Connecting the dead

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Dear Dad

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I have not been my normal happy self in recent weeks.  The melancholy really crept up on me and has sat squarely in my solar plexus for the entire time.  The melancholy of being the one who now connects the dead in my family has been like a suffocating veil draped over my “me-ness”, and as result I am only feeling like a smothered, shadowy version of myself.

The year of firsts that I was ill-prepared for has come and gone, its beginning and ending marked with my birthday, a day that signifies joy and the celebration of another age milestone and whatever achievements come with that.  You know Dad, I am not sure if it even counts as Irish humour, you kicking the bucket on a really big deal of a birthday – the big 40.  The birthday that was supposed to be one of those really significant milestones where like many women I could look back at my four decades past and reflect with joy (and relief) that I was entering a calmer, more secure phase of my life.  Wouldn’t take much for that to be true, after all you did often say to me that I “lurched from crisis to crisis”, especially in my twenties and early thirties.  Even though you were always very proud of me as I juggled kids, work, study and various “bleeding heart” activities, I know you always worried.  Dad I was really excited to being able to show you in my fortieth year that I had finally managed to have a steady hand controlling the HMAS Kaili …

Dad, you know how you used to say to me was that I was “the toughest bloke you know”.  Right now I don’t feel very tough at all.  I feel bereft in how much I miss you.  It seems like more now, a year on, I think my grief has settled on my shoulders like a well-worn but questionably fashionable coat.

But if I am still Dad (and you know how that challenges me), I can close my eyes and hear you speak those words in your strong Scouse accent.  I can, if I am still enough, feel your arms pull me in for a cuddle and the roughness of your five o’clock shadow rub my cheek as you would let me cry on your shoulder.  Of course, you would then say “enough of that, stop ya bawling … come and have a rum”… For better or worse, we Behan’s have always sought solace in a good stiff drink.

Do you remember that time when I turned up on your doorstep crying after having an awful time at work and that is exactly what you did.  Me in my suit, trying to play at being corporate and together knocking back a stiff Bundy with you while you were waiting for Normie Rich to pick you up for your weekly “Wednesday comp” game of golf, with Mal Moriati and Big Jock Payet… Dad, I can’t tell how much it broke my heart to see Normie, the last of the “awesome foursome” at your funeral.  He looked so lost, now that all three of his mates aren’t here to share a round or two at the end of the game.  Not that I want Normie to join you anytime soon, but just saying Dad – he misses you and you might want to check in with him.  Don’t do anything silly like appear as a ghost in his hallway when he gets up with his tricky prostrate in the middle of the night … that would be just something you would do.  That bloody Irish sense of humour of yours.  Harley, the girls and I – we all miss it, but we are grateful to you for passing it on.  I have needed it lately.

A lot.  I often see something on the news or read it in the paper and think “Dad would have something funny or opinionated (usually both) to say about this”.  The kids and I still “laugh like shit” when we talk about when Jock Payet nearly drove his golf ball into an unsuspecting egret on the golf course … and you starting singing “We have no Egrets” … corny Dad joke that one.

You know Dad, this year has been really tough.  It broke my heart losing you, as I had just realised that we had finally both really found each other.  I think it took me making my epic trip to Western Australia to make us both realise the depth of our love for each other.  During one of our last conversations – I knew you were sick Dad and I was trying to probe a little bit without letting you know I was worried.  When you told me that Dr Jimmy Shepherd put you in hospital because you turned yellow, I think I knew in my head then that I wouldn’t be seeing you for your surprise 70th birthday that we had planned.  My heart still has trouble with the knowing that I am not going to see you again.

You will be pleased to know that your mates at The Royal sprang for the food and drink for a great wake instead of the birthday surprise we had planned.  Bloody hell Dad, I drank some serious Rums with Janelle Walker that afternoon.  And … yes Janelle and her Charlie (you were right when you said what a top bloke he is), and I “laughed like shit” talking about you and your antics over the years.  It was a little bit healing.

By the way Dad, did I mention how much I really am grateful for you deciding to kick the bucket on my birthday … I was feeling like I had just started to feel normal again after Mum (a whole different kind of sadness there … if you see her up there, and you are on talking terms, give her a glass of Fruity Lexia for me and tell her to go easy on the Oxycontin … it makes her dribble x), and you had to go and die ON MY BIRTHDAY!  Shit Dad, do you know how crappy that was – I know you didn’t mean it but it really really sucked.

Dad, can you tell my darling brother Adam that I see his compassion and sense of fairness reflected in each of my children?  He really would have been a great Uncle, I always pictured me taking care of him like I did as a child.  Please tell my beautiful StepMum Valita how much her love and guidance and “never let the sun go down on a quarrel philosophy” has stayed with me – I was young and selfish back then and sometimes didn’t let her love me as much as she wanted.

