Tag Archives: Grief

Good grief

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.

Dad looking casually suave ... and me looking like a boy with special needs.

Dad looking casually suave … and me looking like a boy with special needs.

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.

Mum and Dad as Crusaders

Mum and Dad as Crusaders

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.

Both of us as adults

Both of us as adults

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.

Dad

Dad

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.

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The anniversary

A crescent shape of twinkling lights blocks my vision and makes me feel nauseous.  This is my first migraine since returning to England.  There’s no reason for the sudden attack. I had felt fine only five minutes ago.  I tell my colleague and place my head on my desk until the worst of it passes and my full sight returns.  I make it through the day but go to bed at 8pm with a bruised head.  I wake bright and early and look at the date on my phone:  18th January.   I hear a voice.

Voice:  Hello? 

Me:  Um, hello.  Who are you …. and why are you interrupting my quiet pre-dawn thoughts?

Voice:  It’s me.  I’m you.  Well to be precise I’m 15-year-old-you. You don’t recognise my jet black hair, gothically pale skin and fit young body? (The teenage Simone judgmentally looks me up and down). No, I don’t suppose you do. 

Me:  Alright, alright.  I may not look as good as you, but I have managed to acquire skills you don’t have.  Anyway, I don’t have to justify myself to you.  What do you want?

Voice:  It’s the 18th of January.

Me:  Yes …. ?

Voice:  So it’s his birthday!  Which means that you now know why you had a migraine yesterday …    

Sigh.  Ah, yes.  Sebastian was my best friend through high school and the 18th January is his birthday.  In 1993 on the 17th January Sebastian had just returned from a weekend with his uncle in Melbourne.  We were sitting in the foyer of the Shepparton Capri Twin Cinema.  It was out-of-character for him to be nervous.

Sebastian:  I have something to tell you.

Me (nodding):  Okay?

Sebastian:  Uncle Andrew has offered to pay for me to go to boarding school.  I start next week.

I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach, stabbed through the heart and kicked in the head all at the same time but I smile. “Oh that’s fantastic!  You must be really pleased?!” 

Me at 14, looking overly dramatic and about to go to our formal dance with Sebastian (Mum wanted a photo of my hair so told me to look straight ahead and not smile ...)

Me at 14, looking overly dramatic and about to go to our school’s formal dance with Sebastian

The next day I go to his house to spend his birthday with him.  I give him a drawing I’d done in art class; he’d cried with laughter at it (because it was so appalling) and he’d asked me to give it to him when we eventually left school and went to university.  The gift is two years premature but fitting – one of us is leaving (our) school.  I’m wrenched apart inside, but I show none of this to Sebastian and we have a fantastic laughter-filled day.

It’s a scorching summer and three days later we sit in Saint Brendan’s Church to get five minutes of cool relief on our walk to Sebastian’s home from the town centre.  Suddenly, cantankerous old Monsignor Bones yells from the refectory and then chases us out* which horrifies and tickles us.  We race home giggling like the teenagers we are, but our hilarity abruptly ceases when it’s time for us to say goodbye. I have to go home and Sebastian moves to Melbourne tomorrow.  We sense the gravity of the moment but don’t quite know this is the end.  After spending every day together for four years, this is the last time we see each other.  We write to each other daily for ten months, but our final year of school takes over and with it, our friendship ends.

Since then I’ve been sick (in varying forms) on every single 17th January.  I never remember in advance of the date, it always occurs to me later.  The anniversary of that bad news has been with me for twenty years; literally, a sickening memory.

That wasn’t my last experience of loss, but thankfully it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced grief or crippling heartache; my body’s not as young as it was and I don’t think it can take it!

Afterword

*Sebastian had been singing the then-current hit song “Detachable Penis” which I couldn’t possibly have found funnier (I was 15!) so Monsignor Bones was wholly justified in chasing us out ….