It’s better to be a patchwork person than a perfect one
We were 15. Girls still, as this was another era. Our lives fused through Friday night sleepovers, caravanning holidays and shared tubes of Clearasil.
Saturday morning sport. Afternoons with the blow-dryer. Then off on our bikes in our pastel jeans – no hands, no helmets – squealing through the park as we pedalled to meet the boys.
Discos, where I’d kiss them and M wouldn’t because she was always cooler than me. Dancing to Depeche Mode – “I just can’t get enough, I just can’t get enough”. And we couldn’t. But it all changed that summer of 1982.
Mum met me after school to tell me M’s dad was dead. Suicide. Car. Exhaust. Gone. Back then, I couldn’t form the words into sentences; nearly three decades later, I still can’t.
We went round to M’s house that evening to find her mother falling apart. M and her brothers were outside, surrounded by grown-ups with nothing to say and mates too young to offer any real solace. So we played pool.
As the years unfolded, I saw what suicide does to a family – to a mum too absorbed in her grief to care, to a child who wonders why she wasn’t worth living for. When someone you love takes their life, you’re left with little regard for your own. And so M was reckless in ways that made me scared, sometimes too scared to help her.
When she left for England, aged 20, I hung my heart on her postcards. Behind pictures of Princess Di, Stratford-upon-Avon and those bloody corgis, she’d write enthusiastically about her life. But I worried – and for reasons too private to go into here, I was right to.
But last Saturday, she married a man we’d known since high school. Her dad wasn’t there to give her away, her mum too estranged to marvel at what she’s become. Yet it was a joyful wedding: Lifelong friends, kids, dancing, speeches full of laughter and love.
I spoke about resilience and how, in spite of so much loss, M’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. How everything she has, she’s made for herself. How she parents from instinct, rather than experience.
Lots of people have bad things happen to them – things they didn’t ask for, outcomes they wouldn’t have chosen. But, as my friend did, it’s possible to push through what you were dealt to choose the person you want to become. “In the midst of winter,” wrote Albert Camus, “I finally learnt there was in me an invincible summer.”
Resilience is a buzz word in schools. As we raise what’s arguably the most vulnerable of generations, the ability to bounce back is as important as algebra and alliteration.
Yet how can you be resilient if you’re not given the chance? Social researcher Hugh MacKay believes we’re so intent on ensuring our kids are happy, we’re not letting them experience the full register of human emotion.
“To be fully human, to be ‘normal’,” he writes, “is to be occasionally engulfed by waves of grief, or sadness, and stymied by feelings of despair, doubt or disappointment.”
Missing out, failing, forgetting, not being chosen, not being well-loved, losing someone, being ostracised, hurting – yes, it’s painful. Sometimes for the rest of your life.
But how much better to be a patched-up person than a perfect one? And how awe-inspiring to have as my close friend someone who’s stitched herself back together. My darling friend, I could pop with pride.
For help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Catch Angela Mollard every Monday at 9.30am on Mornings, on the Nine Network.
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