It was early morning and still dark outside when the phone rang. Half a sleep I answered it and listening to my brother’s voice felt like having a bad dream. I had to sit down to let the news sink in. Only the week before, I had put my arms around my father to wish him a Happy New Year. His new year had only lasted a week.
We had welcomed 1991 in Amsterdam with a good dinner my dad could appreciate. He had wanted his children home for New Years Eve, but since mom had died two years ago coming home for a holiday had changed a lot and just wasn’t the same any more. It was my youngest brother who had invited all of us to his apartment and our gathering had been fun and full of life. There had been no signs of dad not feeling well; in fact we had all been pleased to see him having a good time.
The years after our mother died had been tough on him. Living without the woman who had always been there for him had been very difficult. With all of his children out of the house, living their own lives, dad feared living alone and had soon filled the empty spot with a younger woman he liked a lot. Dad noticed some resentment against his new relationship by his children. It wasn’t that we didn’t like her; she was in fact a very nice lady, but it did create pressure on the whole family. My father always had been the patriarch in the family, but my mother had been the balance for all of us and in the end she had been the one, who had gently pulled the strings.
We knew Dad had trouble adjusting to life again. Mom had battled cancer for a year and a half and we knew he felt lonely and lost when she was gone. In fact we all wanted him to be happy, but Dad had a hard time introducing his new friend to his family, because it would mean admitting he had a girlfriend. He rather pretended to us, she didn’t mean that much. My father was bothered with guilt and in the same time felt he didn’t have to justify his new relationship to his kids. Somehow that had put his relationship with us out of balance and mom was needed more than ever.
We got to the point we knew something had to change, but nobody knew how to change it, until everything changed and dad had passed away in a week after we had celebrated New Year’s together as a family. There had been a distinct difference between the time after my mother died and the time after my father died. With mom we all had felt a sense of relief. After we had seen her struggle with cancer we felt her passing had set her free. Free from pain, free from battling, free from worries what would happen to her children and her husband after she was gone. Our lives had revolved around mom being ill and especially the last months had been hard on all of us. Although we were sad and missed her badly, we were allowed to go back to our daily routines and pick up our lives as we had left them before mom got cancer.
Dad had been the only one who had had no life to pick up. His struggle with the daily routine might have been bigger than we realized and although we all had tried to be a part of his life as much as we could, it had never really helped to get balance back into his life. Still he had been on our minds a lot and now suddenly he was gone and it hit us with disbelief.
The house we all grew up in had no parent living in it anymore and needed to be dealt with. We suddenly were not some ones children anymore and had moved up a generation although none of us five were close to 40. I felt a kind of numbness, as if I was hit by something really fast and could not figure out what it was. Instead of picking up where we had left off after mom died, we now had a hard time going on with life because it had suddenly changed significantly.
I for instance found it hard not to be able to phone home just to hear dad’s voice and to see how he was doing. I could not believe that with dad we actually had also lost our home. The house we grew up in had always stayed our home to all of us and we had spent most of our weekends coming home to mom and dad and in the last two years we had visited dad as much as possible. Now we had to learn to make our own houses our home.
Where as mom’s funeral had become the end of a long road for all of us, it had provided healing closure, dad’s funeral was a blur and had unreal quality. The sudden change in life made us realise we still missed mom and we now had one more empty spot and an empty house to go with it. But we also knew that in the end, time moves on and with it does life.
Every time we have to part from a loved one, we get to learn that life moves on no matter what. Being prepared or unprepared has a significant impact on how we cope. But in the end we too will have to move on as life will pick us up and push us forward. At first we might not be able to believe that is possible. We see others live their lives around us and wonder how they do it. Eventually we learn that life hasn’t ended with our loss and that we are allowed to live on. That we can have fond memories and are allowed to look back without feeling sad or pain. And yes we are allowed to fill life with friendship and we can have new friends fill empty spots, then we carry our loved ones in our hearts for the rest of our changed life.
For more information on Ty Watson House and the Alberni Valley Hospice Society you can phone 250.723.4478 or visit our website: www.albernihospice.ca