Monday, May 9, 2011

On Love & Loss: My Dad, the Butterfly

Walking my girls to school one chilly autumn morning we were accompanied by butterflies. They flittered and fluttered weaving in and out of us. "Hi Dad", I whispered knowingly, and with that the butterflies flew off.

It was December 23rd, 2004. A stifling hot summer in Melbourne. The forcast for the day was 42º C. I was working a 10 hour shift at a Major Department Store. Crowds were flocking upon the city in a flurry of preXmas shopping panic. I had done most of my Christmas shopping except for one, my Dad. I was stuck for ideas on what to get him. His 60th birthday was exactly 2 weeks after Christmas day so I was going to save his extra special present until then. Discussing ideas with some of my work colleagues it was evident we were all Daddy's Girls, intent on spoiling our fathers. Sad news came through, though, that a worker had just received news that her daughter had died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Oh, how tragic! we all felt. To lose someone out of the blue like that. And at Christmas.
My shift over, I hit the shops to buy for my darling Dad. I was suddenly feeling overwhelmed. Must be this heat, I thought to myself. Looking around, nothing felt right for Dad. I decided to go to a bookstore to get him a voucher. He loved books. That way he could choose what he liked. After paying for the giftcard I felt a surge of sadness, like I wanted to break into tears. Good God, I must be exhausted, what's gotten into me? Ok, I'll just get a bit more giftwrap and then I'll head home. "No!" boomed a voice inside my head."Go home now!". I stopped, listened and turned my pointed heels to the nearest tramstop heading for home. I don't know about you but I'm a firm believer in intuition. I have heeded it enough times in my life to know that it is looking out for me. And when it booms loud and clear, then there is no questioning it.

I arrived home to be greeted by my Dad's big, warm smile. The rest of the family were all out doing late night shopping and catching up with friends. He was sitting quietly in the kitchen by himself reading the paper. "How was it today, darling?" he asked.  "Exhausting!" I answered "How was your day?" My dad had been to a funeral earlier that day, of a young girl about my age who had died in a car crash. His heart broke for her parents, as his mind turned to his own children and how he'd feel if heaven forbid he'd lost them. He'd had an emotionally draining day too.  The paper he'd been reading was the local Greek paper and it had pages of condolence announcements for the tragic young girl. A fleeting voice said, "Imagine how many announcements Dad would have if he passed away?"
My father was a respected and well-loved musician and composer. Stop! What a horrible thought! What's coming over me? Am I going mad? Stupid thoughts! Stupid thoughts!
"Tell you what, sweetie, I'll go down to the supermarket and pick up something quick for dinner. Everyone will be getting home soon. You're tired, so don't cook. What would you like? A roast chicken? Lasagne?"
 "Thanks, Dad. Whatever's easiest. I'll just pop in the shower so I can feel like a human again and make a salad when I get out". And with that he left.
 After my shower I was feeling refreshed, but still somewhat apprehensive. I made the salad and was setting the table when I heard Dad's key in the front door. "Daddy's home" I smiled to myself. There was always comfort in knowing Dad was home. But moments were passing by, why wasn't I hearing his footsteps down the hall? Is there more shopping? Does he need help? Our dog began barking madly. I went to our front door to see what the fuss was about. My Dad was lying face down in the entrance, arms filled with shopping bags. His eyes open. I rushed to his side, calling out his name. Panic and adrenalin set in. This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening. Phone calls to the ambulance, neighbours hearing calls for help, attempting CPR, paramedics working on Dad for over an hour. "Dad, you're gonna be ok...just breathe...I love you... we love'll be ok... you have to be ok". The paramedic approached me. Low pulse, unlikely to breathe on his own, suspected heart attack, possible brain damage. My initial thought was just let him live, I don't care what I have to do to look after him, don't let him die, just let him live, let him live, let him live. But then the intuitive voice came again and said: "Would that be quality of Life for your Dad? Merely existing just so that you can have him around?" A calmness set in as I let go and prayed "What will be, will be". And with that he was gone. You can't fight Fate.

