IN A FEW HOURS, IT'LL BE A YEAR SINCE DAD DIED
I got the call on Tuesday April 26, 2022, that Dad was going downhill. I wrote down these notes as I was talking to the doctor.
I was told to get to his bedside in Beechworth, North Eastern Victoria, as soon as possible.
At that time, the quickest route from northern NSW to Beechworth was to fly to Melbourne and then drive north for three hours.
I wanted to go at least the speed limit (110 kmh) on the Hume - maybe a bit over it - so I could get there before, you know, anything happened. But these trucks had other ideas.
I arrived at the nursing home in the afternoon. Did the Covid test. And when I got to Dad’s room, he was far from deceased. In fact, he was out of bed and sipping red wine through a straw. Between sips, he told me one of the nurses said he was dying.
He looked at me as if to say, “Can you believe it?” I didn’t know what to say. I knew he was dying because the doctor told me as much. But we didn’t talk about death in my family.
So I said, “Dad, do you want me to speak to the nurse?”
“Oh no. No,” he said. That didn’t surprise me. As a member of the Church of England faith, Dad’s ambition was to get through life without making a kerfuffle.
I knew why the nurse’s comment had bugged Dad. It was because he’d spent his life carefully avoiding talking about death. In place of the word “dying”, he would often talk about “popping off”. Like he’d remind me every now and then that his will was with his solicitor: “I’m just letting you know for when I pop off.”
But Dad made friends with death on the morning of April 27, 2022. I’d slept at a nearby hotel the night before and got to Dad’s bedside at about 8. He said he’d had a miserable sleep. What kept him awake must have been a combination of pain and soul searching because he looked at me with a calm, unsentimental seriousness and said: “I’m dying.” He didn’t elaborate. And by lunchtime, his prophecy came true.
The end was peaceful. And quicker than expected.
Dad wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered at a particular rock that had a particular shape on the Beechworth Gorge walk.
At the end of last year, a few of us traveled the length and breadth of the Gorge looking for the rock. It was pouring with rain and there were at least half a dozen false alarms before we found a rock that matched his description. We climbed to the top, scattered his ashes and had a little ceremony. During those 10 minutes, I had a profound sense that Dad was free and back to being his cheeky, laughing self. There was a buoyancy and lightness about him. All the joy that had been suppressed by Parkinson’s had returned. I’d almost forgotten he was like that. I think he was sending me a message that he was OK. More than that, he was happy. And the very thing he feared so much, wasn’t so bad after all.