Gone to God

Jolted awake by the phone at 4am in my friend’s house in Berkeley, I knew. My father was dead. In Canada: thousands of miles away. My good parent: dead at 69. I was 37. Back in Australia, I grieved alone for months.


My loving, distressed husband finally announced, “I’m worried, Wendy. This grief has been going on for too long. You need help.”


My good parent: dead at 69.


This week the phone rings in Australia. My sister – at a more convenient hour. Our bad parent has died – in her hundredth year. In Vancouver. Thousands of miles away.


“I’m sorry for your loss,” a dozen emails respond. I wince at the banal language. My friends! Surely, they can do better than that! Hallmark Cards ads used to trumpet: “When you care enough to send the very best.”


Not their best language, that’s for sure. But it’s Christmas – and I forgive them. And they’re tongue-tied, poor souls. What to say? What to say about the death of a bad parent?


Decades of demonisation

Only a wise spiritual teacher finds accurate words. Reflecting on our work together 25 years ago, he emails: “The event of your Mother’s death after what seems like decades of demonisation must be profound.” Decades of demonisation. And he knew only a fragment, a glimpse. More decades to come.


No wonder my friends can’t find appropriate language. Word fail me.


Borderline Personality Disorder


It’s widely accepted that mental illness tears families apart. It ruins lives. Borderline Personality Disorder is a shocker, especially for children of the Borderline Mother (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201109/the-world-the-borderline-mother-and-her-children).


We spend our lifetimes gaining our freedom after living such a warped childhood. Smother-love alternates with sharp rejection. Narcissism. Histrionics. Depression. Humiliation.


Unspeakable abuse.


The whole shooting match! It can make you crazy.


Two bewildered, terrified young daughters adrift on a stormy sea. Alone with the madwoman.


Sisters, 1948

Sisters, 1948

Our motto: “No good deed will go unpunished.”






mother on front lawn

How am I coping?


Many wise friends counsel me at this time. Most live far away so I don’t find them standing at my front door holding casseroles covered with chequered napkins, as I’d imagined. Intently, compassionately, they inspect my face on Skype. How am I coping?


I ask: What should I do? It’s such a long trip. The middle of winter. Will I regret it if I don’t go? Will I regret it if I do?


They say: It’s a passage, a milestone, a transition. You need to mark it. It’s important. The beginning of your new life.


An hour on the phone with Andrew, blessed gift of a friend, settles it. He was my planning student thirty years ago. Wise beyond his years.


I’ll fly to Vancouver. A generous friend of forty years’ standing will pay.


Friends I’ve known for over sixty years will wrap their arms around me. Perhaps a tear will come then?


My sister and I will find ways to do what needs to be done. A delicate balancing act.


An appalling childhood has some bittersweet advantages. It makes you strong – if it doesn’t kill you. Seven decades of pain and grief melt into this: two wise, capable and resilient women have emerged from the crucible of living – and negotiating – with a severe mental illness.


Gone to God


“Gone to God,” my husband pronounces over the furry grey micro bat trapped in our shed, lying on its back, black eyes fixed on the ceiling. He wraps it in a tea towel, carries it gently outside and buries it in the front garden.


Gone to God.


Awake at 3 am, I sip my tea, tucked up like a sick child. The ceiling fan struggles in the humid night air. A kookaburra is waking in the tree by my window.


You’re with God now, Mary


“You’re with God now, Mary,” I whisper.


“You can rest. It’s all right, Mother, truly. You are fine now.”


“Trust me. You don’t have to worry any more, Mary.”


Breathe, Wendy.


We are fine now.


We don’t have to worry any more.


Flight Poem

On 25 May 2013, I flew to Adelaide from the Gold Coast.

I associate Adelaide with hopefulness and opportunity. I was looking forward to basking in the pleasures of old friendships once again.


Twin griefs had distracted me for several months: the death of a dear friend and the loss of a longstanding friendship.


On the flight, I had a magical experience. Here is my poem.



window seat 16A

pale clouds streaming

soft eyes embracing grey, brown land

my wide, brown land

late afternoon forests dark like lakes

and inlets

tiny islands of brown within them

pale edges like beaches


cheek pressed to the window

I measure the land below

it folds itself onto itself

precise as origami

not gentle hill-folds



then it happens:

up floats this massive, folded landscape

and enters my heart

like posting a letter


I raise my hand to touch it

find it already inside



NIMBY Psychology: Lunch-time Colloquium, Tufts University, 6 February 2013

6 February 2013

What’s Psychology Got to Do with NIMBY?:   Exploring the Deeper Meanings of Community Resistance to Proposed Housing Density Increases

tufts banner










I spent several hours teaching and meeting with facultry at Tufts University during my month in Boston.


