This year seems to have started with many friends around me suffering the loss of someone close. A constant reminder of the fragility of life and a sense of fear about how any of us will make it through to old age. Chances seem slim when you hear so many different stories.
Since my father died, I have always found the new year particularly poignant. Another year that he will never know. Another year that pushes him further away from our lives. My greatest fear when he died was that my children would have no memory or understanding of him. His death prompted me to start writing; for the children and for me.
Last week Lily told my mother she had no memory of him whatsoever. Even when she looked at the photos of him holding her as a baby, she couldn’t sense him at all. Yet, when he died and she was not quite two, she talked about him all the time. So much so that her chatter prompted me to write the story below.
A story that not only helped me cope with my loss but more importantly a story I need to read to her again.
(first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 22, 2007)
A Shift in Perception
Lily loved her Pa. He was always reading to her. Everytime Pa came to visit, Lily would rush to her bookshelf and find a collection of books to read together. Afterwards they would pull funny faces and make each other laugh. Pa always made Lily laugh and Lily always made Pa laugh. He was always smiling.
Then Pa started to visit a bit less. When he did, he looked tired and was sometimes too tired to read to Lily. Luckily Mama was always with him, so she would read to Lily while Pa watched, still smiling.
Soon Pa stopped visiting at all and Lily’s mummy would take her to visit him. ‘We’re going to have morning tea with Pa today’, she would say and Lily would rush to her bookshelf to find different books to show him. Mostly Pa would be in a chair by the bed, looking out the window. Sometimes he would be asleep. Each time he looked very sad but as soon as he saw Lily, his eyes would light-up and he would give her the widest grins. Lily would run up to him laughing, kiss his cheek and rummage through her bag for her books. Pa couldn’t read to her anymore, so Lily’s mummy would instead. Lily didn’t mind — whenever she looked at Pa while mummy was reading, he was watching, still smiling.
Sometimes he slept while Lily’s mummy read, but he always woke up to kiss Lily goodbye. As Lily walked out of his room, she would turn back to wave and Pa was always watching, still smiling.
One day, they didn’t go to visit Pa and everyone in Lily’s family — her mummy, daddy, mama, auntie and uncle — looked very sad. Lily wasn’t sure why as she could see Pa in the loungeroom with them all. Watching, still smiling.
Lily missed sitting on Pa’s lap and having him read to her. She would often look at her books by herself, only she was never really by herself as she would look up and always see Pa watching her, still smiling.
Sometimes she would try and read her books aloud to him but she couldn’t remember all the words, as hard as she tried. Pa never seemed to mind though as he was still watching, still smiling.
Lily’s mummy was often sad and told Lily it was because she missed Pa. Lily wanted to make her feel better so would go to her bookshelf and find her favourite books. As Lily’s mummy read to her, Lily saw she had tears in her eyes. Lily couldn’t understand why as Pa was there too. Watching, still smiling.
That night Lily had a dream about Pa. Lily was so excited. She could cuddle him and sit on his lap. Best of all, he could read to her again — all the books in her bookshelf! They laughed and laughed together. He wasn’t tired anymore and he was so happy. Lily kept looking up at him as he read. Of course he was watching, still smiling.
After he finished the last book, he folded Lily in his arms and told her he had to go. He asked her not to be sad because it was good. He was all better now. But Lily didn’t want him to go. She wanted to stay on his lap and have him read to her forever. He hugged her and said that every time she read a book to think of him; he would be there, between every word and page. He would point at the pictures and laugh with her at the funny bits, just like always. Then Pa told her it was time to go back to sleep. She nestled her head in the crook of his arm and closed her eyes while he watched, still smiling.
In the morning, Lily raced to her bookshelf to find her favourite book and sat down to start reading. Straight away she felt Pa next to her but when she looked up he wasn’t there. She kept reading though, always thinking about him. And Pa continued to watch, always smiling.