I’ve not been home in three years. Life, here, has continued apace – another baby, a new house, a new job – and Australia has remained patiently in my heart, suspended in time, waiting. Or I am waiting for it. Or we are waiting for each other, waiting to press play again, for motion. It is a trick, I know; Australia stands no stiller than I do when we are apart. Things move on; people grow up and old, the mood shifts, trees get chopped down, houses go up, babies arrive. Change is as constant as familiarity; the two, strangely, do not fight. There is room for both. I am learning that more and more, you know – there is so often room for both.
Singapore was a midway home for a few years; die Lüdde had four Singapore stamps in her passport before her second birthday. Vietnam brought almost the whole family together for my sister’s wedding. Cousins are dotted around the globe, my brother moved to London. We see each other; we get brief, rich days together and they tide us over, they are more than many get and I am acutely aware of that. But as I get older and my own young family elbows its way into existence and takes its place alongside the others that have come before it, the notion of family reveals itself further; this big, messy, ancient organism, alive and temperamental and needy and fragile and so strong as to seem almost infallible. But we aren’t infallible, I know that. And now and then a sense of panic crawls up my throat when I think about how close we always are to loss, and how far away I will be when it happens.
I feel the pull now, towards the country that most of my family calls home. My Pa is old, old enough to have seen 97 years. We used to say he would live forever, but the three fates are running out of thread. I want him to meet his great grandson and I want to be able to say goodbye. A privilege, I know. But I want it. My Nana is old too, and her mind is tired and frayed. I want her to be with my children, like she was with us.
I started writing this a few days ago, aware perhaps of how on the edge I stood, of change. Of how this pull is borne of slight desperation, desperation to get back before too much change, before loss. Yesterday, the thread ran out and we lost my Pa. He went quickly, tired at the end of a long life thoroughly, rigorously lived. 1920 he was born; to think of all he saw. I remember when he met die Lüdde, when he was 94 and she a mere four months old. He was at his end, she at the very beginning, and I, somewhere in the middle; ‘it doesn’t get better than this,’ he said.
I have been thinking about what one grieves when a person of great age – and 97, well that’s a bloody good number – dies. The loss, of course, because any loss is sad – to have and then suddenly to not. I am crushed we will be just a few weeks too late; that I was too late when I called to say goodbye; that he never got to meet his second great grandchild. Too late, too late – death makes everything too late. But I feel that what we also grieve, is a part of our own lives that has now been consigned to history. I am more nostalgic than ever, for a childhood in which Pa was a stalwart. My family is one less; a door has closed and we may now only look through the window.
Distance so often seems the parent of disconnect and it is connection during these times, that is the only salve. I cry as much for a loss I knew was coming, for the memories of a terrific (one of his favourite words) Pa, as I do for a ritual I cannot attend, a salve this moment requires. And so I’ll play his favourite classical music, light a candle and look through old photos. I’ll write. And home, she is waiting; not still, not unchanged, but waiting. Not long now.
We are one less; but for that, we had years of richness. The fates were generous with Pa.