Oct. 26, 2022

Margaret Rice - Understanding Death and Grief from a different perspective

For Margaret, everything started when her mother passed. A few months after that, her brother Julian was killed in a motorcycle accident. This event made Margaret develop an understanding of everything surrounding death and grief from a completely...

For Margaret, everything started when her mother passed. A few months after that, her brother Julian was killed in a motorcycle accident. This event made Margaret develop an understanding of everything surrounding death and grief from a completely different perspective. She now runs the Good Grief AUSTRALIA website - https://good-grief.com.au/ which helps others understand their grief journey.

In this week's episode, I am sharing Margaret and Julian’s story, what she considers the grief bubble and how that affected her grief journey, what was like for Margaret moving forward and coming out of the grief bubble after Julian’s funeral, how she navigated the relationships after losing her brother and so much more.

In this episode I’m covering:

  • Intro [00:00:00]
  • Margaret and Julian’s story [00:02:05]
  • The “Grief Bubble” [00:13:39]
  • How the grief bubble affected Margaret’s journey [00:16:41]
  • Coming out of the grief bubble [00:25:16]
  • Wanting accountability [00:36:07]
  • Navigating relationships after the loss of Julian [00:48:06]
  • How Good grief was born [00:57:02]
  • Advice for Surviving Siblings [01:02:33]

For full episode show notes and transcript, click here 

Get The Surviving Siblings Guide HERE

Connect with Margaret Rice

Website | Good Grief

Facebook | Good Grief Margaret Rice

Instagram | @goodgrief_oz

Margaret’s Book | A Good Death, A Compassionate and Practical Guide to Prepare for the End of Life


Connect with Maya 

Instagram | @survivingsiblingspodcast | @mayaroffler 

TikTok | @survivingsiblingspodcast

Twitter | @survivingsibpod

Website | The Surviving Siblings


[00:00:00] Maya: Welcome to the Surviving Siblings Podcast. I'm your host, Maya Roffler. As a surviving sibling myself, I knew that I wanted to share my story, my brother's story. I lost my brother to a homicide in November, 2016, and after going through this experience, I knew that I wanted to share my story and his story, and it's taken me quite some time to come to the mic to tell it, but I knew it was an important one to tell.

[00:00:33] Maya: So here I am to share his story and mine with you. And it's important that I tell the story of the surviving sibling, the forgotten mourn, the story that is not told enough. So thank you for coming with me on this journey, and now it's your turn to share your stories.

[00:00:56] Maya: I am so excited to be here today with Margaret Rice. She is coming to us all the way from Australia, which is so exciting. Margaret is the founder of good-grief.com.au, which we'll talk about in a little bit. But you are also Margaret, a journalist and social commentator on the subject of grief so, and Death. So welcome so much to the Surviving Siblings Podcast. I'm excited to have you here.

[00:01:31] Margaret: Thank you so much, Maya. I'm very happy to be here. Very excited too.

[00:01:35] Maya: It's an interesting thing, right? To, to be on a podcast or to be connecting with, with people about surviving siblings and, and loss, because it's a mixed emotion, I find, right? Because it's not a club I would wish to on anyone, but it's nice to connect with someone that's gone through a similar experience and you lost your brother, Julian. So Margaret, please, without further ado, share your, your story about Julian.

[00:02:05] Margaret: Okay. Well, I guess it starts with a little bit of a story about mum because she was, 88 and dying an appropriate death in a nursing home. When I say appropriate, a natural death of old age, she then had a sudden. If you're like unexpected diagnosis of cancer about six months before. So that drew the whole family together and we were with her when she died and that was a very celebrate tree and spiritual experience. As much as you can have that while you're grieving the loss of the mother that you love very dearly.

[00:02:40] Margaret: And we buried her and I felt there was a lot that needed to be said about this death. because even though it was appropriate, because of the age, many aspects of it were very badly handled because of, policies in the Australian and the Sydney, healthcare setting, which tend. To overlook the needs of the elderly person dying.

[00:03:04] Margaret: That's become in our culture because of ageism. A bit of a so what? They're old, they're dying anyway, and a lost opportunity to do so much to help and offer so much more support to people. So I decided to write a book about it and on the Thursday, eight weeks after mum died, I resigned from my job at a local newspaper to write the book.

[00:03:30] Margaret: And then on the Saturday I got a phone call and in fact, my brother Julian, died four hours later. So I had just resigned to write a book about death. And then I had this very. Different death to deal with, to grapple with, with all the sort of overlays of superstition you might feel about whether or not it was a message from God or the gods or the universe to stop.

[00:03:56] and by the way, I decided, no, it was a message to keep going.

[00:03:59] Maya: I think that's really powerful that you decided to keep going because I find a lot of us feel like, Oh, moments that we need to stop. But wow, this is a story. Your story is a multi lost story and I found it so powerful. So please share with us about Julian's death because he died way too young.

[00:04:23] Margaret: He did. he was, he was only 50, older. Much older than your brother Andreas, but still too young to die. And he had a young family. he got on a motorbike, late. One afternoon, the Saturday afternoon to ride his motorbike into town. And, a young pee pake, their new driver's, 17 year old, was leaving her private road, and later admitted to police that she didn't stop.

[00:04:50] Margaret: And if you didn't stop leaving that road, you couldn't have seen, a motorbike coming on your left because of a big stand of grass and a, a very big tree. So she just hit him and, he was t-boned as they say. and the first we knew of it was the Saturday afternoon. I got a phone call from my father saying that, Been in an accident and we didn't know anything else about it, didn't have any other details.

[00:05:25] Margaret: I went into journalist mode and I sort of said to dad, Well, tell us a bit more about it. He said, Oh, there's nothing to worry about. We've been told only that he's been transferred to hospital, but he'll be okay. I said, Where did it happen? He said, The old Winter road. and I know that in, it's probably the same in America, but if somebody's in a car accident or an accident on the open road and the femoral arteri is hit, then it's only a matter of time relatively quickly before you bleed out.

