My Dad Died Today


My Dad died today. He was 83. He had lived a long and productive life. A good life.


He was my Dad. Dads are immortal, invincible and always there when you need them (and even when you don’t). Dads don’t get sick or leave and they certainly don’t die. As my friend Sylvia said, “Your Dad going is what happens to other people, not to you.”

At least, that’s what the little girl in my heart tells me. The adult in my brain unfortunately knows otherwise. She knows people age, get sick, leave us. She knows she is growing older and thus the people in the generation above grow even older.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

My Dad was a healthy man up until a bit less than a year ago when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. At that time, he bragged he’d only been in hospital twice – for appendicitis and for a severed tendon on his left hand. (He ended up with a permanently bent little finger. He always joked about being a nine-and-a-half-fingered pianist.) In the end it wasn’t the mesothelioma that took him but something unrelated that couldn’t be operated on because of the mesothelioma and thus claimed his life. Perhaps it was better this way, not to see him gasping for his every breath at the end.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was forced to leave school early to help in the family business. He completed his high school qualifications at night school, put himself through university and finished up with a PhD in Accounting from the University of Cincinnati. Education was important. We were given the best, even if it meant he was still paying school fees off two years after the youngest child finished school. He retired as Associate Dean of Management at Deakin University. He could have had glory. He was offered full professorships at universities in the USA. But he turned them down, not wanting to unsettle his children, wanting them to continue their schooling where they were. I have a first class education and a university degree and I had a steady upbringing because of the sacrifices he made.

It doesn’t make it any easier.


Dad couldn’t swim but always took us to the beach every summer. He would sit on his towel on the sand and watch us for hours, occasionally venturing to the water to paddle no deeper than his knees. The beach holds no fears for me because he overcame his own.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was a teetotaller until the day, in his 40s, someone introduced him to wine. It became one of his great passions. And so my memories of family holidays are coloured by the wineries we visited. Brown Brothers, where I learned to love olives (they used to offer cheese and olives with their tastings – too young to drink, I just ate the cheese and olives); Delatite, where they had the best piece of playground equipment ever (it was four connected seats with a handle and footrest that you pushed/pulled and it made the seats spin) that I have never seen anywhere since (sometimes I think I must have dreamed it); Taminick Cellars, with their Trebbiano wine I loved (ahem, when I was old enough to drink, of course, ahem) and we visited so often that when I was 13, the owner Cliffy Booth gave me a bottle of port and wrote on the label it was to be saved for my 21st birthday which it duly was and enjoyed; Tahbilk, which when I first knew it was ‘Chateau Tahbilk’ until the French got snooty about people using the word ‘chateau’ and they became simply Tahbilk Winery. As I write, I have a glass of the best wine I own in my hand. I have an appreciation for good wine because of his passion.

It doesn’t make it any easier.


Dad took his young family of a wife and four small children to the USA for a year in the late ’60s and for as much of the time as possible travelled with the whole brood (including a less-than-one-year-old me) across the States in a time when travelling with small children was not the done thing. We certainly drew a lot of attention. He went on to travel extensively, returning to the USA to complete his PhD, presenting academic papers to conferences around the world, and just travelling to see what was there. I, too, (and more recently with my husband and children), have travelled the world to see what is there because he taught me the big, wide world is there to be explored and nothing should stop you from seeing all you can see.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad was a master of the segue. I think it always bewildered him that he had produced a family of geeks and nerds. At our monthly family dinners, as the conversation inevitably steered towards sci-fi, IT or superheroes (when we weren’t passionately arguing our political views), he was at a loss to contribute. As a man who liked to hold court at the head of the table, this was not acceptable. And so he would listen carefully and at the opportune moment latch onto a word or phrase and execute a breathtaking segue into a topic on which he had much to say. It became a bit of a shared family joke and we would give him a score out of ten for the segue dependant on how tenuous it was. But, at the end of the day, I have a passionate interest in many, many things because of his fierce intellect and insatiable thirst for knowledge. Really, I am a Jack of All Trades because he showed me there is so much to learn.

