People change for two main reasons: their minds have been opened, or their hearts have been broken.
-Facebook post from Prince Ea
This is going to be the most difficult post I have ever written, but it needs to be done and I can thank the inspirational Prince Ea for the motivation to do it.
Up until four years ago, I firmly believed in the saying:
A leopard can’t change its spots.
We are who we are and while we can mask and manipulate certain aspects of our personality and character, we cannot change them permanently.
This is what I believed.
Then my father passed away.
Thinking about it now, I believe, and regret, that I took my Dad for granted. He was an amazing man, with strong morals, and he supported me with everything. He was the one who wiped my tears away and told me I was a beautiful person; he was interested in my day — and my future; he made time for me, no matter what.
Dad never learned how to read as a child; one of his greatest regrets, he said, was that he couldn’t read to me and my sister when we were little. But, he added, he would fight tooth and nail to make sure I never missed an opportunity in life, like he had. I know he worried that his lack of reading ability would be an embarrassment — it never was because Dad had skills and a compassion that far outweighed being able to read.
He was a funny man; passionate about stirring people up. I was no exception, he was ruthless in his stirring, but never malicious.
Dad was my rock. He was the buffer between me and my mother. He was the person I turned to when I was upset, worried, jubilant or just needed a laugh.
I lost that when he died, and it has changed me.
I keep up appearances. I stir my kids and love them in equal amounts, just like Dad did. But there is an empty space inside of me where there is no laughter.
Dad had mesothelioma, probably contracted from the asbestos at the air conditioning firm he worked for. From diagnosis to passing, we had him for about 18 months. He spent his last weeks at Clare Holland House — a wonderful caring place, but when I drive past it on the way to Dragon Boating Regattas, I have to look the other way.
The days before Dad passed away are etched in my memory. He knew the time had come; I didn’t want to believe it, so I blocked it out. He had things he wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t. Denial is one of the worst things to succumb to.
The last time I saw him conscious was two days before Geordie’s birthday. As I was leaving, he reached out and grabbed my hand, holding it more tightly than he had been able to for some time.
‘Tell Geordie I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it for his birthday.’
‘It’s ok, we’ll get you there … or we’ll bring him here.’
‘No, you won’t.’
Then he pulled me down so he could whisper something in my ear. I couldn’t make out what he said, but instead of asking him to repeat it, I smiled and gave him a kiss.
For over four years I have wondered what he said to me.
The next morning, I got the call that the end was close. I made it to his bedside, but he didn’t regain consciousness. Within an hour, he was gone.
I’m glad I was there, but I wish I wasn’t. Those last moments, watching my father pass away, are burned into my memory; I’m not sure I like it. But, the guilt of not hearing his last words to me is indescribable.
This leopard has changed her spots somewhat. Guilt, regret and grief are great for affecting change.
The differences are not all bad. Those I see most readily are: less patience with little things (life is too short to faff around with trivial stuff); increased determination to do things I know Dad would be proud of; but, above all, the inability to find laughter when I am at my childhood home — there is an overwhelming sense of loss here.
I can still access memories of the good times, and this is happening more frequently now, but they are accompanied by that empty feeling.
I don’t think it shows on the outside; but it’s there.