Our dad always said, when someone would compliment him on his girls, “They are who they are and have turned out the way they have, thanks to their mum.”
I remember going off to spend 2 years in Japan in 1990. There were so many times I heard my parents’ voices in my head about how to conduct myself, being a lady, “holding the flag up”, meaning don’t let your family down with unseemly behaviour and so many other things we as their daughters were taught as we grew up. Most of all, the belief that I could do this. I’d be fine so far away from home because of their belief in me and I knew they had my back.
As I met other teachers of English, many of them girls, I remember thinking how proud I was that I had been raised by the parents that I had. My dad’s voice in my head as I got ready to go out the door to check for threads hanging from my clothes, creases, labels sticking out was always a source of amusement. My mum who will soon be 80 would remind us to walk like ladies, sit like ladies, laugh like ladies, not to guffaw. Her voice too always in my head even when she isn’t speaking to me.
In those 2 years in Japan, I wrote many letters home to my family. They wrote me regularly, too. Those letters were my lifeline in those 2 years, the first time I had moved so far from home.
The letter that started my writing from the heart, and not just the news of the day or what’s happening in my life, was the letter I wrote to my dad that first year in Japan. I wrote things I had never said in person. I thanked him for raising me the way he had. I told him how proud I was that I am his daughter. I expressed how I had seen girls behaving in a way he had raised me not to and how grateful I was to know better. I let him know that I knew I’d be OK and that I could do this because he and my mum were my parents and that it was going really well.
A few months after I wrote that letter, I had a phone call that my dad had had what the doctors thought was a “mini stroke”. The diagnosis which emerged was far worse than that. The next phone call came to say that I should come home to Canada as my dad was now in the hospital and the news was “not good”, my favourite aunt said. Eventually we would find out at the family meeting with the oncologist that my dad had brain tumors and the prognosis was only 3 months.
My sisters and I spent every possible minute at the hospital with Dad. He was surrounded by the love of his family and friends, his 3 girls “holding the flag up”, making sure we looked pretty, put our make up and our smiles on, dressed well, and made sure we would be brightening his day when we arrived each time. He was a proud man, witty, funny, classy and handsome. He was the kind of patient who charmed all his visitors with his wit, always holding court and never letting anyone be down in his presence, even with his grave illness.
He defied the odds, living 7 and 1/2 months after his diagnosis. In that time, he charmed everyone who had the good fortune to share a room with him, and certainly all his visitors. He would introduce us to all of them beaming with pride, citing our accomplishments.
At Dad’s funeral people were coming up to me and telling stories of how my dad had taken them under his wing at work and protected them, showed them the ropes, spoken up for them and how much his mentorship meant to them. I had never been more proud to be his daughter.
In these 25 years since his passing, my dad has shown me many signs that his essence is still with me every day.
When I moved away to the States, 7 months after his passing, I could smell omelette all the time I was packing. In his palliative care period in the hospital, I used to make him omelettes. When I had major surgery years later, I could smell his aftershave as I went under anesthetic and again as I awoke after the operation. Once I had a really vivid dream hearing a telephone ring which no one would answer. Finally I said, “Why is no one answering that phone?” and ran to pick up the receiver. I swore I was awakened hearing my dad say he was busy “over here”, and that he was sending my uncle, his younger brother to help me. That very next morning, my uncle phoned to say he was flying over from the UK to visit me. And finally, the most recent visit from my dad was when I had to assist my first greyhound over to the rainbow bridge. My husband phoned me at work to say she was unable to hold her squat when he took her outside and we knew it was time. I had to go back to my office to finish my work. I sat at my desk after returning from the vet and cried. I felt Dad’s hand stroke my cheek as I sat there in my grief and I could smell his aftershave faintly. Each of my sisters have also reported signs, verbal and tactile, that they too have felt Dad’s presence over the years in their trials and tribulations.
The Toronto Star newspaper ran a story shortly after Dad died, entitled Love Transcends Death. In that story a writer heard his dad’s voice telling him to check the swimming pool. He ignored the first plea. Then he heard a more insistent urge to check the pool which he shook off. Finally his dad’s voice yelled, “Check the pool now!” He ran downstairs from his office in a turret at the top of his house to find his 3-year-old son had fallen in the pool and would have drowned were it not for his dad, who had passed away many years earlier, calling out to him.
I’m really, really glad I wrote that letter to my dad that day, almost a year before he died. It was the start of my inspirational writing. You know, the words that lift people up, tell them what they mean to you, now while they are here in front of you. At the time, I didn’t know why I was moved to write that long letter, but now I know God spoke to me that day. The writer, Andre Dubus III once said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that his father, Andre Dubus II told him that the job of a writer is to show up, take up his pen and wait for God to start writing.
Thank you God, for telling my dad how much I love him and how proud I am to be his daughter while he was still here with me to receive that.
I miss my dad everyday, but even though I can’t hug him in heaven, I know he is with me all the time. Love really transcends death, and I am certain of that. Happy 25 years of being free of earthly pain, Daddy. Have a scotch on me. 🙂 ?
Reiki By Vivienne