Wednesday, 15 April 2009


Tomorrow will be a year since the news broke of the Mangatepopo gorge tragedy which killed six school pupils and a teacher from Elim Christian College. I have a vague association with the school and know the principal through my job, plus the teacher who died was at a wedding I attended a few years ago. So ordinarily I'd be a bit sad thinking about those killed in the accident, their families, the friends and communities who grieve them.

On the 16th of April last year I felt a sudden sense of dread when I first heard mention of the deaths on the radio news. Two hours later I found out why and it had nothing to do with the canyon; it was the moment my father's heart stopped on the operating table.

While all this public grieving was going on for the seven lives lost at Mangatepopo my family was encased in a more private cocoon of sorrow. It's hard to share the anniversary of my father's death with a day that will see commemoration of other lives lost - who get widespread media attention because of the shocking manner of their passing.

I don't begrudge them and their loved ones that media spotlight. No doubt they'd rather do without it too. It's just difficult to even think about their grief while I'm considering something else, something that to be brutally honest means much more to me.

I'll be thinking about what I was doing when my partner came through the front-door and my instant recognition that something had gone very wrong; my near inability to get my limbs functioning enough to get out of my dressing gown; the race to make it to the hospital and Wriggly's incredible patience for his feed; the awful briefings in the whanau room and the waiting room from the medical staff; the massive impact on my mother even when we thought Dad would pull through; seeing him lying there in ICU with a sense of disbelief and a determination that he would make it; holding Dad's hand as he died; feeling his bristled cheek on mine for the last time.

I'll be thinking too about how lucky my family is. Lucky to have Dad in our lives for so long, but also lucky in the manner of his death. We had known he had cancer for only two weeks. He hadn't really been sick at all, just for a few hours before he died and even then he hadn't been in pain. He was joking with Mum immediately before he went under for what turned out to be the last time. I believe he may have managed to tell the surgeon, who he liked enormously, a slightly dirty joke before the anaesthetic took full effect.

My father had the best medical care he could have got, anywhere, and although he died unexpectedly we found out later that the cancer was much worse than we had thought and he wouldn't have beaten it anyway. Dad would have been an awful patient, going through chemo and further operations, and it would have warped our family and changed him. This way at least he died as the man he was, not someone altered by the disease.

We'd had a wonderful Easter together as a family not long before we found out he was ill. I had the eerie foresight to take some photos of my father, with Mum and Wriggly, just before he went into hospital to have the tumour removed, a week before he died. That last photo was a very accurate shot of him; we blew it up, framed it, and put it on the coffin. It sits in the lounge at Mum's now, a help to her, although I found it hard to look at for a long time.

Tomorrow will be a day for me that's likely to be tear-stained. I know it will be at least as horrible for those grieving the Mangatepopo victims. I'll think about them today, because tomorrow will be about something else.


Azlemed said...

I will be thinking of you and your family tomorrow Julie, huge hugs, remember the good times and the fact that he got to meet wriggly and that he loved you very much. words are a bit useless though so just remember that we are thinking of you.

ms poinsettia said...

You write about your Dad so eloquently. This post and your post last year about your Dad brought me to tears, particularly as I lost my own father suddenly two years ago so can relate to what you're saying. It is clear that you had a great relationship with your Dad. All those firsts in the year after someone you love dies are so hard - I hope being with your family to remember your Dad helps make the day a little easier.

Anna said...

My heart broke for the families of the Elim kids - losing a child must be the shittiest and most painful thing that can happen to a person. No much less painful is losing your much-loved dad, I suspect. I thought it was delightful that one of the last things he did was crack a slightly dirty joke. It's very human and dadful and lovely. No wonder you miss him - I think he must have been a great dad and a great person.

The ex-expat said...

I'm trying to come up with some sort of trite words of wisdom about this post but I can't. So offer up a few e tears.

Deborah said...

I had tears in my eyes as I read this post, Julie.

I know we will all remember the poor kids who lost their lives in that canyon, and tomorrow, we will remember your lovely dad too.

homepaddock said...

The death of an older person may be the natural order of things in a way the death of a child isn't. But the loss of someone you love is still a great loss.

I hope the love of your family and friends brings comfort on tomorrow's anniversary and helps with all the if-only-he-was-here moments.

Julie said...

Thanks everyone. I've been pretty down for a week now, in the lead-up, and I'm hoping to start the swing back upwards today. Fingers crossed! We had a nice family dinner and it felt like he was there some of the time, laughing with us.

stargazer said...

hey julie, been thinking of you. i have no warm platitudes to offer either, just support and the hope that things will get easier that time passes.

keep well.