death

Ejo #142 – Words With Chryss (Volume 3)

Do you place any meaning in life, either for you or for our species, and what philosophy do you apply to living your life?
Funnily enough, I do have some Words With Chryss® brand ideas of what life is about.  What it means to be alive, why we are here.  And what happens when we die.  My philosophy about life (and death) has evolved in recent years, and is still evolving.  An ongoing search for my life’s “purpose” has led me to much introspection and internal deep-diving.  It has guided me towards meditation, therapy, yoga and lots of reading and learning.  And all of that has led me to the basic conclusion that life is a bizarre phenomenon that we cannot explain using the information that we are in currently in possession of.  Which goes some way towards explaining why the idea of a god that actually gives a shit about people has gained so much traction over the millennia.  So, god.  A fantastic being that isn’t just omniscient and omnipresent, but also (cue fireworks and harpsichords) omnipotent as well.  Seems a little convenient, don’t it?  Look, I just don’t buy into all that jazz.  It feels nonsensical to me, and in the absence of any evidence, I’m happy to risk eternal damnation for my disbelief. 

But hey, speaking of atheism, have you ever thought very deeply about something and formed a belief structure around your efforts only to discover that an olde worlde Dutch philosopher by the name of Bucher Spinoza came up with the same idea almost four hundred years ago?  LOL, me too.  Of course there are huge differences in the complexity of our ideas – mostly because he spent his entire life in deep, critical thought and I spend all my free time binging Netflix.  And yet… we still somehow landed on the same idea.  That the closest thing to “god” in physical, scientific reality is the universe that surrounds us.  The universe that is a part of us, and that we are a part of. 

When people think of the universe they think of galaxies and stars and black holes and the big bang and dark matter.  But everything on earth is composed of elements of the universe that existed billions of years ago.  We are literally all made of stardust.  If I did believe in a god, that would be it.  And I don’t mean to brag, but Einstein was totes on the same page.  He famously said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” 

Everything that exists in the universe, everything, is a part of the universe.  Including us.  I think that sometimes we tend to identify as observers of the universe, rather than understanding that we are inextricably woven into its fabric.  Personally, I subscribe to the notion that human beings are expressions of the universe, and that the minutiae of our lives are absolutely irrelevant, serving only as distractions to our attention.  I believe that the true purpose of our existence is to shrug off those distractions in order to focus our attention on the present moment, and to be fully aware of ourselves and our own awareness.  And… to simply release everything else.  What do I mean by “distraction”?  I mean breaking your favourite mug, being hungover, your car breaking down, people gossiping about you, failing an exam, being bullied, running late, overdue bills, headaches, pulling a muscle at the gym, an argument with your partner, being overlooked for a promotion or getting mugged.  And if you want to level up, distractions can also include divorce, cancer, or being thrown in jail and tortured for your political beliefs.  I mean, sure, that’s some Mt. Everest shrugging, but it is possible. 

I believe that the universe breathes life into us, in the form of energy flowing through us.  And I believe that we die when that energy ceases to flow.  For the most part people tend to live their lives in a kind of weird denial of the fact that we are only here for a finite time.  Which is a shame because far from being a morbid preoccupation to think of your own death, it can actually serve to crystallise the fact that this moment (in potentially being your last) can be transformed into something extraordinary. 

How would I see the world around me, the room around me, the people around me, if I knew that my next breath would be my last.  I honestly think that right now, I could take a deep breath and look around and feel happy, knowing that I’ve lived an amazing, textured life.  Knowing that I’ve lived true to myself.  Knowing that I’ve been loved.  Knowing that I’ve loved others, and loved myself.  And even if I weren’t ready to die, if I did know that it was coming, I would be grateful for everything that came before.  Every moment is a beautiful gift.  And the gift is that we are here to receive it.  The gift is that we are here to experience it.  And I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: the gift is that you are here. 

What do I think happens to us after we die?  I think that’s it.  The end.  Lights out.  We return to the place we were before we were born.  We return to oblivion.  Darkness.  Nothingness.  We simply cease to exist.  And after a significant amount of time passes, even the memory of us will disappear.  Nothing of us remains.  The universe is vast, it is powerful, it is everywhere, it is everything.  It is old.  It is beautiful.  The universe is us, and we are the universe. 

