I know this will be one of the hardest stories I have ever anchored and woven with my written words. I’m starting to type this on the eve of the second anniversary of my fathers journey into another world… leaving behind his worn out fleshy vehicle, empty promises, muttly laugh and… his teeth! To give this story and experience justice I have to back track to set the scene and give context to my emotional state at the time. Rrr Rrrr RrRrrr Rrr RrrRewind…. 2011. Adam and I were shocked by the news that his father had suffered a heart attack. The weight of distance suddenly hit us both like a freight train, albeit Adam more-so as I had not yet met his family. Without going into that story, I urged Adam that it was time for me to meet his parents. Under those circumstances, as brutally honest as I was at the time, I tried to compassionately reason that I didn’t want the first time meeting his family to be at a funeral! So I organised to fly to Pennslvania, leaving on my mothers birthday. It didn’t sit well with my mother that I would not be home for Christmas, but I felt this strong sense of urgency to go, as the heart attack really weighed on my heart how important it was to meet my future In-Laws, particularly my new father in law…and gather as many stories as I could to pass down to our future children!
Christmas was majickal I saw snow for the first time- On Christmas! It was a dream come true for me and the 4-6yold Donna came out for a play in the winter wonderland of Rural NY. Over the Christmas period we had a nightmare of a hassle with Adam’s parntership visa, consequently he could not re-enter Australia. We were both booked for Rainbow Serpent festival, which we had to unfortunately cancel our involvement! I Returned back to Australia alone, not knowing when I would see my beloved again. We were told copious amounts of immigration horror stories of people waiting for years before they were reunited with their spouse or family. Our only form of communication with our case worker was via email, and we made sure that we wrote every other day, so as to not become a “number in the system”. After a strangely emotional departure from the USA, I arrived in Cairns over 30hrs later, to be greeted at the airport by Ma and Pa with Auraura who ran towards me with arms open calling “Mama!”. 3 weeks was the longest I had ever been away from her, and I really felt the distance. That night I stayed at Ma and Pa’s I think… and Auraura and I went back home the next day, happy to be together. That night I organised to skype with my parents to let them know that I had arrived home safely. I had a fun conversation with my mum, and then my dad appeared behind mums back pulling funny faces and being silly. He made me laugh and I said a quick hello before he retreated to his habitual drinking place out on their back patio.
I checked in with Adam and let him know that I had arrived safely and got an update on the visa situation. It seems we would have to experience a lengthy, unprepared separation from each other. Neither of us were happy about it, but there was nothing we could do! The next day, the Jet lag hit hard. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, to be fully present and engaged in activity with Auraura. Movies were my saviour as I started to unpack. After lunch, Auraura and I went for a nap and ended up sleeping for a couple of hours. When I woke up I felt a little better, made myself a cup of tea and then went to check emails and facebook. Auraura was playing in her playroom nearyby. There was a message on my wall from my sister that read:
GET TO TOWNSVILLE DAD JUST DIED!
It’s really hard to express the impact of reading those words on the computer screen in front of me. Like a surreal brutality they ripped through every facet of my being with such force that there was a strange clarity… like a hyper clear moment- before the shockwaves hit- before my emotional body could even have a chance to digest and react… In what seemed like slow motion, my hand rose to cover my mouth in dis-belief- my eyes widened and I whispered What the fuck?! progressively getting louder…
WHAT THE FUCK….
My energy body started closing in on me…I choked on my words
WHAT THE FUUUUUCK?!?!
I started to shake as my body surged with rushes of adrenalin… fight or flight instinct was in effect… I raced to find my phone…This couldnt be true… what a cruel joke… No… No way… So many missed calls and messages… I listened to some voicemails from my brother, mother and sister… My tears hit the floor in spatters as I felt the dispair and hopelessness in their voices… I called my sister, who apologised for the way I found out, but since I wasn’t answering my phone, and she was in a panic herself, that was the best she could do at the time to get the message to me…Dad had had a heart attack at work and died after lunch. Here one minute- gone the next.
