Check out was 10am and I was surprised to find that Dad and I had slept in until my alarm went off at 9:30am. It must be because we were up so late talking. I get us both packed and ready and we were back in the car and on our way to check out some cool sites before heading home to Perth. Dad and I love being by the sea, so we spent ages on the Beach at Bunker Bay, just walking in the sun and letting the waves wash over our feet. I squealed at the shock of the water – suddenly so cold on my warm skin – but Dad didn’t say anything. He just enjoyed it quietly. I noticed that Dad actually does that a lot – quietly observes life with a knowing smile on his face; just taking it all in.
We found a nice place to sit, rolled our towels out and I propped up the beach umbrella I brought, digging the pole deep into the stand to keep the umbrella steady. I passed Dad a cold beer “Thanks, Chook!” and selected a glass bottle of coke for myself. We clinked bottles “Cheers, Babygirl!” and munched on pre-bought sandwiches as we watched children dig holes, squeal as they splashed in the water and carefully made sandcastles, shouting “Mom! Come and see what I made!” with glee.
“You’ve always loved kids” Dad remarked. “Whenever we went to a party or function or even on a long plane ride, kids would gravitate towards you, and you’d have them eating out of the palm of your hand in seconds”
It touched my heart that Dad had noticed. To cover the strong feelings rising up, I confirmed: “I do, I love being around children and working with them. They’re my heart, honestly”.
“You wanted to be a teacher your whole life…but you ended up a with a Community Development Degree” Dad reminded me.
“I tried so hard, Dad” I bit my lip, remembering how I’d tried and failed at Teaching in Uni EIGHT TIMES before I finally gave up and pursued a degree in a completely different field instead.
Dad patted my hand fondly “I know you did, Chook. I know”.
I looked out and my heart ached as I saw a little girl being held in the water by her Dad. She looked to be about 3 years old and was laughing and squealing “Daddy! Daddy!”. It was the look on his face that broke my heart, though. The Dad I’m watching looks like he’s having the best day ever.
Just a Dad and his daughter, splashing around in the shallow waters of Bunker Bay’s incredibly beautiful beach.
Cherish every single second, little one.
“So…what are you thinking about right now?” Dad asks.
“Mostly that I’m still really angry” I admit. I’ve held it in for so very long, but now the words come tumbling out – and the release and relief of finally saying what I want to is stunning.
“About last year?” Dad asks, knowing full well that’s exactly what I’m angry about.
“You just left us, Dad! How could you?!?” and I’m alarmed at how my body is shaking and that I’m shouting; ashamed and hurting as my anger turns into thick streams of tears that run down my face.
Dad reaches out and gently holds my hand. His hand is calloused and rough from painting houses every day of his life for almost 30 years. This is such a familiar feeling that it both breaks and mends my heart at the same time. I’m comforted by the feeling of my small hand in my Dad’s large one…this has been how I’ve found comfort through so many of the hard times I’ve faced in my life.
“You can make or break me with your very word, Dad” I finally say the words I’ve held in for over 40 years of my life. “I care so much about what you think of me and sometimes you are the one who does the most damage”. I’m crying now, sobbing and trying to pull air into my burning lungs but I’m so distressed that I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of my own tears.
Dad doesn’t say anything. He allows me to unburden the heavy weight I’ve been carrying for so. many. years.
“I needed you and you left me” I accuse, knowing I am right…but also knowing I am very, very wrong.
“I didn’t ever want to hurt you, your mother or your brother by leaving” Dad is looking out to sea and the light from the waves is glinting in his bright blue eyes. I can imagine my Dad as a young man and can see that he would have been quite handsome back in the day.
“Yet, you did it anyway” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and looked around desperately for a tissue. Not being able to find one, I wiped my hand on my denim shorts.
Dad tried not to laugh but a giggle escapes out of him nonetheless.
“Yuck, Janet” he grinned and pulls a face.
“Not the time, Dad” I warned.