What do you dream of achieving? 
Transcendence.  That may seem like a flippant answer, but I promise you it’s not.  Apart from retirement, I don’t really have very many corporeal ambitions.  Every single day, however, I toil to break free from the binds of being “only human”.  This is going to sound pretty new-agey, but I feel like I’ve figured out what my purpose in life is.  In simple terms, it is to be present and aware of this moment, because that’s all I have.  The long version is that I aspire to rise above (transcend) the dramas and emotions, the ups and downs, the constant rollercoaster of the human condition, and to identify with the purest, most unadulterated version of myself – my consciousness.  My awareness.  My life force. 

So what does it mean to “be present”?  It simply means that while I am writing this, I know that I’m writing.  It means that when you’re reading it, you know that you’re reading, almost like you’re watching yourself doing it.  Being present doesn’t mean that you can’t think about anything else, it just means that when you’re doing that, you know you are doing it.  It means that you don’t lose yourself when you’re thinking about those other things.  You remain here, and now.  Being present means not leaning into the next moment, and not clinging to the last. 

People are funny.  We spend so much of our time engrossed in thought about things that aren’t even in front of us, things that may never happen, or things that have happened that we can’t change.  We spend a lot of time responding and reacting to the world around us when, in fact, nothing is ever actually happening to us.  Things are just happening.  Ooooh yeah, let that sink in for a second.  Nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  Taking that to the highest level, (as much as it may have felt like it) my Mum’s death didn’t happen to me.  It was something that happened, but it didn’t happen to me.  (Fuck yeah, and if you want to get into some ninja-level shit, it didn’t even happen to her; it was just something that happened).

The concept that nothing is happening to *you* can be difficult to grasp.  You are the centre of your universe and it takes a bit of work to mentally shift your framework away from that sole point of reference.  It’s only when you are able to see yourself as being part of something bigger that your reference point can change.  Usually the “something bigger” is religion, right?  Because it’s organised, and actually designed to provide us with comfort and a sense of belonging.  It makes sense, to some degree.  But where it falls apart for me, personally, is that it’s all based on fantasy.  I totally get that seeing yourself as an expression of the universe is far weirder than imagining you are somehow descended from Adam and Eve, because we know very little about the mechanism behind how the universe works.  There’s no handbook.  Is the universe alive?  Is it conscious?  Is it self-designing?  Is it chaos?  Is it exerting a will?  If we are part of the universe, is our will our own, or are we just puppets being controlled by it?  If I am an expression of the universe, then….. shit, am I the universe?  These are big, scary questions for which we do not have answers.  My journey has taken me on a path that doesn’t even need answers.  I don’t need to make up stories to comfort myself.  I’m OK with the discomfort of not knowing.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m anywhere near achieving my goal of transcendence, but I’ve definitely seen some personal growth in my ability to just let shit go.  My progress is hardly linear though (as I’m sure David would attest).  Some days are more difficult than others, and I always do better after I’ve had a cleansing session with Zimmy.  I always do better when I lay off the booze.  But, I am no longer searching for my purpose.  I know my purpose, so I have a head start.  I just need to keep on trying.  Transcendence seems a long way off, but I am prepared to spend the rest of my life trying. 

What makes you angry? 
This was (hands down) the most difficult question anyone asked me.  I pondered this question almost every single day for months, trying to come up with what felt like the right answer.  It became a Gordian knot that I was driven to untangle. 

