We had of course already had midsummer at the weekend. Christmas Day was a Wednesday and we were sitting in bed just watching videos, reading, playing games, etc. Just a weekendy type of day and enjoying that Daniel didn’t have to go to work and wouldn’t have to for another week or so. Abigail and Kristian were both doing things but weren’t too noisy and weren’t disturbing us. Stephanie was at Dean’s, so that she could have Christmas with him and his family as well as having had midsummer with us and my mum.

So, it wasn’t odd when Daniel’s phone rang, we often spoke to Allan on the weekend and especially on special occasions like Christmas. It wasn’t Allan though, it was Nikki, and although we don’t often speak to her it wasn’t immediately alarming that she was calling us because it was Christmas. So Daniel answered brightly with “Hi Nik! Merry Christmas!” And then she started talking, and he went quiet and stopped smiling.

Abigail had heard the phone ring and come in to say hello to Grandad. She was shushed away and told to come back in a few minutes. Daniel listened to Nikki for a bit and then thanked her for calling and they said bye.

I knew it was going to be something bad but I thought maybe he was sick or in hospital or maybe someone else was. But after trying multiple times through the day to call Allan and finding out that Lee had also been trying to chat to him but had been unable, they started to get really worried. (Being the 24th of December, it was the main celebratory day, per Danish tradition.) So Nikki called Pat and John since they live a lot closer to Lincoln and asked if they might be able to go over to check on him since he’d not answered his phone all day. It was already evening by this stage and they were out somewhere and had to then drive to Allan’s, so it was quite late at night by the time they got there. They have a key because they helped him look after Lisa a lot when she was sick and also because it’s always a good idea for someone to have a key to your house in case something happens to you..

He was in his bed. They called the ambulance and everything but it was clear that he had already been gone for some time. We thought that it was likely that his abdominal aortal aneurysm had ruptured, as he had been getting monitored for it regularly and it had been slowly growing. He told us that the doctors had said that usually they would operate at 5cm but a lot of stuff in the NHS was in a state of uncertainly due to the mess of Brexit so they now had a guideline of 6cm for surgery. After the last check up he told us it was at 5.8cm. It was something we were keen for him to be able to get fixed, because while he had it he was unable to travel, especially by air; and he had decided that he was going to try to come here but was unable to make any proper plans for it because of the AAA. So I think most of us thought it had been the aneurysm, but we wouldn’t know for sure until after his post-mortem examination. We were aware that it was Christmas Day and then Boxing Day and didn’t expect that would happen immediately, but I myself thought that they’d be open the next day (Friday, 27th December) because services like that are pretty essentially and only close for the minimum public holidays, right?

So, so wrong. Turned out the coroner’s office was closed for Christmas and New Year and wouldn’t be open again until some time in the first week of January. But it’s ok, I thought. It’s just a few extra days and he’ll have to be one of the first to be processed since he has to be one of the first to have come in after they closed, having died on the 24th of December.

It wasn’t because we were anxious to be certain about the cause of death – I actually don’t think most of us considered it likely at all that it would have been anything but the aneurysm – but because we had a difficult situation to coordinate where three of his children were in one country and one was in another, Christmas and New Year are notoriously uncool times to travel, especially when it’s “last minute” and we needed to try to plan when a funeral could be and how to get there and we could not even begin to do this without the death certificate which wouldn’t happen until after the post-mortem. To add to the frustration, Daniel was already off work this whole time as his office was closed between Christmas and New Year (but it’s not like they’re performing an essential service to the community) so it felt like wasted time that could have been used when he already wasn’t at work, saving us some of his holiday time as well as the fact that his father had just died putting rather a damper on fully enjoying the time off that he did have.

So then the few extra days passed into the start of January and it emerged that he wasn’t “first cab off the rank” or even anywhere near the top of the list because the whole “closing for Christmas and New Year” had actually started a couple of weeks before Christmas and as such they already had several weeks worth of autopsy back log to get through. This whole thing left me so frustrated and incredulous that a public service can be run in that way. If it is determined that a person needs an autopsy, then you cannot hold a funeral or burial or whatever it is you want to do until after that is done. For us, it was frustrating and annoying and drew out something that felt like it should have been able to be handled and managed and put to rest so much more quickly and smoothly. I’m pretty sure that there are other religions and faiths, though, that have strict guidelines on how and when certain rites should be performed following death and I can’t imagine how distressing it must be if you are unable to observe those because the coroner’s office has been closed for over a month and has a lot of bodies to get through. As it turns out, this seems to be the way a lot of government services operate in the UK. It shocked me and made me glad again and again that we chose Australia, even though it is far from perfect.

I need to back track a bit. After Daniel finished talking to Nikki, he basically repeated to me what she’d told him. He was clearly shocked, it was just so unexpected. We all were, really. I cried and I hugged him and then I took a deep breath and went out to talk to Abigail and Kristian because I knew they would be waiting, and of course I was not going to make him have to do that.

Twice now I have had to tell them that a grandparent has died and it is the most horrible thing to do. This was especially harder because they are older and have had more of a relationship with Allan than they did with Lisa. They too were waiting and hoping for the day that he would come back here, and stay. Grandad was funny and silly and a little bit spoiling them but also firm with rules, all the things that Grandads are meant to be. He was the only one they had and I hated having to tell them that he was gone.

