Last Sunday night my mother received a phone call (from my father’s wife’s sister’s husband) telling her that our father had died suddenly of a heart attack. This was unexpected, distressing news. It took me some time to comprehend. And then, despite my patchy history with my father, despite my very recent reflections on my disappointment in him (see Dad Envy), I found myself suddenly heart broken.
On Tuesday, everyone in my family except (blessedly) for Hubby came down with a bad case of the flu.
On Wednesday morning, my father’s funeral notice was published in the paper. My father’s wife, who has long appeared to harbour a strong wish that my sisters and I didn’t exist, was finally able to express that wish in print. The funeral notice mentioned my father’s two daughters from his second marriage, but made no reference to us. None. It is a strange and devastating feeling to be treated like you don’t exist in such a way. I don’t recommend it.
On Thursday it took two lengthy phone calls between Hubby and Father John the parish priest (the second ending when Father John hung up on Hubby), and a visit to enlist the support of my kind and wise Uncle Joe (my Dad’s last remaining brother) before I was finally allowed to say a few words at my own father’s funeral.
On Friday, we went to the funeral. I was first to speak, and despite a 38.5 degree temperature and a very scratchy voice, I spoke eloquently (in my humble opinion) about my disappointment in and appreciation for my Dad. I told him I loved him and I knew he loved me, and I told him goodbye. The entire time I was speaking, my Dad’s wife kept her hand over her face so she couldn’t see me. When I sat back down, Uncle Joe gave me a lovely smile and held my hand very, very tightly.
The week has finished, and it has been a pretty rotten one all in all. But it is now over, and I guess I have managed to learn a few things along the way:
Firstly, we don’t know the future. It turns out that having a crap Dad is still better than having no Dad at all. That sounds flippant, but it isn’t meant to – it’s just the truth. I don’t feel guilty, but I do wish that I had called my Dad after moving home to Brisbane three months ago. I probably would have gotten around to it eventually – I just didn’t feel the urgency. We might have caught up for a coffee or a glass of wine… it could have been nice.
Secondly, I have discovered that when you have an ongoing debate with your partner about your children’s education and it seems like you’re at an impasse, something is bound to happen to break the stalemate. In the space of one afternoon, Father John managed to inflict some irreparable damage on my quest to send our children to a Catholic school. Hubby is now, understandably, immovable on this point.
Thirdly, I have learned that regardless of how sad you feel or how sick you are, it feels good to stand up for yourself. As I walked out of that church with my sister, I felt like we did indeed exist. And I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt all week.
Finally and most importantly, I have learned that when times are tough the chances are high that somewhere, somehow, something good will be waiting to help you. For me, this came in the form of my Uncle Joe. I hadn’t spoken more than a few words to him in over 30 years, but there he was at six o’clock last Thursday night – grief-stricken himself, in the middle of dinner, but ready to provide the compassion, wisdom, humour, and big, strong, sad hug that I so very badly needed…