Tides.

tides

My father often looked at my mother, like no one else in the world existed.

Their eyes would connect and it was as if they were communicating so much, silently, beyond anything we kids could have understood.

So many times it must have gone over our heads.

Perhaps it was simply a difference in height. Perhaps we were all too preoccupied with moving and growing beneath them as they would lock eyes on each other.

Time stopping only for the two of them, so briefly.

On summer holidays especially, I would sometimes look up and notice this rare magic between them.

I guess because indelibly, everything somehow managed to slow down. The full stretch of the Aussie golden sun over us, as we migrated to the beach, had such a relaxing effect on us all, how could it not.

One beach adventure, in particular, I can think about now like it was yesterday.

I was 8.

Hot bitumen scorched our bare feet as we piled out of the old fiat; hopping from the melted tar onto the hot peppered sand; leaving mum and dad behind, arms loaded with striped beach umbrellas, towels, hats and sunscreen.

Racing ahead only to stop and turn back around whenever Dad would yell ‘slow down.’ I can still see them walking along the track behind us; Dad, kissing mum’s forehead and reaching for her hand. The look he gave her. I didn’t think too much of it then and would only view it as a chance to take off again.

It was never the nearest beach we ventured to either, it was always some out of the way unprotected spot Dad had heard about, usually when he went to get the morning paper at first light. It was predictably one that required a good half hour of trekking through a rainforest to get to, avoiding scrub turkeys and bashing sticks together to ward off brown snakes.

This adventure was no different.

We never swam between the flags as kids. The crowds and the flags were always tiny ants to us, behind a hazy wall of heat billowing off the sand, as we set ourselves up as far away as possible.

We much preferred being kings of our beach.

Lone wolves, with plenty of space to lay down lazily beside each other. We would build castles and forts while adults read books and tanned topless. Balls were kicked to squealing happy kids, fighting to be the one to kick it back.

In this faded memory one thing sticks out; Mum and Dad took the opportunity, with aunties and uncles to watch over us, to head off and walk hand in hand along the shore. Laughing, as they goaded each other; stepping into the frothy white bubbles, from bright green rolls of the saltwater waves.

I sat on my towel, waiting for the sun to dry up the hundreds of droplets on my wet skin. Watching them intently; muscles burning, from fighting against waves moments before, dumping me against sandbars. Muscles, now burning even more, as I sat there. Fighting the urge to jump up and join them.

This was such a unique creature to study. Mum and Dad gazing into each other’s eyes as they laced fingers and walked along the water’s edge. I was so used to them being our adults; our sometimes stressed and cranky adults. They were supposed to function for us and then find all their joy in us too.  It was strange watching them like this and almost made me feel uneasy, that they could be so happy without us.

I watched, until they were ants too. Willing them to hurry up, for their shapes to grow bigger and bigger as they finally returned to me.

I was thinking about that sun ray filled morning as I rested my head against the cool of the concrete wall of the hospital corridor.

The day I found out dad had cancer. I was 35.

I found out before mum did. We all had.

‘Don’t tell your mother, until you all get here,’ we had all been told over the phone.

‘I don’t want her to know until she has you all here to help her through it.’

That was the longest 5-hour drive of my life, one I also never wanted to get to the end of at the same time.

Dad had been in a hospital bed for 3 days. He had been admitted because he had a chronic pain in his side. We thought at worst, it was a gall bladder needing to come out.
But it wasn’t his gall.
It was all over his spine and the pain he felt on his side was from a tumour rubbing against a nerve that stretched from his spine to his stomach.
Suddenly somehow,  4 months have passed by since that day and here I sit, ready to say goodbye to my dad; forever.
Instead of holding hands while splashing and wading into barrels of aqua green; my parents are sitting quietly holding hands amongst the grey and the tubes. This strange creature has me feeling more than uneasy.

We have sat in cold, sterile corridors of 3 different hospitals in the 4 months since he was first admitted.
We continue to fail at really understanding any of it.
My mother especially.
I have noticed, as much as their fingers are often laced; entwined; welded tight around each others, over the past 4 months and my mother has completely fallen into the role of caring for my father; they fail to really look at each other.

To look into each other’s eyes like they had so magically before.

I know though, mum is too scared to. Keeping her head down, busily fussing over the sheets and the meals and the bruises on dad’s legs he can no longer feel. This keeps it all from being anywhere near truth and so this also keeps dad’s anxiety at bay too.

