One of my supervisors said to me: In the time it takes to do a PhD, statistically, one or more major life events are sure to happen to you – births, deaths, marriages, relationship breakdowns, moving house, etc.
I got the second one. Twice.
So, for the last three months, my PhD has been put on the back burner.
Despite this, the PhD still travels along. Albeit at a slower pace.
I had a paper due the same week my mum died. I managed to get it finished. It was a welcome focus actually. The rest of the time I was wandering around the house like a old mole at a christening (as mum used to say).
My daughter was completing her VCE exams. There was all the end of year activities with the other two. Life was busy. I was distracted.
Four weeks later, I went to a conference in New Zealand. Great conference. My paper did really well. I still felt a bit like I was underwater. Took the kids. Did a few touristy things. Saw Germaine from Flight of the Conchords in the gift-shop at the museum. So, by all accounts, the trip was a great success.
I came home. My mum was still dead. And I fell apart.
But then, I re-drafted the paper, co-wrote a feature length screenplay, applied for teaching work. Got a flash fiction published.
Swings and round-abouts.
Christmas. Then New Year.
I won a prize. And my mother-in-law died. The same day.
It is not just me in all this. I have a husband, children, a sister, her family, my dad, my in-laws, friends. All grieving in their own way. All needing attention.
Before all this, I was finally starting to feel like I would get my PhD finished. This year. My PhD was important. To me. It is more important now. It is a focus. A direction forward. I am worried that when it is finished, I will start grieving all over again. Worse.
It is also less important. More a task to be completed. Less an all-consuming being.
I have a new perspective.
I was reluctant to share all this in such a public forum. But it may just be the most significant part of my PhD journey. It felt wrong to leave it out.
When life hands you a bunch of lemons, everything you write, read, touch seems lemon-flavoured. But I am not trying to make lemonade. Because I have a PhD brain, I analyse the lemon. I try to detach. I look at its composition, its effect, its relationships.
It gives new meaning to the word Bittersweet.
I am still very much in the middle of all this, so I don’t know how it will go, but my PhD is about the stories we tell ourselves. About how we make sense of our world. I hope it will help me make sense of all this.