[00:05:59] Margaret: And in country New South Wales, it can take a while for the ambulance to get there. So I was uneasy. I rang the hospital where he was to be transferred to, and I said, asked for permission to speak, to someone. As it happened, coincidentally, his wife was an accident, an emergency nurse who would ordinarily have been on duty in the ward that day that he was delivered to.

[00:06:24] Margaret: She was in the hospital, but she couldn't speak. So she passed me on, gave permission for me to speak to a nurse who was not only attending to Julian, but a close friend of hers. So I just asked what's happened to her and she was listing a whole lot of injuries. And then when she came to the pneumothorax, which is the collapsed lung, I just asked quite, not much expectation.

[00:06:53] Margaret: I just said, Oh, you know, will he last the night thinking she'd say something like, Oh, of course he will, you know, stop being melodramatic. And she said, We don't think so. So with that, I realized. Life had changed immeasurably. In fact, it's very strange because we're a family of writers and I actually looked up and I saw the word game changer.

[00:07:21] Margaret: I don't know why that was the word that I saw, but I saw the word game changer above me, and I just knew that this was a life changer. Anyway. Tried to gather my siblings together. The rest of us all live in Sydney, and managed to get hold of one. Julian's daughter was staying with my father and we bundled her into the car, my sister and I, and raised up to Tamworth, which is about five hours away from Sydney to try to see him before he died.

[00:07:53] and when the car pulled, when I pulled the car into the hospital, I knew something was not right because, the lights were on, but everything was locked up. And if he'd been there and they'd been waiting for us, it would've been open. So we went back to the farmhouse and, Marie, his wife, came out and told us that he didn't make it, that he'd died.

[00:08:18] Margaret: Well, that was the beginning of the, the end of his life, of course. but. During that four hours, he had been suffering, I guess, and then had a massive cardiac arrest and died. So, Wow. So we were there. I got to see him the next day. I went to see his body. and I'm glad I did, but I didn't see him before he died.

[00:08:47] in a way that was okay because he was with his wife and his, his children, not all his children got to see him before he died. He has three children. because nobody quite realized it was going to happen. He was being transferred to a hospital. I think the medical staff knew it would, but the children themselves didn't realize.

[00:09:08] Margaret: So one son had seen him and another son was waiting to see him. To say goodbye, but missed that opportunity, which caused a lot of suffering for him later on.

[00:09:20] Maya: Yeah, that's understandable. I think it's so, I'm so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing this. This is so everyone that can share their story so openly, I think it's so helpful.

[00:09:34] Maya: As you know, and this is, this is a tough, tough thing that you went through because you lost your mother and then now your brother, and so this is a multi law story. This is very difficult and, you know, he was still young that he had, he still had a lot of life to live. You know, he has this beautiful wife and children and a lot to, to watch and live, so it's still very tough.

[00:10:05] Maya: I relate so much to your story, Margaret, and I didn't even realize how much I related to your story until you started telling these details. Because I remember, as some of you guys listening, probably know from season one that when I called, you know, or when I was speaking to my mother and she was talking to the hospital, they said my brother wasn't gonna make it.

[00:10:29] Maya: And so when you're saying game changer, and that was something that was like that you saw and came to you, that's powerful. What a moment. You're never gonna forget that moment for the rest of your life. So what, I don't know if you told us this, Margaret, What year was this? When Julian passed.

[00:10:47] Maya: We hope you're enjoying this incredible episode of the Surviving Siblings Podcast. I'm your host, Maya Roffler. We'll be back in just a minute. After hearing from our incredible sponsor. Are you feeling lost in your grief journey? Perhaps even stuck. As a surviving sibling, I too have felt lost, stuck, confused, angry, Well, fill in the blank. I felt so many emotions along my grief journey. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about too. Along the way, I found that what I needed was answers to all of my unanswered questions, validation, permission to feel everything that I was feeling at different times, and ultimately, I needed guidance. That's why I created the Grief Guide for Surviving Siblings. This is a 23 page guide that guides you, the surviving sibling along your grief journey, written and created by a surviving sibling for surviving siblings. Click the link in the show notes to get your copy or visit the surviving siblings.com where you can also find more show information. Merchandise for surviving siblings like you and more resources and support.

[00:12:06] Margaret: He died in 2011, January, 2011. So, and it was just, yeah, we just lost mum before Christmas and then we lost him after Christmas.

[00:12:18] Margaret: But, aspects of my story came, came back to me when I was listening to your podcast and your story about going to the hospital and trying to get to the hospital and, and then eventually getting into the emergency room. That was probably never going to be my opportunity because I was the next, by that stage, next layer out because there was a tighter kinship circle with his wife and his children, and I was very happy to honor that.

[00:12:49] Margaret: But as we were driving up the road, my, my sister and I with. With our niece in the back seat, we had this sense of urgency and there was this real powerlessness because we wanted to drive so fast just to be there, just to say goodbye. And, we, we knew we had a five hour drive in front of us. We shared the driving and we got, speeding tickets, as we went through various towns, country towns.

[00:13:21] and it was a very, potent, I guess you would say a moment. and then we, we huddled as a family. The rest of the family gathered. I came back to Sydney briefly, but then went straight back up again and we huddled together as a family for, for two weeks in something which I call the Grief bubble. And, I think that was a good thing to do because, we were able to support each other and just be there for each other. And Maria is American. She's from California, so her two sisters flew in to support her. and all of that happened before we, we buried Julian. and he was, there was a ceremony in Tamworth and then we drove back to Sydney with his body and he was buried in the cemetery, which five generations of my mother's family have been buried in, so.

[00:14:14] Maya: Oh wow. How's that was nice. Very special. Wow. Yeah.

[00:14:18] Margaret: It's lovely to be able to bring him. Yeah. And the, the spooky thing, the eerie thing about that is that just before mum died, she asked where she was going to be buried. And mum and dad never talked about death, which is what motivated me to write my book.

[00:14:34] Margaret: She asked where she was going to be buried and dad and Julian went and bought the burial plot and dad took a photo of that site with Julian in the corner of the, the site of the photo, to, to show mom, where she was going to be buried because she wanted that. And when we looked at the photo afterwards, Julian was actually standing on the spot where he would later be buried.