I know that Valita sent me a little sign with Chris Isaak singing your wedding song “Can’t help falling in love” when I was dropped off at the festival by those two lovely police officers.  I felt so lost, and I kept saying “Oh my goodness” … honestly I must have been in shock, when have you ever known me to say “oh my goodness”?  Bloody Bollocks to that.  I know you were looking down on me Dad, when Dave found me in the dusty crowd and the first thing he gave me was a rum.  He literally stood there and hugged me in the middle of the Fremantle grounds while I sobbed my guts out.  I reckon you and Dave would have had some great yarns about army life Dad, while Kel and I rolled our eyes.

These past few nights I have played enough Elvis and Tom Jones songs to make me cry for a year, and the sentimentality of it all does make me roll my eyes a little.  I have sobbed my heart out to my friends a bit because I feel like you are all up there, and I am down here … connecting the dead.  I miss you – my family.  And it bloody well is not fair as it takes my focus away from my little family here – and my role to connect with the living.

Your little Boogsie has been really sad at times Dad, and there was that terrifying moment I thought she wasn’t going to be here.  I won’t go into it here because I know you know, and I believe you sent her back – probably gave her an earful too.  Thank you for that Dad, I think you know I could not have survived losing my girl.  She is such a beautiful girl, she has one third of my heart.  You would have been so proud of her at her Formal.  She always wanted to dance with you on that special night.  Her eyes matched her dress – the most beautiful of blue.  I remember how you used to say to both the girls “when I grow up I am going to marry a girl just like you”.  They fell in love with you a little bit more every time you told them that … no wonder they miss you.  Well Dad, the only thing I can say is that I hope my girls choose life partners who have half the integrity, intellect and courage that you had.  They will do more than OK if they do.

The “Big Fella” … well Dad, Harley is about to make his debut as a professional fighter.  Can you believe it?  April 29 – do they get Foxtel up there Dad?  Do you remember how I used to get so mad at you teaching him to box – back when I was all tofu eating, tie dye wearing hippie like?  But hey Dad, he went to Japan and has worked so hard to achieve this goal.  I know when he goes into that cage he is going to be looking up at you for some sort of sign.  I totally give you permission to coach him from the clouds, and please make sure he does not come out with Cauliflower ears because he is just so handsome. I am so bloody proud of him and miss him so much … Can you believe he is 21 Dad?  Seriously.  Remember my 21st?  It was not long after Valita passed away and you were in a world of hurt – having lost your only son and then your wife, but you still put a hell of a party on for me.  Of course it helps when your Dad owns a pub!  I know you and Amanda made a big effort and I did not appreciate it at the time – it was just that I missed my brother so much.  You know Harley has always looked like Adam, but holy moly – how much does Eden look like her amazing Uncle Adam?  I know you don’t “do Facebook” but did you see the picture I put up with Eden holding up a picture of Adam at 12 … look at their beautiful sleepy green eyes!  And of course, how much do they both have an affinity with nature and animals?  And just so you know – Harley, Lily and I are not letting Eden date until she is like twenty-two hundred!  Your little Clogsy is on the verge of being a beautiful young woman Dad, all legs and arms, blonde hair and green eyes.  PLUS some serious attitude – just ask Lily – they fight like shit!  But when they fall asleep together they hold hands (I have photographic evidence).

I so wish you, Valita and Adam were here to see how great these kids of mine are turning out.  You know that I have always had to be tough Dad, as you know things were not easy for me growing up.  I know in hindsight you would have done more and it was not like the army of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s was family friendly, let alone to a single Dad with an autistic son and a precocious daughter.  But some of those foster “families” we ended up with when Mum when off the rails / off with a man / got married / went to rehab … really were a bit awful.  But we made our peace with all of that Dad, and as parent I learned to forgive both you and Mum – as I have learned that you can only do the best you can with what you have.  My wise friend reminds me often – you can’t know what you don’t know.

Raising three children largely as a single parent has imbued me with a certain ability to pick myself up when the going gets tough.  Yet, the morning before my birthday I woke up having slept in my ugly melancholy coat, that was so heavy on my shoulders that I actually went back to bed for the whole day.  I have not done that in a very long time.  I realise now that for the past few weeks, during a family crisis, I have been on autopilot trying to steer our little family ship through some pretty stormy seas.  In doing that, I had neglected to prepare myself for this day and I simply ran out of steam.  I do not feel tough at all.  I felt lost and sad and jealous of others who have family when I don’t.

At the end of this year of firsts, I had planned for it to be so different. I had “planned” to be ok and to simply celebrate my life as it is now.  Instead, I found myself unable to plan for more than getting up to make a sandwich.

I have had a lot of time to reflect in my melancholy about how I am here and you are all … not.  I think perhaps it is time for me to stop focussing on connecting the dead.  The thing is Dad, could give me a little sign this week (like I don’t know a Liverpool FC sticker on the car in front of me or something), that it is OK for me to do that?  I can’t seem to do it by myself.

Love Kaili

PS – Hey Dad, do you like my tattoos?  I know you don’t, but it is long way to reach to clip around me the ear, and it was my way of both celebrating you and getting back at your for daring to die on my birthday! x

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