I’m writing this blog-post from a hotel room in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As I try to collect my thoughts, the night-darkened street below me is full of the sounds of people, mopeds and tuktuks making their way home – and I am acutely aware of how far home is for me. How did I get here; what brought me to be sitting in this hotel room many miles from Australia? Why am I here?
Writers, and bloggers, struggle with the ethics and consequences of knowing how much to reveal to the world. What can be shared, especially when others are involved. I know I do. Over the past year of blogging I’ve been very cautious, being mindful of what is my story, what I can share – and what isn’t. The past week I’ve been wanting to share a very personal thing that has happened, whilst also respecting others. I’m now sharing, in this blog-post, as it feels right. I hope it’s the right thing to do?
Eleven days ago, high on post-published bliss, something didn’t feel right. It hadn’t for a few days. I felt as if something bad was on its way. I’ve always felt uneasy just before the wind changes, just before I hear bad news or life throws a whammy my way. This time I shook off that feeling; telling myself that its okay to have good things in my life, the hard days were over. I was in a good place, content with my life. And I had finally published my first book.
Perhaps its just my pending birthday, I thought. After all, turning 50 isn’t always easy. So I started thinking what would make it easier, how best to acknowledge the end of my half-century. My first tattoo? Perhaps. Get back on a bike? Maybe, it’s what I had promised myself all those years ago, when I had my first child. Revisit my first home, which is now an Indian restaurant, with a celebratory lunch with family? Not really as, unlike me, they don’t like spicy foods. A trip overseas? No, that’s not what I wanted at all. Still, I had this uncanny feeling that I would indeed be far from home on my birthday.
So eleven days ago, I stood at the kitchen sink, telling myself not to be silly. Life was good, I didn’t want to go anywhere, and instead I should think of a fun way to turn 50. Looking up from the dishes covered in suds, I glanced upon my Frangipani tree. Well, not really a tree, it’s really just a sapling. I got it when it was little more than a seedling, and planted it in my backyard, behind a newly built house. The first house I could call my own. I had always wanted a place with a Frangipani tree out the back, even though I live far from the tropics: they make me happy. For eight years that tree has been struggling, and despite almost dying many times, it now reached my waist. It looked healthy, but still hadn’t flowered.
Ten days ago the bad thing revealed itself. All my recent thoughts, my vanity over my birthday and pride in publishing a novel, all of that was suddenly meaningless and petty. My brother, the youngest in the family, had passed away. Suddenly but not exactly unexpected. Although only 38, he suffered from a number of health issues. A perpetual traveler, seeking the life he dreamed of, he moved overseas in late November; in search of a place to call home. He found that place. A place I have now traveled to see and, more importantly, to say farewell to my little bro.
After that phone call, informing me of news I was not ready to believe was real, I went out into my backyard to collect my thoughts. In the dark a flash of white caught my eye. Moving towards it, I smiled: there on my brave little tree were clusters of white flowers. With my brother’s spirit roaming a country so far from home, I saw this as a sign – a reminder of the circle of life. That’s not to say I had reached an acceptance, or that I had done grieving. That is yet to come. Still, in times like this, a sign is welcomed.
Five days ago my parents rang me to say that they were travelling to Cambodia, to say goodbye to their son in the place he had quickly grown to love. Without a second thought, I told them that I would go too. After all, what child would let their ageing parents, who had never left Australia before, make such a trip alone. Perhaps I also needed to go? I haven’t really absorbed what has happened, I can’t even say the ‘d’ word out loud, or call my brother by his name. It’s as if doing so would make it all real – then I would have to accept and let go. I’m not yet ready for that much reality. Here, in Cambodia, I know it will happen.
Yesterday we flew to Malaysia, for an overnight stop-over in Kuala Lumpur. Today we arrived in Cambodia, stopping at Phnom Penh. Tomorrow we make our way to the coast, to Koh Kong province, which sits near the Thailand border.
Tonight I sit in a hotel room, occasionally sitting on my balcony, pondering the journey here; and the hard one that we will be making over the next few days. Sometime soon I will need to think of how I will let go. How to say goodbye to that cheeky little baby brother I cared for; and the creative, adventurous and free-thinking man he grew to be.
Meanwhile, all around me life still goes on. People still move through the streets, taking care of business, returning to their homes and family. They are not aware of the much-loved person that no longer walks among them, who is no longer here in body. The seeker of truth born on Australian soil, whose spirit now soars above them; over this country that had weaved its way into his heart and being. Loss is what it is, to be dealt with in our own way. I know that soon I will find a way to grieve, to accept and let go. And then?
….well, life will always go on. And flowers still bloom.