On a global scale, I’m angry at capitalism, I’m angry at massive, inscrutable corporations making zillions of dollars at humanity’s expense, I’m angry at governments for allowing it, and I’m angry at the injustice of it all.  I am angry that a handful of people benefit (obscenely) from the abject destruction of our beautiful earth.  The climate crisis is not the people’s fault.  It is capitalism which allows a very small number of people to gain everything, as the rest of us helplessly watch our home burn (and flood, and shake, and freeze, and fall apart).  I am angry about the information recently published in the Pandora Papers, exposing the billions of dollars of cash and assets hidden from public view by billionaires and government officials including kings, presidents and prime ministers from countries like Jordan, the Czech Republic, Kenya, Hong Kong, UAE, Chile, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.  Countries in which the divide between the rich and the poor isn’t just vast, it’s incalculable.  I’m angry that billionaires even exist.  Because to make a billionaire, millions of people must live below the poverty line.  I’m angry that capitalism lauds religion to soothe the poor and hungry masses, when it is the capitalists themselves who keep them poor and hungry.  I’m angry that despite it being a very broken system, we all cling to it because we believe that without it we may be stripped of all the nice, shiny things we’ve surrounded ourselves with under the illusion that they’ll make us happy.  I’m angry at Musk and Bezos for squandering billions in their small-dick race to colonise the planet Mars, our inhospitably dusty, red neighbour, when people are starving to death in muddy slums.  On this planet. 

WTF!

So yeah, I’m angry about a few things.  But these angers don’t burn red-hot in the pit of my stomach.  I feel them more as a dull, heavy weight, compressing me whenever I think about the state of the world.  It feels overwhelming, and hopeless, and I see no potential resolution for any of it.  I actually envisage it becoming worse.  If I allowed my anger to burn about these things, I would flame out and die. 

But hey, if we’re talking about anger on a personal level, that is something I have worked on a lot.  Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger mentions in her book, “The Gift” that anger is often caused when there’s a gap between our expectations and reality.  And I believe this to be the root cause of all anger.  Whether you are angry because you’ve lost your patience with someone, or you’re being disrespected, or you’ve suffered an injustice, it all boils down to reality not meeting the expectations that you had.  So, the easiest way to solve that problem is to not have any expectations.  Right? Well, actually it’s not easy at all; it’s extremely bloody hard.  It also happens to be one of the tenets of Buddhism. 

The Buddha considered “craving” to be the single greatest fetter (shackle, or chain) to achieving happiness and enlightenment.  Aspiring to something (a possession, a relationship, a state of being) is fine.  But as soon as you start to expect a desired outcome, it becomes a condition that can prevent you from being happy and at peace in your life. I want to be happy and at peace. Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t give a shit about things or people. It just means that you can experience it all without gripping onto it for survival.  When you can learn to do that, you’ll be able to experience negative emotions, like anger, without reacting to them; and you will no longer be defined by these transient flows of energy.  You’ll be able to step off the rollercoaster.  And that’s a beautiful state to be in.

As well as learning to let go of anger mentally, and emotionally, I’m also learning to let go of it physically.  Last year, during the early months of COVID, I took up yoga as a way to keep my body moving, and I’ve been practising nearly every day since then.  At the end of every session there is a pose called savasana, also known as corpse pose, where you lie on the ground with your legs apart and your arms by your side.  Believe it or not, this is the single most important pose in yoga.  It is the pose in which we learn to relax our body on command, and I can’t stress enough what a gift that is.  Whenever I’m having trouble sleeping, I harness the power of savasana to assist my body and mind to just let go.  It has also helped me in moments of anger.  I might feel the anger rising up in my body, as a physical reaction, a tightness in my chest, but I am able to neutralise it, simply by relaxing my body, taking a deep breath and letting go of the tightness.  This is not the same as pushing the anger down or denying it.  I actually allow myself to feel the emotion, to honour it.  But then I just let it go. 

OK, so it’s not always as neat as I’m making it sound, and sometimes it’s extremely fucking messy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work at all, and the anger erupts and I snap or yell or tense up.  Despite all my efforts, I am still only human.  But I’m working on it.

Do you lash out or project your anger onto others? 
This is something that I definitely make a huge effort not to do.  You know, I think I used to be a much angrier young woman than I am now.  I think I used to stomp around feeling like I wasn’t getting mine, or whatever.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  I no longer feel like I’m owed anything.  By anyone, not even the universe.  And so, with effort I have learned to manage urges to lash out.  I have learned to view the world as neutral, something to be observed.  Remember; nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  And so there is no need for me to ever feel targeted or victimised by anything that happens.  Ever.  Instead of being personally affronted by things that would have made me angry in the past, I try to see them as an opportunity for growth.  A chance to practise letting go, almost like a game.  Of course it doesn’t always work, and yes, things happen that might be a hassle, or annoying, but it no longer ruins my day.  I can shrug it off and even choose to be happy!  And therein lies the freedom of being able to transcend all the bullshit, rather than getting mired in it.  All day long, regardless of what’s going on around me, I can make the choice to be happy. 

