For Iris

I remember the first time I met you, at a dinner party in Balmain. You seemed smart and funny, although slightly annoying in a peppy, sunshiny way. I now know you can be far more energetic than you were that night, but at the time I found your positivity just a bit more than my cynical nature wanted to deal with.

It was a weird party; for a start it was totally vegetarian, and we all had to bring a plate. The house was insanely gorgeous, but also a little creepy. And the mix of people was unusual. Great, but unusual (remember that intense American girl Paula, who we all individually thought had a crush on us, but who was really just an attention seeker, and who fortunately vanished from all our lives, never to be seen again? Anyway…) It turned out I met lot of people that night who are still my friends, so I guess Mon knew what she was doing after all. Mon performed for us. I didn’t even really know she could sing or play guitar, let alone that she was actually good at it. It was long and boozy and fun. There was candle wax everywhere by the end.

The terrorist attacks had just happened in New York, and the world was still reeling. We all did our best to keep the conversation light, but it was hard to be flippant with those images in our minds. I was pretty sensitive to it, given Tove had only just moved there and for a little while I thought I’d lost him. Talk kept going back to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leon’s sister Silvia was at the party, and the frustrated activist within her kept coming out with conspiracy theories. She almost sounded on the side of Bin Laden. I could see you sizing her up in your quiet, analytical way. I suspected you thought she was full of shit too, but instead of coming out and telling her like I was, you continued to sit and listen respectfully to what she was saying. It was only later, when it was just the two of us in the kitchen, that you rolled your eyes and said “is she fucking serious?” We’ve been friends ever since.

It’s funny how that first meeting is exactly how I think of our friendship always being. Me, a mouthy opinionated bull-at-a-gate; you the hand on the shoulder, reminding your friend to breathe. Maybe it’s the Asian Buddhist Zen thing you’ve got going on in your genetic makeup. More likely though, all those years of studying psychology, combined with a natural curiosity for the human condition and a gentle disposition, has made you incredibly sensitive to everyone around you.

I haven’t always returned the favour. I wasn’t a particularly good friend a lot of the time. Bogged down in my life, permanently distracted by work and a relationship that required a lot of ‘handling’, I didn’t always make time for you when I really should have. You never gave up on me though. You hung in there, listening to my dramas and never judging. You were the only one who never once said “Why on earth are you still with her?” instead asking “What makes you stay?” We even survived my clanging assertion that I didn’t find Asians attractive, and my hurried “you’re okay though” afterwards.

You have always been such a good friend; an involved, attentive, conscientious friend, who puts huge energy into maintaining connections. Thank god for that, because without your input we’d have fizzled out years ago. I remember saying to you once that no one would ever be as good a friend to you as you are to them. You replied simply “I know.” That isn’t what friendship is about for you.

There were a lot of years, the Alice Springs and Darwin years, when we didn’t have much contact other than me teasing you for moving up there and teaching blind Aboriginal lesbians (really, could you have found a more specialised field?) Then facebook became a thing, and I said to you “get on it” and you did, and we were back on track.

You were living in London by then, and had started dating someone. A Dutch girl called Lidia. Of all the nationalities in Europe, you went for my least favourite. Some bad experiences meant I couldn’t believe my friend could be attracted to anyone Dutch. “What about an Italian? Or a Spaniard? Why does she have to be DUTCH?” You emailed me a photo. At least she was attractive. I could see what you saw in her physically, even if I didn’t get the Dutch thing. As time went on I had to quieten down. You clearly had a lot in common. Sport and the outdoors primarily, and frankly I was relieved there was someone other than me for you to discuss those things with. Exercise? Who, me?

When you moved in together, I tried again. “Are you sure? She’s from HOLLAND.” You just laughed. Eventually I gave up. You’d learn soon enough.

But you didn’t. Even during the rough patches every relationship goes through (which I naturally always blamed on your girlfriend because she was Dutch) you always showed complete respect and love for her. You were never comfortable hearing anything negative being said about Lidia, no matter what was going on.

And it turned out, bizarrely, that you were completely right and I was completely wrong (who’d have thought?!) All the hard times, all the tough, confusing moments when nothing was sure and you were both re-evaluating what you wanted, were worth it. You two broke free and became a happy, unified, team. You made changes, and you supported and encouraged each other. You grabbed life by the balls and attacked it as a couple. And you had so much fun doing it. Is there anywhere you didn’t get to, any mountain you didn’t trek over like a right pair of Alpine lezzos? All those god damn camping trips, cross country skiing trips, early morning departures to meet the ferry, car trips that involved snow chains. Every time a new lot of photos appeared on facebook, I’d think ‘ugh – jesus they deserve each other.’ There were never enough cocktails and city lights for me to be too jealous of your vacations! And yet, I would have loved a little of what you two were sharing.

I got over the Dutch thing. I even used a bit of Flemish on her, much to her amusement. “Hey Sweetmilk” never got old, not for me at least.

Discontented with London, and keen for fresh challenges, the search for a new home was on. There were so many avenues open to the two of you, so many options. Eventually you settled on Australia. Excitingly for the other Carrie & I, you decided on Brisbane. Visas were applied for, signed affidavits testifying to your relationship were filled in. What did I write? “I don’t know a couple more committed than Iris and Lidia.” It was the truth.

Then we waited. You guys packed, organised, sorted and started selling up. We waited. And waited. Your intended departure date was getting close. Six weeks! And a civil union to squeeze in before you left.

Finally we got the news on Thursday that you’d been approved. And we all got excited, and joked about how best to celebrate.

And then…and then…a phone call from a number I didn’t know woke me early Friday morning and a shaken, crying voice said hello and it was the other Carrie…and there was something about an accident, and a darling friend on the other side of the world was left shattered and broken, and a beautiful girl gone, and none of us knew what the hell was happening.

