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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #037

Editorial

Every now and then an event occurs that, while not necessarily changing your life, at least causes you to re-evaluate it.

Such an event has just occurred in my life, my father died.

I'll spare you the details for the moment, suffice to say that I had a good look at what we (that's Chris and I) are doing with our lives, and I'm happy to say that our lifestyle passed the navel gazing with flying colours. 99% actually.

In other words, for 99% of the time we are doing both what we want to do, and what we reckon we should be doing.

But what about the other 1%.

I've been spending a lot of time lately tinkering with some programs on the computer, at the expense of my photography. I do enjoy programming, but I love taking photographs, so why should I spend time doing something I like, when I could be doing something I love?

Good question, and thanks Dad for helping me find the answer shortly before you left me.

 

Thu 20 Oct 2005

Lately I've been carrying my mobile phone while on the job because my watch has died and, if I don't know the time, I'm likely to be late for lunch. And that will never do.

We've been working all morning in the 37-degree heat, but taking regular water breaks, so it's not too bad.

During one of these breaks I get a phone call. "Is that Robert Gray?...doctor something-or-other from the Alfred hospital in Melbourne here."

So what can this have to do with me?. Why would some Melbourne hospital be ringing? I don't know anyone in Melbourne, not well enough to receive a call about their health anyway...uh oh, my Dad has just flown down for a 2nd 12th Army reunion.

It seems that he is very sick, the doctor expressed surprise that he even made it to hospital. "Most people with this condition don't get this far" he said, "And those that do only last 24 to 48 hours".

"24 to 48 hours" and he got the first symptoms yesterday. Bloody hell, and here I am working up in far north Queensland.

They say they'll run some tests and get back to me.

By lunch time there are no results, but I do get a call from my Dad. He sounds very weak, and it's obvious that he doesn't expect to see me again.

Not if I can help it.

The job will get along just fine without me, but how fast can I get to Melbourne? Pretty fast as it turns out. I book a direct Cairns-Melbourne flight on the web, leaving first thing tomorrow morning.

Chris packs me a bag and we hit the sack early, we'll have to get up at around 3AM and drive down to Cairns.

Fri 21 Oct

Up at three, a quick breakfast, and we're on the road. The drive is uneventful, and by six I'm sitting in seat 23C as a guest of JetStar.

There's nothing to do now but pray for a tail wind, and hope I get there in time.

On arrival I'm tempted to hire a car, I will need one while I'm here, but I don't think it's a good idea right now. It will take time to organise, and I'll probably get lost on the way to the hospital.

I hail a cab.

Half an hour later I'm at my Dad's side. He looks pretty good all things considered and, as it transpires, I am to have several days with him.

Later in the evening I catch another cab, this time to Margaret's. Margaret is a long-time friend of my Dad's, and indeed much of the family. Dad was staying with her until he got sick, and now she has offered to look after me while I'm in town.

Sat 22 Oct

I hire a car from a "rent a bomb" mob. It turns out to be a very nice Mitsubishi Magna, automatic and electric everything. It's a 1985 model, but that's OK with me, especially for about half the cost of a new car, and anyway it will spend most of its time in the hospital carpark.

Most of the day is spent at my Dad's side, usually reading, or watching him as he sleeps.

His breathing is very shallow and erratic, he often breaths out and doesn't inhale for 10 seconds or so. I watch and watch as the seconds tick by, until finally his chest expands. Under the circumstances it's very unnerving, each time I wonder if he has taken his last breath.

Our family has never been big on displaying emotions, there's always been a "next time" to tell someone how you feel about them. As I watch my old man lying here though I realise that this time there just may not be a next time.

I resolve to tell him I love him when he wakes.

Sun 23 Oct

My cousin Marian has flown down from Darwin to be with us. Her daughter Jennifer, a fourth-year medical student studying near Melbourne, has also taken time off work to be here. They are both particularly fond of my old man, and he of them.

Between the three of us we are keeping a 24-hour vigil.

Tue 25 Oct

Dad wakes up, takes one look at me, smiles, and says "I'm still alive then". Obviously I don't look angelic enough for there to be any confusion.

Wed 26 Oct

For days now I've hardly left my Dad's side, sleeping in his room overnight and only leaving to grab a meal or go for a walk when someone can relieve me.

He is very cheerful and always smiling when awake. The situation is of course quite distressing, but not to my Dad, he constantly tells me not to worry, that he's "had a good innings" and is ready to go, which of course just makes me more distressed.

Yesterday he was pretty much out of it, but he rallied today and so, at around five, I thought I'd duck home (to Margaret's house) for a decent meal, much more of this hospital food and I'll be joining my Dad. He seems OK, he's sleeping and has Marian for company. And besides it's only about a ten-minute drive if you sneak in before the rush hour.

It costs me $48 to get out of the car park, it's actually more expensive to park the car than hire it. I rush through the streets to Margaret's, she has been warned of my coming and is preparing dinner for me so I won't be away too long.

On arrival I take the top off a beer, take a swig, and sit down ready to eat.

The phone rings. My Dad is dead.

Marian assures me that he never woke, so I didn't miss any last words, but damn it I should have been there.

I return to the hospital and everyone gives me some time alone with him to say goodbye. It's a somewhat one-way conversation of course, fortunately there's not much to say, we've been lucky to have had so much time together over the past few days, and in fact have said all that needed saying.

Thu 27 Oct

My Dad never wanted anyone to fuss over him in life, and so it will be in death. He wanted to be left to the teaching hospital, to be useful right to the end, but thanks to the bureaucrats and the red tape that won't happen. We will have him cremated instead, and his ashes will be spread somewhere nice.

There won't be a head stone, nor any inscriptions, but if there was I'd borrow a phrase from one of his nurses, and it would simply read...

Don Gray
20 Mar 21 - 26 Oct 05
"A lovely man"

 

Goodbye Dad, with luck I'll see you in about 30 years.

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