The Crikey Man


Thurs 28 Sep 2006, Tim Briffa.
About two weeks ago, the Australian wildlife presenter Steve Irwin died after being stung in the heart by a manta ray.
He’d built his reputation on the fearless, some felt foolhardy manner in which he’d prod and poke various deadly Outback creatures, spiders, snakes, crocodiles, etc. in order to reveal just how dangerous they can be.
When inevitably they’d snap or lunge back at him, he’d somehow always manage to dodge out of the way. Despite having apparently come within inches of his life, he’d then give some comically understated response. “Whoah, this feller seems a little upset,” perhaps, or a simple “Crikey!” – becoming something of a catchphrase.
In spite of the tragedy of his passing, it was hard therefore to miss the irony that of all the creatures you might expect to have caused it, it proved to be as something as innocuous as a ray, lending the story a David-and-Goliath-victory-for-the-common-fish type twist.
I came in last night and happened to catch the end of an interview with Steve’s wife now-widow, her first since his death apparently. It was one of those ‘I’m Barbara Wintergreen from CBN’ pieces with that yellow-green cast for some reason you only get with US news reports.
There was something else I found odd, because while both the interviewer and Mrs Irwin referred several times to the shock and devastation she was currently experiencing, I could see few outward signs of it.
There were no bravely fought-back tears or a slight cracking in her voice at each mention of his name. Nor did she look especially grim-faced for someone whose husband had died barely a fortnight ago. If anything I’d say she was looking rather good on it. Or ‘chipper’, to use an Australian term.
The more I thought about all of this – plus the fact that the interview must have taken a few days to arrange, meaning she’d have been discussing appearance fees, exclusivity rights etc. even closer to his death – the odder it all seemed, such that it was the first thing I mentioned when I saw my Dad earlier today (my parents are staying at mine for a couple of days).
It turned out he’d caught some of the interview on another show, in which she’d apparently said something about just wanting to ‘move on with her life and be happy.’
Now I realize grief affects people differently and far be it for me to say how she should be dealing with hers, but if I was Steve looking down, I don’t think I’d be too pleased with all of this.
It’s not that I’d be expecting her to spend her entire life mourning my loss, but having given the best part of mine loving and taking care of this person, I think I’d like a fair amount — more than two weeks worth certainly — before she started talking about just wanting to ‘move on with her life and be happy.’
But I really shouldn’t judge because who knows what really goes on in another person’s relationship. If the way he treated those animals was any indication of his sensitivity, she may have every right not to be feeling too cut up right now.
More likely it just hasn’t sunk in yet. But if there is any truth to what I’m saying, she wouldn’t be the first person to find herself in such a situation. For some reason it’s assumed if someone’s partner dies unexpectedly, that they had this wonderful, idyllic relationship, but you only have to study the divorce statistics to know this can’t always be the case. I’m not saying they’d be happy if their partner died suddenly, just not as devastated as most imagine.
And there’s some for who it really would be cause for celebration. Those in love with someone else or caught in some bitter empty-shell
marriage they daren’t leave because of the legal or financial repercussions.
For them, the sudden death of their partner must feel like being handed the most amazing Get Out Of Jail Free card. Not only do they get to keep the money, house, assets and full access to the kids, they may also be in line for a big, fat insurance cheque to begin their new life with that mistress or toy-boy lover they’ve had to keep secret all these years..
But instead of cracking open the bubbly and hitting the town, they have to wear this grim facade and feign devastation every time someone asks them how they’re coping, which can’t be easy to maintain.
There must come a point when they ask themselves how long before it’s acceptable to be seen having a good time without everyone thinking they’re some cold-hearted monster. There are cultures where spouses have to wear black or go around wailing for a set grieving period. It doesn’t seem so strange, thinking of it in these terms.