Even today. His final day, we still believed there was hope. He could improve; get better; come back to us. His shape would move closer and closer. We foolishly did not consider any other option, despite how close the tide lapped at our feet.
I was so angry with how fast it all happened. How unfair it was that no matter what piece of hope and positivity we landed on, we were cruelly robbed of it bit by bit.

Once cancer was diagnosed, we went to the place everyone does.

‘We will fight it, you will be fine Dad and you will be up and home in no time’.

Then it was his legs, the brutal cruelness of him being told he may never walk again.

‘We can work it out Dad, as long as we get through this. Who cares about a wheelchair, we just want you to survive.’

Then, when it had reached his lungs within months and life support became another wave that dumped upon me in the story. We begged for him to make it through the night, to just get through one night. ‘Fine’ we said to whoever was listening, ‘we will take 5 more years, even 3…just please let him wake up.’

When he did wake up, we were told he was too weak and there was nothing more they could do unless he got stronger and fought and improved some.

‘OK’, we said indignantly, ‘can we move him to palliative care, so he is comfortable’.

“It is too late for that,” they quietly replied a few days later, no eye contact, heads down.

We settled on the only thing we could do for my dad, with the tiny piece of hope left; as tiny as a sea shell. We would buy him a quilt to brighten his room and make what was happening as cosy as possible, for us more than him, I now see.

So while I hurled myself down the aisle of the bedding shop so sure if I just picked the right quilt everything was going to be OK, my phone rang.

I was told to come back to the hospital, the time had come.

The universe took the last trace of hope and there was nothing left but to face what was happening. It stole it all from us and dumped us with it over and over again as we thrashed around in the nightmare that was this undertow, turning us upside down as we tried so hard to swim to the top and gasp for air.

I sit while we wait.

He now has no machines to assist him and we have to watch him like a wounded bird with rattling breath as he slowly fades before us. Cheeks no longer rosy pink.

He has been given morphine to make it as peaceful and painless as possible, but even this seems to have been robbed from us, as he struggles and fights more than he should be right now. I worry they have not given the correct dose. I worry nothing will ever be right again.

It is the hardest thing my eyes have ever had to see.  What concurrently is happening in this room, in this surreal space, is also the most beautiful.

Because once again my parents are looking at each other as if they were the only 2 people to ever exist. For the hours that drifted that day away from us, dad had his eyes locked only on my mother.

As she moved around his hospital room, his gaze did not waiver.

My Dad slowly left us, in that room, that day. Before he did though, their eyes connected, their fingers of each hand welded tight, a whisper from each other’s faces. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Not only our whole lives and memories filling my head, but my parents and their definition here before me of true, complete love.

Eyes locked, mum was there with him as much as she could be; her gaze slowly softening the fear in his desperate eyes until they finally were no longer.

I like to think in that moment, they were both on that sparkling warm beach again.

Dad taking mums hand and kissing her on her forehead.

Waves, gently kissing their feet.

Their children’s giggles echoing behind them.

Eyes only for each other, always.

Em xx

Treasures.

Before there was all of this and things were hard. Before I moved through life tactically and knew about pressure.

There was a large, clunky dress-up trunk, at the back of the sun-soaked kindergarten room.

It had dents in it.

Dents made from my young teacher I now suppose.

As she pulled and pushed it to do something amazingly romantic perhaps – fleeing a Budapest bedsit in the middle of the night, where a lover slept soundly.

Catching a plane, then a train to a dusty country town for a new start. A chance to disappear into something other than herself. Resting it down gently, filled with old costumes, in the midst of my class-roomed world.

 I remember the buttery warmth across the mostly brown room, like yesterday. The trunk itself was often covered with cushions and pillows and packed up tight, which made it always seem even more of a treasure trove; a mystical box that my little hands itched to dive into at all times. When all tasks were done and colours were kept in between lines, Miss Eveleigh gave me the nod I needed.

Silent indications that it was finally time for me to carefully – almost reverently, make my way to that box before anyone else thought twice about it.

A chance to disappear into something other than me.

Children around me picked up fireman hats and stethoscopes, teachers glasses and astronaut suits.

Maybe I should have to.

Instead, I reached like always for the thick, heavy faded wedding gown and fell into it. Dancing around in complete bliss.

I remember it was so scratchy on my skin and so billowy and so big, it was hard to walk in a straight line without stumbling over.

I always picked up a doll; my baby – and felt that was that; ambition recognised. The dress, the kid. I had it all. This was where things were going. Children around me pretending to be surgeons and pilots.

