An opinion/editorial piece by Michelle Lindstrom
I made a personal promise to post something new once a week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and it’s not really, except when a week goes sideways and you’re a one-woman-show. Personal promises are typically easier for me to break but I’m working on being kinder to myself and not being so willing to let myself down.
And so, I had another post scheduled for today to go up in the “Focus On” section, but I did not have time to complete it. Instead, I’m going to fill another section with what has made this week go sideways.
The “So This Happened” section (this one) is meant to be about parents. Being one. Having some. Wanting to be one. Never wanting to be one. We all have some connection to parents, good or bad.
I wanted to write a fantastically moving piece about this topic – my father who is quite ill right now – but I’m uncertain I can. When you’re so close to a topic as a writer it can get a bit messy, and also with this being personal, I don’t want to embarrass my friends and family either. No pressure. So, we’ll see where this goes.
My Dad moved to Australia more years ago than I ever correctly quote. It’s one of those things that doesn’t necessarily feel like was just yesterday, but it’s a knee-jerk reaction to say he moved there about five years ago. If I do the math correctly, it’s closer to 20 years ago.
And so, over the five or 20-some years, a lot has happened. One being that my father’s health has declined and I’ve only seen him four times in those 20 years. He came back for my brother’s wedding, my wedding, a visit to introduce his new wife and meet a couple of grandkids (one of my brother’s and one of mine) and then his last visit two years ago to meet the rest of the grandkids (my sister’s daughter, my brother’s son and my second daughter).
I have yet to make it over to Australia to visit him or the country. It’s a continent, isn’t it? Crap, I hate geography.
Anyway, my parents split not long after I graduated high school and after some life decisions and confirmation that he hates cold weather and snow, something needed to change. My dad visited Brisbane, where his brother already lived, to see if this was where he was destined to go. It was. He loved it immediately and got everything sorted to move and start anew.
Having grown up in a small factory town in the north of England, my parents were both one of nine children and also both started smoking, I believe, before their ages hit double digits. It was another world and time ago that I hear tidbits of every now and then when one of my parents chooses to reminisce. But I wouldn’t say I was ever forced to sit through too many “When I was young … or when I was your age …” type of stories. I sometimes wish they had “bored” us with a few more.
And yes, the note about smoking for roughly six decades is definitely foreshadowing to my dad’s current state of health. With him being so far away and limiting what information is given to us kids, I am not positive where his true health is at, but his days are numbered.
Over the past three years, he’s had three surgeries to clear out blocked arteries (again, my information, and possibly willingness to absorb it all, is limited), and he’s had a few emergency hospital visits due to lung issues.
It was his latest visit to the hospital (last Sunday, Brisbane time) that set this week into a tail-spin of confusion. It was an emergency visit due to a collapsed lung and the doctors have been feeding him bad news on top of more bad news (from what I understand) since.
I was able to speak to him at the hospital a few days after his arrival, and his voice was hoarse because of being intubated en route to the hospital. I cringed each time he answered a question I asked, knowing it hurt for him to speak. Yet, I kept talking and asking more questions while waiting for him to make a sarcastic joke. We – my whole family – make jokes in miserable times. It’s what we do. Except for now; he made no joke. And without any jokes, he answered my basic questions of what happened and I didn’t know what else to say.
I was in a weird space of feeling the need for him to comfort me as a parent, but he was in no position to do that. He said the words, “I’m scared,” and I froze. Parents are not supposed to say that to their kids. Right?
Yet on the flip side, now being a parent, I could empathize. I felt his pain as a parent and also mine as the child. How honest do you get with your kids about your mortality? When do you let your guard down? Is it different when you’re more than 12,000 kilometres apart with just a crackly phone line between you with medical background noise?
This week has been one of processing information that my Dad cannot live forever. He may have months, a year … but there’s also the possibility that he has less than that.
When I thought I had said goodbye in preparation for a time like now, I mean REALLY said goodbye at the end of his visits, it wasn’t enough. I can’t ever say enough goodbyes. He’s not gone. I don’t wish him to be gone. I just don’t know how to say goodbye this time.
I don’t think there’s a right answer. I don’t think there’s a right way to feel, say goodbye or remember someone. This may be my time to visit him. He says in the New Year. I have rushed my passport to be ready for anything.
When being a parent and being parented comes full circle.