My hosts included Julian Aygeman, Weiping Wu, Penn Loh and Laurie Goldman PhD (pictured below), with whom I also taught a n evening class on community engagement and community visioning.




This was my first Boston lecture and I was thrilled to be speaking in the lecture hall with its beautiful architectural features.


It was winter outside, to be sure, as you can see from the white light streaming in the windows.


Little did we know what was to come with the Big Blizzard that arrived that weekend with twenty inches of snow!




In this lunchtime session, I returned to my “psychological” roots to explore the social and psychological dimensions of housing, to ask what’s missing in higher density housing in North America and Australia and why NIMBYism might even be warranted in some cases.


Offering my Homing Instinct model, I proposed that if we are to design community engagement processes to address delicate, sensitive psychological issues about our core territories, we are going to have to start by showing a lot more love, care and emotional intelligence than we have in the past.

Jane Munro

I began my presentation with a powerful poem, “Grief Notes and Animal Dreams”, by a dear friend of over 60 years, Canadian poet, Jane Munro.


See: https://janemunro.com/biography.html


Jane Munro










Jane Munro

The poem is from a beautiful book by the same name.


See:   https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Notes-Animal-Dreams-Munro/dp/0919626823

Grief Notes and Animal Dreams

Jane’s father built a log house for his family in Vancouver and the fire that burned down the house killed Jane’s mother.

The grief and guilt associated with the fire killed her father.

I read Jane’ poem because artists speak to us about what we often cannot express ourselves about significant relationships.
In this case, relationships with home.

I offered Jane’s poem as an illustration of the passionate relationship we can have with our housing – exemplified by a poet’s words.



If you’d like to receive a copy of my PowerPoint to this colloquium, please email me, as it’s too large to put up here.


[email protected]

Saying Goodbye to a Partner: A Souvenir

29 June 2009 6:06 pm

This week, when the storms came and the rats and python got into the shed, I had to do some quick work to rescue my scrapbooks. I was unprepared for the emotional impact.

But the urgent task became a meditation and yielded a great blessing.

My father’s American Green Card (such a valuable treasure for a Canadian!). His Maui driver’s license with his photograph dated 1973.

Yellowed newspaper obituary clippings about my great-grandfather, the charismatic Armenian preacher, Rev. Harootune Sarkissian, describing what could only be called a “triumphant death”, surrounded by family, singing Armenian hymns.

He was in Connecticut, aged 96. I remember visiting his grave.

Then I discovered the letter from my former partner.

It was only a few lines and printed in pencil. I remembered the circumstances. I was standing at the table sorting papers and had to sit down as sweet memories washed over me.

Mixed race boy studying the planet model in classroom

It was a mutual decision to part after eight years and we were both grieving for what we had lost. We engaged a Sydney therapist for four sessions to say our goodbyes.

This tiny scrap of paper was my partner’s letter to me, written as a child would write to a dear friend who was moving away. Printed in his non-dominant hand. That’s what the therapist instructed us to do.

The letter said we’d soon be parting and he would miss me greatly. He asked me to remember the good times we had and closed with an expression of love. I’d printed a similar letter to him, I recalled, tears now streaming down my cheeks.

Yes, I remember the good times and I missed them — and him.

I bless the friendship we have shared since those painful sessions. I count him as a dear friend. In over twenty years, I doubt we’ve said one harsh word to each other. In fact, the therapy sessions were so powerful and effective that, other than a small altercation about lending the car, we never argued or disagreed. From places deep in our broken hearts, we told each other what was important — what needed to be said.

We sang songs to each other and each gave the other a small gift.

Our therapist showed us great kindness and compassion. He even cried with us, perhaps for his own losses…

I carefully folded and packed away the tiny letter, more cherished than photo albums and other treasures.

A plea from the heart for love to be validated and remembered.

My heart opening a simple — and undeniable — recognition of that reality.

An unexpected blessing in the midst of chaos.