I want to write about the beauty in the worst days. I have needed to write this for a long time. As catharsis, mainly. Also so that I don’t forget those precious last days. Two years later, it feels like the right time to let these words flow.
I’ll start at the end.
Dad had just died. It was the nighttime. Jo and I took a blanket and laid it on the dew-soaked grass, out on the front garden. We laid there in each other’s arms and looked up at the stars over the Hunua Gorge. The house was far enough from Auckland’s fiery glow for the stars to be spectacular. I don’t think we were still crying; maybe there were tears, but not sobs. We held each other and looked up. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember thinking how beautiful it was.
When I arrived, Dad was in bed, dozing. The light was dim in the room, and I slipped into the bed with him. He woke up and we talked for hours. At this stage he was still perfectly lucid: how thankful I am for that. We spoke for hours about our adventures, and how we loved each other. He told me he wasn’t afraid to die. I told him I forgave him for everything. We talked about how it might still be okay, he might get a bit better and he would be able to go to Matarangi at the weekend. There were no tears, no rage. We just talked about all the things we had to say. I told him I would be okay; I’d probably take that job, I’d get the tattoo, I promised to graduate and walk out there to get my certificate, thinking of him. I told him Jo would be okay, that Ashley and I would take care of her. The quiet acceptance, the peace of saying all the things we had to say, the shared knowledge of how much we cared for each other and what an amazing relationship we had had – it was beautiful to me.
Jonathan came the next day and we took Dad outside in the wheelchair. His last time outside. I saw him look up at the blue sky, the wind roaring through the tall trees behind the house, down at the lush view of the gorge. He took in the home he had helped to build. He was in the right place for the end of his story.
We were sat on the sofa, looking out at the gorge when Jo and Nan arrived. Dad was laid down, his head in my lap. I was playing him music and playing with his hair. We were waiting, we had been for two days. I think it was two days; they felt like an eternity. He was trying to hard to hang on. The truck pulled up, Jo got out and ran. She held him and cried. I had to leave, I was overcome. I’ve never seen so much sadness and so much love concentrated into one moment. It was one of the most intense, emotional scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
We were helping Dad to sit up on the edge of the bed. I don’t recall why. It was one of the last days; his body was so heavy and slow. He was barely speaking by this point, sleeping most of the time. He leant forward and half fell on me, hugging me. It felt like it took every ounce of his energy. He didn’t say anything, but it said everything. It was our last hug.
I found the whole atmosphere of the house in those days strangely calm. It was like we were in a bubble. Dad was our only focus, that house on the hill was our entire universe. We were surrounded on all sides by fields, trees or bush. It was so peaceful. I think I felt peaceful too: I knew what we had to do; just be there, look after Dad, and love him. It was what would come afterwards that would scare me. I can’t put into words that atmosphere, how I experienced that time and space. There were so many intense emotions, it’s like the air was saturated, we moved as if through treacle, and time slowed down. I was barely sleeping, not eating much, but my body held out for me.
The last hours. I don’t remember exactly what happened that morning. Jo could tell it was near the end. She had seen people go before. She called me in. We all spent time with him alone, I think, but we were all together with him at the end. We talked about love. We burned lavender oil. We laid with him. I didn’t know what to expect, but he was just sleeping. His breaths became more and more spaced out. We told him it was okay to go; that we would look after each other. We hung on to each breath, holding our own in the spaces, until his last one.
Someone opened the window; I don’t know who. I imagined he was leaving. Afterwards, it seemed to me that his body was just so clearly the part that was left behind. The part that made him Dad wasn’t there anymore.
At some point in the next few days, Jo and I left the house for a walk. We made it a few hundred meters up the hill before deciding to sit on a stack of old wood by the container. It was a glorious day. Blue sky, hot sun. The green of the fields below us and the bush across the valley was soothing. I was struck for the thousandth time by the beauty of the place you had chosen to call home. A falcon appeared, soaring on thermals over the valley. It was the same falcon which Dad and I had seen several times earlier in the week whilst sat on the living room sofa, looking out over the gorge. The bird looked serene, and free. It made us think of you, Dad.