When someone you love dies, there is always a moment.
It might be the dull murmur or flatline of a machine. A vacant gaze or helpless flash of fear. The nocturnal chime of the phone from a relative or friend telling you they’re gone.
It doesn’t matter what it is. That moment changes everything.
Mine came on a Sunday morning in 2010.
Summer was officially over, and with the Gold Coast humidity gone the days were so clear. I woke up a little hungover, but mostly happy.
Dad had gone out early for a paddle on his paddle ski, and Mum and I joked that it was the first time he’d used it since last Summer.
“It’s the perfect Autumn day”, I wrote as my Facebook status update that day.
Dad was only 56 when the police came up the driveway later that morning to tell us that he was dead. I remember the garage door opening and the blue police uniforms and the scream from my Mum — that was my moment.
I didn’t believe them when they told me he was gone.
A sudden heart attack, they said.
And that was that.
When the moment comes, your entire life is turned upside and on its head. You question everything. People aren’t supposed to leave the house and never come back. People die, but not your people. And not that young.
There’s still supposed to be so much time.
And yet the police are standing there and they’re so sorry and then the flowers start arriving and the friends and they can’t believe it and they’re so sorry and, just like that, there’s a new normal.
And it fucking sucks.
When the minister came to our house to make arrangements for my Dad’s funeral service, we cried and cried and cried. He was too young, we said, and it just wasn’t fair.
He agreed — 56 was too young.
But last week, he’d attended two other homes where men in their 40’s and 50’s had also passed away. The week before that, three more and a teenage girl.
It was far more common than you’d think, he said.
How was this conversation even happening, I thought.
Before my Dad died, he was more full of life and excited about the future than most people MY age — 27. He loved music and would be spend hours on the guitar learning new songs and chords.
He was the life of any party, and no Saturday night gathering would be complete with turning the table into an impromptu drum kit and belting out a few tunes.
He was excited about retirement; being able to spend more time travelling and gardening and hanging out excited him — I could see it in his eyes when he spoke. The day before, we sat on the deck overlooking Burleigh beach talking about our plans for the future.
Days like those, with him, were my favourite.
I was so lucky, and I knew it.
A few weeks later, I read that Steve Jobs was also 56 when he died.
I’d come across a transcript of the eulogy his sister had given at his funeral whilst trawling the Internet one night (as I often did) trying to make sense of it all.
‘We all — in the end — die in media res. In the middle of a story’, she said.
Those words stung. They still do.
Dad was in the middle of his story, and that’s what I hated the most. There was still so much to do, and selfishly, so much more I wanted us to do together.
It’s not fair — but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it.
No-one ever said that it was.
We all think we have so much time, but the truth is that we were NEVER promised 83.5 long, healthy years.
Sure, if we’re lucky we might get there, but we need to open our eyes that there is a very really chance that some of us won’t.
It’s morbid and it sucks and it’s heartbreakingly sad, but it’s the truth.
For me, it’s realising that that’s been the only silver lining in this horrible nightmare.
Losing Dad has become a massive, there’s-so-much-at-stake slap in the face reminder of how short, unpredictable and precious life is — every second of it, the good and the bad, the mundane, the fun, the tough, EVERYTHING.
Life is happening now, and we must be grateful for every single day that the sun rises.
I’ve always thought that one day I’d be the granny at the family Christmas table falling asleep after a big seafood lunch. But these days, I’m not living my life counting on it.
It’s just not guaranteed.
The morid reality of that realisation has given me an edge on everyone else, as I’ve begun to realise that most people are completely unaware of how lucky they are.
I watch people spending their days engrossed in the little tensions and worries that stop them from realising how great life can be, and can’t help but think that I know something they don’t.
I don’t mean that condescendingly, but frankly? It’s true, and given that it’s the only (badly wrapped) present to come from all of this I don’t mind saying so.
There is literally nothing I can do that will bring my Dad back.
Crying won’t work, neither will screaming or not getting out of bed or ignoring it or drinking too much. I know, I’ve tried them all.
And so, the only real option for making things better after losing someone is realising how lucky you are to be here, and concentrating on living your best life right now.
How dare we waste a second? For them, and for us.
Dad never did, and for that I am grateful.
I miss you Dad. More than words, every single day.
‘Growing old is a privilege, not a right’.
(My gosh I’m going to make you proud).
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