Melbourne, 2018

Of all places to discover or rediscover music, funerals are unarguably among the saddest. This funeral is in a packed church where a low murmur thrums as moist-eyed mourners share recollections of the deceased. A woman I’d called ‘aunt’ since birth, her eulogy is accompanied by photographs and anecdotes about her family-centred life. The music selected includes an Elvis song unfamiliar to me.

At home and still in my funereal black, I do the obligatory YouTube search for the track. The internet soon shepherds me away from The King’s back-catalogue to a tear-invoking power-ballad from a band I’d followed since the 1990s. Oddly, I have no clear recollection of the song I’m now sobbing through. Was it a sign of overloaded memory, ageing (now a constant companion) or the fog of grief?

It speaks to me of inevitable goodbyes, never knowing when they’ll come and powerless to escape them, but it offers solace by reminding me some connections can never be broken. I feel the pull of these whenever my thoughts drift to my late mother or grandmother. Often, I sense them hovering over my shoulder or imagine I hear their voices guiding me as I undertake tasks they’d first taught me in childhood. In my reflection, my cheekbones mirror Mum’s and age spots pepper my hands like those once flourishing on my grandmother’s.

These gossamer threads tying me to them both are found in the small details of my life. But it’s their eyes I remember most – my mother’s dark and deep, my grandmother’s pale and lively. I’d had conversations with both in their dying days. Secrets never to be shared with anyone else. As their words failed, and before peace finally came, there was an urgency in their eyes seeming to say, ‘Take heart. I’ll always be here.’

So as I listen to the lyrics to think I might not see those eyes, makes it so hard not to cry, my hand flies to shield my heart, as if covering it can soothe the pain of past partings or protect me from those to come. I muse on the eyes of those I love. Some the colour of an angry ocean, some leaf-green, and teal-blue that can slide into flint grey when the mood is right. There’s the piercing blue of thick ice, while others melt me like warm, sweet chocolate.

In their last moments, my mother’s and my grandmother’s eyes suddenly lit as did mine in response to the unexpected resurgence of energy in them. Light up, light up, as if you have a choice. I discover it’s the call to action that songwriter, Gary Lightbody, explains was written alone in the dark ‘As a will to protect my friends and family from the darkness’.

Grief is indeed dark. A blackness I fumble through recurrently, negotiating the stealthy aftershocks that never end despite the steady passage of time. Triggered by a sound, a scent, a sight, loss is never resolved, only uncomfortably accommodated. Its constant pinch confronts me with my own mortality, turning my contemplation to what I’ll leave behind. I’d like to think hope will be part of my modest legacy. To tell my loved ones, ‘I’ll be here, through you.’

My mother and grandmother were women from whom I drew knowledge, strength, wisdom, and some quirky behaviour. Perhaps my children and grandchildren will say the same of me when the time comes. They might even remember my eyes. I ponder these possibilities as I play ‘Run’ repeatedly, accepting I must leave one day and knowing the grief of parting has already begun. I decide to embrace it, lighting up as if I have a choice.

But, some days, when I’m bone weary, when life’s challenges have thinned my resilience, and age reminds me the path ahead is shorter than the one behind, I listen to the song, think of the colours in my loved ones’ eyes, and let the tears come.

Stereo Story #487


Lucia Nardo is a Melbourne-based writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a teacher of writing at Victoria University. Lucia and her father Salvatore have been an integral part of Stereo Stories in concert since its inception in 2014.