Are you angry with yourself for being taken in?
I am usually less angry with myself and more disappointed if that happens. 

And ultimately can you let it go and move on? 
I am always letting go.  I wake up every morning with the intention of releasing everything, and not holding onto anything.  I don’t need to be right.  I don’t need to be understood.  I don’t need to have my way, and I don’t need to prove anything.  I just need to be happy, and I make that my priority. 

Are you pissed off that you weren’t taught how to spot the flags of abusers?
No.  What I’ve come to realise is that someone can teach you to spot all the flags, and in the end it still doesn’t stop abuse.  My Mum was always a bit of a worry wort.  She instilled in us the very real knowledge that there are bad people out there in the world and to never really trust anyone.  It didn’t prevent abuse. 

At whose feet do you lay the blame for that?
I blame nobody but the abuser. 

Ejo #135 – Promises

This one’s about my Mum.  As many of you know, her life as a girl in Greece was difficult.  At the age of four, she fell down a well and broke almost every bone in her body.  She was forced to work as a shepherdess from the age of eight and unceremoniously yanked out of school when she was 12.  She was beaten, berated and told that she’d been born only to provide an extra pair of hands, while at the same time castigated for being an extra mouth to feed.  Her parents never told her they loved her.  And when, at the tender age of 16, she resisted their attempt to sell her off to a man three times her age in an arranged marriage, she was shipped off to a country she’d barely even heard of, in order to work and send back her earnings. 

My Mum’s resilience was remarkable.  She may have been scarred by her formative years, but her ability to rise above her past was something I’ve always admired.  A wonderful example of her courage was when, at the age of 44, she enrolled to study a course in natural medicine at the local college.  The year was 1991 and, after years of dreaming about it, and talking about it, and thinking about it, she finally just did it.  She went to school and learned, academically, the healing properties of plants.  She overcame a lack of confidence in her English, a lack of formal education, overwhelming social anxiety and a damaged self-esteem in order to pursue her passion.  Like I said, remarkable. 

Nerd. ❤️

Being a self-absorbed, 19 year old asshole at the time, I can’t remember what gave her the courage to finally take the plunge.  I know that my Dad would have supported her unconditionally.  Had it been a new year’s resolution?  Had someone challenged her?  Did she just wake up one day and decide to do it?  I’ll never know.  Of course my Mum was an exemplary pupil, and I remember her spending hours studying every day (while I, in my misspent second year of university, wasted my hours drinking copious amounts of beer and playing cards in the university common room).   Mum graduated, and then spent the next several years continuing to study, continuing to learn, reading books, posting on forums, asking questions – always striving to know more about her craft.  Thirsty for more knowledge.  She grew her own plants, her own garden laboratory, and constantly experimented with them (OK, fine, sometimes on us kids).  She made tinctures and creams, oils and poultices.  She was always concocting something for someone, always drying herb cuttings, always fermenting, infusing, mixing, soaking, powdering.  Always. 

A few of my Mum’s thousands of handwritten labels. She literally had a remedy for everything, always within arm’s reach.

In 1999, my Mum took all the knowledge she’d acquired over the years and actually wrote a goddamn book, a compendium of plants and their uses.  Years of study and personal experience finally culminated in her life’s work.  My parents spent a shitload of money to self-publish thousands of copies of the book in Greek.  She actually wrote most of it in English, but because she felt her English wasn’t great she hired a translator to transcribe her notes to Greek.  I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.  Over the years she sold a few copies here, a few copies there.  But selling books on consignment is a real bitch, and it’s hard to make money in Australia from a niche book written in a minority language.  Not that getting rich was ever my Mum’s goal.  Her goal was to heal people.  To help them.  My Mum was driven.  Single minded. 

The title loosely translates as, “A Family Guide: Herbal Remedies”.

