There will be no father-daughter dance for me, no father walking me down the aisle at my wedding and no maternal grandfather for my children to run into his arms and pull his beard.
I have come to terms with the loss of my father early in life; 28. While I was actually an adult not a child when he breathed his last breath, I was emotionally still much a child as I was living in the same house as him and under his rules. In many ways, it was a large struggle all through my adolescence and adulthood to be ‘rid’ of him emotionally — he seemed to permeate everything. Yet I had to live with him as in a tiny country like Singapore, alternative housing was pricey and most singles lived at home till their marriage.
When my father died, I was relieved. He was suffering for months from lung cancer that seeped into his bones. One day, he had a stroke and one side was limp and he could not contain his urine. He peed while the priest was coming to visit to give him communion. I saw the humiliation in his eyes and I felt his pain. He was such a strong man in his life and the illness had reduced him to this state. As I cleaned up his mess, my heart went out to him. He sat there unable to help himself.
This is a very hard post to write, I am crying even as I write this. I knew I had to write it because I am a writer — I use my writing as a means of processing and communicating to myself and also to the world. Recent events have made this deep wise understanding arise in me and at the same time I want to avoid relieving the memories because they come clothed with the realization of the loss not just of my father but the fathers in my life.
When my godmother died in Perth, I was in LA. On that weekend it was All Souls’ Day and I went to my Catholic church to light a candle for her and for my mother who also died that same year. In one year I was robbed of both my mothers, maternal and spiritual. As I waited in line to write their names down in the special book of prayers in Santa Monica Church, tears ran down my face. The older gentleman in front of me saw this and in his compassion offered me a hand. He told me he had lost so many that year and I could see the sadness in his eyes. I told him I lost my mothers and now I did not have a mother anymore and then I simply broke down and cried.
I knew I wanted to call my godfather and send my condolences. I never did. I did not forget. I simply put it at the back of my mind like the many things I tended to want to avoid. I avoid emotions as they scare me. November — December— January and so the months went by and I heard he was visiting Singapore with his sons in July. So I left my call out and was relieved to simply see him. However on the day we were supposed to meet for the family gathering, his three sons were there but the youngest son and my godfather flew back to Perth because he was not feeling well. I was very disappointed and again placed it in the back of my mind.
When my cousin and also the goddaughter to these same godparents (yes, they had love enough for four boys and two goddaughters) texted me from Singapore when I was back in LA , I knew it could not be good news. None of my sudden messages from Singapore ever were. Uncle Pat had had a heart-attack and in the hospital and Girly (our nickname for my cousin) said she was flying to see him as she expected this was his time to go. I was in LA and for me to fly back, I would first need 21 hours to Singapore and then another 6 hours to Perth. I would also need the money to go. I had set aside money but that for another special trip. As I contemplated, I knew that I never called my godfather. And I would regret not seeing or being with him now — now when he needed me most.
When I flew into Singapore, I had to call to check if he was still there. Afterall there was a chance he did not make it through the night. On the plane, I was reminded of the last time I rushed home to a hospital bed. My mother. In the plane, all I could do was pray. Keep them alive — I have not yet the chance to say goodbye.
My godfather’s last night was the best last night that any person deserved. He was surrounded by his sons and grandchildren and yes — two special flown in goddaughters from Singapore. I joked with him, if he wanted to see me that badly, he simply had to ask and not be so dramatic. He laughed. He was well that night, no signs of the heart breaking that would take him from us. I could also see how touched he was that I had flown in all the way from LA in a rush and the severity of what that meant. His sons were quietly discussing his condition as he would need multiple operations. One too optimistic and one more grounded. It was painful to watch.
That Saturday night, surrounded by all his loved ones; Uncle Pat laughed and was happy. We had planned the Sunday schedule to be that the youngest son would meet him first in the morning. My elder cousins wanted to feed me some local brunch before taking the afternoon shift at the hospital. We even had dinner together after we left the hospital, all of us held hopeful by the love and magical moment of union after being apart from each other for so long. I saw the youngest cousin for the first time in 40 years. I liked him. He looked like my godmother. He had met me when I was a baby it seemed. The next day, we planned it as if all would go as humanly planned. I woke and got ready for brunch, my two cousins playfully arguing over which restaurant to bring me to and who was the better cousin; when the call came in from the hospital. The first call said to rush down. The second call said it was simply too late.
