I’ve been home in Korea exactly seven days from a month-long trip to Australia to see my folks when the message from my brother arrives.
It’s Friday late afternoon and I’m already settled for a cosy night in with Rob.
“Dad had to be resuscitated. It’s not looking good”. There was more, but it’s all I retain for the moment.
The thing to know about my father is that despite a number of major strokes and an aneurism in the past six years, he’s notoriously good at bouncing back.
So I’m not sure what to think. Or do.
I’ve just spent three weeks with my parents, the last week in my father’s hospital room for up to six hours a day, thanks to a vertebrae intent on consistently fracturing, resulting in excruciating pain and little ability to move.
I don’t have time to ponder. The second text lets me know that he’s comfortable and will no longer wake. More so than the call the following morning to let me know he’s passed, it’s this text that upsets me most. It’s the realisation there is to be no come-back this time, and that I’ve missed being there by only seven nights.
I’ve booked flights, all the time not sure if done so correctly. My brain is like fog. I’m crying hard one minute and laughing hysterically the next; a behaviour pattern that continues well into the week with my mum and brother as we reminisce and grieve.
Rob and I are at the supermarket the next morning when dad passes away. It’s when we return to the car and I see three missed calls from my brother that I know.
I can’t stop crying. It’s like a bottomless pit of tears both comforted and made worse by so many loving messages of support.
The flight home is torturous. I have a six hour wait in Kuala Lumpur and another six in Melbourne, bringing the total travel time to 36 hours. I cry on and off over many of them.
My mum, brother, Trav and his partner Mike, and close family friend, Tess are at the airport to meet me. It’s an agonising walk across the tarmac until we collapse into each other. The mourning process begins.
Life is about timing. This past Christmas, all of Dad’s family were together, which is rare. I returned to Australia in March for the sole purpose of spending all my time with my parents – a time I will be forever grateful for – and my brother is in our home town for Easter when dad passes. It’s almost like he knew what had to be done to ensure everyone was covered.
Dad’s passing has been a humbling teaching experience about death. I often thought that if a parent was elderly, the impact was less. Of course, this is not true. And I feel ashamed that I have somewhat diminished another’s grief with this belief.
Grief is a bitch and often arrives when you least expect it. Emotions will rise like a tide and often, with no discernible trigger.
I’ve also learnt that we pretty much instantly forget or discard everything and anything about the person that ever frustrated, angered or annoyed you – a lesson I now try to carry with me. If the toilet seat is left up, I now know it’s not the enduring memory I’m going to have of my husband.
It’s not the amount of time you spend together but the quality. I’ve lived away from my home town now for some 20 years and I’ve had many more quality experiences with Dad during the last six years in particular than in all the years prior. I’ve always known this, of course, with Rob working off shore, but it’s important to be reminded.
I now understand why people bring food in the days and week after – not only is it a kind and loving gesture, grief can be ravenous for some (me especially), and yet you can’t seem to prepare it yourself.
And finally, a true love is an enduring love. The love my parents had for each other in the end was deep, poignant and selfless. Not once did my father complain, shed a tear or speak of fear in his last few months – knowing that it would have made the burden for Mum even greater. Mum, in turn, did everything and anything to ensure he was comfortable and cared for. There are memories during my last visit home – glimpses of interactions and moments between them – that I will carry with me for life.
Dad was a proud, hardworking, loving, supportive and protective force in my life with an unparalleled sense of humour and quick fire wit. I will always miss him.