[00:15:04] Maya: I just got chills. Wow.

[00:15:06] Margaret: Yeah. Yeah. And they were almost buried toe to toe, which is comforting for us.

[00:15:13] Maya: Yeah, I can imagine. But it, there's interesting things like that in these stories. When you look back, I'm sure a lot of people listening to this can relate to that. you know, I shared them in my story and I'm loving that you're sharing these things in your story because when you start to look back, you're like, like, wow, like what you're sharing about that picture.

[00:15:35] Maya: It's, it's eerie. But then, like you said, it's comforting that they're together. It's, it's an interesting, thing. I wanna go back to one thing before we move forward though, Margaret, what you said about, you said that the bubble, I love that you mentioned that the bubble of the family being together. I agree with you a hundred percent and I love that you're sharing this and you're, you're furthering your grief journey than.

[00:16:01] Maya: You're, you're 11 plus years into this with both your mother and of, obviously we're surviving siblings, so we're talking about that. You're with your brother and, you know, I, I felt very robbed of that. I felt like I was robbed of the bubble. I was abandoned, which I share in my, in my story. I was alone. And then they came back to spread the ashes that traumatized me.

[00:16:26] Maya: So I love what you're sharing about how you guys were together in this kind of grief bubble. And is, is that a term or did you come up with that? Cause I love that. Love that I'm using that from now on.

[00:16:41] Margaret: I thought I came up with it, but then, I've got a very dear friend who's also a writer, and she, her mother died just a couple of months before my mother. And, she, she says she came up with it. So we laugh at each other and say, We both came up with it. I mean, it's probably big. The thing, the thing that I felt about it was, it was an instinctive thing just to gather and be there. we would, there were horrible moments in that time. The Tamworth Country Music Festival was on. and that's a major event in New South Wales, but, His sisters were there. We'd go into town and there'd be a lot of noise and a lot of music, which I found really jarring because I wasn't in that place. It seemed like an outrage that the rest of the world was not only going on as before, but in the middle of a festival.

[00:17:35] Margaret: Like how, how dare you call a festival the day after Julian died. . It was sort of, you know, one of those, I realized how irrational the feeling was, but we would just sob our hearts out or we would let Marie sob her heart out. my sisters and brother, remaining brother and I, and, and various people coming and going, There'd be these terrible moments when she would just buckle over.

[00:18:03] Margaret: His wife would just buckle over. Just fall apart. And we would be there with her when that happened. And, and then there were other moments too when for each one of us, you, you might be laughing about something that he said, and then there'd be this overwhelming moment where, you still, it takes a long time.

[00:18:25] Margaret: I, I believe, to actually absorb the truth of what's happened. I think seeing his body helped, but there was still this extraordinary, cycle you could get into where you'd, you'd pick yourself up, you'd laugh at a joke, there'd be distraction, you'd cook dinner and then suddenly you'd be hit by this reality that the reason why you're in his farm.

[00:18:49] Margaret: And the reason why you're with these people who you wouldn't normally be with on a Tuesday morning instead of being at work was because he'd died. And then it's like you were remembering again that he'd died. And you, you might in that moment be the one who broke down and sobbed. and you could see it happening to each one of us.

[00:19:09] Margaret: But I, I came up with, I did a lot of thinking about it. and I've researched it a bit. I, I believe that human beings are, because we are mammals, we're, we're a little bit, if you watch wolves when we, they're grieving, they, they come together as a pack in the boroughs. And, I think for all our sophistication and knowledge and wisdom and capacity for all sorts of different things at our heart, in our beating heart, we are mammals and.

[00:19:42] Margaret: It's natural to just come together and huddle like little, little sort of baby kittens if you like. and I found that very soothing, as did my siblings. And it, it helped us to, it helped to strengthen us at a time, when we needed it. And I say that very respectfully to you because I know that your, your journey was quite different in relation to your family and your siblings.

[00:20:11] Margaret: And it's one of the things that I've been very committed to, to, to doing, to teaching and to explaining and talking about and writing about, because the. There are things that we can do to prepare so that death is better. And then there are things in that space that we can do to look after ourselves and each other.

[00:20:37] Margaret: It's a bit of self care, but it's also a bit of, intuitive care for the other. and if we can give each other little prods when we need it, I think that would be really, and is really helpful. and I, I. As a, as a culture, we've lost that wisdom. and it's something that, you know, the ancient cultures around us, like the First Nations cultures of Australia and, and no doubt of America are really, are much stronger on than we are.

[00:21:06] Maya: Yeah, I definitely think you're right about that. And yes, no, you don't have to hide any of that from me. I've now told the world my story, so no hiding behind it anymore, Margaret, no kid gloves with me. but a few years ago, yeah, I probably would break down a little bit about that, but we evolve right through our grief journey.

[00:21:25] Maya: So wouldn't be here talking to you if I did it. But yeah, I think, I think, you know, my story would be different, right? If I had been, if I had had the bubble, which is why I kind of hone into you when you're talking about this. And I think you sharing that is so beautiful. And what a beautiful, We're gonna get so many nuggets of advice out of you, out of this conversation.

[00:21:46] Maya: So you guys, I hope you get as much out of this as I, I am, but I. Think it's beautiful what you're sharing. And I think it's not just something for us to hear post this event, but you know, it's also stuff for us to know, like you're saying, as we prepare, because we will go through loss again. Right? So what is helpful, it's to come together. It's not to separate. And I remember feeling that.

[00:22:14] Margaret: So Maya, that there are some situations and lots of families where that can't happen because the, because of conflicts and because of the issues that have arisen before. And that's part of the reason why I've stayed so long in this work. It goes back to that very cyclical story that in order to do death better, we need to do life better.

[00:22:37] Margaret: And so it's about being, finding a way of being in right relationship with people. now every time we reach out to those who we've got difficulty with, we're not gonna have a success. And a psychologist once said to me, when I was grieving over, you know, certain dynamics, even with within my own reasonably well functioning family, she said, Look, you know, you're not going to be, you're not gonna be like a best friend to your siblings all your life.

