After his death, the task of sorting through my father’s possessions was both daunting and confronting. He was quite the hoarder and filled every cupboard, every shelf and every drawer with “things”. Whether it was from need, necessity or compulsion he kept almost everything which made its way into the house. Not only did I have to sort through drawers full of odd bits like paperclips, rubber bands and pens, I also had to determine what I should keep and what could either be given away or thrown in the skip. This was not easy considering most of the documents and letters were either in Russian or German and almost all of the photographs were unnamed. Each day I found myself surrounded by piles of paper and mountains of photographs. Most of the paper was imprinted with handwritten lines, some faint and spidery, some darker and tumultuous. All of it unreadable. Sorting through the paperwork was a matter of guesswork and pure gamble. Should I put it on the pile to keep? Or through it into the yawning mouth of the green garbage bag? I had no method. Some were added to the pile and some thrown. I spent hours sifting through the photographs. Those which were memories of trips taken before I was born, or featured people I didn’t know, or were a record of the many pets my parents owned over the years, were thrown. The discarded photographs made up three green garbage bags on their own.

Reading letters to or from my parents made me feel like a Peeping Tom. I could tell by their contents they were never meant to be read by me or anyone else. However, if they didn’t want the letters to be read, they should have thrown them out. Instead some of them will feature in my book.

My thoughts turned to those of my possessions and belongings which I would prefer not to be found by my boys or anyone else after my death. Like the time I helped out my friend’s daughter by being her life model for a photography class. The results were very tasteful; however, I doubt my boys want to see their mother naked. I do wish I had that figure again!

I can’t recall any documents which I need to shred before I die. Everything I’ve written is stored on my external hard drive and USBs. I do have to sort through those, hitting delete often. There is some incriminating evidence of childhood escapades and episodes in later life which are not for general reading. After all it probably isn’t good for my boys to know I used to wag school; a lot. Or that I did smoke the occasional funny cigarette, which of course I didn’t inhale.

So when should I begin to rid myself of the private things? The things I don’t want anyone else to find, paw over and read? Now? Is now a good time? Perhaps a little later. When I have time. When I have energy.

Did my parents ask themselves the same questions?

Did the time and energy never come?


It was 2012 and my father lay dying. By the time I got home he was dead. My eldest son almost made it to the hospital in time. He called me as soon as he got there.

I broke the news to my other two sons and we cried. I have to admit I was slightly bemused by my tears. I never felt the same attachment to my parents which other friends of mine seemed to feel to theirs. We were never a close family from an emotional point of view. My mother was the affectionate one and far more likely than my father to dish out random hugs and kisses. My father tolerated affection under duress.

As I write this post I am trying to remember any time my father, of his own volition, gave me a hug or put his arm around my shoulders. I cannot. After I moved interstate, whenever I visited I would greet him with a hug and kiss and he would momentarily pat my back before retreating into his own space. Even my mother’s arms could not encircle him for more than a few seconds before he gently pushed her away, stating “OK, now that’s enough!”

So, why my tears?

Years ago, but well after the birth of my eldest son, it dawned on me I was becoming more and more emotional. I could cry at anything. From watching tragedy unfold on the news at night, to the sight of a mother playing with her children in the park, the tears would rise up and, despite my best efforts, they soon trickled alongside my nose. It was embarrassing. I did however, discover the same thing happened to all of my friends who were also mothers. We surmised pregnancy had somehow changed our emotional make up, leaving us soggy with tears at the most ridiculous moments. I found pregnancy, or perhaps motherhood, also tends to leave one with strange reactions to everyday things, like gagging while brushing your teeth, or opening your mouth while watching someone feed their toddler. And, at fifty-five, I still find myself rocking back and forth if I stand in one place long enough.

Which explains the bulk of my tears. But some were for you Dad. Despite your faults and your constant lectures, at times you were there for me. Those are the times I like to remember. Before I became a teenager you would occasionally take me out to dinner or a movie. And later, in my teens, there were a few times we lingered at the kitchen table chatting about random topics while Mom washed the dishes. I cannot recall what we talked about, although I know once or twice I probed you for details of your childhood, but I do remember communicating instead of arguing, for a change.

There is no longer an opportunity to communicate with you Dad, or even to argue. Despite often hearing your words in my head; not in the “hearing voices” way, more in knowing exactly what you would say in any given situation; you are no longer there to say them. There are no more possibilities to build a new relationship with you, or even repair the old one. No more chances to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you”.

And that is why I cry.

Where were you?

