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Grieving at Amazon.com


Grieving at Amazon.comOn this day, in the middle of that most self-centred action of modern life, the Google ego-search, I find the places where my name appears in ether of cyberspace. And more unexpectedly I stumble upon memories and dust.

The intangible shelves of an online bookshop I can only imagine as dustless, but I am searching for a link to a website that might be selling my new book. I intend to include it on my website just in case one of the five people who visit each month is interested in buying it.

They say you can find anything on the web. And you can: cats that look like Hitler or cartoons dedicated to the theme 'monkey punch dinosaur'. I can watch the weather track across the continent as we collectively pray for rain. But I didn’t expect to find memories. Certainly not memories that belong to a time before you could say, "Just send me an email."

Here in the mess of book titles I opened up a window to display the finer details of my book like the ISBN and the number of pages. There I noticed one other book that showed up though my search as a similar title. It was about librarianship in the prison system. Tears welled in my eyes.

The book was written by my father’s brother in the late 1970s. He died aged thirty-three. I was six years old. I didn’t really understand what a brain tumor was.

It is listed at Amazon UK, but there are no copies available, at all. I’m not even sure it is a book, so much as a published pamphlet. Wherever copies of it lie, they are most likely buried under a pile of other books.

Uncle Neil, as I remember him, was a tall man. He was the first librarian at the high school I eventually attended. I remember doing searches in that library by the date of purchase while trying to find books that he may have labeled, may have touched.

Grieving at Amazon.comHow does a person who died two decades before the internet took hold end up a part of it? Uncle Neil was no celebrity, just a librarian who practised his trade in prisons and schools, someone who left an adoring wife and beautiful son. Celebrities end up online, sure, but not an everyday person with a thick, red Ned Kelly beard and gentle eyes hidden behind glasses who died of a brain tumor at his home in the suburbs of Melbourne.

In front of this computer, some levels above Melbourne’s streetscape I see my father surrounded by his three sons, all under seven years. He is sitting in the cane chair that rests against the living room wall. He and mum still live in that house. The cane chairs are long gone, but it is still all red brick and pine. His head rests heavily in his hands, he is hunched and sobbing. The tears pool in his cupped palms and drip onto our slate floor. My brothers and I stand in a semi-circle around him. We must have said something at the time, we must. But, apart from my father’s tears this memory is a silent one.

This is the first memory I have of my father’s vulnerability. It is a rare memory, one that hits home, hard. In this memory my father’s pain is so obvious and my childhood ignorance of his hurt is so real. That is the pain that hurts me so much now, the loneliness of my father grieving over the death of his brother surrounded by three young boys without the words or understanding to give him the comfort that he needed.

The internet may be in many ways intangible, it does not have the weight of a book in the hand. But as time goes on, it is gathering dust, just like the library shelves that my uncle once sorted, and amid the thousands of inactive websites are stories, names and memories. And the world wide web suddenly becomes an unfillable cup full of ordinary things written by and about ordinary people that can cause extraordinary revelations and emotion.



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Existing comments

I have been watching Daniel develop as a young writer. I like his style and the sensitivity that flows from his words. I have met Daniel's father and I can understand his grief as I too have lost 2 brothers. You never get over the hole they leave in your heart.
Well done Daniel, keep up the good work that you are undertaking.

Pauline Cullen | 17 May 2007  

How beautiful and fortunate to see your father's grief that day-perhaps this adds to the mix that makes you such a sensitive writer!
from someone who knew you and your family as a teacher

Joan North | 17 May 2007  

A very moving tribute to a man- just an ordinary person but loved by his family and remembered. Thank you.

Sarah Austin | 18 May 2007  

This is a moving story as Dads often hide their grief and pain from their young children and all they see is nice things and angry things.

Reality is that life is sometimes painful.

I see your dad grieving with his sons around him silently there with him. No words needed. Thanks

Grevis Reid | 18 May 2007  

Daniel, a very moving article. I went right through primary school with Neil and always remember him as a quiet spoken man.

Maureen Robb | 18 May 2007  

Nicely written, Dan.

adam ford | 25 May 2007  

I've only learnt about Dad through other people sharing their memories of him, so thanks for sharing yours, Dan. Cheers.

Shannon Donahoo | 18 December 2008  

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