It will be two years on June 28th, 2017 since my Dad died.
My every thought is consumed with memories of him. Not just his last few days either, although they certainly play over and over in my mind. I am just finding that when my mind wanders it is to thoughts of him. I haven’t found inspiration to write this past week and I think my heart and brain is too cluttered with “Dad.” So I thought I would share with you all the eulogy I wrote for his service on July 3rd, 2015 – the day after my 50th birthday.
It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do but, to get up and talk about my Dad, filled me with enormous pride. It was the last thing I could do for him. My final tribute. He would have known that I would be the one to speak and that gave me the extra strength I needed that day. And, together with the support of Jesse and Matthew who each stood behind me and at times placed a hand on my shoulder or back when words caught in my throat, my Dad was with me all the way.
I feel he is close by this past week, but he is never far away.
In my heart, he will always stay.
For my Dad xxx
The last speech I did for my Dad was for his 70th – just over five years ago. I looked back over that speech the other night and my opening paragraph was how young and fit he was. It is still so completely unbelievable that that is no longer the case and that he is not even here with us anymore. It is not how it should be. Someone got it wrong. Exactly this time last week he was still cracking jokes with us. We were all laughing with him together. We had no idea what horror was going to take place and the speed with which it would come.
Dad was a proud Isle of Wight man who only left the Island and his beloved family to come to Australia for a life of adventure and a better life for his future family. He said he never regretted that decision but as the years went by he certainly missed the copse and downs he roamed as a boy and his own family. Certainly, most of our chats in hospital rooms or chemo sessions ended up with Dad reminiscing about his childhood or talking about his siblings, his adored sister Josie, the lovely Gwen and his big brothers Bill and Mugs. We only wish today we had more pictures of Dad with his brothers and sisters but they have all been apart for so long we couldn’t find one remotely recent that had them all in together.
He made Australia his home and what a wonderful home he created with Mum for Mike and I. We were very fortunate to grow up in a happy, loving and fun household. We had parents that not only loved each other but were in love. Music was always playing and Dad would sing and play his guitar a lot. He actually had a really good voice and would tell us that often.
Dad was a very clever, intelligent man. He could hold a conversation on any topic and make it interesting. He was handsome, quick witted and funny. He was a self-taught handyman who could turn his hand to anything or give anything a go. I do however remember dodgy tiling, it was often less than straight and a very wonky handmade linen press but he did it all himself.
Dad always had time for us. He took us on lots of camping holidays, Stawell Victoria most often our base. Off the four of us would go in the infamous red Mini Clubman. Mike and I separated by pillows in the back so “his feet wouldn’t touch mine.” With both of us asking Dad, “Are we there yet?” after only 5 minutes. The getting there with us in the back drove him nuts he said. Every night after work he would kick the footy with Mike in our very big back yard. Every night. He would come and watch Mike’s footy games and my netball games. I always felt I played better when he was there – I always wanted to make him proud and cared what he thought.
Mike’s best memories of Dad are those nights playing footy or cricket and play fighting. Mike actually broke one of Dad’s fingers playing karate which made Dad run around the house yelling. Mike also hit back a cricket ball that struck him hard on the leg and resulted in bruising so bad he had to go to the doctor. On another occasion, Dad and Mike were motorbike riding. Dad decided to be a smart arse and zoomed up, and swung the bike around to flick mud over everyone. Unfortunately, he fell off and ruptured the ligaments in his knee. Off to the doctors, he went again where the doctor politely suggested: “Don perhaps you should give up the extreme sports with Mike?”
With that advice, Dad and Mike took up kite flying. They bought a massive orange puffer kite – it was 5ft tall. They were flying it in the back garden which was not far from Commercial Road, a very busy road when all of a sudden the kite dipped over the power lines and they heard the screeching of brakes. They waited for the sound of cars crashing but fortunately, the kite rose up again so they quickly wound it in and Dad said to Mike, “Don’t tell your mother!!” They ran inside and said nothing. Mum said she thought they were very quiet that day. Hmm yes they were.
Another great experience they shared together in later years was going to the War Memorial in Canberra. Mike took Dad Business Class which he loved and they enjoyed a fabulous day. It was something on Dad’s bucket list he was thrilled to tick off. In latter years they played golf together and only a month ago they went to lunch at Hogs Breath – for some reason that was a place Dad always wanted to have lunch. Another tick off his list and now the last day out they shared together just the two of them.
Mike said he used to think it was ridiculous the “junk” Dad held onto. Dad was a collector of all sorts of nuts, washers, brackets and bolts. Jars and jars of them he had in his shed. However when Mike bought his own home Dad always had the exact bracket or bolt Mike was looking for. Not so silly after all.
Dads great love of the guitar, he was completely self-taught, led him to teach Mike. One song only though and that was the song playing when you all walked in today aptly titled “Walk right in.” Well, unfortunately, Mike never progressed with learning any other songs. He really liked this one and he played it. Over and over and over again. Sadly though, for all of us, Mike was quite hopeless and Dad was not shy in telling him so. This is why the guitar is over there with Dad. It’s in good hands there.