Perhaps I should have to.

Then maybe right now I would be able to breathe in. To not feel the weight of the pressure of a clock booming in my head. To not feel my next birthday approaching like a roaring jumbo jet inbound from Budapest. In the middle of the night, my body dented from pushing and pulling it all around to get where I need to be.

I am running out of time, I can feel myself drowning in layers and layers of white lace and billowy fabric, clutching on to imaginary babies for dear life.

To discover you only have a finite time to turn make-believe real; a hard punch to not fall down in a heap from. To realise it may not happen, makes me wish I never wanted it at all. In my head, I now have 2 years left. 2 years to find the treasure, the trunk and pull all I want from it.

What an unrealistic time frame I have managed to set myself.

What a time for wishing I could easily disappear into something other than this.

Why am I suddenly a 37-year-old pirate digging for treasure?

Em

xoxo

Submerged.

bath

I have one delicious memory from my childhood.
One simple, ordinary moment in time that was savoured.
Bath time.
An evening ritual. One that made me innately aware of being planted solidly in a family unit, part of a bustling household and never more secure in that deceivingly inconsequential nightly routine.
My mother would pour my bath and take all the care in the world to ensure it was never too hot or too cold. Always warning me not to venture closer until the temperature was just right.
She would then kneel down and help me wriggle out of all my layers of clothes. I would lean in to her as she helped me balance, snuggling in to her hair and giggling, as she would use the opportunity to plant a million kisses on my flushed face.
She would then take care to, as all busy mums do; quickly make sure I was scrubbed clean and then leave me to enjoy my bath on my own for a short while so she could get 5 other things done before coming back to get me.
With three other siblings to compete with, I always felt like the most special, important person in the world whenever I got these moments alone with her, and I relished in them.
As the warm steam snaked its way off the white foamy bubbles, wisping up and around the room. I would submerge myself under the water, with only my face and toes remaining above the surface.
This warm blanket of liquid I cocooned myself under, was simply bliss.
The magic of this moment was more specifically about all the sounds I could hear under that water. My submerged ears, is where I found the greatest delight.
The happenings of the household at that time of night, muffled by a wall of water yet somehow so crystal clear. Noises that were not the same as when above.
It is this splendid, quiet moment on my own that is still so vivid to me now.
The bath was like a giant upside down glass and I listened very closely as if I was holding that glass up against the bathroom wall, magnifying the gentle hum of conversations and appliances competing with each other down the hall.
My teenage sister on the phone talking quietly to a boy, with her music gently thumping – white noise so parents couldn’t hear; my dad listening to the news propped up at the kitchen table keeping mum company while she cooked. The sturdy old electric frying pan she used sizzling and crackling our dinner as she stood over it and tiredly sipping her wine as she stirred.
Dad, always in a running conversation with the television unimpressed by whichever politician was on the screen at the time.
My parents were in catch up mode after each having a long day at work. They would debrief each other and discuss bills that had to be paid, children that were growing out of their school shoes and summer holidays to the coast that needed to be idyllically planned. They used to talk to each other like nobody else existed, all that mattered was the two of them – you would think as their offspring I would not like this so much – wanting to be a priority, but nothing could be further from the truth, I adored the love they had for each other, and their beautiful connection remains with me still.
In that bathtub, in that house. I felt a part of something, I felt safe and I felt very loved.
To my parents, I am sure this was a vexing nightly routine; possibly this same moment for them, as they sat in our little kitchen, was filled with worry, fatigue and stress of working hard and making ends meet.
If only they knew down the hall their child was listening on and falling completely in love with the sounds of their voices, and footsteps and what they thought were private moments between them.
Any time I want to remember my dad’s voice, it is this memory I go to.
As for my mother, any time I am craving to be close to her, distance keeping us apart for long periods of time; it is this memory I squeeze as tightly as I can and squish out all the loveliness. Her perfume, her smile, her warm hands as she busily get tasks done.
I would stay in that bath until my fingers and toes became prune-ish and my teeth began to chatter, then the time finally came to be scooped up by whichever parent’s turn it was, into a big fluffy towel.
It never ever escapes me, how this one single memory takes about 30 seconds of re-living in my mind. How it is light years away from where I stand today. A speck of dust in the story of me, and yet it is everything.
To me it has become clear, this is what it is all about.
The things we smile about today, the things we taste, smell and experience it is all so fleeting. Teeny tiny specks that one day you end up looking back on and become so giant in your mind – how truly sad it is if these moments get missed and not soaked up to savour later.
I am fortunate in a lot of ways the pain I have endured in my life, has taught me this lesson well. I do now hold my husband that little bit tighter. I do try not to stress over, well anything really. And I do make as much time as I can to be with my beautiful family. I also send the universe quiet tiny wishes, that my mother’s house was still filled with noise and footsteps and my father’s voice. We each try hard to fill that space for her as much as we can now.

