Ordinary people all feel anonymous and small sometimes. But we need to remember how important we are to so many others, to this world, even when we feel insignificant. This blog is built on the idea that grief is a very positive thing if its energy drives us to act, to live and do so with love, compassion and connectedness. To this end it is full of reminiscence and sadness but the awareness that I like myself, and these stories made me the person that I am. And that is a good thing.
These stories and this blog were all inspired by my father, the Old Man. He was, to quote Thurber, ‘the only person who stimulated me to the point of a nervous breakdown.’ Born as a War Child after a pair of Russian soldiers raped his mother in Austria in the early days of the Occupation, his life was marked by his heritage. Derided and abused, physically and emotionally his whole young life he carried demons that he soothed with alcohol and drugs. He was often a terrifying man, prone to rages that were fueled by his own life lessons as a child.
But he was also a loving and caring man, who had been denied the opportunity to live the life a child deserves. He was full of energy, endlessly fascinated with the world; people, nature, religion and philosophy. He was fearless and loud, and was always breaking new ground, from living in Africa and travelling for 12 years across the continent, to violating the law of apartheid in South Africa with my mother ( a coloured Cape Malay woman) . Bringing an African bride back to our conservative village following their deportation under the decency acts of the time, and then my own arrival a year later was just another example of his attitude to life. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about people, but that he was able to discern what was important.
I knew very little of any of this, until his years of illness took its toll, and he began slowly dying. A series of heart attacks and subsequent bypasses came first, then poor circulation necessitated the amputation of both his legs. all this happened in Austria, while we were living in Australia, and he was trapped, too ill to die in his adopted homeland, while we raced back and forth to care for him. It was in these last decaying years that he found new strength, and we made our peace. Learning about his story made me realise that his actions, which had coloured my life so badly as a child and young man, were not borne of some evil he had created. Context gave me a new understanding, and in those last years we were free to truly express ourselves.
The last weeks of his life were so intense and loving, that it is difficult to quantify. His lungs were eroded with cancer, and he spent the day slowly rising from a stupor from painkillers. He coughed up blood all day, and his leg stumps bled as the flesh drew back revealing the bones. He waited until evening when Caritas Nursing staff gave him more painkillers, then slipped into that sleep, the television blaring the whole time as a relief from his own thoughts. He was lucid for much of this, but would fall into a dying stupor.
Despite this, the period was one I remember fondly. We were honest and loving with one another. We spoke openly about what needed to be said, with the knowledge that all this was very finite. His death was long and hard and full of suffering, but we were able to extract what we needed. When he died, a void was created in me. There is never enough time to express love.
This blog started as a way of coping with my grief, and also as a way to record my memories. Everything here really happened, with the exception of one story. My memory has always been my strongest attribute, and I hope that my stories and poems can resonate a certain truth. I hope you can read them and find comfort, happiness or solace. I hope you can be inspired to find the courage to close the browser and go and make those hard conversations with those loved ones, before you discover the regret of an infinity apart. Now is all the time you have.