Perhaps that’s something I inherited from her.  Growing up, I was rather goal oriented.  I wasn’t necessarily great at achieving the goals, but boy did I like setting them.  I used to be quite the new year’s resolution queen.  I’ve come a long way since my very first attempt at new year’s resolutions, possibly inspired by my Mum but, let’s be honest, also possibly inspired by Dolly magazine.  I was a 16 year old maniac cultivating an elaborate and detailed sub-world inside the four walls of my bedroom.  Here, lifted straight out of my handwritten diaries, is a taster of the chaos and mayhem that emanated from my addled teenage brain that first day of 1987:

  1. Learn to dance and sing like Madonna
  2. Fill my wall with Madonna posters
  3. Meet five new, gorgeous guys
  4. Lose weight (still at it, 34 years later)
  5. Become a good photographer and create a portfolio of self-portraits.
  6. Get mostly As and some Bs in my half-year report
  7. Buy lots of cool, trendy clothes
  8. Enter, and win, the Dolly covergirl competition (I’m so embarrassed)
  9. Get some really good disco tapes
  10. Become the biggest flirt – watch out guys, here comes Chryss Stathopoulos!!!!  (I actually wrote these words in my diary, and I am now crying from shame)

OK, so I sucked.  Big time.  The only one of these I achieved was having a wall full of Madonna posters.  And even today, I still have no idea how to flirt.  Jump forward two years to January, 1989, and I’d somewhat figured this shit out: 

  1. Kiss at least one guy.
  2. Don’t eat any chips.

Definitely more attainable.  I easily ticked both of these off and got a taste for how good it felt to achieve annual goals (also: how good it felt to kiss boys).  In 1990, ten years before I’d even heard of Dr. Atkins, I gave up bread for the year.  Just because!  And yeah, I totally got off on people’s reactions when I told them about it.  I liked the incredulous attention.  Yes, I was a weirdo.  But I was doing me, and for an angsty teenager with low self-esteem, that actually felt really good.

The next year I went without chocolate for 12 whole months.  Sounds impossible, but it was pretty easy once I decided that it was going to be a “no matter what” situation.  I simply wouldn’t put chocolate in my mouth.  You don’t even realise how ubiquitous chocolate is until you decide to give it up.  That shit is socially difficult to say no to.  Especially at easter.  People are always like, c’mon just have a little bite.  But I resisted and it felt like a great achievement.  I learned the value of not always giving into your impulses.  And for a young teenage girl who’d regularly polish off a family sized block of Cadbury’s Snack chocolate in my bedroom whenever I felt sad, I reckon that’s pretty impressive.  For the next two decades, I alternated between not eating chocolate for a whole year, and not eating bread for a whole year.  It was just something I did for discipline.  To prove to myself that I could. 

I think the reason that I stopped, in the end, was age.  Just getting older, wiser.  You could say I became more mature.  Doing something for the sake of it held less appeal than when I’d been younger.  I gave myself free rein to eat chocolate and bread whenever I wanted, at around the same time that my friend Nicole introduced me to her version of new year’s resolutions.  Her unique selling point was that she’d set the same number of goals as the number of the year itself.  So in 2009, she had nine goals.  And in 2010, she had 10 goals.  I loved this concept and immediately started planning my 11 goals for 2011.  To me, a resolution veteran, this felt revolutionary.  It was a fresh new take and I was totally onboard.  I can’t remember all of my goals for that year, but I definitely remember one of them.  And it was to write an ejo a month.  As you can see, ten years later, this is a goal that I am very proud to still be fulfilling.  I can’t imagine not writing these ejos.  They have become part of who I am, in a far healthier way than being known as the girl who doesn’t eat chocolate. 

Some of my 15 for ‘15 goals included making my Mum a photo calendar of her and my Dad (which she loved) and taking a self-portrait every single day of the year (which was an incredibly rewarding challenge in terms of how I saw myself, and also with the improvement of my photography and editing skills).  I also set myself the goals of running in a 10km race (didn’t do it), doing yoga three times a month (didn’t do it), attending a writer’s group once a month (didn’t do it), studying a photography course (didn’t do it), having a massage once a month (I couldn’t even do this one) and losing 7kg (sound familiar? didn’t do it).

