You’re an average Australian battler. A good person, never been in trouble with the law in your life, worked hard at the factory job you’ve had since you left school, raised 3 kids who’ve all got jobs – your daughter went to Uni, first in the family, she’s a teacher now – have 7 fantastic grandkids, you’re only 2 years from retirement, can’t wait, life’s great.
Then one night the Devil’s Dancer slips in through the window and lays his hand on her head, and the next morning you wake up and reach over to give her a dawn hug before work as you have for the past 40 years and she’s not there. You call her name. No answer. So you get up and look around the house. Nothing. Then you notice the dunny door’s shut. She must be in there. You call her name. and then call it again. Nothing. You knock on the door. Silence. So you open the door. And there she is. Dead on the floor.
It was a heart attack the government doc tells you a couple of days later, but you hardly hear her and the words are just jumbled in the haze. Everything was so good just a few days before, but now your life’s fallen apart and you can’t even remember your own name and you don’t know what day of the week it is, or even what year.
You use the money you’d been saving to take her on a cruise at Christmas to pay for the funeral. Two years with a carton of stubbies on weekend so you could stash the 50 bucks a week away and take her on the trip of a lifetime, now its gone in a day, and so’s she. You bury your wife on a rainy Friday morning.
On Monday you go back to work. There’s a job to be done, and you don’t want to let the boss and your workmates down. It’s what you do, who you are, an average Australian bloke who wants to do the right thing. A bloke who for the first time in his life feels all alone.
Just before smoko you drop a band saw and nearly take off your mate next to you’s foot. By lunchtime you’ve cut two jobs the wrong size, dropped a box full of screws and spilled them across the factory floor, and forgotten to put the safety on the nail gun and nearly taken out a blokes eye.
The foreman comes over and asks if he can have a word. He’s a good bloke, you’ve known him thirty years, he came to the funeral and his missus helped cook for the wake. He says its probably best if you take a few weeks off work. Your mind’s somewhere else at the moment he tells you, and as much as you protest you know he’s right. Money’s a worry though because you used up all your sickies and your holiday pay when you had that cancer scare a couple of months ago and had to get the radium treatment.
Don’t worry, the foreman says, the Government’s got this bereavement leave payment scheme just for situations like this. He tells you that Bill on the other line claimed it when his son died in the bike accident last year and he had to take a couple of months off work to get his wife through it after she had the breakdown. Its not much he says, only about 400 a week, but at least it’ll be enough so you can pay the bills while you’re dealing with this sh*t hand you’ve been dealt mate.
You thank him, hand up your overalls and set off for the Centrelink office. It’s the first time in your life you’ve been near the joint, so you have to ask directions from some young bloke when you get off the train, but eventually you find it and bowl up to the counter. apologise to the young woman on the counter for bothering her, and setting your pride to one side explain why you’re there.
She tells you that the Government’s made changes to the Bereavement Allowance, Sir, and hands you an application form for Jobseeker Payment, which she explains is the dole. You tell her you’ve got a job, and don’t need another one, the boss just says that you need a bit of time off to deal with your grief and get your head together, and he’s right, but you’ve run out of paid leave because you had to get cancer treatment not long back.
‘There’s no Bereavement Allowance for average Australian workers anymore Sir’ the nice young women tells you, ‘The Government stopped it last month. Now it’s only for people on welfare’.
You look at her blankly as your heart sinks. It’s not her fault, she’s just the person on the counter and doesn’t make the decisions, but you can’t stop yourself from asking
‘It was all the druggies fault Sir’ she says, reading from a press release issued by the Minister for Social Services. ‘They were all on the dole and using taxpayer’s money – your and mine, Sir! – to buy their drugs. Most of them had been doing it for 15 years and the drug habits of each and the average Australian taxpayer had to work 14 years just to feed these stay in bed substance sniffer’s addiction’.
‘It simply had to stop Sir. Something had to be done! So the Government abolished the Bereavement Allowance’.
Your head started to spin. What did your wife dying have to do with drug addicts and the dole? How was cutting the Bereavement Allowance for average Australian workers and giving it only to the lazy junkies on the dole going to fix the problem, even if one existed? And didn’t the foreman tell you that people on the dole COULDN’T get Bereavement Allowance?
None of it made sense, but you felt so tired, just so tired, and figured that the government usually knew what they were doing, and you probably just didn’t understand. So you thanked the nice young woman, left the Centrelink office and, using the last $20 in your pocket caught a cab home, wondering all the way home how you were going to afford to buy the groceries and fretting about the bills you wouldn’t be able to pay and about what your wife would think if you let the electricity and phone people down.
When the cab stopped outside the 3 bedroom home that you’d lived in with your wife for 40 years, each day of them filled with love and life and laughter, you eyes filled with tears. Now it was all gone, and so was she. You handed the cabbie the 20 and told him to keep the change. It wasn’t going to be any good to you.
You turned the key, walked through the door into the silent cold, went to the cupboard, took out the 200ml bottle of liquid morphine the hospital had given you for the cancer pain that you’d never used because blokes just grin and bear it, and sculled it just like the you had the beer in the yard glass at your 21st all those years before.
Clutching your wedding photo to your heart you lay down on the bed right next to where your wife used to be, turned and kissed the pillow that still bore her scent, closed your eyes and began drifting off to sleep smiling, thinking soon you’d be together again, but it wasn’t you last thought, for just seconds before you entered the beyond another flashed through the slowly drawing blinds of your mind.
And then, like a compassionate payment to a bereaved average Australian worker, you were gone.