July 5th 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of my Dad breathing his last breath and I find it hard to believe he has been gone for a whole decade now.
Whilst a lot has happened in my life over those years, it seems only yesterday that I was last able to see him, speak to him, hear his booming laugh and have my hand crushed by his vice-like handshake. It seems so wrong that he was taken so young.
Although 10 years have now passed, I can still clearly remember the lead-up to that fateful day.
The concerned long distance phone call, the shock, the conversation with the doctor (seeking the best news, but fearing the worst), the urgent travel plans, the long flight and then arriving back to the fateful message from my mother, “Your father died while you were flying”.
It was then that I realised I would never see my Dad again and my thoughts turned to the last time we spoke (fortunately, fairly recently) and things I wished I had said. But we never know it will be the last time, do we?
For him, the end was mercifully quick – he didn’t suffer for very long at all.
But for me, the end was brutally quick – I had no time to prepare myself, just waking up one day and having to deal with such a huge loss.
I know that my experience mirrors that of many ex-pats. Indeed, as our parents grow older, it has become more of an ongoing topic of concern and sadness among many people I know in Sydney. But what is the best thing to do?
For some, like me, it involves a sudden shock, followed by an overwhelming sense of loss.
For others, it is almost worse – witnessing the slow, steady decline of a loved one from afar, never quite sure if or when they should be travelling back to be by their side.
And living all the way away in Australia, the pain is somehow amplified, underlining the fact that you have chosen to live all those miles away on the other side of the world.
At times like this, you really do understand all about the tyranny of distance and feel helpless in many ways. My heart goes out to anyone who has faced this emotional experience.
When I first left to move to Australia, my Dad was very much alive. I spoke to him often on the phone and got to see him every year or two whenever one or other of us made the trip.
Now, all these years later, I return to my homeland that is familiar in so many ways, although there is one big presence missing. But whilst he is gone, his legacy and memories remain.
Soon I will again visit the place where we said our final goodbye to him – a beautiful area of Oxfordshire common where he loved to ride his horse.
I will again look for the tree that was a mere sapling when we sprinkled his ashes at its base. The sapling has since moved on and is now well on its way to becoming a mighty oak.
In much the same way, all of our lives have moved on over the last 10 years, but I still make sure that I pause every now and then and remember the man who made me who I am today.