I was on my way home after dinner with a friend, when I heard of David Bowie’s death. We had eaten Vietnamese and drank a bottle of passable Riesling. On the tram I opened Twitter for something to do and there they were, the constant stream of Tweets on Bowie’s life, death and art. His music had been woven through my teenage days. We had sung to it, danced to it, made out to it. Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust were as familiar as our school friends. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago when I really appreciated the artistry of Bowie. To say I was surprised to hear of his death was an understatement. I have nothing but admiration for the man, who despite his celebrity status, chose to keep his battle with illness private and succeeded.

I’ve been trying to think of where I was when other celebrities died. When Princess Diana died I was at work. I had just climbed the precarious stairs to the bio box of the theatre where I worked in order to talk to the technician when he told me the news. Although I’d never been a fan as such, I had followed her life – it was hard not to when every facet of her life was constantly reported in the media. I was shocked at her death.

You would think I could remember where I was when John Lennon died, but I can’t. I was twenty and probably more concerned about myself than anything else. I remember watching the news stories. I remember we all felt stunned at his untimely passing, but I have no idea where I was standing or what I was doing.

My only other clear memory of the death of celebrity is the assassination of JFK. I was three years old. I remember sitting on the floor in front of my grandparent’s black and white television watching President Kennedy being shot over and over again. It must have been my grandparent’s television because I’m certain we didn’t have one.

I was nearly nine when Dwight D Eisenhower died and, although I don’t remember where I was, I do remember writing to his widow. I have no idea why I wanted to express my sympathy, but I can guess my parent’s politics influenced me at the time. I received a lovely thank you card from her. I think I threw it out a decade ago or so.

When my mother died I was at home with my boys. My father phoned with the news. He tried to control his tears. I didn’t attempt to control mine. Even though her battle with Alzheimer’s meant she had long been lost to me, her death put a finality on it which was devastating. With any form of disease there is always some small hope the sufferer will recover.

I was in the hairdressers, with my colour setting, when I found out my father was dying. By the time I made it to the car he was gone. We lived on different sides of the country and, without being able to fly like Superman, I was never going to get there in time.

The beginning

My best writing comes directly after a catalyst, some sort of trigger which, when pulled, catapults my words onto the page like shots from an automatic machine gun.

In the case of my first book, the one I am currently working on, the trigger was the death of my father.

My father was 92 and lived on the other side of the country. Despite this, we had fallen into a comfortable and regular routine. Every Sunday, around 7pm eastern standard time, one of us would phone the other. I can’t remember when it became a competition but it would upset my father if I was the one to make the call.

It suited me better that way as I could call him on my mobile from wherever I happened to be at the time. If I had to wait for him to dial, I would have had to sit next to the home phone. For years he was the only reason I kept the home phone connected.

So, every Sunday around 7pm, we would talk for a few minutes. Our conversations were always the same.

“How are you?”

“Fine. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m ok. Getting older you know. More aches and pains. How are the boys?”

“They are all fine. Nothing much is new. What have you been doing lately?”

“I can’t do too much now. My eyes are not good.”

“Have the carers been this week? Have they cleaned?”

“They come, but they don’t do anything.”

“And are you taking all your medications? Has the doctor seen you?”

“Oh, he doesn’t come very often. He has forgotten me…”

“And your medications?”

“Well, I don’t need all of them…”

“Dad, please take your medications. You know the doctor only gives them to you if you need them.”

“But the doctor doesn’t know anything. I know how I feel.”
“Dad, please. I can’t come over every day to make sure you take them, so you have to do it yourself.”

“I know, I know. But you are ok?”

“Yes, Dad. I’m fine.”
“OK, well you look after yourself.”
“And you too Dad. Take care.”

There was so much I couldn’t tell my father. I could never complain about anything because, unlike my mother but very like most males, my father would immediately attempt to find a solution. Usually it was a solution I didn’t much care for. The few times I complained about work he basically told me to do whatever the boss tells me to because a job is a job and I should be grateful to have one. If I talked about looking for a new job with higher pay, he would caution me not only about leaving the security of the job I was in, but also against anything with higher pay as it would mean paying more tax.

It was also difficult to talk to my father about my three sons and what they were doing with their lives. Invariably anything they were doing was wrong. He thought they could get better marks at school, play less sport, watch less TV, spend less time playing video games and more time studying. I, on the other hand, had no such concerns. It was safer to simply leave them out of the conversation. Of course the fact my father had never been interested in his grandsons and had never wanted them to visit, contributed to the difficulty I had in talking about them to him.

So, there we were, in our comfortable weekly routine, when one Thursday, while I was at the hairdresser, I checked my phone to find several missed calls from my father’s neighbour and a Western Australian phone number I didn’t know. While my colour was setting I listened to the messages. They were from a doctor in the Emergency Ward of Fremantle hospital. My father was dying.