The next day I sat in the garden, stunned. A white butterfly was fluttering near my cheek then landed on my hand, caressing it with it's soft wings. I watched it intently. "Dad? Is that you?" I whispered. It flew up to my cheek again then danced away into the blue sky. Funeral preperations were being made, everything was a blur. Christmas was celebrated with a roast chicken and vanilla icecream, the last meal that Dad had brought home to feed his family. I hadn't seen the news for days until I picked up the paper New Years Eve.
A tsunami had killed hundreds of thousands of people. I was in shock. I had no idea. Our grief was just a drop amongst  the ocean of millions of people around the world, mourning the loss of  loved ones in even more tragic circumstances.

Preparing clothes for the funeral I felt sick. Dressed all in black, I wanted something: a butterfly brooch. I searched the stores until I found one. A big green sparkly butterfly. I pinned it to my jacket and felt at peace.
The funeral was another blur, people spilled out into the streets because there was no more room in the church. My father was loved. Piling into the funeral car after the service, a white butterfly tapped at my window. Even as we were driving off, it flew next to my window until it couldn't keep up with the car any longer. I smiled to myself, "Dad, it is you!".
I had taken two weeks off work when I felt I was ready to return. The warmth, love and support from my friends was uplifting and I'll never forget it. A colleague had just finished her lunch break when she approached me with a little package wrapped in white tissue paper. "I have something for you", she said "I don't know why, but when I saw them I thought of you, I felt I had to give these to you. I don't even know if you'll like them. I'm almost embarassed. I hope you don't mind".
I unwrapped the package to reveal 4 brilliantly coloured, sparkly butterfly pins. Tears of joy and gratitude welled as I hugged her for her beautiful and most precious gift.

I believe that those we love and have lost are always around us. Butterflies are free spirits and souls that soar. So next time you see a butterfly, just smile lovingly and whisper hello.

I would just like to leave you with one of my father's compositions entitled 'Butterfly'. The lyrics are by Nikos Ninolakis and it is sung by the late, Rena Hatzilepou. The lyrics are in Greek but seeing as music is a universal language, I think you'll understand the sentiment. I would love it if you'd take the time to listen xxxx


Ilja Oostenenk said...

I am listening as I write this... you have brought me to tears! I am so very sorry for your loss. When I read your story I thought though what a comfort it must have been for him to see your face, the daughter he loved, and who loved (lOVES) him so much. what a comfort that he was not alone, but surrounded by love. And I sincerely hope this comes across the way I mean it... Thank you so much for sharing xox big hugs

Angela ~ Yes, Dear! said...

I second everything Ilja has said xxx

Jac @ Common Chaos Chronicle said...

Thank-you for sharing such a hard time with us. It's never easy to revisit the past and you have done it so beautifully.
My father passed away from a hospital infection after surgery in Nov 2009. It's been the hardest 18mths of my life. I still have not dealt with the grief and confusion about it all.
Your blog post gives me hope that it will someday get a little easier to see the brighter side of death.
xox Jac xox

Jessicats said...

Thank you Ilja, Angela and Jac for your beautiful, heartwarming comments. It means a lot to me. Thank you for taking the time to read this very personal post from me. I wanted to respond sooner but blogger was being an absolute pain :( I had written this at the end of a very beautiful Mother's Day spent with my family. On these special occasions my mind tends to wander to those who are no longer with us, I wish my Dad had the chance to witness grandchildren. But such is Life. And Jac, I send lots of love to you too. It's hard when your dad is taken away so suddenly like that, it takes a long time to comprehend. But he lives on in you, and your beautiful children xxxxx

kirri said...

I took the time to listen to 'Butterfly' and felt very connected to you and your dad....Bless you Jess xx
(Now I just have to stop crying!!)

Stranger Than Fiction aka Yeran said...

I too am in tears. Thank you for sharing Jess <3 you are a truly beautiful woman and your dad would be beyond proud of you. And I too am listening to your dad's composition... beautiful!!

Diminishing Lucy said...

Oh Jess. I had goodebumps and tears reading this. Thank you so much for sharing this.

You are remarkable to be able to articulate this all so well.


You have captured grief and how eventually it can be "welcomed" as happy fond moments and memories.

Thank you.


Sarah B said...

this is the sweetest, loveliest blog post I have ever written.. Whenever I see a butterfly now I will think of this xx

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