That moment between dreaming and awake, listening to my heart beat. thump….thump….thump
The phone rang. I picked it up, even though I’d normally ignore it this early on a Saturday morning. Some how I already knew. The sound of the beating heart was not mine. And that sound – that heart – had stopped.
At the gathering, words were spoken. Stories shared of a brother, a cousin, a friend. A workmate. A running buddy. A husband, life-long mate.
As I read out my mother’s words, her eulogy, the sounds of a distant ocean gave me courage. Laughter was shared as I spoke of how my parents met. Only I heard the sounds of a tail, softly hitting the cold ground.
The soldier with the red beret, when spying the mermaid for the first time, had no doubts. He even said so, to the mermaid, the day they’d met: they would marry. With a flip of her tail, she laughed him away. She was still young; enjoying her freedom after too many years spent in harsh captivity. Determined, he wooed her, in the dance hall by the sea. And not long after he whisked her away, across the plains of red sands, in a tiny red convertible. Too soon, both uniform and fish-tail had been put aside, and the convertible was exchanged for a much larger car.
In present time, as the speeches unfolded, similar threads could be seen. A good man. Quiet. Humble. Determined. Health-concious. Fit for his age. Cheeky sense of humour. And achievements were listed. What wasn’t voiced, but heard by all, was the shared-shock. The disbelief. How could he be gone so soon? He wasn’t supposed to die yet. Not until at least a century of years had been spent on this earth. If anyone could live forever, it was him.
Nice memories, but who will speak of a father? Will not one of you come forward?
Not the ghost-brothers, although they are certainly here, unseen, to bear witness. My older brother will share memories in his own time, with friends. Not the absent sisters. Although their distant whispers are heard by some. Feathers flying, beaks reaching for soft spots, talons scratching. Even monsters have fathers.
Yes. And somewhere, deep inside, they hold close memories of childhood.
Can you not give a eulogy? Speak of a father, who was somewhat mysterious but still beloved.
No, speaking up would anger the sisters further.
Poor excuse! You’re just scared.
Scared of what?
Of accepting he’s gone.
Be grateful that there were no loose threads, nothing left unsaid between you. Be glad that he lived a good life. And remember that he died doing what he enjoyed most in the world – running beside an ocean.
It is now later. So much has changed. So many challenges have been confronted, dealt with, absorbed. The process of grieving, accepting and letting go will take some more time. That is how it should be. So now its the time for treasure hunting, finding good memories.
To recall a childhood. We didn’t have much, but we had space – an old falling-down rented farmhouse. Like moths to a light, we would fly wildly, occasionally returning to circle around our father as he worked in the shed or out in a paddock. If asked, he would show us what he was doing, passing on knowledge that we were too young and foolish to pay attention to.
The third oldest of six, I was the first to master the art of riding a bicycle, thanks to my father. Although he used an unorthodox (ie dangerous) teaching method, it worked. And it also set me on the path of overcoming fear. He would take us to the top of a small hill that met a rocky road, which ended at a stone barn wall. Holding on to the seat, he’d instruct us to start peddling, following behind us, holding on to the seat. It was at that moment when I turned, to discover that he was no longer holding on, and I was a few metres away, that I had to make a split-second decision. Let fear get in the way, so I’d wobble and eventually fell over. Or keep going, and watch the wall get closer. Or believe that I can do it, and steer the bike away from impending impact, and off down the road. I took the third option. And learnt how to take control of my own path.
A short time later, my fascination with horses developed. There were two, plus one donkey, during my childhood. And none of them were fond of being ridden. My favourite was Arabella. When I first saw her, in the auction ring, I knew she was destined to be mine. More unicorn than horse, she would only let young maidens handle her. Even though she tolerated my company, she’d rarely let me on her back. Sadly she had a most tragic accident one stormy night. I shed a tear the next day, as she was carted off. Not because she was destined to be the food of caged kings, but because I had loved her.
My father was somewhat an absent father, even when present. As a travelling salesman, there’d be times when he was gone for weeks at a time. And when finally home, he would don running shoes and head off. For hours and hours. Behind his back we would joke that he ran to get away from us; far away from the noise of so many wild children. Perhaps he did. Still, it was what he loved doing. He ran and ran, right up to his last moments on earth.
As a quiet person, he’d also escape to the solitude of his own space – in an office full of books. As I got older, I’d sneak into that space when he was away from home. That library was a place of learning, full of non fiction; mostly books with maps on how to be a better person, how to set goals, and personal growth. In that library I developed a passion for learning. A short while before that, my father also helped me to combat my dyslexia – gifting me a gadget that taught speed reading. Memorising the patterns of words opened up pages of new worlds for me, and once I could read, I devoured any book I could find.
Then I grew up and moved out. Soon busy with children, study, work and interests of my own, time with my parents became rare. Even rarer after they bought that ancient caravan, and became grey-nomads. Happily drifting around Australia, chasing the sun’s warmth for the sake of ageing bones.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to make an effort to communicate differently – to ask questions, consciously collect family stories. And over the past eighteen months, although they were usually in another state, I had a few unexpected opportunities to spend time with them. Increasingly, it was in those moments that he’d share stories, mostly of relatives that I had never met or barely heard of.
With time, those memories, those stories, will become even more important. Now, they help me to stay strong. To accept that the young soldier has gone. As has the son, brother, husband, friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather.
Still, he lives forever. Even though, all too soon, people will have forgotten what he looked like; needing photos for prompts. And sometime in the future, perhaps after a hundred years have passed, he will be spoken of no longer. His features will no longer appear in the faces of children. Particular characteristics or quirks no longer attributed to him.
Still he lives forever. In the blood, the DNA, of those who are yet to be born. And, perhaps, the good deeds they are yet to do, the personal goals they will achieve, will have been possible because of my father’s legacy. There is no ending, not really.