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

The Bottom of the Hill.

Hills and more hills as far as the eye can see.

On the outskirts of town, they ebb and they flow. Looking like a far off distant land you could easily explore and conquer like a Burke and Wills expedition.

Why is it you feel like screaming and crying and dying as you walk up a hill, wanting to stop every breath, every step, but as soon as you stretch your whole body and reach the top, you feel like a queen; an athlete; a champion! Adrenalin pumping through all of the pulsing, hilly veins inside. Wanting to feel this way forever. Hooked.

When my mum was my age, she had birthed and mothered four children. She was in the midst of a life running a household containing a 15-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 4-year-old.

She had at 37, already lived in a shack my parents had built with their own hands as newlyweds, on the side of a hill, in the middle of nowhere.

Their first year of marriage and they had no electricity, no indoor toilet a new baby and snakes and spiders to contend with. She was 21. On the side of a hill.

They then went on and raised the rest of their brood, on a huge, flat, dusty property with a long, long dirt driveway. She handled it all bravely. The kids, the cows, the dust, the wheat crops and dad..worrying about the rain, the drought and making ends meet. Despite the flatness there she could still look out across the plains and see hills on the horizon, warily keeping an eye on them – closer then she wanted them to be. She was focused on staying strong and keeping a household running, she had no time to enjoy ups or wallow in downs so she kept charging on and planted her life firmly where it was flat.

I have wondered lately how she coped with it all? She did not have cafe dates with girlfriends, cocktails or book clubs, hiking or wine tasting weekends…or the freedom to throw a tantrum and hurl herself under a mountain of doona to Netflix and chill.

So it is her that I think about now, on the edge of that hill of hers. Her and that incredible strong will, as I face plant my bed and give up.

As I dig my way through all of my hills and tell them to all go to hell.

I am sick of the climb, sick of hurting as I scrape my skin from my legs – only getting half way up before I slide down again in the rubble and rocks and muck, sore from straining my neck to look up and see where I long to be.

I have had enough, so today I quit. I give up, resigning myself to the fact it is too hard to reach the top.

I am sick of the injections, the nausea, the headaches, the cramps, the negatives, the scans, people mourning, dying, leaving my job and trying to stay positive; more scans, more injections, turning around and pregnant bellies and newborn babies everywhere swirling around me, not knowing who I am or where I should be; up the hill, down the hill, round the hill? I am sick of the waiting. Waiting until I am suddenly told I am over the hill and it is too late.

So today I am going to just quit and surround myself with soft hills of pillows and bedding filled with feathers. Diving into doonas, hugging hot water bottles and a call to my mum today because the hill is shitty and she will tell me what to do.

Maybe next week I will feel like I can strap my hiking boots back on ready to go forth again. Maybe I will be surprised by how light those heavy boots suddenly feel.

Maybe by then I will look out across the Autumn afternoon and feel OK when I see those hills on the horizon.

Thinking about how at least I am not on the side of one of them, doing a wee in the dark.

 

Em xoxo

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

The Jacaranda Tree.

I was asked today by a friend if I would be doing anything on Father’s Day to honor my dad, and I said no. I now sit here and type knowing he deserves more than a no, and so his story I have decided to share.

for Dad.

I had a strange moment a few days ago in the middle of Coles. I was in there rushing around trying to find some ingredient to a recipe and wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible to avoid the after school onslaught.

I was whizzing past the giant display of Father’s Day cards, and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. A feeling of absolute dread hit me and it had me standing in front of the colorful cards, quickly doing the math, working out how many days I had left to send a card before Father’s Day. Then a second wave of dread hit me and I kept walking..this was not something I needed to ever worry about again…I was too late.

I often have these bittersweet moments that come and go. They set upon me so unsuspectingly until reality instantly follows a nanosecond later. In the beginning I would have these moments often in first light as I opened my eyes, you simply forget and then just like that in the next breath in, you remember and the aching returns.

It is a very different Father’s Day to last year, in just 12 short months the difference leaves me feeling numb and disbelieving still.

My family and I all visited my father at his rehabilitation centre. I was thinking at the time what a difference it was to the Father’s Day before it, here my father sat in a wheelchair, life hanging precariously in the balance, so sick from the chemotherapy treatment, scared shitless he would never walk again, so frail and aged and weary…a year before that, a strong, indestructible giant stood handing out affection and torment and cheek and love by the bucket loads.