It doesn’t make it any easier.


Dad was a giver. He gave of his time and expertise to so many organisations, councils, committees that I wonder, come the funeral, how we will fit in all the people who knew him. While in no way in the same league as my father, I hope I am also a giver of my time and expertise to the things that interest me, that need me. I hope that I make a difference because he made such a difference to so many.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

My Dad died today. It was time. He was ready to go. He is now free of pain and at peace.

But it doesn’t make it any easier.



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A Sister Lost – Remembering Keryn

Twenty years ago today my eldest sister and her newborn daughter died in a car accident. In the space of a little over a week we went from celebrating the joy of new life to the horror of sudden death. We were a family not so much ‘touched by the road toll’ as slapped, kicked and punched by it.

As we each struggled to recalibrate our lives in this new reality, the family fractured. In time, most of those fractures have healed, some forming a bond stronger than before, but some have never mended and remain a constant reminder of the scar of family tragedy.

Nine years older than me, Keryn was my Big Sister. The most alike of all our siblings, in looks and interests, we had a unique bond. It began as that of small child and substitute mother. She was always the one to care for us when our parents were out or away, particularly when we lived overseas in my earliest years and there was no other family to help. When my mother was hospitalised for several weeks when I was three, it was Keryn who dropped me off at childcare on her way to school as my father had to be at work very early.

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I have a scar on my forehead. As a recalcitrant five year old, refusing to get in the bath, I was dragged to the bathroom where my head accidentally connected with the door frame. I needed three stitches. For many years I blamed this incident on a sibling with whom I had a fractious relationship. It was not until after Keryn died I discovered that it had in fact been my beloved eldest sister who had inflicted the damage. It’s interesting how our childish brain can rearrange an historical event to fit the more obvious narrative. I wish I had learned of it before she died. I would have apologised for my behaviour.

It was Keryn who introduced me to theatre, specifically musical theatre. She had been a member of the local Gilbert and Sullivan company for a number of years and when I was sixteen, she took me along to join the chorus. We spent nine years sharing the stage. After she died, I couldn’t bring myself to perform with the company without her. I didn’t join another theatre company for 15 years but when I did, I joined one that had known and loved my sister and that still honoured her memory.

In my late teens, it became my turn to play babysitter as I took the role of occasional carer of her children. After I married, our lives met on more equal terms and our relationship grew to that of friends. Then, just as it seemed our lives had synced, she was gone.

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When my husband and I decided to start a family, we always planned to give a daughter my sister’s name as a middle name. We had three boys. But in the way of the universe sometimes, for our third and last child, we had chosen the name Kieran if the baby was a boy. We chose it just because we liked it. It wasn’t until he arrived and I had to accept I would never have a girl that I realised how similar the name we had chosen was to my sister’s name. It became a way to remember her in the only way we could.

When Kieran was five years old, he was at a well-known fast food restaurant for a birthday party. The young man running the party was asking each child their name and what they wanted to order. When I asked to see his list to check what my son had ordered, the young man had spelt my son’s name ‘Keryn’.

She is never far away.

Keryn and Me

Grief takes an unusual and sometimes confusing path. As one would expect, for the first few years birthdays and anniversaries were highly emotional days to be confronted and endured. As time passed, these seemed to become easier. Sometimes the day would pass barely noticed. Then, a few years ago, so many years after the event, these days became difficult again. Perhaps it was the realisation that she really wasn’t ever coming back. Perhaps it was my own arrival at significant life moments that triggered memories of what I had lost. Perhaps it was the signs that life had moved on and I secretly yearned for it all to return to ‘normal’.

So now I sit simultaneously in a state of acceptance and denial. I accept that she is gone and our lives have adjusted accordingly and yet I still find myself wanting things to be as they were even whilst knowing they cannot.

All I can do, in light of the unimaginable, is remember the time that we did have together, hold on to the memories that last and continue to miss her every single day.

(I felt a very strong need to write a song to remember my sister this year. It wasn’t easy but this is my song for Keryn.)



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