And now all that is left to do is be here for you. Unable to be there, I can only say “I’m here” and my arms aren’t long enough to reach out and hug you, but my heart is with you and my mind is always on you and I love you.

I know eventually we will all start to breathe again, and not feel this terrible weight of sadness. It won’t go away but it will change and shift, and we will be able to see further than we’re currently able to. And then we will know that your pain is a little less raw, and we will find you again on the other side of your grieving, changed forever, but still our beautiful friend.

But right now that moment seems very far off, and there’s nothing to say except “I’m here”.


Missing Marion, Ten Years On.

A woman stands in a garden holding her granddaughter in her arms, swaying gently back and forth.

“All the pretty lights” she croons. “All the pretty lights.”

An evening ritual;  watching the lights from Surfers Paradise twinkle on the horizon as she calms the little girl for sleep, pointing out constellations and looking for shooting stars.

“All the pretty lights” she repeats. “All the pretty lights.”


This is a treasured memory of mine. It’s more than 35 years ago now, but I can still hear her voice singing to me and smell the jasmine hanging in the air. Those nights stargazing, just the two of us, were the start of an unwavering bond we shared. My mother’s mother, she was my partner in crime, my mischievous sidekick, fellow rainbow chaser, whim indulger, biggest fan and safest place. I adored her, we were inseparable.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t dread the thought of grandma’s passing. I knew she was a delicate treasure I was lucky to have. I hated knowing that one day she just wouldn’t be around anymore, that I would be forced to face the world without her reassuring hugs and quiet wisdom. When the time came, in the very early hours of May 2nd 2003, I was sound asleep at my parents’ home. I woke suddenly, sitting bolt upright in bed; a few minutes later the phone rang. By the time mum came and knocked gently at my door, I knew she’d gone.

It wasn’t strange to me that I had felt her passing before the nursing home called. We had such a strong connection. I had moved back home from Sydney just five weeks earlier because for some inexplicable reason I felt I needed to. Actually, she’d been what made me move away in the first place. Leaving had been a difficult decision, because my grandad was dying at the time, and she had been moved into a nursing home suffering dementia. One afternoon, while we sat in the sun, I told her I didn’t know if I should still be moving away. She turned, looked at me, and in an all too brief moment of lucidity said “I would if I were you” before disappearing into the fog again. So when I felt something pulling me home three years later, I listened. I’m sure Grandma was calling me.

It was a funny feeling at the time. In a lot of ways, the ravages of dementia had meant I’d mourned Grandma long before her actual death. We all had. It seemed forever since she had raced about the kitchen in her pinny, baking favourite family treats and organising grandad’s tea. It had been years since I’d seen her with her knitting needles or tapestry; making porcelain dolls or quilting a new throw. And it had been a very long time since any of us had been called a “bisim” or a “scallywag” or a “blighter.”

Being the oldest grandchild by many years, I had Grandma to myself for a long time. As a little girl, she would take me by the hand and we’d go exploring. She had a wonderful way of seeing the world through kids’ eyes, and was fascinated by the tiniest things – flower petals, butterflies, caterpillars (although they were stomped on violently if it was her gerberas they were munching on), the scent of roses and freesias growing in the garden. We’d pick Hibiscus flowers and lay them in little dishes of water, and wait for them to close up at night time, like they were going to sleep too. When I was older, we would still walk together and wonder at the simple things – but it was me holding her hand as I helped steady her. We delighted in each other’s company; being together brought out the best in both of us. She was my favourite and, although she cherished all her family, I think secretly I was hers too.

We spent most days together while I was growing up. We played dress ups with her old clothes, baked sweets, and danced to Oscar & Hammerstein show tunes. Side by side, we’d conspire against a grandfather who always wanted the music turned down, a mother who didn’t want her children eating any more cookies, and little brothers who wanted to lick the mixing bowl clean too. If I needed a nap, she would sit on my bed and read me Little Golden Books, stroking my leg until I fell asleep. When I was older and in what felt like an unbearably long stretch of teenage angst, she was the only one who could hush the turmoil and discontent raging inside me.

Grandma’s later life was a sea of shockwaves and disappointments that took away any assertiveness she may have had, and left her a timid little thing. What was left of her was almost entirely taken from us by a brain that held her captive. For years we watched Grandma trapped inside herself as her dementia became another member of our family. It was hard, but we all adjusted as best we could. We got used to having one sided conversations with her as the illness stole her voice. Sometimes it was funny, when we made up ridiculous answers she might give and watched as she reacted accordingly. Mostly it was sad though, and terribly frustrating for her.

The only thing that made it bearable was that she never lost her childlike sense of humour, her joie de vivre. Enough of her spirit survived for me to miss it terribly when it was gone. The twinkle in her eye stayed until the end. Less than a week before her death, she’d blown a big wet raspberry on my cheek as I went in for a goodbye kiss, then laughed so much I’d had to call a nurse to help her to the toilet. I loved making her laugh, even when it was at my expense. She had a laugh of pure joy, and would dissolve into uncontrollable giggling fits.

It’s impossible to believe today marks ten years since she left us. Impossible not that she died, but that I’ve managed this long without her. There hasn’t been a single day in the last 3654 that I haven’t thought about her, and wished I could be held against her soft chest just one more time.

That funny, quiet little lady, so unassuming and shy; always watching, never missing a thing, laughing, pulling faces, and worrying far too often. I am so lucky to have such wonderful memories of Grandma, to be able to recall with complete clarity how her face would light up when she saw a puppy, or a baby, or just me arriving for a visit.

I am lucky to have known such complete and utter love.

by caz.