[00:23:05] it's just expecting too much of human relationships and that helps to understand. But if, if it's a matter of being able to give each other peace, and also unfortunately too, in many situations to, to be the better man as the expression goes. To be the one who you wish the other had behaved well, but at least you can say that you did, even if the other didn't.

[00:23:33] and that means you can make your peace with the grief even if you haven't made your peace with the person. I'm sorry to interrupt you. You started to say something and I cut across, but

[00:23:43] Maya: No, you just said what I was trying to say even better. So that was beautiful. That's exactly where I was going with this. Margaret, we, we just drive so well on this, this topic, such a dark, but also a topic where you can find light, which is what we're both trying to do, and I just think you're a beautiful person. This is wonderful what you're. Yes, you are spot on. That's exactly, where I am at in my journey with it. And it's, it's difficult.

[00:24:10] Maya: And, you know, for those of you listening to this, you know, I, I, I see so many surviving siblings that struggle with that, right? Not everyone has that, the bubble, I'm gonna keep talking about this, but I think it's, it's such a beautiful term, , so hopefully your friend listens to this too, and she can be like, Wait, that's my term too,

[00:24:29] Maya: So, but, I think it's beautiful and I think it is important, but we don't all get that because, of the, of the circumstances of our, you know, families. And so for me it was more about replacing that with, the right people around me. And so, yeah, that was really important. And so I think what you just shared.

[00:24:45] Maya: Was really insightful too. It's more about being the, the bigger man or the better, You know that not

[00:24:53] Margaret: sexist expression in old fashioned these days, but

[00:24:56] Maya: I know, I'm like the, the bigger person will say that instead. Right. That's the better way to say it. But Margaret, I really wanna get into what happens after the bubble. You know, once everybody goes away, you know, and you have to go back to life. What was that like for you?

[00:25:16] Margaret: That was gruesome. and I think that's another area. and that's another reason why I thought I would be in this topic for six months. But as you can see, I've been in it for 11 years and no sign, No way, Jose, am I going to be stopping soon. There's still too much to do. Too much advocacy. Too much teaching. Too much explaining, around this topic, but I was frightened coming out of the grief bubble. In fact, I had to leave it at one point to come home because my daughter was coming back from overseas and I had to welcome her home with her new fiance. They, they had got engaged while they were overseas. Welcome them home, give them a big family dinner. And then as soon as I'd done that, I, I raced back to Tamworth to be in the bubble again, you know, to get into that space again. Cuz I knew I wasn't ready to come out of it. And I was very happy to, to offer the hospitality to my children and their partners in this terrible moment when, you know, we had to welcome good news in the family, with this terrible thing that was happening to us. but I was able to, to separate that out, go back to the bubble and then. The bubble breaks down of its own accord anyway, because, we had a funeral. The bubble was about waiting for the funeral, really. it was a sort of 10 day delay between his death and the burial, which at the time in Australian culture was a little bit unusual.

[00:26:56] Margaret: It's much more usual now. and it was like that so that, her family could arrive from the states. and there were also, a few, traditions, if you like, that needed to be followed and pathed that needed to be, find out just even, even practicalities, like it's not very often that a body's transported by road, 600 kilometers across the state.

[00:27:22] Margaret: So there had to be a negotiation between two funeral houses, two, one to let. And the other to take responsibility for the body. So at what point does that happen? 10 kilometers out of Tamworth or 10 kilometers before Sydney. So there were a few technicalities like that that needed to be worked out.

[00:27:45] Margaret: But anyway, you get to the point of the funeral and then afterwards is a moment in our culture of abandonment. and you would be very familiar with this, but the grieving person's grief doesn't change at that point, but it is a moment where the rest of. The society says, Oh, well, we've looked after the rices now, now it's time for us to tick that off our list and go and do something else.

[00:28:14] Margaret: Which I completely understand. I I totally get it. You know, we've all got busy lives and we can't be hanging around, in the grief space with people. But I learned so much about how to support other people from what happened to us during that time. And I think for me, the mantra has become just do the checking in.

[00:28:43] Margaret: Do the checking in you would ordinarily have done and maybe a little more, You don't have to overdo it. I think one of the fears that drives people in connecting with somebody who's newly bereaved is not just that they'll see emotion that they can't handle. It's also. Partly, and this is not discussed very much, the fact that people are frightened that they'll, that, that there'll be a huge need there and the person who's grieving will latch onto them because they've been the one who knocked on the door and had the cup of tea that somehow other, they'll get caught in something which is beyond their control.

[00:29:22] Margaret: But I don't think that happens. I think people have this powerful need for human connection in that moment, bearing in mind that some don't. And then, then, after that they do let go. So if you've been somebody who, you just met, Who just met the other person at the gym, but you turn up with a tiny bunch of native violets that you've picked from your own garden.

[00:29:51] and you say as you're calling in, look, do you want me just to grab a cup of coffee for you? and then come away again, The person is not going to suddenly develop this desperate need to have you around all the time, like they're aware of the boundaries as well, but usually really comforted by the fact that somebody randomly in their circle was just prepared to pierce their grief and isolation for what need Only be a small moment. So I think there's a lot.

[00:30:25] Maya: I love that. Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you. I think this perspective is spot on because I think people do have this perspective. They think that, Oh, that I better, better just like let them be because you know, maybe they're gonna be too emotional or like you said, they don't wanna talk about it at all, and it's typically right smack app in the middle.

[00:30:52] Maya: They want you to come bring 'em some flowers or a little coffee, or we don't even know what we need. Right. And to your point, we're the, we're called the forgotten Mourns. Yes. The surviving sibling is the forgotten order. So we're not the one getting the random cup of coffee or the flowers from the garden.

[00:31:11] Maya: I love your examples are just so beautiful. we're, we're not, we're the ones sitting there getting. Nothing. Or like even no, no verbal, you know, check-ins, nothing like that. or if we are, it's How's your mom? How's your dad?

[00:31:27] Maya: How's, how's their spouse? If they were married, How's their kids? And all of those people are so important in that person's life. Don't, in your siblings life, they're so important. But something that I say till I'm like blue in the face is, you know, your sibling is your first friend. Your sibling is your first, You know, I've said this to you before, I think Barbara, when we were chatting before first friend, First Enemy, first, you know, I mean everything.