The Sunday morning had the same people in the room. Except my godfather’s body was there but he had left. We were in tears. We waited for his body to leave for the mortuary and then we went to have lunch. In many ways, seated around the table for our Chinese dim sum like mixed heritage children do, we were united in ways the generation before us would have been pleased. His sons, their goddaughters from Singapore and the grandchildren gathered because of them. It was a meal tinged with sadness and also gratitude. We had time with him before he left.
I never wrote that story down as I could not really. It was special and also bittersweet. However recently I spiraled in to a depression of sorts and wondered why. I was feeling lost and very sad. Now after some time of reflection — I realized I did not just have one father. I have had many. And the loss of them or prospective loss of them is not just an emotionally loss but one that triggers my identity and who I am in the world without these great men.
The special amount of money I had kept aside that I used for my uncle’s sudden flight to Perth was actually to see my bedridden aunt. She was unable to communicate or move for four years after a fall. She lives in Norwich with her loving husband — Uncle Bob. Aunty Ruth is truly a second mother to me. She is not my godmother but treated me so well, she treated everyone so well that she is deeply beloved by many of us cousins back in Singapore. No United Kingdom trip would go without seeing the Binleys. I went that same year to see them, even though I did not have enough money. I went because I realized I may not see them anytime soon and time was not on my side anymore.
When I saw Uncle Bob he looked well. He used to be the frail one and Aunty Ruth the caregiver; this time the roles were reversed. He and a stay-in nurse took care of Aunty Ruth 24/7. She was much in a vegetative state. My cousins came up regularly to see them and see to their needs but most days it was the couple in their home with the telly on. I walked down memory lane to the first time I went in winter and Aunty Ruth insisted we get me boots as I only came in sport shoes. I wore and kept those first boots for years. She asked me about me and wanted to teach me about being a young woman. I was and still am rather a tom boy. I appreciated her nurturing so much. Uncle Bob never said much and looked like Santa Claus. However he always made sure I was well. Once on a later trip, he asked me about my finances and was worried because I was not working for a company. He had worked for British Airways for forever. I was one of those new generations he never understood.
Uncle Bob passed away early February 15th in United Kingdom. I never saw him again since that last time, 2 years before. No one expected him to be the one of the two to go. We are all still in shock. He died quickly and so I hope in as little pain as possible. When I heard the news I was leading a retreat and it hit me hard. I was supposed to bring the participants for two parties friends had organized and I was not sure I could do it. I was drained. I did bring them but left the group of 12 in a large house partying while I took my plastic cup filled with wine and walked away for a bit. I walked down to a large empty carpark where I could look up at the party — where so many of my friends were and where they all would willingly hug me and sit with me and try to make me feel better. But none of them could. The hole in my heart was too big to fill. I sat with the wine in my cup on the pavement. My only friend was a cockroach. I sat there too numb to move. I had held a “pretend happy face” for as long as I could at the party and all I wanted to do was to cry. So I did. The only witness a cockroach. And perhaps a stranger’s car as they flew by. But largely I am quite sure my disappearance went unnoticed. As I wanted it to be.
That trip was meant to be. The one 2 years ago. The one that I would have rescheduled if I did not have the faith and the values to go despite not having enough money. That last trip to UK to see my family there. How do I know? I took a hostel to stay in London before flying back. I took a hostel because that was how little money I had and also I did not want to further bother my cousin. As I sat at the hostel bed and looked at my messages from home, my helper had sent me a picture of an insurance policy that had matured. One I had forgotten about as it was done by my father — brother to my aunt and godmother. He had put in money for me for years. It matured then. And it paid for my trip to UK. It replaced the money I had kept for UK that I had to use up for Perth to suddenly see my dying godfather.
Why was I depressed on February 15 till around now as I am writing this? I was not sure. There were many other things in life that went wrong. A broken heart, a cash flow issue in the company, a worry that I have lived my life wrong.. and now it was too late at 46 to reverse it or make good. But more importantly, when Uncle Bob died, I realize now — I feel it deeply that the men would would unconditionally be there for me — my generation of fathers were leaving and had left. And I again feel like a lost child. A happy child for being blessed by such wonderful men. But in that happiness and nurturing and being kept dear and safe by both my mother figures and father figures; I now feel the emptiness where once that lived. I hold onto the memories dearly but I also know memories are never the same.
I mourn the loss of my parents. And the parental generation before me.
I am now not alone but I am the new parental generation. I hope I am one that they can be proud of.
I pass that love to the generation after me. And I treasure that love I was given.
And yes; I mourn deeply the loss of those givers.