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A New Normal

A New Normal

Nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent.  We all know it is going to happen ~ some day, but you don’t tend to dwell on how that might feel, what that empty space will actually feel like.  Well I didn’t anyway.

My Dad passed away on August 30th.  Feels weird writing that to be honest.  August 30th 2015 ~ the date when life irrevocably changed and my family entered a ‘new normal’.

Dad turned 74 on July 29th.  The kids and I drove to Hamilton after work on the day of his birthday and surprised him at a local restaurant for an early dinner.  He was stoked.  Dad wasn’t one for presents and was more about family and just being together … we hadn’t bought him a gift … instead we took him a small paper bag filled with produce from our vegetable garden … fresh Spinach, Broccoli, Kale and lots of herbs … and of course home-made cards from my kids for their “Old Mac”.  It was a special evening, I am so glad we went … even more so now that he is gone.

About a week after Dads birthday I saw Mum and Dad again in Wellington where we congregated to join in celebrations for my niece (and eldest granddaughter) Anna’s 21st birthday.   It was a fantastic night, Mum and Dad both had a bit of a cold and Dad in particular was really feeling the bite of a cold Wellington wind.  That cold morphed into the flu and then I received a phone call at work on Tuesday 18th August from Mum saying Dad was on his way to hospital in an ambulance struggling to breathe.

He was going to be ok … it was all going to be ok … even though he was admitted straight into Intensive Care with pneumonia in his left lung it was all going to be ok.  He would get better and get out of hospital and we would all have a story to tell about when “the silly old bugger ended up in hospital” … no doubt with jokes along the lines of “bit of an extreme way to have a break from Mum” thrown in for good measure.  Coz that’s what my family do.  And it was all going to be ok.

Dad spent 13 days in hospital, mostly in Intensive Care.  He was transferred to the High Dependency Unit for a couple of days when he showed signs of improvement and we were all very much “excellent, about time … he’s finally getting better” ~ only to have that hint of getting back to ‘normal’ snatched away as his struggle to breathe worsened and he was transferred back to ICU.

Seeing the man who has been your ‘hero’ … your #1 male role model and epitome of a decent man … someone who treated people with nothing but love and respect waste away before your very eyes is utterly heartbreaking.  It imprints on your soul and changes the essence of who you are, how you look at life and how you treat yourself and others.

On day 13, we once again met with the Intensive Care Consultant.  We knew by this stage there was not a lot to be positive about with regard the state of dad’s health.  On top of the flu and pneumonia he had blood clots through his lungs, an obstruction in his oesophagus (which they could not investigate because he was too sick) and he had gone into renal failure the night before.  There were no more options.  Dad was once again intubated but this time unresponsive.  The machines were keeping him alive.

Even though we knew we had no choice, the weight of our decision to turn the ventilator off and to cease the drugs that were being pumped into him; valiantly trying to overcome the source of infection was hard, heavy and final.

Dad was surrounded by his immediate family when he passed.  Mum, my two brothers, sister in law, eldest granddaughter and myself.  As hard as that was … I wouldn’t have it any other way.  To know Dads final breath was taken while I was holding his hand, stroking his forehead and telling him I loved him … to know that his family who Dad blog pic 3loveDad blog pic 1d him so much were all there would have meant the world to a man who did so much for us all throughout his lifetime.

I am so grateful for the 44 years I had with my dad and especially for the time I spent with him in hospital before we had to say our final goodbye.  Of the 13 days he was hospitalised I spent hours upon hours just sitting with him, talking crap ~ filling him in on what the kids had been up to, sharing stories, gossip, jokes and solving the problems of the world.  Dad had many hours to think … to ponder.  He had a notebook he would write notes to us in when he had his oxygen mask on and couldn’t talk.  He wrote (and when he could  … spoke) about what he was going to do when he got home … it’s just not the ‘home’ any of us were expecting.   This home is the ‘final destination’ home.

Dad’s wish was for a plain casket.  “I just want an MDF coffin Leese … something the grandkids can draw all over, write their names on, draw pictures …” is something he shared with me about 5 years ago … I am forever grateful he did share that desire, as that is exactly what he got – the plainest casket possible, and we (especially the grandkids) spent many many hours in the funeral parlour, writing … drawing … remembering … Dad … “Old Mac” to his grandkids … in the best possible way we knew and in the way he wanted.

We gave Dad a send off he would have loved to attend.  We are not a religious family so there were no hymns or prayers.  Rather … there were tributes to Dad from my brothers and I … my 10 year old daughter read a poem, my niece Anna wrote and read a beautiful tribute on behalf of all of the grandchildren and two close family friends spoke and did a reading.  Anna also put together a fantastic slide show that bought back so many memories … some good belly laughs, some cringe worthy 80’s moments and a lot of “awwwww” and “aaahhhh” moments.  He was piped out of the chapel with my brothers, niece and I among the pallbearers to the “Skye Boat Song” ~ so proud of his Scottish ancestry was my dad … Donald Colin Grant MacKinnon.  And that immense Scottish pride still courses through the blood of his children, and of his grandchildren.

I have been told the pain I feel will ease over time, but for now life still hurts. I initially sat in a bubble of emptiness, looking out at everyone else carrying on with their daily routines.  THEY didn’t have to deal with the weight of grief.  So many have no understanding of my pain … and do you know what?  I don’t wish this on any of you.  It will happen … it happens to us all … but now I understand the enormity of grief and loss … the emptiness and even anger that comes with it.

The fact is, life goes on.  I still need to get up out of bed every day, get my kids organised for school, there is my work and then the kids after school activities … the world doesn’t stop because your parent died.

I miss you Dad.  So much.  Every single day I miss you … I think of you … I carry on doing the best I can in all areas of my life ~ knowing you are there beside me, supporting me, encouraging me and ensuring I know how much you love me.  I still feel that.  Thank you Dad.  Thank you for being all that you were … all that you still are, the lessons you have taught me, the girl you helped mould to become the woman and mother I am today.

Cha Bhithidh a Leithid ami riamh

Macca ~ October 16th, 2015


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