Thursday, November 7, 2013

Farewell to my Father

Today would have been my father's 68th birthday.
I would have woken up here in Asia, in a time-zone 6 hours ahead of him, thought about him as soon as I opened my eyes - having lovingly anticipated this date for a few days now, and would have immediately written him a gushing happy birthday message, telling him how much I love him and how wonderful he is and how I can't wait to see him soon (even though we only ever really saw each other every 3 or 4 years). I'd think about him on and off all day, and as soon as I got home in the evening would get on Skype right away, and call him.

But this year, I can't do that. I can't call him Pop anymore, I can't laugh at his silly dad-jokes, I can't make him laugh in mock-shock at my life, I will never hear him smiling as he speaks to me, proud of how similar I am to him. He always told me that - in fiercely forging my own path and embracing my own freedom - I was just like him. He never ever questioned my choices, and decisions. He never doubted the paths I wandered down. He just listened - genuinely interested in my life. He was the most non-judgemental person when it came to me. I loved speaking to him, I loved regaling him with tales that I knew would make him laugh, smile proudly, and that he would store away in his heart for retelling to his friends and loved ones at a later stage. He remembered everything we talked about, and if he worried about me - he never let on. He made me feel completely free. He allowed me to be ME.

My father died on the 3rd of August of this year - just 3 short/long months ago - while I was in the air, on a plane, en route to see him and say goodbye. He had been in a coma for almost a month prior to that, as his body slowly starting shutting down, each organ gradually failing him, as he let go of this life... so the goodbyes would have been purely for my own closure. Or maybe he'd have heard me, even deep in his coma? It doesn't matter now.

The last time I spoke to my father - and this is something that I will ALWAYS be grateful for - was just before they wheeled him into the Operating Room. He had been in absolute agony for a week in hospital before that, unable to sleep, eat, speak. We were told that he had a 50/50 chance of surviving the operation. I was able to tell my father, the very last time that I spoke to him, that I love him SO VERY MUCH.
And that's all I ever really wanted to say.
He was in so much pain that he could barely whisper a response to me, but he did. The last words my father ever said to me were "I love you, Daughter."
I sob as I type these words, for I had always loved how my father had used "Daughter" as a proper noun, as my name. I was not his daughter, I was his Daughter. I could hear the capital letter every time he said it.

I will never hear him say it again. Except in my head. I can still hear it so clearly in my head. His thick Russian-Lithuanian-Israeli-South African accent moulding the words in ways that no-one else ever will.
My Daddy.

It never gets easier. I can tell you that.
The trauma subsides. The shock wears off. But the sadness is there. Constant, deep, endless.
What I have learned, is to not allow myself to think about it. all. the. time.
In truth, you have to block it out sometimes, or you will live your life in a perpetual state of anguish and sorrow.
I cannot look at photos of my father for more than a few seconds, because I know that the immediate feeling of love will quickly be overtaken by one of hollowness, and loss. My eyes fill with tears very quickly if I even allow myself to think about him for more than a few seconds.

It's just so startling. To have your father there, and then not.
An old friend wrote me recently asking how I was. This was my response:
"I am, in truth, much better. I will never stop being sad. It never goes away - I think that's the hardest lesson. It never fades, it's never over, you never move on. It just IS. I can't think about my dad without tearing up, I can't look at his photo for more than a few seconds. I can't shake the feeling that I can and still will call him again one day and have a chat and a catch-up with him, and then I realize that I NEVER EVER will again, and it hurts... SO... DEEPLY! But it is what it is. And there's not a damn thing I can do about that.

So I don't let myself think about it for too long. It comes into my head, I give it a moment to honour his memory, and then I banish the thought lest I plunge again. I don't want to be sad. I don't like it. I think I harbour a profound fear that if I one day let myself go, I will fall so far and so deeply that I won't have it in me to pull myself back up again."


The last vision I have of my father is from standing on the shore with my aunts, uncles, and a cousin... staring out at the black waves breaking on a black sky, late at night... watching my brother, trousers rolled up to his knees, standing in the surf, pouring my dad's grey ashes out into the sea - as per his final request.
We all sobbed, hugging each other in the dark, in the fierce night breeze blowing off the water.
Took turns, one by one, to walk down to the water's edge and say our own goodbye to him.

It was in that moment - hugging myself tightly, my whole body wracked with sobs, a myriad of thoughts and emotions washing over me so forcefully that I felt like I was physically swaying to-and-fro - that I suddenly heard his voice again: CLEAR, distinct.
"I love you, Daughter."
I remember looking up at the sky, at all the twinkling stars, the sound of waves breaking on the shore, feeling the circle of love and energy of my family at various spots on the beach around me.

"I love you, Pop. I miss you! Can't wait to see you again!"


Monday, February 25, 2013

Shedding my Skin, Emancipating the Snake Within...