Then there was Stephanie. Being that much older than Abigail and Kristian, she had spent more time with both of her paternal grandparents than they had and I knew she would be devastated. And unlike us who weren’t doing anything on Christmas morning, she was. She was with Dean’s family and they were doing the whole thing. Nikki and Chris decided that they were not going to tell Alice, Sam and Max until Boxing Day so as to not take way the joy of Christmas from them, and I don’t judge them for making that choice, but I did not feel like it was an option for me. So I called Dean’s phone, so that I could give him a forewarning that I was about to break Stephanie’s heart and to be ready to catch it. I don’t know if it was worse telling Abigail and Kristian in person or telling Stephanie on the phone. She was sobbing, big heaving gasps and I could see her in my mind and I hated having to do that to her but someone had to and I knew that she would ultimately prefer to know immediately rather than later. I was glad she had Dean there, and the festivities of Christmas with his family to try to take her mind off it a bit.

It ended up being the 16th of January before the post-mortem was done and his body was released to the undertakers. 23 days. Personally I think that is disgusting but also I have absolutely no control over anything so no one gives a shit about my opinion. It also turned out that it was not the aneurysm, but a stroke while he slept that bled out into his brain. When we were cleaning things up in his house, we cleared up a lot of his medication and some of what he was taking were blood thinners, so it was kind of inevitable I guess that any blood loss where he didn’t have immediate medical attention was going to be fatal. There was a bit of comfort in knowing that he was asleep while it all happened and likely wasn’t aware of any pain. In a way, it was kind of a relief that it wasn’t the aneurysm, because I didn’t know what the situation would be then. We knew that he had been waiting for surgery and it had been pushed back and the prerequisites changed, and the thought that he might have died from something that he should have been able to have fixed but hadn’t because of a bunch of political bullshit made me angry. But again, I don’t know what anyone would have done about it, anyway. .

Eventually the funeral was set for Tuesday, 11th February and Daniel and I arranged to go to England for two weeks, to help with sorting and clearing out the house and to then be at the funeral. We went on the 1st of February and Stephanie and Dean stayed here to be in charge of Abigail and Kristian while we were gone.


two weeks

I know a lot of words but often I still feel like I do not have words that are adequate to express what is in my head and heart. I think in some way that is because feeling happens at a level of .. I don’t know, consciousness? Awareness? Existence? A level that is more primal than language. Language is something we have invented but feeling is something that we are.

The last while has been broken up into sections of two weeks. It’s two weeks since the notfuneral. That was two weeks since he died. That was two weeks since he went to the hospice. Saying it like that makes it seem like not a very long amount of time but it hasn’t felt like it. Is it really only 6 weeks since that disaster where everything got set back to zero? Six weeks that we spend waiting for the next set of appointments with the next person we have been sent to see, trying not to worry that they too will tell us that whatever is wrong with Stephanie is not their problem. And in the meantime having the not dying and then the dying and then all that stuff.

The not dying was worse than the dying, to be honest. Stephanie and I went to visit one day and it was pretty terrible. I mean, I thought he looked like shit at Nanna’s birthday. It was so much more when he was laying in a bed, literally skin sagging on bone, hands laying awkwardly because there was no muscle or energy left to put them where they usually go. Mouth open. Eyes neither open or closed. And it seemed like he had some sort of awareness of us but it was hard to tell for sure.

We make the choice to end the lives of other creatures that we believe are experiencing more pain than joy in life. We decide, they cannot tell us. They cannot tell us that they want it to stop. Making this choice for them is considered the correct and compassionate thing to do. Yet people who are capable of expressing that they want to do that are not allowed. Why has human life become so held on a pedestal that the thought of ending it – whether before it happens or at the end of its normal course – has become so taboo and so abhorrent? Sometimes it is the best and most appropriate treatment. It is considered a human right to be able to make our own health and medical decisions. So why is that right removed when it is needed most?

It is strange now that it is finally over. I don’t feel unbearably bereft or something that seems like it will never get better. I think in part this comes from having been expecting and preparing for it for so long. And in part because I don’t believe that this is the end of the adventure. I find myself thinking about numbers. He was a month short of being 87 years old. When he was born, in England, in 1929, the life expectancy for a male baby was about 55 and a half years. So when he was born, it was expected that anything he lived past early 1985 was a bonus. A thirty-one year bonus is pretty good, I think. When they watched the video my mum made Abigail commented that she didn’t know he was a twin. It made me wonder if his mum knew, before they were born. Obviously, no ultrasounds to tell you that, but on the other hand, the midwives were probably a lot more experienced at diagnosing position and number of babies by palpating.

Another number: 80% of the people in our household have had a grandparent die this year. The 20% has one remaining living grandparent. (Luckily for her, I don’t think this statistic has great relevance to her likelihood of dying any time soon.) I am 35 years old and my first grandparent has died. For my children, that happened before they were even born. Daniel’s have been spread out.. I think one died before he was born, one when he was a kid, one a few years ago. I still have the most living grandparents in our house.

two weeks

ten thousand, three hundred and fifteen days

A common theme of discussion at the moment is death and the state of being dead. Particularly as it relates to Galen and my father. (Abigail likes to tell people that Galen died on the road and he wasn’t holding a hand and “he’s still dead.”)

