Well, this is the day. Half a decade ago, my dad left us. I can still feel the shock and pain of that morning as if it were today. But I also feel the unspoken relief that his long illness had come to a peaceful end. My dad died in his sleep, with his family around him, on October 2, 2004.
Naturally, I have many regrets. There are many things I would like to do over - many conversations I would like to have another stab at. I am saddened to see, through the clarity of hindsight, that I was fighting such a massive mental breakdown during my dad's last months that it must have fogged my view of what was going on. I was in almost total denial. So much so that when my doctor asked me if my dad was dying - while on one of my frequent surgery calls to complain about (psychosomatic) chest and neck pains - I could not comprehend the question. It simply would not compute. Only on the last night before he died, I recall, did it finally occur to me that the end could be around the corner.
And so my last conversation with my dad was about spark plugs. Car maintenance filled a void that I couldn't bear to look into. It was small talk to mask the big, big conversation that was bursting to come out of me. I couldn't cope, you know? I just... couldn't... cope.
Nowadays, I'm happy to say I'm coping a lot better. My sadness is still there, of course, but balanced with happiness and gratitude for being able to grow up with a dad in the house. I had 40 years of being my dad's son.
My dad was nowhere near as lucky. His father, Frederick Barding, died of a brain haemorrhage at home on Christmas Day 1932 - when my dad was five. His mother, Edith, died when he was eight - on New Year's Day. My dad was never one to display emotion, and so I can only guess at the turmoil that must have been going on inside him on both those public holidays. His sister has kept a Christmas card from her mother with a prescient inscription: "There never dawns a Christmas morn nor comes a brand New Year, without us feeling in our hearts the ones we hold so dear."
So I have 40 years to be grateful for and the luxury of the rest of my life to digest and evaluate them. As I do so, little by little as each day passes, I find myself adopting some little mannerism or trait or attitude that reminds me of him. As my sister-in-law, Mandy, said when dad's ashes were being scattered, "he's living on in all of us now - he's part of all of us." It sounded like religious baloney to me at the time, but now I'm starting to get what she means.