Dad nodded and his smile disappeared. He looked back out to sea again and allowed me to talk.
So I did.
I surprised myself because I finally unleashed it. All the hurt. All the pain. ALL OF IT.
I stood and I shouted at Dad with all my might. I shouted about the ache and the pain of betrayal when he left us until my throat is sore. I am so angry that Dad could just…go. He left us. He left me. I take this incredibly personally because it hurts so deeply. It’s a hurt that aches deep down in my very soul. It is profound how incredibly painful it is.
People on the beach are looking at me with concern but I’m beyond caring what they think. I can tell a few people want to approach me and offer help, so I make eye contact with them and shake my head ‘No, don’t’. They understand and leave me to it.
To my rage. To my pain.
I faced it. Finally.
“HOW COULD YOU LEAVE US?” I almost scream. My roar is guttural. Almost primal. My voice doesn’t sound like my voice, it sounds like it’s come from deep in my spirit and takes me by surprise.
The entire time, Dad didn’t say anything. He just listened. He nodded in understanding. I saw tears making tracks on his cheeks and I still kept yelling.
I yelled and yelled until there weren’t any words left and completely exhausted, I sank into the sand on my knees.
I cried and cried. I cried out a lot of the hurt I’ve held onto for 12 long, lonely months.
I cried until there are no tears left. At this point, I’m convinced my tears have changed sea level to a notch higher, that’s how much I’ve cried. Not just today, but over the last 12 dark months.
Dad sat patiently. He listened.
It was exactly what I needed.
“Are you finished?” Dad asked after I’d been silent for almost an hour.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be finished” I admitted. I’m not angry anymore. Just hurting.
“It won’t always hurt this badly” Dad consoled.
I didn’t believe him.
“One day it will hurt a little less. The next day a little less than that…you know what I always say…”
And together we repeated one of Dad’s favourite things to quote “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better”.
Dad held out his hand to me.
A hand I’ve held onto for almost all my life.
I took it and we walked back to the car hand in hand.
4 hours later and we’d driven back into Perth. We hardly talked on the long journey back. Dad looked out of the window for most of the ride home. I cried more and listened to the radio on and off as I drove. We made hardly any stops on the way; I was focused on getting us to the agreed meeting place in time. Before I knew it, we were pulling into Mullaloo Beach car park. I spotted Jay’s car and know he, his wife and their two little kids will be waiting at the picnic table closest to the kids’ playground on the grassy area before the sand and sea.
That’s where we’d agreed to meet.
I take deep breaths.
“I’m not ready, Dad”
“I know, Chook”
I looked around the carpark until I spotted Alun’s palomino-coloured Audi. Seeing it gave me strength because I know I won’t have to go through what’s about to come on my own.
Alun is here. I will be okay.
Dad and I walked towards the picnic table. I can see Mom putting sun cream on Sebastian’s nose and he’s squirming and giggling, talking a-mile-a-minute. Sebby loves his Grandmother so much. It’s touching to see the family gathered together.
Alun spotted me and jogged over to Dad and I.
I’m already crying.
This is so fucking hard.
“Oh Gorg…” his face crumples and he cries, too. We hold each other tight. Dad stands silent and smiles at us both. Dad loved Alun from the moment they met. They’ve been such good friends and bonded over their love of a sunny beer garden on a summer’s day.
“Aunty Janet!” Sebastian calls out, waving.
Mom turns and sees my face. Instantly, she starts to cry, too.
Dad, Alun and I join the rest of the family at the picnic table. We hug each other. Jay’s wife Kate is pushing their daughter Lilly gently on a colourful swing and seeing us, gathers Lilly in her arms and walks over.
We are together. All of us here at last.
This makes Dad so happy.
“You can do this” he urges me forward through the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I take shuddering breaths and slowly pass the copper urn with my Dad’s ashes in it to Mom.
I find it almost impossible to physically let it go.
