WHY WAS I THE ONE WHO WAS SPARED?
It takes just a glance at the headline “… Matt Golinski doesn’t know why he was spared…” and my breath catches in a rush of tangled emotions; deep sadness at a family lost, a thrum of empathy and, ultimately, recognition; for I have also had to ask why I was the one that survived.
Chef Matt Golinski who lost his wife and three daughters in a house fire on Boxing Day, 2011. Photo by Barry Alsop, Eyes Wide Open Images, via Fairfax.
It was 2003, and I was sitting in my mother’s lounge room, wrapped in blankets as the police officer across from me delivered the news that left me even more numb than I’d been in the past three weeks; that we, the police and I, had arrived back at the house just four minutes too late to save my daughter (4), son (22 months) and my father from being killed by my then husband.
The police officer’s eyes had stayed on my face as he tried to soften his words “It could have been worse, Ingrid. You could have been badly hurt, or you could have been killed, too”.
And all I could think of was “How is that worse? How could my death be worse than having to live with theirs?”
It’s hard to describe the state of mind that can think of your own death with such dispassion. I never thought to intentionally take my life, but I could not understand how my body didn’t just fade away and disappear with the loss of my family.
Whether we realise it or not, it is the humdrum minutiae of our children’s existence – the chattering and tantrums and routines, that draw the lines around our life, and with my children gone, I could not find my edges.
Yet the days continued and I did not vanish, so I began to wonder, too, why it was that I had been spared?
In big events such as these, people are quick to offer other-worldly platitudes like ‘everything happens for a reason’. This may offer comfort to some but it never worked for me.
It just seemed that this was an attempt to convince ourselves that there is a completely rational and logical reason for random events: that an existential deal has been struck somewhere and we just aren’t privy to the other side of the bargain.
But the reason people do it is because, really, the alternative is terrifying; that we aren’t safe, that we aren’t immune, that things, bad things, can happen to any of us.Rachael, Starlia, Sage and Willow Golinski. Photo by John McCutcheon/Sunshine Coast Daily via Fairfax.
Herein lies the corruption of Karma – that if you are good then good things will happen to you.
Whether or not we subscribe to this belief, we still hold onto it, hard, like a good luck totem: “That won’t happen to me because I have shored up my karma points.”
I remember myself, lying in bed and adding up the score-sheet of all the negative thoughts and actions I had done in my life, trying to justify why I’d lost everything.
Then, amongst the litany of mournful wrong-doings and mean-spirited thoughts that I was carefully cataloguing there came the image of my smiling four-year-old Malee and the thought struck me.
What on Earth could my little girl have done that was so bad that she earned death? Let alone my 22-month-old baby?
The balance sheet logic just couldn’t hold meaning after this, leaving me with the giddying thought: that there was no inherent meaning to what had happened.
There is a beautiful poem written by Edna St Vincent Millay, part of which says
“After terrible dreams,
After crying in sleep,
Grief beyond thought…
Shall come sun on the wall, shall come sounds from the street…”
The realisation that I didn’t have to understand why this had happened was my ‘sun on the wall’ moment, a moment when the clamouring in my mind gave pause, the stranglehold of grief relaxed and for the first time since their deaths , I felt peace.
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