Thursday, May 05, 2011
Death of a troubled soul
Last year my father died exactly the way I thought he would. We had been out all day and returned home at about nine pm that evening. There was a message on the telephone from my aunt. The police had been in contact and she messaged to ask me to give them a call. My father lived in Sydney and we're in Melbourne. I called the required number. The neighbours hadn't seen my father for some time and had called the police. Upon investigating his home they found him face down on the floor of his bedroom. Later the coroner estimated that he had been there for up to three weeks.
Yes, you did read the above correctly. A phone call from the police telling me that my father had passed away was exactly how I envisaged the death of my dad. My father was an alcoholic and after twenty years of marriage my mother had had enough, divorced him and he then went to live in Sydney. He had some family up there, but after a few months even they were estranged from him. It was only after he moved there did that side of the family fully comprehend what he was like.
Do you know how sometimes in the media or in advertisements you see images of homeless people, or the jobless; down on their luck people? Or you hear stories of people dying in their homes and not being found for days - in this case weeks. I always used to look at these and think, that is my father.
As far as I know, my father always drank. During the day my brother and I learnt not to disturb him because he'd always get very annoyed. At night he was jovial and affectionate. I now know of course why my father had two sides to his personality.
As we got older our social life ground to a halt. Later my mother told me that it was too humiliating to go out and be with friends. Having to doctor a drunk home was no fun. He also felt the macho need of drink-driving us home. Insisted upon it. This was during the seventies and early eighties, so we didn't have the cautionary TAC ad campaigns back then. I'm not sure if they would have had an effect on him anyway.
I could never bring friends home. I wouldn't know what I would be walking into. When we were teenagers it was easier for my brother and I to just hang out at our friend's houses.
When I was twenty years old my mother decided enough was enough. My father wasn't a violent man, but one afternoon things did turn bad and he hit her over the head. That was literally the end. My mother had been back and forth our whole lives. Misguided relatives always thought it was better that she stay in her marriage than walk away. I try not to make her feel bad about this now - because I know she carries immense guilt for staying. She had a great job and could easily have supported us. She just found it hard emotionally and spiritually to be on her own.
When everything ended he moved to Sydney. He had a good outcome from the divorce financially, but within a handful of years all that money was completely gone. When it comes to my father my brother and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum. I always felt sorry for him and was easily manipulated. My brother despised him and at the end refused to talk to him. Thus I was always the go between.
I felt differently after I had my first child. I was much angrier with him. Feeling very vulnerable with a newborn, and able to watch my husband in awe at how he was a father to my son, I realised all the more what my brother and I had missed out on.
Towards the end I only saw him in person three or four times. He never looked well. He visited us twice after my son was born. Later both my husband and I commented that our home felt as if the life had been sucked out of it. He never got to meet my daughter. The last time I saw him I was pregnant with her and she was eighteen months old when he passed away. When I rang to speak to him on the telephone I was lucky if he was coherent. Often he would ring back the following morning. I think somewhere in his imbibed mind, it registered that I had tried to have a conversation with him. The consequent day he would deny that he had been drinking - it was on account of some medication he had been taking. I've heard many excuses over the years.
Of course we had to go to Sydney to organise the funeral. My father always harboured resentment for my husband. I think it was more a jealousy thing than anything else. A father and daughter thing. He always handled emotion in an immature fashion and this was conveyed by him entering our home and trying to be 'cock of the walk'. I always managed to keep the lid on this simmering pot between my father and husband, but looking back I wish I could tell my father, be nice, this is the person who will be paying for your funeral.
There weren't many people there. Thankfully my brother came without argument. I was bracing myself for the 'I'm not doing this on my own' speech. It was up to me to do the eulogy. There were some friends of his that he had recently re-connected with from his teenage years. I think they were a little shocked by what I said. I had to talk honestly. I said that I was angry with him for his selfishness because he was loved.
And here is the crux of the matter. No matter what, he was still my father and he was loved. When I think of my father I think of him as a troubled soul. My main emotion regarding his death is one of pity. Sadness of a life lived worthlessly. Sadness that he could not let go of his demons in life. I only hope now that where ever he is that he has found some peace.