[00:31:56] Maya: Adventure partner, I mean, sleepover friend, all these things, right? and first person you fight with typically, you know, things like that. And so you have all these really positive experiences, even though some of them you might see as negative. No, they, you learn so many things from your sibling. And so that relationship is, I think, really underplayed in every, every culture.

[00:32:21] Maya: It's, you know, it's here in, in the us here in Australia, all across the world. And so we just want to be validated. We want our grief to be validated.

[00:32:30] Margaret: Yes, Yes. I think that's, that's, that's so true. And it's not hard to, we don't think of it, but it's not hard just to extend the grief to the extra person.

[00:32:42] and there's a very big issue, I, it seems to me the younger, the, the younger, the person who died, the greater the needs of the siblings because, They haven't differentiated as much. I mean, I see a sibling relationship. I see my own as if I look at the five surviving rices where these very great big old trees standing in a field.

[00:33:13] Margaret: And we've got, and in order for each of the five of us to grow there, there's, there's a distance between us. You know, we're not actually snuggled up right beside each other because we would've toppled over by now. So that's how we've grown and that's na a natural part of growing up. Growing away. You move towns, you marry you, you meet different people, you get caught up in your own life.

[00:33:40] Margaret: But when you are young, when you are younger, like say in your twenties or even younger, that disconnect. That evolution has not yet happened, and particularly so with small children and or children who are still living at home. The, the tendency of our culture to, as you say, overlook the needs of the siblings in that situation is, is profound.

[00:34:05] Margaret: So sometimes in that situation, I think if we can be strong enough and remember, to say to the person, or to the grieving spouse if we are seeing somebody who's just lost their husband, and to say, how are the children going? And to actually offer to, to, to be some sort of comfort to the children, if that's at all possible, because their, their needs will be very great.

[00:34:31] so I think the work you're doing is very, very good and it will have a powerful, powerful impact. On on families.

[00:34:40] Maya: You too, Margaret. Cuz there's, there's so many dynamics, right? Because it's, you know, I think, and we've talked about this when we connected and, and I wanna say the story of you listening as well, you know, you lost your brother later in, in his life, but he still again, had a lot of life to live.

[00:34:58] Maya: And so for me it's important that we really look at all grief and we value all grief for surviving siblings. That's the point of this podcast and bringing on, you know, just amazing, beautiful people like you. So thank you for your work too. And I wanna, I wanna change, or not change, but shift gears a little bit and continue down Julian's journey because we do have a lot in common with our stories because we have sudden loss.

[00:35:29] Maya: And so a lot of the people that listen to this podcast will relate to this in different capacities with sudden loss and Julian. Was, was killed by this, by this driver. And I would love for you to share with us a little bit more about that journey because I know it was a journey and it was not a fun one like mine,

[00:35:52] Maya: It was not fun. So share, share a little bit post after you came out of the bubble, Margaret and had to go back to life. What happened because this, this young lady killed Julian and... so yeah.

[00:36:07] Margaret: Something that she never acknowledged. now what happened was, the police, you know, accident, Motor vehicle accident, The police are always involved.

[00:36:16] I'm not quite sure how it is in other jurisdictions, but in, in New South Wales, as in every state in Australia, if there's a motor vehicle accident, the police have to attend. and they have to make decisions about what should happen. So, the, the decision if you like to lay charges, if there's been negligent, negligent driving is not, is not a decision made by the, by the person who was injured or, or killed or their family.

[00:36:44] Margaret: That decision is made by the police and in this case, the police objectively looking at all the evidence and the data and the information came to the conclusion that she had driven, negligently and therefore, There would be charges laid. There were in fact a number of charges that were laid. Now we as a family didn't want, a young person to suffer unnecessarily, but it would've been nice if there'd been a bit more acknowledgement on the part of that young person and her family of the enormity of what had happened, even if she was shielded.

[00:37:28] Margaret: And I could understand why you'd need to do that if her family had, sort of shouldered a bit of that. But they didn't. my sisters and I actually, it was a farmhouse, three or four up from, from Julian's. And my two sisters, two of my sisters, and I actually walked up. and met Nana where the woman lived, the young woman lived, and we said, Look, we, we, we, we are bringing a message from Marie, which is that, she forgives you.

[00:38:02] Margaret: She was adamant. Marie just wanted us to go up there and let them know that there was no animosity. Julian away from Marie. Yes. Yeah. Very, very gracious on her part. So, so that's how we kicked off. And, and, but then things deteriorated because as time passed, the police laid charges against the girl, the young girl.

[00:38:25] Margaret: And, she denied. Absolutely said she would fight the charges, which is very, very unusual. And that dragged out on for about a year. it was a year before the charges were heard. And, If the charges had been, heard, earlier, obviously that would've caused far less pain cuz it was very, very an, a very anxiety inducing moment for my sister-in-law, the widow.

[00:38:57] Margaret: But, anyway, she contested and so that caused one delay after another. And it was, was actually a year later before, the case was heard. there was also, we would've lack as a, as a consequence of that a, a coronial inquest. We would've, I would've personally, I felt more strongly about this than some of the others in the family, but I felt that if there had been an an inquest, there might have been a stop sign put, outside.

[00:39:27] Margaret: Three or four of the private roads, on that lane, for example. These are the sorts of recommendations, very practical recommendations that can come from an inquest. but anyway, that was dependent on the charges being found. Well, in the end, the magistrate, I, I heard later, other, I investigated a bit and found that he was a magistrate who was considered to be wanting, He was not good at his job.

[00:39:59] and he made a decision before, the case started that there were no charges for her to answer. And in fact, in his summing up, he said that there was no doubt at all that, that Julian had actually crashed into her, which is a nonsense if you think, that all that had to happen was that a man is driving along in a straight line on a motorbike, on a road that's in a straight line and somebody enters on his right.

[00:40:30] who, who's, who's bumped into who. Anyway, he made, that's the way he made the decision. And he could very easily, we could very easily have contested that, but it wasn't worth it. But the thing that was sad about it, I felt there were a couple of things. the girl always denied her. Culpability, she always denied responsibility.

