On longing Front smlPublished: 1-7-2008

'Part of a series that pairs leading Australian thinkers and cultural figures with important themes in life, this moving tribute to the author’s muse-turned-husband, the former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, this revealing essay will both surprise and touch readers with its honesty. Intimate and revealing, this meditation examines the creative tension between writing and love.'
 
When I gave up writing 'forever', I thought that only one thing would drive me back to it, and that would be the death of my mother. I was an only child and we were very close. She was widowed a few weeks before I married for the second time. Immediately, I was pulled in two directions: towards wanting to spend time and give comfort to her and the demands of my new relationship. The marriage won, but it left me feeling very guilty about not properly looking after my mother. She had been healthy and deeply in love with her second husband. When he died, she went down-hill fast, falling into a state of grief from which she would never recover. I spent the last 54 hours of her life at her side, unwilling to leave her for even half an hour. By this stage she was in a nursing home, in a morphine-induced coma. I had a bed moved into her room and stayed there while she died. I didn't sleep for more than 2 hours during the death vigil. Along with giving birth, it was the most rewarding time of my life. Those who have not sat with the dying have no idea what an extraordinary, mysterious and uplifting experience it is. I have a profound conviction of the spirit/soul living on after the death of the physical body, which probably enriched my feelings. It was so exciting to see her leave that the moment she did I wanted to telephone her and say, "Hey, Mum! Guess what I've just seen!" On Longing is about death and its great companion mystery, love. I interwove the story about my mother with a short autobiography dealing with the effect of love on me as a writer. When the book was published the media overlooked its meditation on death, to sensationalise the love aspect. I now wish I had omitted the final paragraph, as my editor and friend, Foong Ling Kong of Melbourne University Press at the time, suggested I do. Foong Ling has beautiful Chinese manners and was too polite with me. She should have said, "Listen, Stupid..." I urge readers to ignore that last para: the essay is much better without it.