Whether this is synchronicity or something else, I’m not sure, or whether it’s simply Father’s Day here in Australia and today I feel the need to open up my head and type away…. Blogging (I never thought of myself as a Blogger back then!) used to be my way to heal and work through what ailed me at the time – and it just so happened that so many people used to actually stop and take the time to read my words… and they seemed to resonate with some. It’s still the funniest of feelings knowing I was opening up my inner-monologue to the world (when you’re such a private person) and have someone actually like what you have to say… stuns me!
… and here I am sitting outside, with my laptop, typing away like a day hasn’t passed. But absolutely everything has changed. Me, my location, my technology, my goals, my body, my heart…
I don’t know how to say this without bursting into tears, so I’ll just do that and keep on typing…. The moment I say this out loud is the moment it gets too real – and I’ve had my barriers up for the past couple of months just trying to deal with life after loss. Because what I discovered was that the world doesn’t stop to let you mourn, it just keeps going. You get told to “suck it up, it’s a part of life”, so you put on your blinkers and you just get on with doing your day to day…
But loss doesn’t work that way. It’s a day, a moment, a fleeting thought, a smell, a sound… it’s the smallest things to the largest ones – and you’re right back in that heartache, and your day to day seems so mundane, and pointless. It’s a fruitless attempt at covering your own broken heart. And you bloody well know it…
Today is my moment – Father’s Day – it’s the first main ‘moment’ that I’ve been dreading. But I didn’t come into today in tears – I was actually heartened by it. I WANT these moments to come and make me remember, make me believe in better things, make me look forward. It’s a moment that makes you grateful for what has been, and accepting of what has passed.
We lost dad early June this year – it was really sudden. … but not shocking. We’ve seen him struggle for about 7 years since his first aneurysm surgery way back then. For those of you who have been around for a while, you may have seen me talk previously about his hospital stays, our fears, his battles, etc. They are MANY, and it’s always been met with “poor Nev – that’s so much to take on!”
Dad was riddled with aneurysms (smoker all his life, he’d literally quit smoking just prior to these issues coming to fruition). One day I might go into greater detail, his story is incredible really…. But for now, I’ll keep it minimal. He had been struggling for so long, but it was a brain bleed that took him from us.
He tried his hardest for 26 days, he was ‘asleep’ the entire time. His Doctors and specialists – who had kept him alive for 7 extra years – did absolutely everything in their power to bring him back to us. … but it just simply wasn’t to be. He was exhausted, his body was exhausted, and he called the shots this time.
I was backwards and forwards to Newcastle (John Hunter Hospital, they are incredible – thank you for all that you have done for us) – between work and 5-hour travel and bedside vigils – that month has come and gone from my mind like a blink of an eye. Yet it is seared into my soul, sitting beside dad’s bed waiting for him to open his eyes. Just so we could smile and encourage and tell him that yep, you’ve got this again Dad, we’re right here, and we’ll stay here til you walk out the door again with us…. We’d seen him do this before – from heart attack and triple heart bypass surgery, to 3-month hospital stays in isolation from a Tuberculosis scare. Through to his “Frankenstein Surgery” where they did a vein bypass from his neck to his brain because 3 out of the 4 carotid arteries that feed oxygen and blood to the brain was totally blocked and un-salvageable. My Dad’s a hospital marvel – and every time he’d walk out the door, wonky but with a (very modest) fight in him that I’ve never seen before.
… but just not this time. He’d open his eyes briefly at the start, and we had such huge hope that was good signs for him, that there was ‘recovery after a stroke’ (for lack of knowing what was actually happening) – and we would keep on pushing forward. Because that’s what we do.
Mum stayed by his side the entire time. I would come and go as often as I could. My sis and bro both made visits, but the more days that passed, the longer we waited…. The more the hospital staff would drop words we simply didn’t want to hear. Dad wasn’t functional the way he needed to be – he was still breathing on his own, but was tube fed and as time progressed, he wasn’t responsive to the stimulation that we’d seen early on. It was heartbreaking to watch him decline like this, his body was solid, he was better than I’d seen him in the past (we’d seen him go from a solid beefcake to an anorexic fragile “old man” – and he’d still rebuilt himself back up!).
There is NOTHING more upsetting than seeing someone you love deteriorate before your eyes. …. I assume. I don’t really know. Actually there’s probably lots of things that are heartbreaking – the world is full of them really… but in my limited experience of ‘life’ (and I live under a mushroom after all) – this takes the cake. Having my dad lie there in body, but not know where the rest of him is….. purely agonising. But every day we’d show up at the hospital, and talk and laugh and show him we were there with him. And every day you’d feel that little more defeated, but refuse to let it go because he’s dad.