I especially make sure I take time to stop and pour myself a bubble bath.

I sometimes even sink right down until my ears go under the water, and as I listen very carefully to all the beautiful noises I hear coming down the hall as I smile.

Smiling is a new thing for me lately, after being submerged under a different kind of blanket for so long, and it feels amazing.

Home Sweet Home.

Lately, it does not escape me, none of it does.

As I drive along the long, flat, dusty road edging closer to my childhood home and my parent’s front door, I have waves of bitter sweetness and it is hard to work out how to handle it.

I have had this feeling wash over me each time I drive home since my dad’s death, which is surprising to no one I know.

Funny thing is the 50 times prior to his death it was just a drive . A long, annoying drive.

I was so caught up in a big load of nothing important that I failed to take it all in, failed to let it move past the rear view mirror and back into my heart, my lungs. Failing to realise it all belonged to me. An inexplicable part of me, just as my arms and my fingers and my toes; the road and the hills and the sunlight across the cotton, sorghum and bright yellow canola fields.

I try but fail to explain with any real eloquence, how it feels to recognise every tree, field, hill and bend in the road. It all goes in and mixes around and fills up parts of me just as much as all the other stuff.

To only notice it now, to let it in for even just a second; a breath, brings me closer to my sweet father. His voice, his strong hands as they worked hard, his bushy eyebrows. His smile under the rays of the summer late afternoon sun.

Having lived here his whole life and working for a lot of it on the land too, it is hard not to see him in everything as I drive closer.

I guess that is why I love travelling home so much now and quietly dread it all at the same, confusing time.

It’s easy to keep busy in my own little life, as soon as the sadness and burning in the back of my throat comes swiftly and from nowhere, I can distract myself and it soon subsides.

But here I could wallow easily, allowing myself to dive head first into the pain of the enormous and gaping loss.

When we first came home from the hospital, well it was something else.

His shoes at the door like he took them off moments ago, his trousers over the back of a chair ironed ready for a new day that never came. His paint pots and brushes left like he was off making a cup of coffee.

Walking through his garage filled with golf clubs and fishing rods and a lifetime of tools made me want to hug and kiss it all while at the same time wanting to burn the whole shed down.

It was hard for me to leave this space the first time I had to, I could swim around in all of this for much longer, pretending he had just slipped off to town and would be home before we noticed.

Why didn’t I come home more often before it all went wrong?

I am angry with myself that I did not stop and take it all in sooner and appreciate the loveliness of what I was lucky enough to feel, connected to a place. I see now what my parents so wisely always knew and tried to pass on.

I realise now, as I drive into my hometown that I had not ever noticed before the spot where he first taught me to ride my bike and I fell scraping both knees, or where I first bunny hopped our car all the way down the road with him not knowing whether to laugh or shout. The track I used to walk every day to catch the school bus, taking a shortcut through the yard of old Mr Jones with the 78 cats. The pretty little bell like purple flowers that grew in clumps every spring along the dirt road to our driveway. The old weathered pub where Dad would inevitably stroll home from at 6pm on the dot, to enjoy mum’s cooking with a sparkle in his eye.

I am sitting in my old bedroom right now, as cliched as it sounds. I am gazing at the bazillion stars laid out before me with the crickets chirping and that certain country, crispy spring scent in the air. I have never felt safer.

During a time home, sorting through Dad’s belongings that came home from the hospital, we discovered a little notepad Dad had kept and written in from time to time – an exercise the counsellor had recommended. We found one entry, a tiny sentence in a sea of blank pages.

He had written during his final days, that his only wish was ‘to go home and sit in the garden and listen to the birds’.

I cannot express the impact this innocuous sentence has now had on my life.

I will forever soak up every bit of sweetness the trip home provides me and when I get there I will always make a cuppa with mum and sit in the garden and watch the birds now with her.

I will always lift my face to the sun and breathe in the beautiful crisp air on a summer’s day.

For it does not escape me, none of it does.

Em xoxo