Stephanie asked me last night how old my dad was when he died. After thinking for a minute I said, “Um.. twenty-eight.”

Then it occurred to me that I’m 28, too. Then it occurred to me that he died in April, around three months after his birthday. It’s now February, which is about three months after November (my birthday).

I used an age calculator to figure out that he was 10315 days old when he died. Today, I am 10311 days old.

I think of what I have done so far and things I want to do, learn, see still.. and I hope that I have a lot more than four days left.

ten thousand, three hundred and fifteen days

the paternal relationship

When I was a kid, other kids asked me what it was like not having a dad. On occasion I felt the need to point out that I did have one, and death doesn’t equal not having existed at all. But most of the time I just pointed out that with so few memories of him, it was just normal to me for him not to be there. What is it like having one who is there all the time? They think that’s a silly question, because that’s just how things are. You don’t ask people “what is it like breathing?” And for both myself and the other person, the state of having or not having was a normal one and so not something you felt the need to stretch to describe.

For the most part it was not something that bothered me. With so few memories of what it was like before, when he was there, it was hard to put together a comparison in my head of then versus now and decide which one was preferred. Of course I would have liked it if I didn’t have a dead parent, but being so young when he died it was hard, as a child, to see how before and after were different, apart from the obvious.

When we got married my grandfather gave me away. That was fine, it was not any big heartache to me that my father was not there to do it. Perhaps because it was not something I had ever looked forward to or imagined happening one day. Five year olds are not generally fantasizing about their one-day wedding. So probably I always knew that if/when I got married, it would be my grandfather giving me away.

Neil tried to teach me to drive. That.. went. The first car he tried to teach me in was his car, a somewhat temperamental manual that you kind of had to have an intimacy with in order to work it. I couldn’t even start it. And that clutch business, jesus H. I don’t know if it was the way that Neil tried to explain it or if it was because of the way the car was, but I didn’t fully understand the way a clutch worked until I was in England and watched Daniel driving.. and wondered why he wasn’t doing it the way I had understood Neil to have instructed. Later after we came back from England he tried to teach me in Herta (auto) and that wasn’t going too terribly, I think, until the day he was directing me into the carport at his and my mum’s house. One of their cars was already in there, but it’s quite long so you can fit two in. He stood behind the other one and kept beckoning me forward. “Keep going, keep going.” So I kept going and he ended up temporarily pinned between the two cars. I believe that traumatised me much more than him and I don’t think there were many more lessons after that.

Neither of those experiences really made me feel any more bothered than I ever had been about his absence, though I do think that as an adult I understood more the types of things I had missed. But it wasn’t just adulthood that really made me feel his absence – it was motherhood. Watching my daughter and then daughters interact with their father and their grandfathers. And then, strangely, even more so as the mother of a son – seeing how his relationships with his sisters, parents and grandparents develop. There is something very special about watching the relationship your children have with your parent/s. To see the way each of them loves my mum and how she loves them – it’s a relationship that is independent of me and would carry on without me, but could not have existed without me. So it’s a wonderful feeling of appreciating the beauty of grandparent-grandchild love and knowing that I had a big part in that being able to happen. It’s not the same with Daniel’s parents, as I think that probably most people don’t feel exactly the same thing for their spouse’s parents as their own, and also with them being in England their relationships with the children must unavoidably develop differently. And it’s not the same with Neil, either. While I don’t doubt that he loves each of the kids and they all love him; I feel reasonably sure that he is not at all like the kind of grandfather that my dad would have been. So that makes me feel an empty spot, the sadness over what my children will miss because he is not here and the sadness that I don’t get to watch that and take away the warm fuzzy feeling for myself.

Strangely, I think also that as I am with Daniel for longer and longer, that also contributes to the feeling of loss. Because now I see and every day, household example of an adult male and how they “work” on a broad level. And sometimes when I am excited or sad or humoured or depressed, I want Daniel to either share it or heal it. And sometimes I want my mother. And sometimes I want my father.

driving to bendigo (by wiccked)

the paternal relationship

the final frontier

For the “die-hard” Trekkie, you can now get a permanent reminder of your love for Trek to house your remains once you’re gone:

STAR TREK ™ Line of Urns and Caskets
For the millions of fans on our planet and beyond, our new line of STAR TREK urns, caskets, monuments and vaults will be an important discovery indeed. After ten movies and five television series, phrases like “Live long and prosper,” “Resistance is futile” and “Space: the final frontier” have become part of our global vocabulary.

While I don’t think they are the kind of thing I’d choose — were I into having my body buried or my ashes sat morbidly on Daniel’s bedside — I think they could have been a lot worse. They’re a lot more attractive than probably about at least 50% of the post-life accessories I’ve ever seen. (Check out the “Cat Fancier’s” urn for your dearly departed feline friend — that truly is a monstrosity.)

the final frontier