After I got off the phone to her, it hit me with the full force of brutal reality… thick…hard and fast… My dad is dead!
I buckled- fell to the floor on my knees and let out 2 of the loudest, most primal, blood curdling screams I have ever heard. I didn’t even know I could make those sounds… but there they flew… from my broken heart and through my throat with such fury… as if to catch my dad’s spirit as he transcended this Earthly realm. In an instant… The fabric of my comfortable little world was torn open… I wept… in a pool of my own tears and mucous… I mourned. I was completely shattered. My stomach convulsed so strongly that no sounds came out. The pain was so deep. The loss was so real. Paula came running over after she heard the screams. She lived in the granny flat 10 metres behind my place. To her it sounded as if something terrible had happened to Auraura. She heard my pain and saw me on the floor- her hand to her heart- scanning the surroundings- She came over to comfort me and asked what had happened…and then Auraura popped her head out from the playroom…phew, I felt her nerves ease. My dad just died I said… and then I looked up and saw Auraura looking at me timidly… unsure of what just transpired, but on a subconscious level she knew it was huge. She was 4 and a half years old at the time. I called for her to come over to me, collapsed on the floor.
The initial release had allowed me to kick into practical mode. I have to get to Townsville now. I apologised to Auraura if my screams had scared her, and said that Poppy has just passed away and that mummy was feeling really sad and raw. Paula then took Auraura into her room to pack a bag of clothes. I went online to book flights to Townsville using my sisters credit card as my debit card had been cancelled by my bank the day before as the account seemed to be compromised. After the flights were confirmed and Auraura was packed, Paula left us to process. I grabbed Auraura’s hands and told her that we are now going to do something really special. We are going to have a ceremony for Poppy. I grabbed a candle and she grabbed some crystals. We sat opposite each other and I lit the candle. We sent our prayers for his safe passage. We sent our love and gratitude for his being and after our little ceremony was finished, we both said “I love you dad/poppy” at that exact moment, the candle flickered and went out. I wept. I could feel dad’s energy, I could feel that he was transitioning out of his earth bound body, back to spirit. We walked the house and sang to him. I started to feel this sense of peace overcome my body… I feel that the ceremony helped to transition out of shock/survival mode and that my body was now processing and integrating the experience after an epic surge of hormones.
It was all so surreal, those moments waiting to go to the airport. Ma had come over to take us down the hill… when she embraced me, the well of emotion started to spring again. I know it must have bought up emotion for her, reminiscing on losing her own father many moons ago. Death connects us in that way . It’s beautiful really. I decided to check the flight time and then realised that I had booked 2 lots of one way flights for Aura and myself .. from Townsville to Cairns!!! I frantically called Qantas, only to be put on hold for 40min. When I finally got to speak to a customer service representative, and expressed the mix-up in flights due to my circumstances he tried to put us on the next flight out.
“How far from the airport are you? He asked. “40min I said- as it was right on rush hour” “That’s a close call” he replied, “But you’re not going to make it, and that is the last flight of the day I am sorry.”
I was prepared to drive to Townsville but Ma was very hesitant to let me drive and offered to take us to Townsville instead. By late afternoon, we were on our way. The whole drive was so strange. I called my sister to let her know the mix up with flights and that I was on my way in the car and would be there in 4hours. She asked me whether I wanted to see the body. They had all been up at the hospital for the afternoon, and before taking his body to the morgue, I could go and view “him” if I wanted as I was a direct family member, though the hospital policy was to have police present, so I would have to confirm arrangements for viewing in advance. I wasn’t sure on what to do. My dad was gone, what was left was the vehicle in which his spirit resided in… The remaining corpse wasn’t my dad. Being a hyper-sensitive person anyway, I wasn’t sure I wanted to imprint myself with the visual. Particularly due to the fact that if I arrived at the hospital at 11pm- that would have been almost 9hours post-mortem… Rigamortis would have set in and the colour would have drained from his flesh…his lips would start turning blue. I couldn’t bring myself to do it… and to this day I am happy I trusted my intuition.
