My Dad passed away on the 9th of September 2009: 9/9/09. I’ll never forget that date. My Dad meant the world to me when I was a kid. Not only because he was my Dad, he was my inspiration. He worked at the airline and was constantly flying to other parts of Asia, North America, Australia, Europe… everywhere. When my parents bought me my first geographic encyclopaedia when I was eight years old, he would sit with me and point out all the places he’d been to and tell me many stories about those places. I would sit on his lap, look at the pictures, listen to his stories and dream of being there one day. My Dad was my hero.
When I was twelve, my parents separated. It was hard for the whole family. My Dad left and that was a hard pill to swallow. At that age, I didn’t blame either my Dad or Mum but I felt guilty because, somehow, I imagined, I might have been the cause of their separation – it was only years later that I realised I wasn’t. Throughout my adolescense, my relationship with my Dad kind of petered out. I moved to Amsterdam to study Economics when I was 19 and I later became a banker. I guess he was a bit disappointed that I didn’t become a pilot. My elder brother became a pilot and my Dad was thrilled. As for me and my Dad, we didn’t have much to talk about for many years. My interest in aviation and my travels kept our conversations going but he couldn’t quite grasp the banking world I was in. I felt hurt about it, like he wasn’t really making an effort to connect with me and with what I was doing. I harboured those emotions for years. The hurt grew into anger and frustration and I tried to pacify those feelings by trying to understand the reasons behind it all. Reasoning helped to a certain degree but my relationship with my Dad was never the same again.
In June 2009, my Dad suffered a stroke. I rushed to Kuala Lumpur to be with him and I sat with him for many hours in the hospital and we talked about many things. We’d never spent that much time together in years. My Dad had a wicked sense of humour and we spent many moments laughing until tears ran down our cheeks. I returned to Amsterdam after he was discharged from the hospital; he was still in a wheelchair the last time I saw him conscious but he was recovering well and he would soon walk again.
A month later, he fell while trying to stand up and went straight into a coma. I remember so clearly seeing him lying in that bed in Intensive Care. I’d just arrived back from Amsterdam. I always cringe when I see hospital scenes like that on television or in movies, but this was my Dad. Somehow, I felt like it was ok. I didn’t cringe. I stood by his side and fondled his hair. I spoke to him, telling him about my flight and the cocky stewardesses on board. The tears streamed down my face but it felt so natural.
I thought I’d slipped into a weird dream
Three weeks later, my brother, sister and I were having a quiet dinner together when my brother’s phone rang. My Dad’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. I got into the car with my brother and we rushed to the hospital. The radio was on and Michael Jackson was singing one of my favourite songs: “You Are Not Alone”. I gripped the armrest thinking, is this it? Why was this song on the radio? Was it some sort of sign? We drove in silence and my thoughts were constantly about my Dad and his past three weeks in coma. He had suffered severe brain damage during his fall and the doctor told us that the chances of him recovering were very slim, that his body was slowly shutting down and it would only be a matter of time. I thought about this, and suddenly I heard the Black Eyed Peas belting out: “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night”… I thought I’d slipped into a weird dream. Was this my Dad’s wicked sense of humour? Apparently, my brother shared the same thought and he turned off the radio.
We arrived at the hospital and rushed to my Dad’s bedside. The alarms from the monitors were ringing from all directions, severely dramatising the moment. I held his hand gently and looked at him. I realised: so what if he couldn’t relate to my profession? So what if we couldn’t talk about anything else but aviation? He’s my Dad and I love him very much. It dawned on me that all the hurt feelings and frustrations I harboured throughout the years were based on my own pettiness. He was always around for me when I needed him and he always supported me with whatever I did. It was me who thought that he didn’t understand me. In actual fact, he did, as a father would his son. His lack of knowledge about banking didn’t drive us apart. It was my mind, that was clouded by my egotistical feelings, that had erected this barrier between us.
As I stroked his temple, I whispered into his ear : “I love you Daddy,… very much. It’s ok to go. I know now what you’ve always tried to tell me. I know you’ve always loved me. And I know I’ll never be alone because you’ll always be by my side”.
My Dad passed away several minutes later.
My brother, sister and I huddled together. We were sad but we knew he’d had a fulfilling life. We would miss him dearly but we were at peace, just as he was.
As I made my way through those emotional months before my Dad’s passing, a line to a song kept popping into my head. The words “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ turned out to be rather prophetic.
Not only did they tell me that I might live to regret some of my choices over the years, but that regret can stay with us for a very, very long time. Beyond the obvious lessons to cherish our loved ones that death teaches, I also realised how important it is to invest time and energy into working out my differences with people I care about – life is just too fragile to allow lingering differences to hold me back from enjoying friends and family. I am grateful to my Dad for that final lesson. And to Joni for being the poetic bridge that helped me realise the importance of my Dad’s last lesson.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Janice Waugh, Stephanie Diehl, Gwen McCauley and Evelyn Hannon for their constant support and for keeping tabs on me during this difficult period. A special mention goes to Gwen who encouraged me to write this story and publish it.