I think birthdays and Christmas are the times I most feel the absence of family. July has become a ‘difficult’ month with both my Dad and Sister, whom are Cancerians, being ‘absent’ from home. Dad passed away a few years ago and Alison is living back in Sapporo, Japan.
It is around this time that I can’t help but reflect on my Dads life and how happy he always was, or seemed to be about his lot in life. That’s not to say he didn’t have his own difficulties, sadness and testing times along the way, but he always seemed to manage to ‘put on a brave face’, ‘soldier through’ relatively unscathed and to be there to comfort and support us.
I also reflect on how much I miss having my sister close by. While we are different in so many ways we are also the same. We love virtually all the same things when it comes to food, music, entertainment, fashion, films whatever – it has never really been difficult buying presents for my sister – I just have to think what I would like and I know I’m not going to be too off the mark – well most of the time!
I miss not having her around to be able to call up and go hang for a coffee, and I’m always thinking of her when I’m heading off to the art gallery, cinema, theatre and the like, wishing she was there to share in the experience.
I know we all go our separate ways at some time but to follow are some of my reflections on Dad and how age changes us:
Fading to black
It wasn’t until my fathers’ 80th birthday that age started to become a concern to me. It was on that festive occasion the signs of aging were made more apparent through his lack of real insight into what the party was all about. The couple of years prior to that saw his dementia steadily increase causing his mind to increasingly recede. What was once a vibrant, inquisitive, mind became a confused, sometimes incoherent man frustrated by his own inability to speak his mind.
My father was always a quietly spoken man, with a general knowledge many would vie for. He continually amazed and annoyed my mother, sister and I as we sat playing Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble, never being an active participant but always providing the correct response from the side lines. There were very few times that dad could not deliver us with the right answer from sport to science and even, his most challenging of subject areas, entertainment.
He was also an avid sportsman loving all things to do with sport. As a young man he was a junior wrestling champion, before cricket and then golf became his games of choice. Active of mind and body he rarely had a day off work. Retiring after 30 odd years, as an Officer from the Air Force, dad kept busy with his sporting activities including another great passion, fishing. He said what he loved most about fishing was the peace of mind it provided. He would travel across the country, often with his best mate Stuart, in search of the best fishing spot. Invariably, they would come back with part of their catch or at least the stories of those that got away and each time their brotherly bond was cemented a little further. When Stuart passed away with emphysema Dad was devastated, not only had he lost his lifelong friend but also his enthusiasm to fish. In his final years he struggled to tie the lures or have the patience to sit and wait for the fish to bite.
Three years prior to his passing my parents moved from North Richmond at the foothills of the Blue Mountains in NSW to Granton, Tasmania, as Mum says, “for the second last time, the last will be in a box”. It was at this time Dad’s disorientation became more apparent. Settling in to a new place can be dramatic for anyone, even for my parents who at one stage moved six times in 10 years due to Air Force postings around the country and overseas. Dad struggled to find his way around their new home. Even the en-suite, that mum thought would make his night-time ablutions more easy, he had trouble finding. He would wander the hallways, opening doors, looking for where he remembered the toilet was located in their old home.
They are, Mum is, less than 20 kilometres down the road from me. Age has made my already close-knit family even closer. At various times in the past we have lived thousands of miles or countries apart but the distance was always physical not emotional. Now, with my sister and her family back in Sapporo, Japan, new technology such as Facebook is keeping us connected. But towards the end of my Dad’s life it was age that caused a barrier, kept us apart. While I was able to see Dad more regularly the relationship, the link, was made distant by his inability to communicate, to reminisce, to retell stories with all the detail and colour. His life was being reduced to sepia tones, a black and white outline of a man whose life was full.
Now that he is gone for good, I’m often at a loss, and can only begin to understand what Mum must feel…Sure I have pictures and my memories but nothing is as good as having the flesh and bones person, the complex character with their individual personality here with you, brought to life through brain, heart and soul and who interacts with you, bringing dimension and meaning to your own existence. I have found that when a person close to you goes, dies, it is true, a little piece of you goes with them and that leaves a gap that can’t be filled…
(P.S. You may also like Morning Glory, another little tribute to my Dad)