It’s uncanny how quickly I’ve gotten used to carrying it around with me over the last 3 days. Never apart from Dad. I understand Mom so much more now.
I can’t let you go, Dad. I’m not ready.
Mom doesn’t rush me. She doesn’t let go, either, but she just waits – her hands over my hands…both our hands on Dad’s urn. I look down and am surprised at how similar our hands are – even down to the shape of our fingers and the hue of our skin – mine only slightly darker than Mom’s.
“See? I brought him back to you, Mom” I manage to get the words past the lump in my throat “I brought him home safe” at this, I completely break down. Jay is nervously looking at his children, worried my crying will set them off.
“Who wants ice-cream?” he asks in an overly-light voice.
“Me! Me!” Lilly and Sebastian chorus.
“Come on, then!” Jay takes Kate gently by her hand and they lead their children to the nearby ice cream van.
I collect myself and Mom busies herself tidying the plates of food on the picnic table. Alun helps to wrap sandwiches and sausages. Mom’s made sweet, sticky rice in packages of banana leaves, just like when we were in the Philippines.
That afternoon, we all walk to the water’s edge. We each take it in turn to say something to or about Dad. Mom, Alun, Kate and Jay all tearfully say their goodbyes.
I can’t bear it.
Alun’s arm is around me. He squeezes my shoulder gently.
“Gorg…you’ve got to let him go” Alun softly says.
Mom takes hold of my hand “Alun is right, my love – we have to say goodbye. All of us. You have to let your Dad go, sweetheart”.
With trembling arms, I reach into Dad’s urn and take out a handful of his ashes.
Surely you aren’t these ashes, Dad.
You were 6 feet tall and you filled an entire house with your noisy, happy, colourful, amazing being.
How did you end up in this tiny urn?
I hold tight to the ashes in my hand, curling it into a stubborn fist.
Everyone is waiting.
“It’s time to let me go, Babygirl” Dad says quietly “You’ve done hard things before and what I like best about you is that you never gave up. You are the person I trust most to do the right thing when it’s most needed” he reminds me.
Still, I hold tight. My fist aching and my arm cramping because I’m desperate to keep my Dad close.
I’ve never experienced a hurt this fucking deep in my entire life.
I can’t let go.
My fingers won’t release and I can’t open my hand.
I can’t open my hand because if I do, my Dad will filter through my chubby fingers and he’ll disappear into the ocean.
“Gorg…I love you. You can do this” Alun’s tears drop onto my t-shirt and that is the magic that breaks my stubbornness. I open my palm and I watch in dismay, grief, hurt and so much pain as my Dad’s ashes carry on the breeze and land in splotches on the waves around us.
“I love you, Dad” I’m crying so hard I can barely get the words out.
Mom is crying too and squeezes my hand “Proud of you, my Janny. You are giving your Dad the peace he really needed”.
I dunk my hand slowly into the sea and wave it slowly in the water…my Dad’s ashes breaking free.
Thank you for every time you held my hand.
Thank you for teaching me how to tie my laces, how to swim, how to ride a bike. Thank you for teaching me about Art, History and things like how in the ‘olden days’, people used to trace over gravestones and intricate carvings on other symbolic things by placing special paper over the area they wanted and rubbing over it with special crayons. Thank you for quoting Spike Milligan’s poems all through my childhood and teen years and for carefully weaving your unique brand of humour through every chapter of my life.
Thank you for your laughter, your ‘Dad facts’, the days you challenged me when I didn’t want to move forward and the days you walked quietly beside me. Thank you for the fights that remind me that no one is perfect. Thank you for the slammed doors, the yelling, the brokenness that helps make the many happy moments so much more precious. Thank you for understanding me and helping me to understand myself.
This is not goodbye because I believe I’ll see you again.
This is only temporary, Dad – because one day I’ll hear that gruff, deep voice of yours again.
One day I’ll open my eyes in Heaven and there you’ll be – beaming away and excited to show me around.