I am so happy that the last time I saw my father, was the skype session the night before he passed. Dancing behind my mothers back. He was drunk. He was care free. He was Dad… and that is a great last visual for me to have for the rest of my life.
During the drive south, waves of tears hit me, like the ebb and flow of the ocean, my emotions surfaced with random memories and realisations of all the things that dad would miss in our lives… How I never got to say goodbye. His death rocked me in an unfamiliar way, and I knew that I was navigating unchartered waters. I knew that I would need to be gentle with myself and with Auraura. I arrived at my mothers house just before 11pm. My brother, who was by dad’s side when he passed, was out the front smoking a cigarette. We are not close, but I hugged him longer than I ever have before, and he hugged back- which was a rarity. I took a deep breath before I went inside- carrying Auraura half asleep in my arms. I put her to bed, and then prepared to face my family. It was strange- there was this subtle void like energy present- like I couldn’t have felt further away from them, yet so close. We all went outside and mum asked me to hold a little ceremony. So I did. It was difficult, and then this majick hit me in that moment, when I realised my role in this family… In my world. I facilitate ceremony… It’s what I do naturally. Someone came up with the idea to all sit in dad’s chair out the back, drink one of his beers and smoke a cigarette each.
It’s moment’s like these where I guess I give peer pressure a free pass in my world. I don’t drink or smoke, and here I was, drinking a warm VB and smoking a Horizon Blue durrie- gazing up at the stars. Being as stubborn as I am, I finished the whole beer and the cigarette. When I got up off his chair- one of those white plastic outdoor chairs, with the thick taste of chemicals coating my tastebuds, it suddenly dawned on me just how toxic my father’s lifestyle choice was.
He was an alcoholic, a smoker, work-a-holic and gambler. We joked about how he would gag putting in his false teeth! I went to bed. Another surreal feeling as it was in dad’s room. (my parents had been divorced since I was 8, but had this toxic drama fuelled on-off dependency on each other for years) I could feel his energy in the room. In the dark of the night, I felt his presence and wept as I had a moment of seeing him hovering above my bed, and reaching out my hand for him to hold. Whether or not I constructed this whole experience through the lense of grief, I could feel this warmth envelope my hands, and he was smiling back at me. I also felt that he didn’t know he had passed and that he couldn’t cross over. My experience could have well been a conditioned and programmed belief- but at the time, and to this day it felt like an authentic response to the subtle energy environment I found myself in. Particularly because I could still smell him in his room- on his pillow. I could still feel his presence from the morning, where he woke in the same room, in the same bed. I couldn’t sleep. Mum came in around 3am. we spooned and I held her. Still to this day I can’t imagine what those moments were like for her. Losing her lover, life partner, abuser and father of her 4 children. Dawn broke and light filtered in through the window behind our heads. It was the peak of summer so I had the air conditioner running. I am left with this memory, were the light flittered on my mother skin, and danced on her hair- there was a softness in her face that I had never seen. Everything was still in the dawn of this new day.
My mother looked the most beautiful I had ever remembered seeing her…as a widow, the morning after my dad passed away. Bittersweet really.
My sister, mother and I organised to have dad’s remains cremated, as he had always expressed were his wishes. We chose a blue urn, that matched the blue of is work uniform, and his eyes. Upon collection of the ashes, I peered inside the fancy urn. Strange how all that was left was a small bag of ashes… This is what we are left with- even after burning the casket, I thought there would have been more volume. One thing that became quite apparent is how funeral parlours are money making machines… As our society is so far removed from this natural cycle, death becomes a commodity- with all the bling you can imagine. It is my honest opinion that they capitilise on peoples grief to make quite a profitable business. My sister had wanted to get some lockets where ash could be stored so that we could all have a private scattering. She rang the company directly to get the prices and was about to ring back and place the order. The woman who was filling out all the necessary legal paperwork told us that we weren’t allowed to buy directly through the company and that they had exclusive dealings with them, the mark up was over 300% for retail.
