so very fortunate. I was at the supermarket early this week and a woman had a trolley with 2 packets of 24 rolls of toilet paper. She was telling the girl on the register that she didn’t panic buy before but she thought she should get in early so she didn’t miss out this time round. I felt like asking her how the hell did she think panic buying started. The next day Coles and Woolworths reintroduced restrictions. People will never cease to amaze me.

We don’t need much with which to live and without gratitude we have nothing

We honestly don’t need much with which to live. If you have a roof over your head, food to eat, a bed to sleep in and someone to love, then you have everything that you need. But if you aren’t grateful, what you have will never be enough. Regardless of how many rolls of toilet paper you have.

Life is short

Life is short and you literally never know what is around the corner. MS, Tiney, fire and the pandemic has been a constant reminder. I can remember the Sunday in late March when the kids and I met Al at Evans Head and everything was hunky dory. Then when we got in the car to go home the world had gone topsy-turvy. Lock down was introduced and everything changed. Life is so short and knowing that, it is the smallest things that are the most special. When life is short, the stupid things that many of us worry about simply do not matter. What people think of us, owning the trendiest clothes, having the most up to date devices, none of that really matters. You can’t take any of that stuff with you. Knowing life is short, maybe we should start to re-prioritise.

Do what you love and slow down

I loved lock down. I caught up with a friend once restrictions had started lifting and she told me that I looked great and then she said, “oh you are one of the ones who is thriving on lock down”. Quite funny really as she was spot on. Lock down made me realise how much I needed to slow down. I hope I keep that lesson with me. Life will certainly return to some semblance of normality when I have netball training in Stanthorpe, soccer training in Ballandean and regular trips over the border for a million different reasons. Meetings, commitments and a hundred things that I should have said no to. What is even crazier, is that my little simple country life is not half as hectic as others. Lock down reminded me that I love hanging out with the monsters and the dogs without having any commitments. I also had so much time to spend on my cooking and my photography which are two things that make me undeniably happy. Obviously we all have bills to pay and sometimes we just have to suck it up and pay the bills. But we have to make room, somewhere in our life, for doing things that we love, for slowing down and simply being happy and grateful for what we have.

Every day is special

I increasingly dislike special occasions. I am not sure why – birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, you name it, I am not a fan. I am not criticising those who love to turn birthdays into week-long extravaganzas or those who put their Christmas decorations up on the 1st December. I am a big believer in doing what makes you happy. But for me, I would prefer to put the doona over my head and sleep through most special days. I guess I struggle with presents, the commercial element, excess food and being told that you are meant to love and celebrate on a certain day. Possibly it is because on the special days, I feel the absence of Tiney most. On those days I tend to focus on what I don’t have, rather than what I do have. I think every day is special. Every day is a celebration.

Every day is a day to be grateful, to give thanks, to celebrate and to surprise. Recently Archie had the most disgusting tummy bug which wiped him out for the week. Rissie was amazing, she did the animals, still made lunch for Archie even though he wasn’t going to school, she put out the washing for me, left notes for Archie under his door and helped me fill the wood box. Towards the end of the week I told Archie that I wanted to get Rissie a little thank you – he wanted to too. He got $5.00 from his savings (which I sanitised as his tummy bug really grossed me out) for some chocolate for Rissie and I got her a little succulent plant.

When I picked up Riss from the bus stop I gave her the little presents and she burst into tears. I asked her if she was ok and she nodded and said she was happy. Happy tears – she obviously takes after her mother. For me that day couldn’t have been more special. Every day is a day to celebrate, to give thanks, to exchange gifts that matter and to say I love you.

Tiney is not here and I have to suffice with the image of her swinging on her star. What I would love to say to her is that the kids and I are doing fine. That I never stop missing her, that life is short. That every day is special and I am doing what I love and trying to slow down. That I honestly don’t need much with which to live and that I am forever grateful. My cup truly does runneth over.

I would also love to talk with her about Trump and the bleach, Boris and lifting restrictions so people can get a hair cut and a pint. I would love to discuss our Prime Minister and his love of Hawaiian shirts. To discuss people’s need for toilet paper for a virus that does not give you the shits. I would just love to shoot the breeze with her. To endlessly chat until it is late. To have a few more moments, now that would be a blessing.

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