Sunday 16 August,2015. I’m driving home and talking to my father on the car phone. It’s a winter evening but the days are getting longer.
Me (in a grave tone): Notice you can hear those chirpy birds at dusk now. The really chipper ones. They’re all happy and chatty …
Him: Ugh. I know, I know. They’ve been turning my stomach cold for the past couple of weeks. They may as well be yelling “Chirp, chirp!! Summer’s coming! Summer’s coming! Chirp!” I’d like to shoot them.
Neither Dad nor I are fans of the Australian heat.
Me: And they’re not even edible birds …what other birds do we eat besides chicken? Duck. I can’t think of any others …
Him: Royals used to eat swan.
Me: True. What other birds do we eat?
Him: Oh I don’t know. Geeses …
Me (laughing): You just said ‘geeses’ instead of geese! Idiot.
Dad chuckles. The energy of our amusement is accelerating.
Me: And turkey! We eat turkey.
Him: Yes! Turkey!! Ha, you squawked that word the way you mock me about squawking words when I’m excited! … But then I squawked it straight after you!
Me (laughing): Quail, we eat quail.
Him (speaking with a grin I can hear): Well I wouldn’t eat a bloody quail.
Me (still giggling): I know you wouldn’t. And pheasant, we eat pheasant.
Him: I wouldn’t eat a bloody pheasant either.
I continue laughing. Dad tries to laugh but it triggers a coughing fit and we end the call.
He dies a few hours later.
The following Friday, a cloudy day in late August, we bury him. My brother-in-law and I speak at the funeral, my mother reads Dad’s favourite poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
At the grave, the wind blows robustly around us as his New Zealand relatives sing in Maori and perform a fierce and powerful haka. It’s an impressive finale.
For the fortnight following his death I keep phoning him. We used to speak to each other for about an hour every day, and habits are hard to break. Our final conversation was a typical one and I miss those talks.
Dad was my father, confirmed by our unnervingly similar personality quirks and physical make-up. But mainly we were friends. We shared the same interests, held many of the same views, and had a borderline telepathic understanding of each other’s thoughts and responses.
I’ll miss our connection and I’m disappointed that I’ll have no new Dad-related anecdotes. But thankfully many of them are indelibly imprinted in my head (and I’ll soon repost two that I wrote in 2012, you can see them by clicking on these links – “Fatherly Advice” and “Balloon Friends”).
It’s a month today since Dad died. (Though it wasn’t until Monday 17th that we knew). It’s sad that he’s gone, but his death has ended his suffering. My grief is intense and will continue for a long time, but mostly when I think of him I smile (or chuckle out loud) at the endlessly (& often unintentionally) entertaining things he did and said. On balance, it’s a good grief.