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Just Between Us… I feel like a fraud

Amanda Whitley

I lost my dad recently. So things have been a bit all over the shop.

I don’t want to overplay my grief, because Dad and I didn’t have the close relationship many fathers and daughters enjoy. He was a man of his time; a time when it was a man’s responsibility to guide his sons to manhood, and a woman’s job to raise her girls. So for much of my life he was someone who we shared a house and a life with, but not so many of the moments that make up a family.

He’d been ill for a long time. Diagnosed with MS at the age I am now — 43 — he’d battled this hideous disease for 25 years. Suffering severe PTSD after serving in the Vietnam War and confined to a nursing home in his early fifties — losing both his legs in the last decade, and his mind slowly eaten away — he suffered more than anyone should.

Things happened over the years that made ours a complicated relationship. Now isn’t the time to go into them. But a few months ago, something happened that was to be our second chance: my sister’s family made the decision to move from the country town of Griffith to the NSW north coast, and my mum (an essential part of their extended family) would move with them.

The logical solution was to move Dad to a nursing home in Canberra, close to us and only a couple of hours from his siblings. Somehow, the universe listened, and a bed opened up at a facility just around the corner from our house. He would have a bed with a view, we would have a chance to rebuild our relationship, and my girls would finally get to know their pop. We made plans, the girls made ‘welcome’ signs, and we looked forward to a new chapter.

Then came the phone call. The night before Dad was due to make the ambulance trip to Canberra, my sister called to say he’d been taken to hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. It had happened before, so at this point was just a hiccup. Then his nursing home called and said that he’d gone downhill so fast if they hadn’t caught it, he wouldn’t have been coming to Canberra at all. A couple of hours later, my sister texted to tell me to come ‘home’ — they didn’t think he’d make it through the night.

It was late, I was coming off the back of two insomnia-plagued nights, and I didn’t trust myself to make the four-hour drive by myself in the dark. The next morning I woke, afraid to look at my phone in case it held bad news. The screen was dark, so I dressed and got myself ready for the trip.

He made it through the next night, enough time for his siblings to say goodbye. My mum — who separated from Dad years before — slept beside his hospital bed, keeping watch until the time came.

On the morning he passed, I knew that the time was coming. His body looked tired, he’d had enough. I stroked his burning forehead and said, ‘it’s time for a rest, old fella’. He blinked and murmured, and I knew he’d heard me. We were all there at the moment he took his last breath: my mum, my sister and me. And it was such a privilege to be able to say goodbye.

The weeks since have been hard. Emotionally and logistically. So many people have reached out, and I can’t help but feeling like a fraud — I don’t feel the devastating grief that many who lose their parents do. Partly because of the state of our relationship, but mostly because we had been grieving a lost life for 25 years. We grieved when dad was diagnosed and he had to give up a job and sport he loved; we grieved when he could no longer drive or tend his garden; we grieved when he had to sell his house and move into a nursing home with people decades senior.

Now, I feel overwhelming relief that he is finally at peace and pain free. And I hope — wherever he is — he’s been dealt a better set of cards this time around.

I love you, Dad. x

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

  • Jus

    It’s easy to feel like a fraud for many reasons. Particularly if you feel like you don’t meet some expectation that you or others have about death. I felt like a fraud when I cried over the death of a stepfather whom I rarely saw and didn’t like. I think my mother felt like a fraud for not crying enough over the ending of what she now admits (years later) was a bad relationship. Eventually you realise that there are no rules and you can’t help feelings. People hate discussing death so fairly soon the only person whom you will have to worry about is yourself.

  • Jus

    I’m sorry for your loss. What you are feeling is normal. People don’t talk about death but we either cry more than we think we should or not enough. Be kind to yourself.

    • Amanda Whitley

      Thanks Jus xx

      • Gill

        Hi Amanda
        This is a beautifully written and honest piece. I too am a daughter who has been grieving a lost relationship with my father for many years. He is still physically alive and well at 88, but has never had any time or genuine interest in my sister and I. It is a little better for my brothers. The grief is as strong for a lost relationship as for the physical loss of a loving parent. Thank you for sharing this.

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