Feb 272012

Ag coiling guidline

Agnes Milowka

A year ago today, Ag passed away while cave diving. I miss her.

In the weeks and months after she died, I learned a lot about grief. To start with it was impossible to forget that she wasn’t here any more, or to think about anything else. I talked repetitively about her life and her death to friends who were kind enough to listen. Getting distracted by day to day living meant that when I stopped thinking about the task at hand I would suddenly remember that she was gone. It was like walking into a brick wall each time, over and over again. Constantly holding my grief front of mind seemed easier than the repeated shock of coming back to unpleasant reality. It didn’t leave much space for anything else.

About 8 weeks after Ag died, I surfaced again. In an almost overnight process my brain decided it was half-way done with processing the events and emotions and gave me back enough space to rejoin the world. Of course, from here I could start to worry irrationally – that I would forget my friend, or worse, that I was damaged forever. I have finally come to the conclusion that my feelings will change as time passes, and creating additional stress in worrying about the first lot of stress is silly.

Beyond my emotional response, I want to make sure my learnings from Ag’s life and her death stay with me. I learnt to cave dive with Ag when I was a teenager. Through my early 20s I was fairly sure I was invinceable underwater. While I had a few scary dives and I wasn’t silly enough to take shortcuts with equipment or routine, I’m not sure the idea that I might not exit safely ever really sunk in.

In my nine to five life I do risk management, where a risk is the combination of the likelihood of the event occurring, and the consequences if it does happen. Given my youthful certainty that the likelihood of dying was pretty much zero, I didn’t give all that much thought to the size of the consequences. I also don’t believe in an afterlife, which means that dying is the end of your story and there’s not much to be concerned about after it happens.

It took the death of a friend to realise how wrong this was. After Ag died, the number of people who were affected was huge. Above and beyond the numbers, the impact on those closest was unimaginable. I found that watching others grieve and knowing there was no way to fix their sadness difficult beyond belief.

Yes, Ag followed her passions and made her choices, and attempting to persuade her to do anything else would have stopped her being who she was. I don’t believe anyone can live their life for another person. I don’t intend to stop cave diving and live in a padded room. But the inherent responsibility you have to your family, and the friends whom you’ve chosen to share your life and adventures with can’t be ignored or forgotten.

So for the last year and for the future as I plan each dive, I do so with my friends and family in mind. Come home safe – for everyone’s sake.

  4 Responses to “One year on”

Comments (3) Pingbacks (1)
  1. Beautiful post Liz.

    I often wondered how you were coping with it all, both the immediate aftermath and as time went on..

    The gravity of the situation really sunk in for me when my family, friends and colleagues mistakenly thought it was my body being recovered. Detectives at work would come to my desk teary eyed saying – we thought it was you…

    All I could think was how surreal it was for me to see such a similar name to my own in the papers and how everyone is being so emotionally affected, even after they knew I was safe.

    As you eluded to in your post, no matter what ventures we undertake, we are not isolated in the choices we make. We cannot allow ourselves to so drawn in by the allure of the cave that we forget our loved ones above water… who are awaiting our safe return.

    For me that’s where my buddy comes in. He is my link to the world beyond the cave and serves as a constant reminder that tomorrow is another day when we can come back and keep exploring further.

    Thank you for your insight Liz.

    RIP Agnes Milowka

  2. A few months back in the nullarbor I was in a squeezy spot a long way from home and the next room never seemed to ‘open’ up into easy passage, I’m sure better divers than me would have kept going, but for some reason everytime I breathed out and slid through I kept thinking of my daughter and how she would grow up without me. Needless to say I turned around vowing to come back with even more gas.
    I only thought of that time again when I read your article and I quote “But the inherent responsibility you have to your family, and the friends whom you’ve chosen to share your life and adventures with can’t be ignored or forgotten.” actually stop me in my tracks as before she was born I guess I would have just kept going until I ran out of cookies/line/air….. whatever came first.
    thank you Liz
    The first time I met Ag we talked about wrecks (wet rocks where never mentioned, she neither knew or cared if I was a cave diver) and she openly invited me and others to join her on her ocean diving trip she was going on, I was impressed on how friendly and bubbly she was and I was blown away from the fact she treated all the divers equal from the newbie open water to the pen divers of the group, that is unheard of in the cave diving community as we cave divers have a reputation of superiority and arrogance for which Ag displayed none.
    Her friends and dive buddy’s of which truthfully I’m neither, must miss her dearly, but I feel it is cave diving for which will be the poorer as we have lost are greatest ambassador with the greatest attitude.
    RIP AG


  3. Liz,
    Thank you for your courage to share those words and your emotions regarding Ag’s passing. It is sad that you ever had to write this, however I am so thankful, as are others, that you did

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