One year ago today I woke up to a couple of missed calls from my Mum. And my Dad’s best friend. Strange. In all of my years living overseas, my parents seldom called me. Due to our crazy schedules and much cheaper calling rates from overseas to New Zealand we had agreed that I would call them. I felt sick. My husband had already left for work, dropping our girls off at kindergarten on his way. I stared at my phone, already knowing that I didn’t want to know whatever it was they needed to tell me. You just know. If you listen to your gut, you know.
My Dad was gone. He’d suffered a massive heart attack, and dropped dead. The rest of day, and those that followed is a blur. I do remember calling my husband, he’d just arrived at the office. He came home, and scooped up the wailing mess on our front doorstep. I also remember being grateful that my girls were at kindi. That they didn’t have to see their mummy unravel – regardless of your age, losing a parent is as good a reason to come undone as there is. We booked my flight home to Wellington. Another emergency flight home, pretty much one year after my trip home to see my brother in the hospital (https://coraliesneddon.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/mortal-beloved/). But this time it was different, this time I knew how the story would end.
My darling husband drove me to the airport, still raw himself after losing his Dad just 5 months prior. I remember wishing he could have come with me, but with our girls being only 3 and 6 years old, it wasn’t a trip for the whole family. So I went it alone. It was a horrible journey, but I managed to hold it together from Munich to Dubai, and from Dubai to Melbourne. Then I lost it. At Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. And then again at Wellington airport. My hometown. My legs just wouldn’t carry me off that damn plane. At some stage I must have managed it though, because there at the airport waiting for me were my mum and brother. Even though I knew I was home for my Dad’s funeral, I still looked for his thatch of white hair. It had been my first sight on arriving home in Wellington for 13 years. Absent.
I arrived on a Monday afternoon, and the funeral service was being held on the Wednesday morning. The time in between was busy. There is a lot to prepare when somebody dies. A lot more than I realised. The funeral director wanted to put together a slideshow of photographs to play at the service. We sat around looking through old family albums and slides. We made our selection, everyone choosing the images that they thought best represented the man. My dad. We cried copious tears. On the one hand numb, but on the other raw. The one person who had always been there for us, and supported us when things got tough in life was no longer there. And how we missed him.
How do you represent a life lived in just a few photographs? It’s simple. You can’t. I noticed that as we went through the family albums, we were each drawn to different photographs. Different times in Dad’s life that most resonated with each of us. The young Scottish soldier that Mum was in love with, so much so that she married him and followed him to Cyprus and Germany. The hippie guy in his late twenties with the (dodgy) home perm, and two small children to get to know when he was home on army leave. The chap in his thirties with the auburn beard and the west highland white terrier – his two kids old enough to be making memories. The hard-working man in his forties, starting to go grey and worrying about what his teenaged kids are up to. The distinguished man in his fifties with a thatch of white hair. The same one that my darling husband called from Singapore to ask for my hand in marriage, only to be asked ‘Why do you want to marry her?’. The older chap in his sixties that my lovely big girl had the chance to call ‘Gramps’ . The same one who watched over his son as he recovered from a massive heart attack and bypass surgery. He was all of these things. And yet he was none of them. These are just our memories of him – of his life through our eyes. We could each go through the family albums, and we would each choose a different collection of images that we think best represents him. He would indubitably choose completely different ones. We’ll never know, but to be able to rifle through a lifetime of pictures is such a privilege – a chance to understand and remember a person that we have loved and cherished.
I love this quote by Albert Einstein:
“A photograph never grows old. You and I change, people change all through the months and years, but a photograph always remains the same. How nice to look at a photograph of mother or father taken many years ago. You see them as you remember them. But as people live on, they change completely.”
The past year has taken its toll on me. My creativity upped and left a year ago. I hope that in sharing the reason for my silence you’ll understand and forgive me, and come back again to see as I begin to capture the beauty in life again. Thank you, Coralie xoxo