As you can see, my goals were becoming more difficult to achieve.  And I’d regressed back to the kind of bullshit nonsense I’d been mindlessly slapping together as a 16 years old.  Also, the fact that I wasn’t able to tick off so many of them was actually starting to tick me off.  And really, I was just finding it more and more difficult to think of so many goals as the years went on.  Eleven goals was no problem.  But coming up with 16 new goals for 2016 was tedious. It wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t really getting much out of it. So, when 2017 rolled around I simply decided to give it all up.  For the first time in 30 years, I was resolution and goal-free.  And it was so liberating.  Just “being” was a luxury.  Just living my life was a treat.  I somehow continued to achieve things that I wanted to do.  And I didn’t go crazy on bread or chocolate or ice-cream or chips.  I was just kind of a grown up about it all.  Ha, imagine that.  Me, adulting!

Since then, I haven’t really missed “doing” new year’s resolutions.  I live my life as best I can.  I do yoga every day, I try to eat well (shoutout carnivore), and I try to be a good person.  I meditate every day in the shower.  I give to charity.  I read a lot.  I have therapy.  I think about how my actions and words affect other people, and I strive to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.  Without pressure.  I no longer need the gimmick of a yearly goal in order to “improve” myself.  I just aim to do that in every moment.  I am proud of myself for that, and I know my Mum was proud of the woman I turned out to be. 

My beautiful Mum died two years ago today.  Nothing will bring her back, but I have thought of one way in which I can keep her spirit and memory alive.  I have decided (resolved?) to do something this year to honour her.  And, along with three other projects, I’ve set myself a target date of the end of this year.  I’m not calling them new year’s resolutions, because they’re not.  They’re just things I want to do. 

So, what are they?  OK, first up I want to learn the lyrics so I can sing along to the 1980 song “The New Rap Language” by Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous Three.  Yep, I am a 49 year old white woman.  Who gives a shit?  I love the idea of the mental and linguistic challenge of learning this eight minute, densely-worded rap.  Studies have shown that mental exercise, things like learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument, can stave off degenerative, neurological conditions.  So this is my fun way of fighting dementia.  Yay!

Next, I want to learn how to pick a lock.  I’m not talking about using a bobby pin to jimmy open a flimsy suitcase fastening.  No, no, I mean using a lockpick toolkit to open a serious padlock or door-lock, secret agent style.  I promise I’m not planning on using this skill for any nefarious reasons.  I just reckon it’d be a pretty fucking cool skill to have.  And, once again, learning a new skill, learning how to use my fingers in new, dexterous ways, creating new neural networks; it all has to be good for my brain, right?

My third goal of the year is to plan my funeral.  Nope, I’m not intending on dying any time soon, so don’t worry about that.  I’ve just been thinking about this one for a while.  Planning my Mum’s funeral brought my sisters and I together, giving us something to focus on other than our excruciating grief.  It was all-consuming and helped to fill our days.  But it was hard, man.  It was fucking hard.  You’re making big decisions at a time you’re barely capable of getting out of bed in the morning.  When I die, I don’t want David and my sisters to have to go through that.  Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of my parties, but bitches, I throw down an epic event!  I don’t mean to brag, but we’re talking about the kind of party people talk about for years afterwards.  People are still talking about the 7am cucumbers in the jacuzzi from the first house party David and I threw in 2011.  Living in Dubai has always been hard for me, because I haven’t made many friends.  So whenever we visit Melbourne, it’s become a tradition to throw a massive shindig, get everyone I love together and go a little crazy.  Drink, dance, carouse!  Over the years, I’ve honed my skills as a party planner and I’m pretty proud of some of the bashes we’ve thrown. 

