real life

'I've been widowed twice and lost a child. I can't face losing my father.'

At no time have we felt the distance from our families so strongly. With the shutdown of flights and closing of borders due to COVID-19, family overseas seem impossibly far away.

We are a land of many immigrants, and COVID has made the distance seem terrifying. We hear of people who had to Facetime their final farewells and then attend the funeral of a parent via Zoom. 

So this is a shout-out to anyone who has gone through that or is terrified they might have to face it. You are not alone and I feel your pain. 

This is possibly the scariest time of my life. 

My beloved dad is in and out of the hospital, where he has been on and off for over a year now, and he now describes himself as being at the pointy end of life. 

He lives in South Africa. Meanwhile, I am stuck 11,469kms away in Australia, so the chances are I will never see him again in person, and, when he does pass, I probably won’t be able to attend his funeral with my family.

This is ripping my heart out. 

Watch: Robin Bailey on losing her dad at a young age. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Once a blur of intellectual and physical energy, he is still the dad who loves to travel and camp and hike and adventure. 

Just a few years ago, he was jogging to fetch the newspaper, scaling high fences to open gates, working at a university as a lecturer and preaching at the local church. He was a man who stayed up late at night at his desk reading, writing, planning and pacing about. 

In later years, he’s grown rather fond of birdwatching, gardening and cooking, too. 

Now he lies in his bed most of the day, struck down by an autoimmune illness that is eating away what is left of his diseased heart. His face is puffy and skin purple from the drugs, yet his mind still so fully alert. 

He seems as shocked as we are to find himself this frail and vulnerable. He feels helpless and powerless and angry that his body has betrayed him when he is not ready to die.

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The death of a parent is a normal passage of life, and my dad is in his 80s, yet I am totally unprepared to let go of his hand and walk on without him. 

Somehow Dad’s ageing had taken me by surprise. I can accept that I have aged and often don’t recognise my own older face in shop windows. But somehow, I never thought about the fact that my parents will not live forever, and that as I get older, they are thus moving closer to heaven’s door on the conveyer belt of life. 

Even now, my heart still refuses to accept that. I tell myself that he has been ill for two years, and he is sure to last a few more, and I hope like hell I will see him at the end of the year. 

But every time the phone rings at night, my blood turns cold as I wonder if this is THE CALL.

When journalist, author and screenwriter Amal Awad’s father was diagnosed with kidney failure, she made a surprising decision that changed so much for them and for her. Post continues below.

I should celebrate every precious moment my dad is still alive, and cherish the calls we make every week. But each time I speak to him, I wonder if it will be my last chance to hear him say he loves me, or for me to send kisses across the airwaves.  

Each call, the resonant timbre of his voice grounds me, reminds me of his rational and reasonable approach to every disaster in my life, his calm haven when my life goes crazy, his moral compass, his guidance.

Already, I am grieving. The setting sun casting long shadows as he creeps further into the omnipresent dusky death zone.

My father’s decline has horrified me and thrown me into a total spin. My main anchor in life is being pulled up. I feel emotionally unmoored, adrift in the wreckage of lost love, lost lives, and my own shattered identity.

I no longer seem able to get a grip on who I am, where I am, or my purpose in the world.

I already know how exhausting and painful grief is, how it grips you in a suffocating web of physical and mental torment, like a disease eating away at your well-being. 

I’ve been suddenly widowed, twice. And I’ve lost a small child to death. But this anticipatory grief is a whole new world, a no-man's-land between normal life and imminent death, of watching people, once the gods we worshipped, fading to beige and sliding away.

I’m 57 years old, but I still feel like someone’s child. I am not ready to be an adult orphan, an inevitable and unwilling member of a mournful club of the broken-hearted.

I feel like the roots to my life are being eroded, rotting away with time. My parents are why I’m here and the one stable force in my life; my constant, my stability and my haven. 

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Yes, I’m a grown woman, a mother herself, and I can stand alone. But the thought of being without Dad makes me feel so very, very alone. As he fades away, a part of me is dying alongside him.

Half of me clings to Irish poet Dylan Thomas, who tells us: "Do not go gently into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light."

The other half of me tries to console myself with John Donne, whose poem comforts us with the idea that we will continue to live forevermore: "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die."

I hold tight to the cliché of our parents living on in those left behind; that we are, in part, the collective products of those we love. 

You will find them in my bright and curious children, I will hear them in my laughter, and I will see them in my dreams. And I will pass their stories to my children, who will in turn share with their children.

I read a Latin phrase the other day — et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt — meaning that 'the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it'. From the darkness into the light. I hope this is true.

I spoke to my darling Papa on the phone last night, briefly, as he is weak and breathless. He collapsed on Christmas Day and is battling to get strength back for his daily totter around the house on the walker.

"How are you coping emotionally?" I asked him.

He paused, then said: "I cry a lot. I am angry. I am frightened. I am also depressed and despondent. Other times, I am too tired to feel anything much except tired. But mostly I am tired."

This is someone who has always been so positive, a guiding light to us all, and whose online sermons over COVID gathered a substantial following because of their upbeat and life-inspiring messages of joy.

“I don’t think I will be writing any more sermons. It is too tiring and hurts too much.”

I phoned my mother and sobbed with a heart broken wide, and it was only her comforting words that soothed me. But who will be there to comfort me that same way when she dies?

Then it will be my turn. In a few decades, my sons will be facing my death with the knowledge that nobody will love them quite like I do, and I will be forced to cut those apron strings irrevocably and forever, leaving them alone on this earth without me.

The cycle of life may be filled with awe and beauty, but in these times of COVID, it seems particularly tragic and brutal. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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