I love my birthdays as a celebration of being alive – but they’ve always been pretty dramatic.
There’s been break ups, hospital visits, lengthy blackouts during freak storms on remote tropical islands, exes trying to sabotage things… but nothing beats my 36th birthday, when the first call of the day was from my sister telling me my father had died.
Way to ruin my planned seafood buffet birthday dinner, dad.
I was in Queensland on holidays, so of course I packed my bags, and my six-year-old son, and headed home immediately.
I’d like to tell you I handled the first available flight back with grace and dignity. I did not.
I couldn’t stop crying. I just couldn’t, not even for my son. The only information I had was that dad had died in a car accident; another car had hit him, and he’d died at the scene – last night. The cops hadn’t been able to reach my mother until midnight. I didn’t find out until the next morning because of course my phone had been on silent, and I’d been fast asleep, dreaming of lobster tail and scallops and béchamel sauce, while my sisters tried to get onto me for hours.
So on the plane, with barely any of the details, my imagination ran wild. What were his last few seconds alive like? Did he see the oncoming car rushing towards him? Was he scared? Did he die on impact, or when his car smashed into a building after it was hit?
And then there was the disbelief. This just could not be true. People can’t just be there one second, and not the next.
I felt like I was going insane on that flight.
We finally landed, and went straight to mum’s. Seeing my mother’s face, and the face of the sister who’d been with her all day, and who’d had to call everyone, was heart-breaking. The guilt of not being there has never really gone away.
So that was my birthday in 2013, which I guess I came to believe had been The Worst Day of My Life because really, every other challenge paled in comparison.
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I know significantly worse things have happened to people, but the trauma of that day, from the early morning phone call, to the three-hour flight with no information and no distractions, to finally being at mum’s that night – that trauma was hard to shake. For a long time.
Anyone who has lost someone knows that the first anniversary is particularly difficult. And even though dad had died on my birthday eve, remembering the events of the next day meant I just couldn’t face my following birthday, the day after his first anniversary. I couldn’t fathom celebrating it.