There was the gorgeous garden party at Madame Brussels, the 80s party complete with awesome tunes, daggy fluoro outfits and plenty of jello shots.  There was the picnic in the park with bottles of rosé, yummy finger food and a crazy thunderstorm.  In 2016 we held a weekend-long, ten year anniversary party at a log cabin in the mountains, and most recently, we celebrated David’s 50th birthday with a wild Studio 54 party.  Yes, there was a white horse.  Yes, the police were called.  I guess what I’m saying is that I like planning the details, I like creating the invitations, making the music video teaser, getting my creative juices flowing.  And most of all, I love all my friends gathering in one place to celebrate an occasion.  So why wouldn’t I want to plan the biggest, best, and most amazing party of all to celebrate my own life.  I know exactly what music I want played, and I want to make the video.  I don’t need eulogies. I won’t be able to hear what you say anyway, coz I’ll be dead. Instead, I want to tell you, my friends, how I feel about you. And what you mean to me. I’m gonna turn the whole fucken funeral thing on its head.  I’m going to do it my way.  And you’re all invited.

And finally, my passion project.  The goal that has the most meaning to me this year.  I want to translate my Mum’s book into English.  I want her knowledge, her work, her sweat and tears and inspiration to reach a larger audience than it currently has.  Hundreds of copies of my Mum’s book are sitting in a storage facility in Glen Waverley, gathering dust.  That’s not what she intended, it’s not what she wanted.  And it’s not what I want.  Maria Stathopoulos, the author, deserves to be read.  She deserves to be recognised and lauded and celebrated for her work and for her small, but worthy, contribution to humanity.  She wanted everyone to have access to the world of natural medicine, the healing properties of plants and herbs.  She wanted everyone to share her joy and enthusiasm and love of the natural world.  Her own personal antidote to our industrially, and corporately, manipulated existences.  And I will help her to fulfill that desire.  I will honour her. 

I’ve already started working on it.  Last year I commissioned my talented artist friend Anka to illustrate the plants that my Mum had photographed for her book.  There were 36 in total so it was a huge undertaking.  Each illustration took her between two to five days to complete, working with archival inks on heavyweight cartridge paper.  The project happened over five months, from May until October 2020, a period during which Anka, who is London based and works in hospitality to support her art, was locked down and not earning an income.  The assignment gave her some breathing space, a small, regular income and the opportunity to focus on her work.  I am so grateful that my Mum’s book was able to facilitate that.  I love every single one of Anka’s illustrations, and I know my Mum would have too. 

Anka’s beautiful drawings of my Mum’s dandelion, echinacea, rosemary and horseradish root.

I also asked my sisters to check if we kept any of Mum’s records or notes that might help me to translate the book, and Pieta actually found a bunch of floppy disks labelled “Mum’s book”.  Perfect.  Except who the hell has a floppy disk reader?!  No-one.  Pieta had to buy a FDD to USB drive and then convert the text to word documents.  I’ve been practicing my Greek too, so that I can fine-tune the translation (because google translate can only do so much).  Last year I picked up a few Greek magazines and I’ve spent hours just reading the words, not even understanding most of what I’m reading, in an attempt to re-familiarise my brain with the language that is actually my mother tongue. Three of my goals this year are just silly promises to myself. The last one is a very serious promise to my Mum. It’s not easy. None of this is easy, but I’m driven. Single minded.

Ejo #123 – Anniversary

One year ago today I was snuggled up in a very cosy bed, in a small hotel in the Sololaki neighbourhood of Tbilisi, Georgia, sleeping off a horrendous hangover after a night of cavorting. We had a 5pm flight back to Dubai that afternoon, and plans for a very lazy morning. I did hear my phone buzz a couple of times during the night, but definitely wasn’t in any hurry to check my messages. At around 8.30am I got up for a quick dash to the toilet and casually glanced at my phone as I lay back down in bed. There were a couple of messages from my sisters, but more alarmingly my youngest sister Pieta had tried to call me. I called her right back and asked her, “What’s going on, is everything OK?” trying to ignore the mounting, irritating sense of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I can’t remember exactly how she started the sentence – something about Mum being prepared for emergency surgery. But the world stopped when I heard the words, “She didn’t make it”.