As a little girl, one of my favourite memories is standing on Dad’s feet and dancing with him. Snuggling up close to him on the couch and just always thinking he was so handsome. I just always adored him.
Dad and I were similar in many ways. Same bright blue eyes, both very impatient, we never read an instruction book, (which would always result in Mike having to sort it out – “leave it to Mike” Dad would say.) We share a healthy dose of road rage, a taste for nougat and very grey hair. We loved our horror movies. Mum said that as a six-month-old baby she would give me to Dad for my 11pm bottle and go to bed. She said Dad would prop me up in his arms and we would watch “Deadly Ernest” together. So that is how far back that shared interest started. Some of my best days with Dad were when we would go on father-daughter “dates.” We would see the most horrific movies and then afterwards debrief over a pizza and beer. Best of all we would laugh. A lot.
However, there were times when I found him less than funny. He would laugh very hard when we hurt ourselves and once after I had received a very nasty electric shock and developed a bit of a phobia of anything electrical, he pretended to be electrocuted while plugging in a toaster. I was furious because I really thought he was going to die and we were only laughing about that the other day.
Dad’s humour with electricity was not isolated to me though. Many years ago Dad’s lawnmower was playing up. He was checking the spark plugs and told Mum to put her finger on one, to see if that was the problem. Innocently Mum did and she got a very nasty zap. Well, she ran into the house screaming and did not speak to him for days. Dad thought that was hilarious too.
One of the funniest days with Dad and there have been many, was only last month on one of his chemo days. I had picked him up and we drove to Flinders Medical Centre. The parking, as most people who live in Adelaide would know, at Flinders is just horrendous. So because we thought we would be having months of appointments and to just reduce the amount Dad had to walk with his terrible breathlessness, we applied for a disabled parking permit. We hadn’t received it at the time but I had the paperwork from Dad’s GP in my glove box. So I said to Dad that we were going to go “rogue” and I parked in a disabled car park and scribbled in red pen on the paperwork, “Authorised awaiting sticker” and shoved that on the dash. Dad loved it. So I said look I know you are unwell but really shuffle along when you get out and wait for me to open your door just in case we are being watched. He very sarcastically asked if I would like him to trip himself over, fall and get some blood on his face, “You know make myself look really bad.” I assured him that would not be necessary, walking slow and hunched over would suffice. We laughed all the way into the chemo suite.
We sat down and as I said Dad was incredibly impatient – he would tut and huff after waiting only 5 minutes. Well, this day we were called in straight away. Fantastic he said and we went and he sat in the big recliner chairs they have for the patients. I had mistakenly pressed the wrong buttons on these chairs for Dad on a previous visit. He had wanted to put his feet up and I pressed the back button and flung him back rather fast. He insisted I had given him whiplash, “As if I don’t have enough problem, Lory.” Even the day before he died he was still wiggling his finger at me smiling and telling everyone how nervous he was when I was in control of moving his bed up and down.
Anyway, he was so excited about getting in quick to have his treatment but he had been terribly unwell the previous two days and I had a long list from Mum of things to tell the nurses. So our lovely nurse comes over, “Hello Don how are you?” “Not bad,” he says. I said “SORRY? Not bad?” He shot me a look and said, “Well yes not the best over the weekend.” I then stood up and reeled off all that was wrong with him. The nurse raised her eyebrows and said to Dad that we can’t give you your chemo until we look at your recent blood test. Dad had one every week. Well, unfortunately, that days result hadn’t come through so she said I will make you a cappuccino but you need to wait awhile and we will decide what to do. Ok, he says smiling at her as she walked away and then he shot me another look and said, “We could have been out of here if you had kept your mouth shut.” I said bad luck got to get it sorted and so we waited. For 4 hours. We chatted away and had a few laughs. And I loved the uninterrupted time we had together. The time spent together albeit for awful reasons was not without its blessings.
So while we are waiting a girl walks into the middle of the chemo suite (there are about 12 patients having chemo at one time) and she is pushing a trolley on top of which are copper upturned bowls. Dad raises his eyebrows at me and I shrug my shoulders – I don’t know what she is doing. She looked a little alternative – Dad later described in detail to Mum her “weird” clothing. Green trousers, purple top with bells on the sleeves and messy hair. I noticed none of that. Well, she sets up behind me and the bowls are in fact some kind of Buddha/Zen-like chimes which she starts to play with some kind of stick. Dad, who was speaking quite loudly because he didn’t have his hearing aids in says, “How bloody ridiculous. Is that going to cure me of cancer is it?” You could not get any more unbuddha like than my Dad. I was crying as I was trying so hard not to laugh. Well, then the girl goes over to the lady opposite Dad and starts swishing the bowl and a brush around her head and upper body humming and chanting as she was doing it. Worried that she might come pay him a visit too Dad looked at me threw his head back on the chair squeezed his eyes tightly shut and said: “I’m asleep!!!” It was so funny. The nurses at the station were watching all of this and they too were laughing.