It was when we hit the 20+ days mark that it was apparent that something was really wrong. … and as much as we didn’t want to admit it, knew this wasn’t right. It just wasn’t. That wasn’t dad, it wasn’t him in any way. Dad was a hardy, jovial guy who never sat still – even when his head would spin and he’d have to sleep bulk of the day away, he would STILL want to go do something. Bed-ridden, feeding tubes, nurses poking him to try and get him to react…. Bullshit to that. He’d hate it. We had to consider what he would truly want. Even if by some miracle dad could have pushed through the ‘fog’ of his unending “sleep”, there is not a chance he’d have wanted to be bed-bound, under full-time care, out of his own home…. Never.
When they start talking about ‘duty of care’ and “what would Nev have wanted” – that’s when it comes crashing down on you that your options at this point are paramount. …. But how the hell do you make this call without it shredding you to pieces?! I remember saying to mum quite bluntly “if it was my Healy (my cat of 15+ years – my best mate) that was in pain or something wrong, I’d let him sleep. I couldn’t do that to him.” …. And yet saying these things was perplexing. It’s not courageous and yet it’s the bravest thing you can do. It’s ridiculously heartfelt but it’s the most heartbreaking moment of your life. In those moments, I honestly don’t know where I was, or who I was, or why I was…. Was like making the biggest statement of your life, and wishing no one would listen, just so you didn’t have to admit it to yourself. Perplexing.
….. but then we heard the reality speeches from the staff. Usually with brain trauma – and there were many in the hospital around us – the patients have an optimal time of roughly 5-7 days (I forget statistics – so much is a blur). But I remember it being brief. … and we were at 21 days. They gave dad so much longer, and tried so many ways. They went searching for answers for why his follow-up brain surgery hadn’t brought him through. They looked for signs, they searched for adhesion and tried to track brain patterns and waves to show us WHY he couldn’t come out of his long-term sleep. …. And when they told us the stats, that’s when my heart sank. It wasn’t logical nor practical, and least of all ‘humane’ to expect miracles from dad when he’d already tripled the days they usually see responses from brain patients. It broke my heart in that moment. And I put my blinkers on ever since…
We lost dad in the early hours of 8th June – the entire family sat by his bed on the day we took out his assisted breathing tubes. It was just surreal to see him so peaceful and physically healthy there on the bed. But he never did open his eyes for me during the 26 days (I so longed for that – he’d briefly do that for mum, and he was ‘awake’ for a while when mum had been playing him some Elvis – but not really responsive, just eyes open). I sat there and held his hand on his last day, for bulk of the day. I just wanted him to open his eyes…. Dad had pale green eyes – I’ve got green. The rest of my family all have brown. I have his eyes, and I just sat like a little kid next to my dad’s bed, just waiting for him to wake up….
We watched him throughout the afternoon struggling with his breathing, he scared the begeezus out of us a few times later into the night. I didn’t want to see this, I didn’t want to watch. I was STILL waiting for him to wake up…. By about 1am, we were beyond exhausted. The others had left to go get some sleep, it was mum and me at this point. We just couldn’t leave. I didn’t want dad to be alone. The night nursing staff assigned to dad were amazing. We knew what was coming, we just didn’t know when. There was no timeframes, there was no exact moments. They didn’t know, they couldn’t tell us – they could guesstimate all they liked, but dad was calling the shots on this one.
Mum and I couldn’t leave. Every time we’d make the move to go grab a few hours sleep, I just couldn’t do it. It was the middle of the night, and we had planned on just going for a short couple hours and coming straight back. Just enough to take the edge off stinging eyes and pure exhaustion. …. But it gutted us every time we tried to do that. Every time. The night nurse on at the time encouraged us to get some sleep – he even said that when his daughter had been in hospital in this situation, the best thing you could do is get some rest…. They know, they understand, it broke my heart for him that he knew this fear.
We reluctantly went back to the room for a break, fully dressed climbing into bed about half an hour later. …. Lights out, then mum’s phone rang. My heart stopped I’m sure. I had my shoes back on before she even had enough time to ask if I wanted to go back. Dad had called the shots – he picked his moment. True to the end, he was looking out for us, waited until we’d left before he took his final breath. I didn’t have to watch this, and I’m so grateful. I can't for a moment imagine bearing that image for the rest of my life. When I saw him last he was so crazy beautiful peacefully asleep – what I saw just an hour later wasn’t my dad at all. His light had gone – he wasn’t there anymore. I could see it, I could feel it. I cried for him, I cried for us, I cried for relief for him, I cried for his freedom.
We stayed with him for as long as we needed – it wasn’t the same, it wasn’t dad anymore – but it was respectful and it was comforting to hold his hand. And I simply couldn’t be anywhere else in this moment. I was just that little girl with her dad. … the moment I had to leave him was the moment it broke my heart entirely. Walking away and leaving him there was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do….