[00:40:53] Margaret: I can understand that. I can understand the fear that she might go to jail or that she might, face charges that had expenses related to them, say heavy fines. I could feel real compassion for that. But what was very distressing was that. This, this insistent denial that there had been any responsibility by this time.

[00:41:17] Margaret: The, the family had galvanized behind her, her family and her mother would get very drunk and ring and make abusive phone calls to my sister-in-law, the grieving leader.

[00:41:29] Maya: Oh my gosh, Margaret, you're kidding me.

[00:41:32] Margaret: No. So she would ring periodically and, and abuse her. And then after the magistrate decided that, there was, no, no case for the girl to answer, the, the family rang, our family and said, Well, because there was no, cause no blame late at the, feet of the girl, the 17 year old, that that meant that, and because the magistrate had said that Julian was responsible for the accident.

[00:41:59] Because he'd said that, we owed their family the cost of the repair of the vehicle, their vehicle, we, we owed them the money to replace their vehicle. So it went from being, it went from being frustrating to being awful, really. Anyway, we're a family with an understanding, a strong understanding of the law.

[00:42:23] Margaret: So there was no issue for us. We, my brother-in-law just explained to the girl's mother that the law didn't actually work that way. Anyway, those things left a very, very nasty taste in our mouths, and that made the grieving process much, much harder. I didn't expect the court case. To just as you've written and just as you've said, there's no expectation, that there'll be closure.

[00:42:55] Margaret: This, this word closure is a bit of a myth answers, just as you've said. Yes. The more answers you've got, the, the more peace you have. and that was what we felt was lacking in this situation. The police, the local police were gobsmacked. They just horrified about the way that the whole thing played out.

[00:43:16] Margaret: They, they said they'd never seen anything like it before. and they couldn't really explain it or understand it. But in the end, it was better for me just to let it go. The, the writing of the wrong, I, in a sense, happened when the civil case was brought and, and the widow was awarded compensation because of the.

[00:43:41] Margaret: The loss of life in a motor, motor vehicle accident. So we have the two, I'm sure you have them in the states, you know, the two separate systems. The, the criminal and the civil. Yeah. Anyway, one of the things that had upset me was that this final record of Julian, this majestic, noble life would be reduced to a, what I considered to be a, a, a casual dispensing of him by a magistrate who wanted to protect a young girl.

[00:44:17] Margaret: In fact, we wanted to protect a young girl too. We wouldn't want, we, we didn't wanna see her suffer unnecessarily. It just would've been nice if she was able to say, Look us in the eye at some point and say, I'm so sorry.

[00:44:33] Maya: But you wanted, you wanted accountability, Margaret. Yeah. You wanted accountability. And I think there, there, I just, I'm blown away by your story and yes, I'm with you.

[00:44:46] Maya: We want answers. There's really never any closure. I believe we get, I believe we don't get that. We get that when we go to the other side and that's not closure. That's the beginning of something else, right? Cuz we see them again. I believe that, that's my personal belief. And whenever you guys believe, or you believe Margaret, like we're all entitled to believe our own thing.

[00:45:03] Maya: But that's why there's really no closure, because then we start another chapter. That's what I believe. But yes, the answers. Oh, I love that. And I love how you're sharing what happened with you and how you got the answers that you needed. But at this, this is a gruesome story as, as well, because that's that.

[00:45:23] Maya: Oh, so tough. But you wanted accountability and I understand that because there was no accountability in what happened to my brother as well, and you just wanna shake the person and be like, Take accountability.

[00:45:35] Margaret: We do wanna live with forgiveness. But w we've discovered through various sort of processes in our culture, you know, I've worked in aid and development and, when East Timor was invaded by Indonesia, and then years later there was a truth and Reconciliation commission that went through it.

[00:45:56] Margaret: It wasn't about rounding up people who'd side with the Indonesians and, persecuting or punishing. It was. Setting the record straight atonement. And really that's all I wanted. And also too, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of his family who were living in the same community, and who had to carry on with a sense of, you know, it brought an element of shame into something which really wasn't needed.

[00:46:29] Margaret: And terrible emotional struggle. I mean, everybody in that family, and I must admit I did too. You know, we, I was very, very depressed by the time that the, by the time proceedings finally finished. and I don't know how you could not.

[00:46:48] Maya: I don't know how you could not be either, market . It's a lot. And I think any, anyone listening to your story right now would agree that of course you would be depressed.

[00:46:59] Maya: You know? I mean that's a lot. That's a a lot heavy, heavy, heavy stuff after another to unpack and something I wanna ask you, because this is something I don't have experience with and, and a lot, I see this at a lot of the support groups I'm in. I'm sure you have a lot of experience with this. I wanna ask about your dynamic with Marie because, and the children, because this is something I don't, My brother had a significant other when he passed, so that I have experienced with that dynamic.

[00:47:28] Maya: But they didn't have children, they weren't married and she's a beautiful person and we still have very seldom contact today, but that's a different story. I can't give advice on children. Right. And having that relationship. So I would love for you to kind of share with. The surviving siblings that are listening, how to navigate that relationship, because I know that can be a little, that can be challenging and I've, I've heard from people po the positives, the negatives, but sounds like Marie is a beautiful person and they have beautiful children.

[00:48:01] Maya: But would love to hear your advice on that through this. Yeah.

[00:48:05] Margaret: A sister-in-law does have a different relationship with you to a sister. I mean, I was very pleased when her sisters turned up cuz there was one moment when, I mean there were quite some funny moments in the, at the farmhouse, in the grief bubble.

[00:48:21] Margaret: You know, there was one moment where, No, we all co-slept. We made sure that there was always somebody sleeping in the bed with Marie during that time for the first couple of weeks. So, but there was one moment where, you know, three rice sisters and, and two Thomas sisters sort of look at each other in the bedroom, all dressed in our night.

[00:48:41] Margaret: He's all cleaned our teeth already to jump into bed and, and sit and chat with Marie. And we all realized, We were all on duty, so we just puffed up all the Ida Downs and we all sat there like we did a pajama party. But yeah, there's a very strong sense of, of, of difference. I Marie processed and handled her grief over Julian vastly differently to me in a very different way to me.