Well this lovely girl eventually wheels her trolley out and leaves the room. Dad opens his eyes, once it was “safe” and said to the lady opposite “God I was worried she was going to come to me next.” She replied, “It’s ok, I find it quite soothing and cathartic.” Dad misheard what she said, remember he has no hearing aid in, nods in agreeance with her and said, very loudly, “Yes I think it’s a load of garbage too.” I could have died on the spot. It was very funny. So when we finally left he was so relieved to be going “I have a sore arse from sitting so long you know!” that he was walking a little faster than when we walked in. As we were going back to the disabled car park I had to remind him to slow down a bit and then pretended to “help” him into the car. I went to put his seatbelt on and he wagged his finger at me again and said with a big smile, “Steady now.” It sounds ridiculous but that day was a great day.
Andrew is the one and only son-in-law but even so, Dad would say he was the best one. Dad had great admiration for Andrew and his final words to Andrew were what a good father he was. In turn, Andrew had a lot of respect for Dad and loved and appreciated all the time, love and interest Dad had for our boys. Andrew always said how intelligent Dad was and that if ever he was on a quiz show Dad would be his “phone a friend” lifeline. Just don’t ever get them talking about the Crows when they lost. They both had very strong opinions on how hopeless their team was at times.
However, as wonderful a Dad as he was I think he saved his greatest role till last and that was as Pop to his boys Jesse and Matthew. From the moment they were born they have been his second shadow. He sang to them as newborns and they stopped crying. Jesse used to like the song Old Shep so much that Dad wrote out the words for him one day and he keeps that somewhere special even now.
He pushed them in the pram and rocked them in his arms when they were upset. As little boys he played Cowboys and Indians with them complete with homemade bows and arrows he made for them, he would take them for long walks and made them their own walking sticks. Once during a day trip to Kuitpo Forest with Mum and Jesse, he walked ahead and dropped 50 cent pieces along the ground. He convinced Jesse that they had stumbled on a hidden treasure. Now that’s a thoughtful Pop.
He has played Monopoly, UNO for hours, read them their favourite books over and over, taken them to lots of movies – horrendously violent ones a lot of the time. Jesse and he share a love of cowboy movies to the point where Jesse tried to watch one with us at home one day and he said that it wasn’t the same not sitting next to Pop so we turned it off.
Matthew makes Dad laugh a lot and they share a quick wit and that terrible sense of humour!! Dad would watch Matthew’s favourite DVD’s over and over with him even though it drove Dad nuts. They too used to go for walks together with Scruffy and Dad loved how Matthew doted on his little dog. Dad and Matthew eat left handed even though they are right handed, as does Mike. Dad loved that there was a lot of “Milligan” in is little mate.
Quite simply he is fabulous with them and so very proud of the young men they have grown up to be and the beautiful, close relationship they still shared right to the end. They adore him and Pop would have had to have been one of the most used words in our house and his. He has provided them with some of their happiest memories and for that, I feel so lucky and am forever grateful.
The last few months have been really difficult as Dad got more and more tired and sick. Dad spent an enormous amount of time resting in his chair and his loyal companion, Scruffy was a source of great comfort and his own personal hot water bottle as she lay on his lap all day long. Dad was a passionate dog lover, Rusty and Milly amongst his best four-legged friends, and he spoke to Scruffy nicer than any human I can tell you. I had heard him call her darling and once he even called her Lory. I told him off for that slip of the tongue.
He and Mum always close became even more of a team. Mum the most devoted carer I have ever seen despite her own health issues. Dad was in the very best hand’s Mum, you have been absolutely amazing – he struck gold with you as we often told him and he agreed wholeheartedly. Mum was his primary concern right up to the very end. Look after “Cookie” was the brief. True love they had.
Dad’s admission into the hospital Thursday night was nothing to be overly concerned about initially. The plan was to keep him in a few days, get over an infection and come home. By Friday night things had become more serious, by Saturday morning 630am we thought we would be able to bring him home in a week and have palliative care for a couple of months but then by 930am that very same morning we were told it was too late and we had hours with him, maybe a day. It was absolutely horrific and unexpected and he passed away 630am Sunday morning.
So, Dad, I won’t say goodbye. I truly believe I will see you again. Until then you enjoy that long awaited reunion with those that have gone before you – Your sister Gwen, Jos who you loved so very much and Bill, your beautiful, funny big brother who died only 3 hours before Dad did back in England. I am also sure your old mate Uncle Maurie will be waiting with a nice cold beer for you too. You loved him.
My Dad, I have no regrets. I loved you with everything I had and I was lucky to be loved by you just as much.
I am so proud to be my father’s daughter and I will miss you for the rest of my days. It was a privilege to be with you as you passed away but I now know what it means to be truly broken hearted. Always and forever I will be your girl.