I remember it as if it had just happened. Dad was in a bright blue tshirt. Dad always picks horrible clothes, bless him. He loves bright colours and garish, horrible patterns. When we travelled around the US almost 30 years ago (how is it that long ago?) I was embarrassed that Dad wore such bright boardshorts wherever we went. OMG Dad. Put some ‘normal’ clothes on.
Dad was in a bright blue shirt. I took in the usual ‘jungle’ background around him that I see almost every day when I Face-time my parents. They are stuck in a 1-bedroom house in the mountains/forest somewhere in Cebu’s countryside – Philippines with 14 (FOURTEEN, for goodness sakes) of my Mom’s family members.
Dad gave his familiar grin as he answered my video call that day.
“Babygirl!” he cried out happily when my face appeared on screen.
“Daddy” I responded in kind, smiling at his dear face.
We chatted about everything and nothing. “How was work?” “How’s life in the Philippines?” “any news?” “what movies have you been watching?” “recommend anything on Netflix?” “Hey Chook – did you see my Facebook post from today?” (Dad loves to post stupid jokes and cartoons on his Facebook and is very pleased about being able to do so) “Yes Dad”. Dad laughed when I responded by groaning dramatically. “So funny, hey? Wait there, I’ll put you onto Mom” Dad said, smiling into the camera.
As always, Dad paused to explain the exact same phrase to me that he does on every phone call since he moved to the Philippines “Tehc-a-mone-ah” (not sure how to spell the actual Tagalog phrase so you’re left with my version of phonetics, sorry) he pronounced, slowly and carefully.
Dad beamed at me: “Do you know what that means?”
Some days I pretend I don’t because then Dad is so pleased to teach me and gives a happy wiggle of his head (Dad language for “I’m so pleased about this”) and on other days (like today) I don’t have the patience for it. On this day, I sighed heavily “Yes Dad, I know”
Dad leaned into the camera as if we were sat in front of each other in real life and he wanted to be physically closer to me – to share a secret, almost: “What does it mean?”
…and it should be concerning that Dad genuinely forgets he had this exact same convo with me yesterday…and the day before that, and the day before that…but I like seeing him happy, so I let it slide.
So I lean in, too – pressing my face closer to my phone screen.
“…it means wait a minute” I roll my eyes and shake my head in mock-frustration. I still smile though, because Dad looks so genuinely surprised whenever I admit to knowing.
“Haha! Our daughter is picking it up!” Dad announces with triumph, looking off screen towards where I know Mom will be sitting and watching with a smile.
“Here’s your Mom” Dad winked at the camera and I see the background go fuzzy as the phone is passed from one parent to another.
“My neighbour!” Mom chuckles happily when her face appears on screen.
I smile because I love that no matter what time of day or what the conversation is about, Mom always laughs. She laughs even before I’ve said anything; she’s just so happy to hear from her kids, I think.
Mom calls me her ‘neighbour’ because when I got divorced to Jonathan, I moved back in with Mom. Instead of calling me her “house mate”, Mom called me her “neighbour” and it has been that way ever since – even though that was 12 years ago. Bless her.
Conversations with my parents follow the same pattern. I get passed back and forth from Dad to Mom and back again multiple times during the same phone call. It doesn’t matter that I’m on speaker on a video call and that they are sitting right next to each other and can easily hear whatever I’m saying to whoever I’m speaking to at the time, the phone still gets passed between them, and I gleefully get asked to repeat whatever made one parent laugh/surprised them.
“Wait!” Mom will say, laughing and wiping tears of laughter from her face when I’ve relayed a funny story “Wait…tell your Dad…hold on”
And so it was with this call. I talked to Mom about the same things I literally just talked to Dad about. Work was fine, my health was fine, Alun is doing great at his Nursing role in the hospital in the city, yes we are eating, no Dad (he always calls out while I’m talking to Mom – I haven’t had a poo yet today.
“I’ll pass you back to Dad” Mom laughs and the phone screen is blurry as she passes it back to Dad. It settles on his happy, rubber-like face.
“So no poo, then, Chook?” Dad asks, genuinely wanting to know.
“Not yet. Why, Dad? Whyyyy do you always have to talk about poo?”
“Hey, check this out” Dad says, ignoring my pleas and instead angling the camera downwards to show he is in a wheelchair.
