It has been six weeks since I was rocked in a way I’ve never felt before. Six weeks of existing in a fog. Time off work and some medication only numbed the reality but in the end, nothing changes.
Every time I close my eyes I see Mum’s tear-streaked face telling me how dad collapsed at work and could not be revived. A massive heart attack they said. Apparently he was dead before he hit the ground, they said. Why I needed to know that detail still escapes me. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
That was six weeks ago and dad’s unexpected passing is still no easier to accept. For a man of sixty years of age, dad was fit and healthy, a non-smoker and a modest drinker. He exercised regularly. He watched his diet. He certainly didn’t fit the Heart Foundation’s high risk profile and yet, we still lost him.
As an only child growing up near the coast in Western Australia, my dad did everything with me. He taught me everything I know; how to swim, how to surf, how to kick a football. He taught me how to bowl a cricket ball. He taught me how to skip rocks on a lake, how to bait a hook and ride a bike. Dad taught me how to shake hands like a man and not be embarrassed to show emotion.
As cliché as it sounds, dad was my hero. I wanted to be like him. His paternal influences moulded me into who I am today.
He was the one who drove me to my sporting games on the weekends and the many hours of weekly practice sessions. He was the one who gave me encouragement, even though I knew I’d played a shocker.
And just like that, he is gone. My dad is gone and I will never see him again. I never got to say goodbye. I will never hear his hearty laugh after one of his corny dad jokes. I will never feel his warm welcome embrace, or hear his sound words of advice shared from a lifetime of experiences.
But most of all, I will never again feel that special father-son bond, that friendship I had with my ‘old man’. I love my mum with all my heart, but dad, he was my best friend and his passing has left a gaping void in my life.
Everyone copes with tragedy differently. Some have the ability to move on rather quickly, some struggle to accept the harsh reality of it, while others plunge deep down into a dark space. Me, I’m probably somewhere between struggling to accept and that dreaded dark space. I can’t imagine my life without my old man being here.
When my mate, Mitch first suggested taking a getaway to the Gold Coast to help me cope with everything, I wasn’t interested. A holiday was the last thing I wanted. But with time, the more Mitch sold me on the trip, the more interested I became.
Mitch, or Ben Mitchell as named by his parents, is a good mate. We go back as far as year 7 in high school. He’s my brother from another mother. We think alike and have each other’s backs. Loyal friends like him are rare as rocking horse shit.
Eventually, and with some strong encouragement from Mum, I caved. The lure of the sun, sand, surf, clubs, bars, and fit girls in bikinis won out. Who wouldn’t want that, right? It may just be the distraction I need. Nothing will bring dad back, so it’s all about learning how to continue living while coping and adjusting.
After shuffling my way from the cheap seats back in row 35 to the front external stairs, the male flight attendant smiled and said, ‘Thank you. Hope you enjoyed your flight.’
I lifted my chin to his well-rehearsed, yet banal valediction. Unless you’re in the pointy end, does anyone ever enjoy their flight, particularly on a budget carrier…? Does anyone ever say they had fun sitting wedged shoulder-to-shoulder in what can best be described as a scaled down version of a seat?
Regardless, after a long 4½ hour flight, we finally arrived at the Gold Coast. As I descended the steep stairs to the tarmac below, I welcomed the 32 degree sunshine on my skin and the fresh air filling my lungs. I started to sense something I haven’t felt in a long time; a tinge of excitement and heightened expectation over what the next ten days holds for us.
‘This is gunna be great, Kade…’ Mitch said, moving in step beside me as we strolled the tarmac. ‘This’ll be just what the doctor ordered, buddy…’
His smile and comments as we strolled reassured, but then, so they should. After all, it was his idea for us to traverse the country for an escape from a month I would prefer to forget.
We followed the procession of passengers ambling across the tarmac into the terminal. Wind on the ground was strong but warm, carrying the heavy stench of aviation fuel. Even after the short trek from the plane, the cool air conditioning was a welcome relief to Queensland’s February heat.
Like herded sheep, we followed signs directing us through the terminal to the luggage carousels. Mitch grabbed our suitcases while I collected our pre-booked hire car. A signature on some paperwork and a swipe of a credit card later and we were on our way to our accommodation in Broadbeach, on Queensland’s sunny Gold Coast.
A slow-moving elevator, wallpapered in local tourist attractions, carried us to the 12th floor. A snaking internal corridor led us to a nondescript door with a small number 8.
As I turned the worn key and shouldered open the heavy door, my anticipation levels spiked over what to expect on the other side.
Natural light flooded into our apartment, courtesy of north-east facing ceiling-to-floor picture windows and glass patio sliding doors. The expectation of a stunning sea-side vista from the balcony lured me through the coastal themed apartment, decorated with marine life, shells, anchors, ropes, and various coastal paintings.
Passing through the spacious living room, I continued out onto the large coast-facing balcony and leaned on the hand rail to take it all in.
The tension in my shoulders left me in waves. I couldn’t contain my smile. White sands and rolling waves as far as the eye could see, all framed by the picture-perfect, cloudless blue sky. Even from twelve floors up I could taste the salt in the gentle breeze. The outlook was mesmerizing from our little beach-side perch; it had an instant calming about it.
‘How good is this…?’ I asked, albeit rhetorically, as I continued to take in the view.
Mitch followed me through and leaned his elbows on the hand rails. ‘This is gunna be hard to take for two weeks, bro…’ he said. ‘I’m glad we upgraded…This is more than worth it.’
When given a choice between two single beds in a one bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor, with views to the hinterlands, or a spacious, light-filled, two-bedroom, two bathroom suite on the 12th floor with uninterrupted coastal views, the upgrade option was always a no-brainer.
Two slow elevator rides down to the basement carpark and back, to empty the hire car of luggage and the supplies we stopped off for on our way, completed our move in.
I checked my watch. ‘What do ya reckon bro…Beer o’clock…?’
‘You bettcha…’ Mitch said.
Mitch did the first fridge run, handing me an inviting Corona on his return to our balcony.
‘Cheers…’ he lifted his beer.
Reclining on the balcony with my legs resting up on the hand rails, sipping on a cold beer was just the distraction I needed. While he is never far from my thoughts, right at that moment, losing my Dad is the furthest thing from my conscious mind.
‘How’s the serenity…?’ Mitch quipped, with a knowing grin after intentionally quoting Daryl Kerrigan in The Castle.
‘So much serenity…’ I said, finishing the popular line from the iconic Aussie movie.
The beers were going down so well that before we knew it, the empties gathering beside our chairs numbered four each. Time seemed to stand still. Right at that moment, nothing else mattered.
My peaceful trance-like state was broken when Mitch checked his watch. ‘News time...’ he announced. He lowered his feet from the rail and moved inside.
I raised my stubbie. ‘Enjoy,’ I said. I wasn’t moving. The outlook was too peaceful. Board riders along the coast were navigating a modest swell. Hordes of beachgoers were still enjoying an escape from the summer heat, despite the late afternoon shadows creeping across the sand.
If the Queensland coast had any fault, it would be the premature end to each day by its early sunset. Back home, 6.20pm is still early afternoon, but here, it is approaching the onset of dusk, moving into night.