I had, for a long while, been addicted to self development. It was like peeling onion layers; more were always waiting for you to deal with. But I was determined to recover from the effects of crippling emotional baggage I’d had since childhood.
I’d felt an outsider most of my life, especially at school, even though there were times when I was popular. I rarely felt happy inside, even though I had a smile on my face much of the time. It started in early childhood. I wasn’t as bright as my older brother and younger sister; I wasn’t as pretty as my two younger sisters. Mum didn’t actually say the words, but when she talked, and she talked a lot—I became a good listener—and I read between the lines: ‘He’s a genius… she’s pretty…’ etc etc. There was more to it than that, there always is… But I grew up believing I was unworthy: stupid, ugly. It was all untrue, I believed it at my core, and I couldn’t shake it off as I grew.
The change in me started around the time leading up to, and immediately after, my father’s stroke. It would take a long time, and much inner work on my part, to rid me of the bad feelings I carried about myself.
Was it just self-esteem problems, or did it go much deeper than that?
I’d been married for three years. This had involved a huge leap for me. “It’s for the birds,” I used to say. “My parents were miserable when conjoined”.
I was, at the time, teaching, keeping a dream journal, reading Jung and Freud, and having Gestalt therapy. As far as spiritual matters go, I was the original Doubting Thomas; I was married to a scientist, and surrounded by atheists.
This day, I’d been massaging Mark for a tension headache that he’d had since childhood. We’d fallen asleep on the couch together. It was around lunchtime.
A Noisy Spirit
“Something’s broken in the kitchen?” Mark says.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I don’t know. The noise woke me up.”
I go into the kitchen and put the glass pieces in the bin.
I have no idea what the object is, nor where it has come from.
Two weeks later, also on a Saturday, Mum calls me from the North Coast, telling me of Dad’s first stroke. Mark and I catch a plane to the country airport. I feel invisible hands holding the plane up in the air. Lost my usual fear of flying.
Mum picks us up and drives us to the hospital. She talks non-stop as is her habit, all the way across the crooked bridge and out to the hospital opposite the gaol
As I sit at my father’s bedside, I feel closer to him than I’ve ever been before. It seems like we’re communicating, even though he’s in a deep coma.
“I love you, Dad,” I say, for the first time. We‘ve never been good at words together.
Mum and my two sisters are outside on the verandah, talking. I go back inside and say the words again, “I love you.” Like an actor rehearsing a role. Only this is for real.
I touch his craggy skin. His heart beats strongly in his chest. He’s only sixty. Far too young to die.
After three days, Mark and I drive Dad’s car to the Coastal resort my parents have recently retired to. I’ve to pick up his pension cheque from their flat. I notice Dad’s brown felt hat and his wallet on the table.
A Father’s Gift
It was nearly lunch time, so Mark and I walked across to the white pub, seated high up on the cliffs, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Meals would be served at twelve o’clock. I sat at the window and looked out at the horizon, dazzling azure blue, above and below. I took one sip of beer. A feeling like nothing I’d ever experienced, before or since, overwhelmed me. It was a sense of infinity and peace, so amazing that words could not express it. Tears welled up inside and trickled out. Then I “heard” my father telling me that his life had not been so bad after all, despite the conflict in the marriage. He’d had nature, the bush, his cattle, horses, dog and trees to support him.
It was like a gift from my father and I began to cry.
Tears ran in a silent stream down my face.
Mark stared at me in disbelief.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I muttered.
“Do you want to go down on the beach?”
“No, I just want to get back. To the hospital.”
“Oh,” Mark said. “Finish your food then, and we’ll go.”
It was fish and chips, fresh and tasty. We’d been served quickly.
As we ate, I talked about how Dad’s life had been. How he’d been a self-made man, just like his father before him. How he’d loved the land and had managed to procure it, thousands of acres. All on his own. Mum had had different needs and desires. But they’d stayed together through good times and bad.
“I don’t want to be here in his car,” I said. He’d been careful about his possessions. Always thrifty. Mum had wanted pretty things for the house and smart clothes to dress up in.
We set out on the hour-long voyage back along the Pacific Highway, the road constructed in pale concrete slabs, by soldiers returning from the War. The car made a sound as if a tyre was loose, and Mark commented on it.
“It’s nothing,” I said. “It’s just the way the road is here.”
When we pulled up outside the hospital, my brother-in-law was walking towards us. I knew then that Dad had gone.
I wanted to know what time he’d passed, but two of my relatives gave vague and differing answers. When I asked the sister-on-duty, she looked at her watch and said:
“Mr Skyvington died at exactly five past twelve.”
That was, indeed, the time of my epiphany.