Oh this is a hard one. Hm. Well it’s a whole sad period, really. I don’t think people will mind me writing about it, because, well it happened, and yeah. But mum and Linda, if you’re reading this, trigger warning, okay?
After my parents split up, mum got together with a wonderful man named Barry with whom she had worked at my school for many years. He was funny, frustrating, caring, wise and a gentleman. Unfortunately, Barry had advanced bowel cancer when they got together.
They knew the time was short, but they just wanted to spend those last months together. They had some good times, but really mum was nursing Barry, first at his place on the Central Coast and then in our home in Kensington when he got really bad.
Finally, when Barry was too sick to be at home, he was moved to the Sacred Heart Hospice at Darlinghurst. It was summer and the Australian Open was on TV in the waiting areas; I still can’t watch even the news coverage of that tournament without thinking feeling restless and melancholy.
Eventually it was time for him to go. It was night time, and mum, Barry’s nephew Justin and I were the only ones there. We all held hands with him in a circle around his bed and watched the breath leave him for the last time.
But the saddest memory I have of that night was of my brother. He hadn’t been with us that night, but that wasn’t unusual. The whole period had been pretty traumatic for him and I, and being a teenaged boy, he dealt with it by going out and being with friends and just not being around us most of the time.
We had called the rest of Barry’s family, who had been staying at our place, and they all came to the hospice but Nick wasn’t with them. This was pre-ubiquitous mobile phones so we couldn’t get in touch with him. The family had left him a note at the house, but we had no idea when he would be home.
Everyone said their goodbyes, but eventually there wasn’t anything else left to do and we had to leave.
We went down to the street, and there was my brother, clinging to the gates, desperate to get in and be with us. He had gotten home and realised what had happened, and caught a taxi straight to the hospice. But it was late and dark and the gates were locked. So he was left outside on Darlinghurst Road (not a great place to be at that time as a young, attractive teenage boy if you weren’t looking for action), locked out and peering in.
I think that’s my saddest memory.
Here’s a picture mum has up in her room of Barry – it’s a copy of a caricature by cartoonist Bill Leak, who was a parent at the school where mum and Barry worked (I can’t remember who has the original). We don’t actually have many photos of Barry, sadly, but at least this is kind of cheerful.