Tomorrow Finn has his first cross country – I kind of think of it as the school version of the Stawell Easter Gift. He’s pretty excited about it because we missed it in his Prep year. This time last year I was sitting here booking myself and the boys 3 of the last 5 seats on an early flight to Ballarat. Dad’s latest round of chemo wasn’t going well and he’d been taken to emergency – it was so sudden. Less than a week before he’d gone shopping with Mum like usual. My Auntie Jessie stayed with Mum, and Dad, the whole night. It must’ve been very hard for her too; the second anniversary of her husband Rob’s passing was only 3 days before.
I’d packed, feeling sick with nerves. Went to bed and was feeling more hopeful when suddenly a huge brick settled in my guts. It was so out of the blue. I whispered ‘don’t go Dad, don’t go, not yet, you can do it’, and in a couple of minutes the feeling went away. I looked at the clock; 11.15pm, and hoped and prayed the phone wouldn’t ring. It didn’t, but I lay awake crying for the next hour; I couldn’t help it, even though it felt like by being so upset I was giving up on him already. Outside it started to pour with rain.
We had an incredible sunrise as we left the house the next morning. The rain stopped as we reached Coolangatta, and a beautiful rainbow appeared and stayed for ages. Flew to Melbourne, only just managed to catch the shuttle bus, and far from snoozing Rory had a great time playing peekaboo between the seats with the lady behind us. Finn said could we please be quiet as he was trying to sleep.
They both zonked only 10 or so mins out of B’rat. Getting close I was relieved to be there and hoping that we were in time but also dreading finding out we were too late. From the station we got a taxi straight to the hospital, where Jessie came down to meet us. I suddenly knew that we hadn’t made it. I half expected her to say he’d gone last night but we’d only just missed him – he passed away at 11.15am, 45 mins before.
I firmly believe that he knew we were coming, and he held on until one of us girls could get there. He’d always put Mum first. I explained to Finn and Rory that Pa had died, that his spirit had gone to Heaven. They listened quietly and Finn seemed to understand, but a while later Rory asked when is Pa coming?
Despite all the years of love, affection, and great times, talking for ages on the phone, visiting as often as we could, hearing Dad’s stories our whole lives; it still didn’t feel enough. My boys got to meet their grandad, play with him and share experiences, but at the time I only felt sad that they didn’t get longer. I worried that Rory, only three, wouldn’t be able to remember him.
A few months later he said something that helped put my mind at ease. I’d just put him in the bath and out of the blue he said he’d “had a feeling to Pa”. I asked him what he meant and he said solemnly that Pa died – I said yes, I know – then he started talking about Pa and that he’d hugged him. Then he said Pa gave Oma a hug too, because he misses her, and she was happy. I asked when did Pa hug her, was it when she was dreaming? He said yes. And then he said “I miss Pa.” And then he saw that I had tears running down my face and said, “Mum, do you need a hug too?” I said I’d love one. And he said “I’ll give you a hug after my bath, because I’m all wet. And I’ll tell Daddy to hug you too.” Roars, you are a beautiful little soul.
We’ve had so many mementoes of him over the past year. After that first morning, and the run of incredible sunrises and sunsets in the week that followed, I think of Dad every time the skies blaze.
The following week, the day after his service, Mum and Jess were about to go shopping when ‘The Black Bear’ came on the car radio. It was an ad for the Australasian Pipe Band Championships which was being held in B’rat soon… Jess said one of Rob’s favourite songs came on the day after his funeral too. She said it was Dad saying hi, but then Mum reasoned if it was Dad then he was using the song’s “back to barracks” meaning to say ‘don’t go shopping, go home.’ Either that or he was saying I’m going home, cos I don’t have to tag along any more. I laughed my head off, but I like the idea that Dad talks to us, even if we need to decode his messages because they’re coming a different way now.
In June was his 70th birthday. Mum visited and we had a seafaring adventure to scatter Dad’s ashes on the Pacific. Around this time Rory’s backseat driving stepped up a notch, and he started repeating the GPS’s directions back to me verbatim to make sure I got it. Mum reckoned he was channelling Dad.
Little things like that, that remind us of him, all the time. Like Finn’s knee high school socks. Or walking on the beach. Or a particularly luxuriant moustache. Even though tomorrow is the first anniversary of us losing him, those awful memories haven’t been foremost in my mind. Funnily enough, it’s because the cricket’s on. The ICC Cricket World Cup, to be precise. Tonight J and Finn sat glued to the TV until well after bedtime, watching New Zealand’s Black Caps defeat South Africa with a fairytale six and enter the World Cup final for the first time ever. J hollered “YES!!!” at the top of his lungs, and for all I know did a little dance as well. J isn’t normally vocal while watching cricket, but Finn is a bit. He takes after his Pa. Dad would always hope the Aussies would stick it up the Poms – whenever they did there were lots of shouts of “YOU BEAUTY!” and “YOU LITTLE RIPPER!” He’ll be up there with Rob right now, barracking for Australia, as we are. (Well to be totally honest I’m kind of hoping the Kiwis will get up.) I don’t watch much cricket but I think I’ll watch that match, and picture Dad sitting next to us, yelling and cheering at the TV.