I was 20 when my dad died.
It’s been over 30 years since my dad drowned. A decision to swim after work on the Gold Coast one day changed everything for our family. Caught in a rip, he just couldn’t get back back to the shore. At the time, I was in New Zealand. I can still remember getting the phone call, the trip over, and feeling numb.
When it was time for the funeral, it was the last thing I wanted to do, the last place I wanted to be. I remember the car ride to the church and thinking of all the other terrible things I would rather do than be here. I don’t remember what was said at the funeral – other than the positive impression he left on people in the short time he lived there.
I didn’t like my emotions or the way I felt. Part of my grief was that I didn’t like my dad when I was a teenager – no reason, just a teenage thing. And I was slowly coming out of that phase, but didn’t quite get over that hump of restoring our relationship.
You see, we moved to Aussie because of the 1987 market crash. My parents lost the orchard in Redwood Valley and they were trying to start all over again. Initially it was pretty hard and I returned back to NZ to pick apples because I needed money for my big OE.
Things were slowly getting better for them, a better job, and an apartment – by the ocean. They had not been there a year before the drowning.
What did the future hold – especially for mum, a 40-something year old widow who had spent the best years of her life raising us kids? It was too hard to even think about. Should I cancel my OE?
But even when the feelings are overwhelming and you have to face something you never thought you’d have to, you find a way. Sometimes it’s simply taking one day at a time – or even one hour at a time. It’s seldom quick, and there’s no magic pill or potion.
Life continues and as time passes the pain eases. It doesn’t mean you forget or you don’t miss the person. There are times, years later, I wished dad was here to see what I was doing or ask him for some advice or just watch a game of cricket or rugby together.
Death is a reality for everyone – whether we like it or not. It happens. There are so many emotions surrounding it – we feel cheated, it’s unfair. For some it is a release, expected. Every person is different in how they face the reality of death.
Over time there is a choice – to live focused on the death of someone or to continue living. Continuing to live doesn’t in any way disrespect or dishonour or betray the one who died. If they loved you, they would surely want you to be happy again and find life, I’m certain.
Over time when the intensity subsides, and you can breathe again, there is life still to be lived. For my Mum, it meant that sometime later, she ended up returning to New Zealand and marrying another orchardist. They have been happily married for over 25 years.
It wasn’t easy for her coming back to NZ and a new family dynamic. But ultimately life is what you make of it. Which is a good thing. It means it’s up to you – no one else. Not a partner, child, parent and definitely not the government.
My dad died over 30 years ago and I still miss him.