“Oh no, Dad – what happened?”
Dad shrugs. “I had a bad fall the other night, chook. I tried to go to the hospital but it was hard getting there when the roads outside are basically dirt and mud. I didn’t like the journey down the hill and I don’t want to have to go to hospital”
“Dad, you need to get properly checked out” I warned, worry lining my face.
“Nope!” Dad stuck his tongue out and laughed “I will be fine, chook. Just less of the drinking from now on. Look at this!” and he held aloft a glass bottle of Coke. I smiled because I was drinking the very same at that moment.
“Just these for me” Dad said, smiling at the bottle, lifting it to his lips and taking a swig.
“No more drinking” Mom’s voice – very stern. You tell him, Mom.
“I can’t put any weight on it, love” Dad grimaced as he moved in his chair. He showed the first sign of being in actual pain.
I was worried.
“Dad…you need to go to hospital, ok?”
Dad sighed “Yes, yes. I know. I think I’ve broken my hip”
That sounded serious.
“Well then” I tried to be stern and frowned at Dad, who was desperately trying to avoid eye contact “you definitely need to go back to hospital – you need them to properly check you out”
“Once the rains stop, we’ll give it a go” Dad promised.
“We’ll go – I’ll make sure your Dad is okay” Mom’s voice from somewhere on Dad’s right.
A day after that call, Mom updated her Facebook, saying that Dad had been admitted to hospital.
I tried to Face-time them and find out more about Dad’s condition and what Doctors were planning, but Mom and Dad didn’t answer so I sent a Facebook message:
“You guys ok?“
Mom messaged back hours later “Yes we are okay. Dad had to have a Covid test. It came back negative so we can move to a better room in the hospital now”
Mom’s Facebook the next day showed news that Doctors were going to operate on Dad the following day and give him a new titanium hip.
Go Dad! I thought. You’ll be like a super hero. Like Ironman. Cool.
I couldn’t wait to tease him about it.
The morning of Dad’s operation, I couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding.
I went to work and I told the girls I was really worried about my Dad. They assured me that hospital staff, Nurses, Doctors and Surgeons knew what they were doing and that Dad would be ok.
I wasn’t convinced.
My soul within me was deeply disturbed and I couldn’t figure out why.
I changed my status on Facebook to something like “Hey Surgeons, you’re not operating on just anyone today, you’ve got my Dad. MY DAD, ok? He means the whole world to me so make sure you got loads of sleep the night before and that you’re prepped and ready to do your BEST work today on Dad’s hip“
I felt slightly better giving the surgeons my imaginary warning to do their best.
The day of surgery came and went and Mom posted a picture later that day on her Facebook of Dad sitting up in his hospital bed. He had just been returned from ‘recovery’ after the surgery. In the photo, Dad had bright green shorts on. Oh Dad. Dad looked happy and well. I smiled at the sight of him.
That evening, my FB messages pinged with a message from Dad : “all okay, babygirl. A bit sore, though. It’s a bit hard typing [while laying] on my back”
I breathed out a sigh of relief. Dad was ok.
Why the feeling of anxiety deep within me, then? Why?
At around 4am the next morning, my phone rang. An international number flashed on the screen and in my half-awake state, I thought “Scammers” and rejected the call. A minute later, my phone dinged with a message.
“Cheeky buggers” I thought “they’re probably leaving me a message on the best phone deals or how they can provide a better internet service. Pfft”
About 20 minutes later, my phone rang again. Same number. Only now, I was a bit more awake and seeing the word “Philippines” under the name jolted me upright in bed.
It can only be my Mom or Dad…and if they’re calling this early in the morning…something is wrong.
“Sweetheart” my Mom’s voice was shaking.
I heard her crying and that was all I needed. My anxiety went way up. Mom never cries. My Mom is the strongest woman on the planet so for her to cry…something huge had gone down.
“Your Dad died at 3am this morning” Mom cried harder.
Her voice didn’t sound like her voice. I mean, it sounded like my Mom…but not my Mom. This version of my Mom’s voice was like tree bark. Rough. Foreign. Her usual warmth was missing and there was a sharpness to her lilt.
Did you just…did you say Dad died???
I moved from the bed to the doorway of our bedroom. I leaned hard against the doorframe, needing something solid in that moment.
