12 Oct Life, Death & Launching – Part 1
It was early July 2017. I was in my office working away on the launch of my first eBook Altars to Self – a project that had been in my orbit in one form or another for over 3 years. I was just a few weeks away from releasing it.
A niggling thought popped into my head – I was five days late for my period. No big deal. I’d been late like this before and it usually turned out to be a false alarm. I casually mentioned it to my man and we both shrugged our shoulders in a ‘whatever will be’ kind of way and got on with things.
But this particular day I thought I probably should do a pregnancy test. You know, just to rule it out. Ten minutes later I walk out into the garden in a bit of a daze to show my man a test with double lines. I was pregnant. Accepting that a decision had been made for us, we immediately and graciously welcomed this new little soul and got on with life.
I always said that I wanted to have another baby before I turned 40 and this little ‘surprise’ would achieve that with 6 months to spare.
I pondered the synchronicity of the pregnancy in relation to my Altars project. My personal altar practice began as a way of healing from a late and traumatic miscarriage in 2014 (a story I share in the book). The first draft was written before the birth of our little girl in 2015 and the final project would be set free into the world while our third baby’s heartbeat was thumping away in my womb.
The phone call
It was 4am when my man received a called from his eldest brother in Yokohama, Japan. Their Father hadn’t returned from a day hike in the Swiss Alps and it was now after dark over there. Search and rescue teams would have to wait until first light to track them down.
‘He’ll be fine’ I said into the darkness, feeling the heaviness of my man’s inner knowing. ‘He’s such an experienced mountaineer. If they got into trouble, he’ll know what to do.’ And it was true. My man’s Dad had been hiking mountains all over the world since he was a teenager. It was his religion, a place where he could go to get peace from that incredibly brilliant scientist mind of his. But over night, in freezing temps…I wasn’t sure I was right to be so optimistic.
Nightime in Europe was daytime in Australia so the next day was excruciatingly long for all of us.
Later that night at the dinner table, our little girl, who had barely started talking, said out of the blue ‘Ji-ji sleeping’. Ji-ji was short for Grandfather in Japanese.
An hour or so later as I was wrestling getting our daughter ready for bed, I heard my man climb the stairs and felt what was coming. He appeared in the doorway.
‘My Dad is dead’ he said in one of those surreal moments when time kind of warps and shit suddenly gets very real.
‘What?!‘ I gasped, even though I heard and understood exactly what he said.
‘My Dad is dead’. He repeated.
He sat on the floor in shock as our little girl bounced around us, oblivious. Eyes closed as the gravity of the news hit him.
My Man’s Father had shockingly, fallen 300 metres off a steep mountain face, along with his companion. They had just reached the summit of Mt Munch in the Alps, a mountain he’d attempted to climb on several other occasions. They were on their way down again when fate intervened. He died instantly.
My man spent a day or two oscillating between shock, tears and acceptance before booking our flights and preparing to leave the country.
All of this occurred 4 days before the launch of my eBook Altars to Self.
For a while there I considered ditching my plans altogether, but I’d spent the last four months writing, taking photographs, producing and planning the launch (plus 3 years before that in conception). I was SO close.
With my man’s support, I decided to follow it through. Afterall, the sales page was ready and I had most of the marketing ready to roll out.
Needless to say, my heart and energy was not on the launch – I was just going through the motions and getting it done. Which was not at all what I was intending – publishing this work was a huge achievement for me both personally and professionally and I was ready to show up and give it my all.
But my man needed me more and that’s what mattered.
The next few days were an awkward juxtaposition between upbeat social media posts and supporting my man through the shock and grief he was experiencing. Literally minutes before going live I was holding space for him, in tears, as he rode the waves of grief.
The next day, the three of us were on a flight to Japan.
Days after our arrival the house steadily filled up with friends and family, both local and from overseas. My man got to work supporting his Mum with arrangements for the Buddhist ceremony and wake while his brothers, both in Switzerland, tended to their father’s cremation and the arrangements required to bring his ashes back to Japan.
Soon, I found myself witnessing my man and his family reverently building an Altar in dedication to their father. It was of course a significant moment and only just now have I realised that Altars to Self began with us building an altar to our dying baby and now at the other end of the scale, here we were again.
I learnt a lot about death and grief in Japan. Particularly from a cultural and Buddhist perspective.
There were moments of tears and sadness, sure, but they were few and far between. Mostly, there was a deep sense of acceptance. In Buddhism, there’s really no such thing as death, the soul simply moves on into a different form and that’s the way it goes. There were jokes about how his death imitated his life. Fast, thorough and efficient. And how perfect it was that he passed doing what he loved. Evenings were spent sharing memories, laughing over photo albums and marvelling at what an incredible contribution he made to the world through science (he was a physicist at the forefront of nuclear-fushion technology).
Beautifully, my man was able to quite quickly move into a state of deep gratitude for the relationship he had with his Dad. In his own words, he had ‘no regrets’ which helped him to move through this difficult time with such presence and compassion. This quality of deep vulnerability and open-heartedness is one of the reasons I fell in love with him.