Sometimes, the brain knows and doesn’t know, at the same time. My brain heard what my sister said, but definitely didn’t want to compute what it meant. In a two second period, my brain tried to convince me that the surgery had been called off, for some reason. That my Mum didn’t make it to the operating theatre because… she’d been moved to another ward, the hospital had been evacuated, the doctors had rescheduled the surgery. Anything.  Any other translation.  On another level my brain grasped that my Mum was gone. And so, my adrenal glands shot adrenaline into my circulatory system; causing my pupils to dilate and my muscles to tighten to the point of shaking. Causing my heart to race and my breathing to became shallow. I sat up in bed, ramrod straight. I could suddenly see everything in the room in the sharpest of detail, all the colours brighter. I could actually hear a conversation outside our window, even though I couldn’t understand the words. I heard a motorcycle starting up. “What do you mean?” I asked Pieta. I can’t remember her response. In a state of fight or flight, I desperately reached for words. “Is Mum dead?” I needed to hear the word no. I can’t remember the response, but it wasn’t no. The response, whatever it was, was not one which my reptilian brain recognised. I asked Pieta again… “Is Mum dead?” There was a pause, and this time the answer was yes.  Our Mum had died.

I think this is the point at which I went into shock. I cannot remember the rest of the conversation. David reckons I said the word fuck, several times.  That seems about right.  I cannot remember saying goodbye to my sister. I know I didn’t cry, not right away. Not yet. I remember just being confused. My brain simply refusing to comprehend. I remember turning to David and saying, “I don’t understand” over and over again. I remember looking into his eyes and not even really recognising him. I remember curling into a ball in bed and holding onto my husband for dear life. And I remember wailing. I remember actually willing my body to go back to sleep, wishing for the blissful oblivion of sleep. And my body complying, shutting down.  Thank god.  I drifted in and out for a couple more hours. Wailing every time I gained consciousness, every time I woke up to the nightmare of remembering. And finally, the tears did come. Sobs that racked my whole body. And, “I don’t understand” on a loop. Over, and over again.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand.

We had to check-out of the guesthouse at midday, so I do remember having to get up and shower. Like a robot would shower. Knowing how to shampoo, when to rinse, programmed to scrub the right spots for the right amount of time (maybe a little longer than the right amount of time), eyes glazed. I remember having to pack, somehow I packed. I remember checking out, my eyes red and swollen from crying. Smiling when the lady asked if we’d enjoyed our stay. Knowing that she must have heard the cries of despair emanating from our room all morning. Not caring.

We left our bags at reception and wandered the grey, bleak streets of the city. For hours. I wasn’t hungry but I drank Georgian wine. A lot of it. I wanted to blot out the pain, but of course this was pain that couldn’t be blotted. David was wonderful, of course. He arranged time off work and booked us on the first available flights back to Melbourne. I remember being at Tbilisi airport, crying uncontrollably and not caring about all the people looking at me, with discomfort. I don’t remember the flight back to Dubai. I do know that I cried so much, my eyes swelled shut. I didn’t care.

This is grief. This is what the death of a loved one looks like. I bet if I asked my sisters for their account of the same day, it would be similarly full of details and blurs. I hate that it’s been a whole year since this day happened. I hate that the magnitude of it slips away, day by day.  I no longer cry myself to sleep (much), but I still feel the bewilderment and dissonance of the finality of my Mum’s death. I still don’t understand. A small part of me is used to not seeing my family for a year at a time, and that part of my mind is going to get a real fucking shock when it realises that this is it. There is no next time. She’s not there anymore. The house is sold. There are other people living in it. Walls have been knocked down. The world has continued to turn, without my Mum. An entire part of my life is gone. Forever. The world still turns.

This morning I sniffed a bottle of my Mum’s favourite perfume. Her signature scent, Lulu. It smells like her, but… not really. My Mum’s pink sweater still does smell like her, but, after a year, that scent is fading. As though everything about her is retreating further away. Is grief misplaced love? Love with nowhere to go? Maybe. It sometimes feels like that. A dead person is just a memory, a concept. Loving a real person is expansive, it’s infinite. Loving a dead person is an exercise in futility. I don’t believe that my Mum can still hear me or see me.  I don’t believe that she’s still around. I wish that I did. I’m sure that would bring me some comfort. What I do believe is that I hold all the love she ever gave me, I hold it all in my heart. And I hold it very, very close. It’s all I have left of her.  And that’s something that will never fade.

60

My beautiful Mum.  I love you so much. I miss you more than anything.