I couldn’t think. Alun got up with me and put his arm around me, in tears already because he heard my Mom (I have my phone volume on loud) and his soft heart is so sensitive. I couldn’t move or respond appropriately.
Mom’s brokenness and her voice saying “Your Dad died” just went around and around in my head. The words bounced painfully off walls in my head. They didn’t seem real.
My Dad can’t be dead.
Just yesterday he messaged me on Facebook messenger that he was sore from the hip replacement operation but that he was okay. I could imagine Dad tapping away on his phone screen as he sent the message, his daggy smile on his face and Mom probably chuckling away at him as he did it…Dad always presses so hard on the screen. In his mind, maybe pressing harder means the message will send better.
Mom said they were supposed to be discharged from the hospital today.
Dad was so excited for going home.
My Dad was supposed to be going home!!!
How is he dead???
Mom said something about Dad having a cardiac arrest in the night.
“The last time I saw your Dad, he was sat up in bed watching a movie on his iPad…he looked fine” Mom said. I could hear her disbelief at the situation but I could hear her heart breaking and that made it real.
I felt like a robot. I nodded as Mom talked. It seemed important to her to explain what she knew of the events surrounding my Dad’s death.
I can’t believe my Dad is dead.
“I thought he was sleeping, Janet” Mom went on – her voice like cold steel “Dad looked like he was having a good sleep. A deep sleep. I rang the Nurse and asked her to move your Dad from sideways on the bed so he would be more comfortable”
Dad…you can’t be dead.
This is a nightmare and any minute now, I’ll wake up.
I won’t have to hear the absolute pain in my Mom’s usually warm tone any more. This is too painful for me to bear.
“So the Nurse came in and she said your Dad was blue”
Stop it, Mom.
JUST STOP IT.
“She pressed a button and all these Doctors rushed in”
“They tried doing CPR on your Dad but the Doctor’s told me later he had no pulse. No heart beat. He had been dead a long time before they arrived”
Dad isn’t dead. He can’t be. He was FINE.
I nodded. I think I said something like “Mom…I’m so sorry“
But inside, I wasn’t having a bar of it.
This is the most horrible dream I’ve ever had. Wait ’til I wake up and tell Alun about this. He will hold me tight, kiss the top of my head and we’ll snuggle until I fall asleep again – this time with a better dream.
THIS IS NOT REAL.
“I have to organise things here” Mom said. Again, her voice was hers and yet not hers. I’d never heard her sound like this before. “I will go and will call you later”
WHAT THE FUCK HAS JUST HAPPENED???
I walked from the doorway of our room, through the hallway door and to the Sofa.
I sat on the sofa and Alun sat with me, tears streaming down his face.
Alun didn’t say anything but wrapped a loving arm around me.
Wake me up, Alun. WAKE ME UP FROM THIS NIGHTMARE.
I cried a little this morning. Mostly tears of disbelief. Not the real ones. Not yet. Alun cried hard, bless him. My husband has such a soft heart. My Mom cried a lot.
They move fast in the Philippines. Mom rang again and said they’ve already put my Dad in their morgue. Mom said she will have him cremated and will bring Dad home to Australia.
It was still dark outside and the words “Your Dad is dead” swam around in the air around me.
No he’s not I wanted to argue. NO HE FUCKING ISN’T.
Wake me up from this dream, Alun.
I think I even said that out loud.
Alun rubbed my arm and held me close “Gorg…”
I looked at our corner window. So dark outside. It was about 5:30am on a wintery morning that day.
If my Dad is really dead, then I’ll hate the sun if it rises today.
I’ll hate the world for spinning if it does so without my Dad on it.
I stared hard at the windows and as time passed, the light of day began to glow behind the blinds.
DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE, Sun. I warred within myself.
I can’t believe it’s all happening so fast.
Dad is dead.
How is this real???
How is my Dad in the morgue?!?
HOW IS THIS HAPPENING???
I don’t know what to do.
I know I should be in floods of tears but my mind wont’ accept that my Dad is gone. I can’t. I am hoping even now that my alarm will go off for work and wake me up from this horrible, devastating dream.
…but my Mom’s voice…
Even across all these miles, I could hear the truth in her tears.
My Dad is dead.