[00:49:09] Margaret: And I processed it in a way that was very similar to my siblings. And I think the only conclusion you can come to from that is that that's not surprising. We're different families. We had different ways of, of, of coming together emotionally as families, particularly on other sides of the woo, even though there were lots of things that connected us.

[00:49:31] Margaret: So for me, it was really a matter of making sure that I respected that. The beautiful thing was that when we are all sitting around, and this is one of the ways in which the differences expressed themselves, when we were sitting around, deciding what to do next, and, and dad was still alive and he had very nobly and very romantically said to mom when she died, that he would follow her soon.

[00:49:57] Margaret: And then when Julian died, he changed his mind, thank God. And he, he sort of rallied, cause I think he realized that he needed to be there for us. We just couldn't cope with another loss. And he was very, very funny and very, very witty and, and very, very graceful with us. But he sort of stepped into the space.

[00:50:17] Margaret: But he was conducting this little meeting as we were deciding what would happen in the funeral space and. Maria's Polish has Polish heritage, American heritage. And she said, Well, in our tradition, we, there's always a viewing. And in Australian culture, particularly country culture where my father came from, there's definitely not, you know, you do not view the body.

[00:50:43] Margaret: So she pipes up in this meeting and says, Well, we'll, we'll do the viewing. And dad goes, What? And this is really awkward moment that has to be ironed out. And we sort of said to dad, Come on, like, we kind of outvoted him. We said, This is the widow. This is her, her way of doing it. It's not the way you would bury your wife.

[00:51:06] Margaret: With a viewing, but, and it turned out to be the most extraordinary, most beautiful ceremony. I was just so honored that we were nudged into it. But having said that, there was a very gracious thing too. She wanted to follow her rituals around his death, but there was this beautiful moment when it came to where will he be buried?

[00:51:30] Margaret: And I'd had a few sleepless nights worrying about this because I could understand that she would want him buried in the cemetery just around the corner from their property. And that was sort of 600 kilometers away from where all his ancestors lay in Brookwood, which is just around the corner from where we grew up.

[00:51:55] Margaret: And so there's this moment that arises when she's asked, Where would you like him buried? And we're all sitting here, I could see all my siblings were thinking the same thing as me. Like, Oh no, he's gonna be buried, you know, around the corner from here and it'll be away from us anyway, she said, Oh, she was so beautiful.

[00:52:14] Margaret: She said, Oh, he's yours. I wanna give him back to you. And we all just started crying and I thought,

[00:52:22] Maya: I'm gonna start crying Margaret.

[00:52:23] Margaret: And I just thought, What a gift for a widow. What a gift for this woman who was the mother of these children who were gonna stay in Tamworth a gift for her to turn around and say, I give him back to you.

[00:52:38] Margaret: And there was this beautiful symbolism where once the viewing was done, once the Tamworth funeral had been held, then he's put into this car and he travels all day to get to Sydney. And there's the second ceremony at the burial and. Everything about her. It gives me the, I'm getting goosebumps because everything about the way she conducted herself at this, at the funeral was the gift of giving.

[00:53:08] Margaret: I am giving this body to you. Huh? You're making me tear up. And he was very, like I say, in the space, as I say, where five generations of my family had lived. And it's a very big open parkland. And as a young man, he used to roam around there catching tadpoles with my other brother. And before they left to go to live in Tamworth, he used to take his children on picnics to see, you know, the various layers of our family who inhabited that space.

[00:53:41] Margaret: So it was just so wonderful. But I think there's a lot of differences in style and personality between us and. And her family. But I think the secret is the, these powerful gestures of, of letting go. Like when dad said there'll be no viewing, all the rice siblings turned around and said, Shut up dad. , it's not your call.

[00:54:11] Margaret: But then moments later in the same meeting, she's saying, I'm giving him back to you. So I think if people can have, Look, we were lucky because we were a family who could negotiate those things. I fully recognize that there are families where that doesn't happen. And I've heard such sad stories in the work that I've been doing since of people, you know.

[00:54:37] Margaret: Dividing up ashes to bury them separately. Having ceremonies, sitting on separate sides of the church if there's a joint ceremony and not speaking to each other, you know, a thousand variations in what it is to be human. But, I think, one thing you do have to recognize, yes, you know, once, once an adult has married and is now part of another family, that family's culture is substantial.

[00:55:07] Maya: It's a part, it's a part of them too. And I think this story is so powerful. I'm so glad I asked you this question, Margaret, because this is so powerful. You, you, your sisters, your dad, I mean, all of this coming together is. A really beautiful, positive example for everybody listening.

[00:55:30] Maya: I, I hope you guys find this as a positive because I think it is because when you were able to give to her, she gave to you, and I think that's what this is all about, right? When we, when we lose someone as, when we lose anyone, this is just general and grief, but we're talking as surviving siblings here, we.

[00:55:51] Maya: This, this person that we love so much. It's really not about taking, It's about giving. And when we give to each other, we get so much more. And that's what you guys did, you, you just gave, you came from a place of giving and look at what happened. And so I'm getting very emotional talking about this. This is like, you know, I, I can usually keep it together.

[00:56:10] Maya: Almost six years in Margaret. But this one really got to me because I'm with you. I see so many stories about this. So I had, I was so keen on asking you about this because you've spoken so highly of Marie and the children, and I love that you said you need to focus on the children too. So, Oh, thank you so much for sharing all of that with us.

[00:56:29] Maya: But I've gotta ask you two more things before I let you go. I know we're having, we could probably talk for another hour, I just adore you. I've gotta ask about, obviously about the website, your writing, all of your work. When did the website. Good hyphen guys. grief.com.au will put in the show notes. When was that actually born?

[00:56:53] Maya: When did you start that? I know you, you got the inkling to do it when your mother passed and then Julian passed. But when was that actually born? When did this come to light?

[00:57:02] Margaret: Well, it's been this really gradual evolution. Pardon me. I decided to write the book before mum died about her death, and I got, Very, I got a blessing from her to do that.