The 15th and final day of the official Chinese New Year celebrations was yesterday - so today seems a fitting time to post this blog, which has been brewing in my being for a while now. We have just entered the Year of the Snake, which seems particularly significant to me, having being born under the sign of the Fire Snake in Eastern mythology. Western connotations be damned - snakes are fantastical creatures here.

Towards the end of last year (2012) I often found myself thinking and talking to friends about how I was finally emerging from what I recall to be the darkest, most exhausting and haunting period of my whole life. I spent last year feeling constantly overwhelmed, breathless, running to catch up with myself, in an endless series of situations in which I felt like I had no control. As soon as I had dealt with one thing, something else came up.

The breakup of my marriage was obviously the hardest of all. Romantic that I am, I never once thought that I would not live happily ever after. My future was so clear, was so REAL, was so beautiful and wonderful - I married a man whom I loved so very much, whom I believed shared my dreams and ideals and principles. I never thought for a single second that those dreams would remain nothing but dreams. It never even occurred to me that we - loving each other as much as we did - would go for days and even weeks without saying a word to each other, while sleeping in the same bed. I never imagined that I could so completely misjudge what I believed would be the most important thing I ever do. I got married because we wanted to have a family. I am no longer married because it takes more than love to make that a reality. It still makes me so sad to think about it. It still breaks my heart a little, and I imagine it always will, a little.

But time heals, and I have gone from a sobbing, crying-myself-to-sleep-every-night mess - wondering how it all went wrong, puzzling over why and when everything fell apart, and if there was any way at all to fix it, realizing in devastation that there was nothing that I had not done, nothing more for me to do that would make any difference at all - to a wiser, stronger, smarter woman. I am not bitter, nor am I jaded, or cynical. I am still a hopeless romantic, I still believe with all my heart in love and magic and fairy-tales. Like THAT could ever change!

The happy addendum to this tale is that I've been dating a really good man for almost 6 months now. A man, not a boy. One who is incredibly smart, and strong, and funny and creative and interesting and driven and supportive - and pretty easy on the eye too! ;) We are similar in many ways, have many of the same interests, and almost all of the same friends. We've known each other for many years now, but this is the first time that we actually live in the same city at the same time. So far, so good. We take things slowly, day by day. It's a very new type of relationship for both of us, I think. Feels very grown up, in that wonderful, independent, mutually-respectful and fully trusting way. I find myself leaning on him in a way that I have NEVER leaned on anyone before, much less any partner I've been involved with. It feels odd sometimes. I don't really know how to do it. But I LIKE it. A lot.

As part of the chaos of last year, I also ended up moving house a lot: living in 5 different homes in 4 different cities in 3 different countries. I completed my postgraduate certificate in education, which involved assignments and final-year exams in 5 different subjects, and a 3-month unpaid teaching practicum back home in South Africa. I lived on an island, in a village, in a sprawling African city, and in a bustling East Asian metropolis. I went from Boracay (Philippines) to Koh Lanta (Thailand) to Vigan (Philippines) to Johannesburg (South Africa) to Cape Town (South Africa) to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) to Taipei (Taiwan) to Haifa (Israel) in just over ONE YEAR. I searched for and started a new job. I reconnected with old friends in 2 of the cities which will always have my heart. I felt at once disjointed from it all, while completely immersed in it all. I felt like I was drowning, floating, fleeing, approaching, trying, crying, laughing, searching... Turmoil. Constant turmoil. I have some wonderful memories of moments with friends which were like islands in the sea of pandemonium. They would give me temporary respite - something to cling to when it all became too much, catch my breath, rest my weary body. And then it would be time to fling myself into the waves again... and keep swimming for the shore...

Towards the end of last year, I felt like I was starting to take control of it all again. And then my dad went in for what was supposed to be a "minor surgery", but turned into a major operation with massive complications. Two months later he has awakened from his coma and is making a remarkable recovery. He is still in a medical facility, connected to machines, re-learning how to walk and eat, recovering. We are all so relieved, and it's so amazing to see him as he is now, that I am loathe to even talk about how it felt while it was going on. But suffice to say: it was a terrifying and hopeless and surreal time for my whole family. I Skyped with him again last night. He cannot speak yet, as he still has a trach-pipe in, but he types and I lip-read and we laugh, and it feels wonderful.

I have decided to take ownership of this year. I have decided to be happy. I have decided to be positive. I will not let things get me down, or stress me out. I will remain calm. Most importantly, I will SLOW DOWN. There is no rush to get anywhere. I find myself surrounded by so many truly GOOD people - both in my immediate surrounds, and sprinkled about all over the world. No-one is really all that far away anymore, given the global village that is our world. How fortunate we are!

There is so much goodness radiating from this year ahead. I feel GOOD.
Thank you to each and every one of you for all of the love with which you shower me constantly.
It is that which keeps me going, that keeps me alive and free and strong and happy.
I love you.