….. but this is where life is a little cruel. I stayed with mum in Newcastle for the days after as we made arrangements. … but I was due back to work, the others had gone home and mum was about to be left there on her own. It’s moments like these that you really resent being an adult – but life doesn’t stop, and there’s expectations and obligations. I drove home in tears (not the first time) – and it was back to work thereafter. My blinkers went up, because I couldn't deal with 'normal' otherwise. Nothing was normal now anyway. ...but daily life can't work when you're broken - I'm no heartless machine. So the blinkers were on and the barriers were up.
It’s now the start of September, and I've had my mum staying in my house while she figures out her next moves. (that in itself has been extremely hard for the girl whose been on her own for over 20 years!!). It’s just a a couple months later, and I’ve not really had time to sit and mourn, or feel all the feels. I’ve had to be strong and diligent, professional and ‘chin up’. It was in this time that I realised just how alone I was – my own doing. When I stopped blogging, closed my page, reverted back to ‘solitude’ all that time ago, I didn’t know that it would impact me in this way later. I call it my ‘idiot move’ – I took away my community, my connections. I hid away and removed myself from social circles. For whatever my reasons were a few years ago – in retrospect, I did a major disservice to myself. And right in the thick of needing my friends and community the most, I realised I didn't have it anymore...
I’m a soulful human – I vibrate with empathy and compassion. I fucking hurt ALL THE TIME for people. I actually really love people. I was always a loner, very unassuming (LOATHED the spotlight…. You wouldn’t know that hey?!) – and when I chose to go back to that solitude, I guess I thought it was what I needed. Probably did “at the time”. … and I’m sure I’ll go into this more later… but for now I’ll say it was just an idiot move.
Writing has been my outlet for a very long time. Well before anyone ever started to read it or I made anything actually public! I’d write letters to friends, poetry, I’d have endless online chat conversations with friends around the world for hours and hours and hours…. I found ME when I was writing (crazy shy girl in person, I had a VOICE in words!) - and a few years back I shut the gate on that too.
So I’ll close where I started an hour ago – perhaps it’s serendipitous or perhaps it’s simply me coming back to me, doing something I know will help me heal… but today is Father’s Day, and my heart is hurting for the first moment of many future moments without my dad in them….and it’s time I come out of hiding. Validate what is, what has come, and show my gratitude for the lessons that I’ve been afforded the last few years. … not one bit has been easy, but here I am, hand on heart opening the doors again. Reasons and seasons. Maybe my dad was encouraging me to start my writing again - I don't know.... but it hit me like a wave just the other day, but I wasn't ready until today to put "pen to paper" and let the first wave out.
I walked into my back shed yesterday, and mum’s been in there sorting things for me while she’s been staying here. I broke down in tears – there’s a line of second hand mowers in my shed that dad kept bringing to my house for me. I can hear his words ringing in my ears “you just pull that cord and it should go!”. Ha! I can’t start half these bloody things, and the one that works easily is blunt as all hell. Single girl – dad had me lined up for second hand mowers that he’d tinkered with enough to get them to work – but he forgets that I’m useless with this stuff, and I do such wonderful things as break fingernails or cut myself on them!! …. And here was my line of mowers, all in a row…. What the hell am I going to do now?!!! It broke me. Blinkers off, barriers down. Today is my day to mourn.
But I’ll do it in true dad style…. Because he wouldn’t want us crying – he’d want us laughing. He’d want us to be happy. He’d shrug off the dreads, and he’d drop a really dodgy dad joke and giggle like a little kid. You’d laugh simply because he was laughing at his own silliness. I’ll imagine him sitting on my couch watching tv – ideally cricket – and forget trying to get that remote back again. Not going to happen. I’ll forgive the wads of dried up grass clippings that still get blown through the front door, because the last person to mow my front lawn was dad, with his mower that I can’t bloody start, without the catcher on the back (which I hate!!) – but he did that on his last visit here just before he and mum went home, just before we lost him. He mowed my lawns for me just before he left, just for me, because he wanted to. Even though he struggled the entire time, even though a neighbour offered to do it for him….. When spring hits properly and the grass is out of control, and more importantly, when I’m ready - I’ll go mow that lawn and dad can sit on the park bench out the front of my house cheering me on. I know he’ll be there and I just know he’ll be telling me how to start that freaking mower….. I welcome those moments, they’ll be the ones that make me smile.
You’re still here really, I know that, I feel that. So I won’t say I miss you – that’s a given – but I’ll say it really sucks that today of all days, I’d have lashed out and bought you the good quality chocolate covered almonds for your Father’s Day pressie. …. Cuz I loved buying you the good stuff. That's what I miss already...
Happy Father’s Day dad. We love you. xxx