[00:57:17] Margaret: Let me put it that way. That's a whole different podcast, but we'll come to that another day. so I'd started the right process of journaling and writing. so that psychology, that psychological frame about documenting was already there. And then when Julian died, it just turned the whole thing topsy turvy.

[00:57:36] Margaret: I was, I, I, I wrote a version that was, had both of them in it. I wrote a version that just had, mama had a version that just had Julian. It kind of went on this kind of crazy skating exercise of its own and then settled into what it had originally been, which is a guide focus. More broadly on how to manage death in our culture, and with all the bumps and the depression and working through that, learning mindfulness and all of those things.

[00:58:04] Margaret: And con also too, I have to say in that, reaching a point after that, that court case where I collapsed and then, then for the first time had the opportunity to actually grieve properly for mum. So, so part of the writing of the book was about completing a grief process for a writer. That was my way.

[00:58:30] other people have said the last thing they could do at a time like that was to write, but because I'm a writer, that was the first thing I wanted to do. The compelling option. So the book was probably finished, in a version by about 2017, 2018. And then a publisher picked it up and I had been doing some private blogging, some writing as well, just because you do, because it's sort of part of, part of this process.

[00:59:02] Margaret: And so I started working on that private blog at the end of 2017. And when I say a private blog, it was really just a, you know, a website with no, no followers, quite deliberately. But then I decided to open it up. I got a publisher for the book. The book was published in two 19. Those publishers said, Start a blog to support the book.

[00:59:29] Margaret: And then the book was published in 2019. And since then, there've been moments where I've thought, Oh, maybe it's time to finish now. And it's like I get this rush of super energy as soon as I think that, because I discover there's a whole lot more to do. So the website's just been, Consistently growing since it was put into a more public space in about, 2018.

[00:59:54] Margaret: So that's four years now. And with that grows the advocacy interviewing. because I'm a journalist by training, you know, interview, interviewing. I love talking to the, the, the simple humble little person experience and popping that on the website. But I also want to go to power too and say, Well, what do you say about this?

[01:00:19] Margaret: So I've got a newsletter coming out on Thursday, which asks questions of the premier of our. About what he's gonna do with a new expenditure on palliative care. And there's a bit of finger pointing in that, cuz I'm a social commentator as well. And I'm saying in that don't just do what you've done in the past, which is throw millions of dollars at palliative care, actually work out a structural way to make that work in hospitals.

[01:00:49] Margaret: So it's sort of turned very, very long answer to your question from being a personal reflection on grief to being. A public journey where I hope I can make a big difference to other people's lives.

[01:01:05] Maya: I can relate to that a whole lot, Margaret. I know, you know, I can . So yes, definitely check out the, the website and we'll include that in the show notes.

[01:01:15] Maya: And congratulations and congratulations on the book. And what is the name of your book, Margaret? I dunno if you've told me that.

[01:01:22] Margaret: My book is called A Good Death, A Compassionate and Practical Guide to Prepare for the End of Life. And about, 18 months ago, it was actually, Picked up with an American imprint.

[01:01:37] Margaret: So there are American publishers as well. but I can send the notes about both the American Edition, which is the same exactly as the Australian edition, except that it's, published in America. it's also been published in Chinese. and

[01:01:50] Maya: congratulations. That's so exciting. Yes. We'd love to learn more about that.

[01:01:55] Maya: Absolutely. And obviously check out the site. Yes. So, Margaret, Yes. I mean, thank you for sharing all of this with us today. I, the last question I wanna ask you before I, we let you go today is you shared so much advice and so much about your journey. And like I said, we could continue talking about surviving siblings and grief for so long. But is there any advice that you would give or anything maybe, that we've forgotten to talk about to the amazing surviving siblings that are listening to the podcast? Something that you wish you knew? Prior to losing Julian and going through your grief process.

[01:02:33] Margaret: Look, I think one message is that when a death hits whether suddenly or it's expected, we become very, very afraid.

[01:02:43] Margaret: And because we're afraid, we're heightened, and because we're heightened, we fight with our siblings. That's what happened to us. That's what happens to everybody. It's natural. So what I would say is try to get into that boat and just stay in it. Don't let it tip up or tip you up because it will pass. And the things in the moment that are inflaming you so much and hurting you so much about what your sibling is doing, won't feel quite so bad in a little while. If you can find a way of managing it. I think it's a hard lesson in life. and you're learning it all your life with your siblings, but it's about knowing when to shut up

[01:03:41] Maya: I love this advice, that's, that is great advice.

[01:03:48] Margaret: And our siblings will laugh. They'll get her on the phone to you and they'll say, That sister of ours, she doesn't know when to shut up what she's saying that for,

[01:04:00] Maya: but it's good to have laugh and you come from a big family. Come from an even bigger family than me. I'm one of four. And you're one of six, right? With Julian. Right. So. You know, you, it's, I think that's wonderful advice and thank you for sharing that, and you have woven beautiful advice throughout this entire episode. Margaret, I wanna thank you so much for being here. Thank you for connecting with me, and

[01:04:24] Margaret: thank you. Thank you very much.

[01:04:26] Maya: I'm so sorry for your losses, but again, I'm so, so glad that we connected. This is beautiful.

[01:04:33] Maya: Thank you so much for listening to the Surviving Siblings Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode as much as I did creating it for you, then share it on your chosen social media platform.

[01:04:45] Maya: And don't forget to tag us at Surviving Siblings Podcast so that more surviving siblings can find us. Remember to rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. And don't forget to follow us on all social media platforms. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at Surviving Siblings Podcast. All links can be found in the show notes.

[01:05:09] Maya: So be sure to check those out too. Thank you again for the support. Until the next episode, keep on surviving my surviving siblings.

Margaret RiceProfile Photo

Margaret Rice

Author/curator of website

When my mother died, an expected death in old age, I realised how completely unprepared I and my family were for the experience of companioning a loved one who is dying. So, I decided to write a book about what you will need - a novice's guide to death. But eight weeks after my mother died, my brother Julian was killed in a motor-cycle accident. Like Maya, I am now completely committed to supporting people going through the same sort of experience.