It's 20 years ago this Christmas that my Dad died. Like, the actual day, where half of the worlds population are celebrating the birth of some baby that actually happened a thousand years ago. Or is it longer? Not to mention lying to their children about a fat bearded man who snuck into their home and left them presents for being good. I'll save the rest of that spiel for another post.
Dad had been sick for a year, really sick for weeks. He was skin and bone, with this frightening bloated belly, like a child from Ethiopia suffering starvation. It was this awful waiting game, the one with no winners, just a whole lot of pain, a whole lot of waiting.
I've always wondered whether it would be better or worse to lose someone suddenly, like in a car crash, so that you didn't have to watch them die. Better that I never know, but I imagine in the long run it's just the same - constant, heavy and unstoppable grief.
Dad died in the middle of the morning, around about present opening time. Mum was with him, us kids scattered about the house, I was reading a new book that I had been given that day, it was called Rocco, it took me weeks to finish that book, and another 18 years before I could throw it out. I think I held onto it for so long because it was a physical reminder of that moment. It was a really shit book and I could never bring myself to reread it, but it meant something to me.
Mum came to find me, crying, told me Dad had died. It was such a surreal moment, hugging, walking down the passageway to the bedroom, for a minute I thought I was going to burst out laughing (it's a common stress response - these days it happens when my children have their immunisation needles - I get a terrible fit of the giggles. Such a good mother.).
I'm not sure to this day whether his dead body gave me peace or concern. At least he wasn't suffering anymore....and at least I didn't have to watch him suffering anymore. But that emaciated man lying before me was not the Dad I knew, trusted or really loved. I was frightened of him. I didn't know him. He couldn't be my Dad like that. One of the things that always bothered me was his body in the coffin. I hated the thought of him being trapped in there with a pile of dirt on top of him. I still hate the thought of it, so I'll take this opportunity to remind my loved ones that if it's ever me in that casket burn the damn thing up and throw me off Mt Gillen. You can take the girl out of Central Australia but you can't take the Central Australia out of the girl. (I also quite like the idea of everyone slogging up that hill - may I suggest you do it at Easter time - in the lovely weather.)
What a shit Christmas. My first day back at school, Year 9 (of all the grades at school surely Year 9 is the worst, just the worst. Teenagers are animals.) and a classmate yells out to me as I'm walking in the school grounds "Did your Dad die on Christmas Day?!" with equal measure of ridicule and intrigue. I answered quietly, but still people heard. Yes.
What else to say? I never knew. For years I harboured a deep sadness that I couldn't describe, or share, or confide in anyone. I didn't have the words, or the maturity. I hated my friends for not asking the right questions and I hated myself for not speaking my truth. I escaped in my imagination, dreaming of a day when I would not only be the the fittest, coolest, gorgeous girl but have the fittest, coolest, gorgeous boyfriend. Ohh the hours spent daydreaming.
I'm not going to be able to finish this post today. There is much more to say, but I'm rambling a bit already and I want to say it properly. I still miss him. As a man, as a Dad, as a figure. There is so much I wanted to share with him. And he with me. I hold him everyday in my heart, I speak his name, I remember him always, my wonderful Dad.