Surface stuff

A lot of our lives are really about surface stuff.  We chat away but  generally they are minor  conversations, skimming the surface and never getting too involved.

I work one day a week in retail,and see many people in that time.  Over the course of the day I have a lot of  conversations  but they are usually focused on the weather.  Often by the end of the day I am heartily sick of hearing about how cold, windy, wet, hot, humid etc it is.  So I play along and mention the number of times I’ve turned the heater or cooler on or off.  Smiling and agreeing when I’m advised not to go outside.

Just occasionally I have an in-depth discussion about current news, and sometimes there is an even more personal sharing — but rarely.

So what is it about our society that has us avoid participating in a more deeper way?

I recall during my childhood growing up in a rural farming community and the nearest neighbour was a few miles away — where everyone knew what was happening to the rest of the community.  Hard not to when the telephone was a party-line and anyone could eavesdrop.  But it was more than that — people cared about each other in a much more personal way than they do today.  When incidents and events occurred, then mum would start baking and we would go visiting bearing gifts of food.  Then there was always a shoulder to lean or cry on and there was no suggestion of weakness.  Just a knowing, that if the situation was reversed you’d be on the receiving end of that neighbourly caring too.

When my children were small, we moved to a suburb of Melbourne and not long after a new house was built next door.  I was on good terms with my other neighbour and those across the road, so I prepared to do what I’d grown up with.  I took the three children and knocked on the door.  When the lady answered the door, I introduced us all and welcomed her to the neighbourhood.

Now past experience would have her invite us in, or even make some joke about mess and just moving in but I got nothing.  She didn’t want to know me — didn’t even open the door fully.  So we left.

A few weeks later my four year old went missing so I ran to my friendly neighbours for help.  One got in the car straight away and started searching the streets.  My new next door neighbour was in his driveway washing his car and I called out to ask if he’d seen a little boy, but he didn’t even look at me when he said no.

I was crushed.  My friendly neighbour found my boy, read him the riot act and brought him home.

But how sad it is that we can’t show we care without being thought of as nosy or prying.

Strangely or not, I don’t believe the suicide rate was anywhere near as high as it is today. So perhaps that had something to do with the sense of community we had back then.  Yes, I believe there are pockets of that still surviving today, but very few.

If we could just show a little more caring when we talk to people, then perhaps we might notice if someone is not really coping.  We may see that a person needs a shoulder to either lean or cry on, or just a good listening ear.

One of the highlights of my week is my coffee morning with the ‘girls’.  We chat about whats happening in our lives, but we also share our disappointments and make ourselves available to be of help in any way whenever needed.

Our society has us all rushing to keep appointments, make deadlines but not make time for our neighbours.  often we don’t even know their names.

Ross also goes to a mens coffee group weekly, but most people need to make appointments to meet for coffee and a chat.

So, if we as a community took a smidgen more time to ask a friend how they are, really mean it and be prepared to truly listen then just maybe we would notice a declining mental state.   We might even start to slow the suicide rate down.

People power at its best.



Remembering for me is something I do whenever I feel the need.  For the most part I can live my day to day life without making any fuss over it, but sometimes there is a need to sit and dwell on my memories.  Maybe even shed a quiet tear or two.

As parents, Ross and I often sit together and perhaps raise a glass in toast to Kelly, and we often wonder what she would be like or be doing if she’d lived.  Of course we can only imagine, dream about this, but it gives us some comfort I think.

In the early years after Kelly left us, we celebrated special days like her birthday, Christmas and the anniversary of her death.  We’d get together, have a few drinks and talk about our girl, how we missed her, and tell stories of her exploits, sharing our grief.  We needed that then, but as the years have passed the need has lessened and become a much more private grieving.  I believe  this to be a normal progression, healthy even, but not something that must fit into a regulated timeline.  For some, this will come sooner than others, and that is fine, as we each work at our own progression.   What hurts terribly today, may only cause a fleeting grief next month.   There are no rules.

On Australia Day in Geelong, a group called SPAN – Suicide Prevention Awareness Network hold a march or rally, for those wishing to come together in a combined public sharing of grief for our loved ones lost to suicide.  This group was formed eight or nine years after we lost Kelly, and by that time we didn’t feel the need to be a part of it, probably because we’d had so much support from our family and friends. SPAN serves a need in our community, and provide a valuable service for any or all who require it.  But this year we decided we would attend the march, to see what it was about.

I registered online, and then on the morning of the march we joined around five hundred or so others to remember our loved ones.  After we’d checked in, we had the opportunity to purchase SPAN merchandise — many people were already wearing t-shirts, caps and scarves in the colours of black and teal.  There were dogs on leashes – several wearing scarves, families and others who were there simply to support those who needed it.

We also were able to add Kelly’s name to the list to be read out later.  Then we gathered for the short service prior to our march.  We were then asked to clear a large space in the middle of the group, and when they began reading out the names of our lost loved ones, we were asked to move to the centre and form a spiral.

So as the names were called out, people moved into the centre space and gradually formed a large spiral of people holding hands.  So we stood there holding hands with strangers, joined in shared grief for the loss of our loved ones.  It was almost reverent, I listened to those names being called out as our spiral grew larger and larger, and thought that there were too many, yet we only represented a small section of the community.  Something that struck me too, was the predominance of male names being called out.  Our menfolk seem to be overrepresented amongst the suicide statistics — perhaps we need to be paying more attention to the men in our lives.  Tears were quietly shed as we stood there in our togetherness.  The stranger holding my hand turned and patted my shoulder when it was finished in silent acknowledgement of another’s grief.

We then did our walk — two kilometres around the city, returning to the park for coffee, sausage sizzle or just to chat before dispersing.

It was a new experience for us, but one we will repeat next year.  The SPAN motto is “Tough Times Pass” and yes they do.  We settle back into regular life, but the memories will live on with us forever.