With Urn in hands, we held a private ceremony for dad and the place where he died. His brother and Nephew were flown up from Melbourne where we met, awkwardly for the first time. Dad’s best friend and close friend to our whole family was present also. In a scorching hot carpark. We all dressed in one of dad’s work shirts and skyped with his family in Wales. I kept walking around the area where he last layed- trying to feel some kind of imprint. There was nothing but a subtle outline of his body that I could see energetically- but that was probably just my imagination trying desperately to connect in such an un-assuming place. Once our simple ceremony was complete we walked across the road to his favourite pub, the Kirwan Tavern. I always shudder walking into these pubs- the familiar smell and sounds brings back memories of waiting for hours as a child whilst my parents played the pokies. Out the back, his wake was held which was more like a lot of people sitting around getting drunk. Not many people came up to me which was fine by me, as I’m not one for small talk. I made a speech about dad and shared my sentiments in regards to the illusion that you never really “lose” anyone. That he is now apart of the breath and life that pulses through all things around us, that in the quite moments when our hearts and minds are still, we can have dialogue with spirit. Around 10 people- some that I didn’t actually know, expressed how much they appreciated what I had shared.
Grief is such an intimate and unique experience for each individual. For me, it is a time of great receptivity and complete presence to the moment. I felt so connected to everything. Over the years of dealing with anxiety around death, I had explored many different perceptions and teachings on death. It was after my younger cousin committed Suicide when I was 15, that I had constructed a personal philosophy on our journey into the “after-life”. Throughout my early 20’s and my explorations with psychedelics, that perception became more refined and I had made peace with my childhood fear of dying, and understood it as another journey. A dream within a dream within a dream! I guess that was all preparation for this journey, and having a solid emotional foundation to be an anchor, helping my mother to navigate through her journey with grieving.
Two of the most bittersweet aspects about this whole experience was that I knew my dad was going to pass. My intuition had told me he had between 2-6months to live. I remember visiting in September 2011 and witnessing the energy of death slowly creep in and envelope him. I pulled him aside one evening and looked him directly in the eyes and asked, if everything was ok? Being his usual stubborn self he denied anything and said he felt great and not to worry about him. Then went outside to his chair, cracked a beed and just sat there in silence…in the dark…When he came back in, he looked gaunt and pale. His skin had aged dramatically and his lower calf muscles had sunken. his legs just looked like thin sticks. There was no muscle definition at all. When I went back home to Kuranda I had a deep emotional release to Adam and I remember saying that “My dad is dying, I can see it… he’s got about 4months left in him.”
The last one, which is kind of like a big slap in the face, was the fact that I flew to the USA to meet Adam’s dad- since he nearly died from a heart attack, and it was MY DAD that was dying! This one still pulls some heart strings as I missed the last family christmas with dad alive…
Two weeks after dad passed away I had the opportunity to sit in a sacred medicine circle. I knew I was meant to sit, not to help with the healing, but to help dad’s spirit cross over properly, as the more I tuned in, the more I realised that on a soul level he was stuck. I was hesitant at first, my rational mind told me that it was too soon. I felt pangs of fear rise up from inside just thinking about sitting… but my intuition told me that I had to push through this fear. Mainly confronting this philosophy I had constructed about death, and actually having an intimate experience with it. Ayahuasca is often referred as “the vine of the soul” or “the vine of the dead.” With butterflies in my belly and a waive of anxiety I confirmed my place. What took place in that circle and shortly after has deeply altered my perception of reality, life death and the Bardo.
To be continued…