We had spent Father’s Day last year in the gardens of the rehabilitation centre, his grandchildren running around playing, not really understanding the somberness all the adults were silently feeling. We sat all day in the sun talking to dad, reading the paper with him, opening his presents. My sister bought him a hamburger from the take away shop as he had been craving steak for a long time after months of hospital food..and that was the best we could find for him. As each one of us arrived that day he would burst into tears, (a chemo side effect – making cancer patients become overly emotional on top of everything else they have to endure). He told us over and over and over again how much he loved us.

That, we have. Always.

I have all his gifts I gave him on that day, a book he never got the chance to read, moisturiser he would not get to use, to soften his skin..so sore from all of the drugs he was taking.

A month later, he was just out of intensive care after being on life support and we were told it was time to have the conversation about saying goodbye and giving up our solid fight…funny we were so terrified of the word palliative, and suddenly here we were..it dawning on us we would give anything to hear one of his doctor’s say that word now, because somehow we skipped that bit and it was all too late..so quickly.

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As Father’s Day approaches, it’s these final days with my dad that I am thinking of. Trying to take in his eyes, his smile, his voice.

I can definitely remember the hospital room where we spent his final days with him. My sisters and my mother all by his side still not really understanding at the time, that all hope was lost and we were really losing him.

I remember the room, the light, the smells like it was yesterday. I remember feeling like I wasn’t as strong as my mother and sisters. I was flapping around the room like a trapped bird trying to escape..not able to handle being a witness to what was about to happen. I was his baby girl and I suddenly took on my role as the youngest..wanting to run and hide, wanting my sisters and mum to make it all better. I wanted those cold polished floors to swallow me up, I felt suffocated by the feeling that this was all out of our control, that it wasn’t fair and that he should fight harder and breathe stronger..

I also remember how it was dusk, the smell of bush fires all around us, and me needing air and looking across at the old washed out rickety glass doors he had in his private room….we thought private to give him time to rest and heal, they thought private to let him slip away in peace and with dignity…how foolish and naive we all must have seemed to them. The glass doors opened onto a balcony and we all worked hard to jimmy them open, they didn’t look like they had been open for 20 years or more. Finally air hitting my face and lungs, looking back into the room feeling disappointed that despite the cool air I was still with the lump in my throat and knot in my stomach unable to stop what was happening in front of me. Beyond the balcony my sister and I finally took in the beautiful bloomed Jacaranda tree in the courtyard.

We had all individually noticed it as we first entered his room, we commented to him, what a beautiful tree, and what a gorgeous view..all the while thinking in our minds, please don’t let be the last thing he sees…it was so perfect and lavender ..different sunlight flickering through it’s purple hues…heavenly almost..please don’t be a sign.

I was asked today by a friend if I would be doing anything on Father’s Day to honor my dad, and I said no. I now sit here and type knowing he deserves more than a no, and so his story I have decided to share.

On this Father’s Day whilst the pain and the memories of his illness are brought bubbling to the surface, I also want to in some small way put out into the world what a great dad he was.

He was everything a great dad is, and that’s all any kid could ask for.

He taught me to ride my bike and tie my shoelaces. He read stories to me, played board games and tickled me until I couldn’t breathe from laughing. He flipped me into the air so high and always caught me. He carried me to bed of a night, when I had fallen in heap in his arms after a day of play. He scolded me when I put myself in danger, and when I was a teenager he told me I could come to him and talk to him about anything and he would listen and love only.

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It hurts more then I can bear he is no longer tangible, and time seems to be moving me further and further away from him.

It is a hurt I have never felt before and that I cannot share this Father’s Day with him in a garden somewhere is so very unfair, but it being a day to celebrate our dads, I feel I have done that now in a different way. I hope he would have approved. He loved being the centre of attention and an active part of any conversation…loved being right in the thick of things, so I like to think he would be pretty chuffed he was the star of this post.

I truly hope everyone who can celebrate with their dads on Sunday, enjoy a beautiful and special day and cherish those moments knowing how lucky they are.

Our family now needs to enjoy every precious moment this life brings. I constantly keep reminding myself when life’s teeny annoyances gain my attention, that I need to keep on breathing for dad, live my life for him and not let a moment be wasted.

Happy Father’s Day Dad, I hope you are spending it where you said you wanted to be, picking out the perfect fishing spot for you and mum to enjoy together one day.

Em xoxo

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