Happy Birthday: Papa Bear!

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Our last Christmas together. Santa!

April is quite a hard month for me. It’s always a flurry of inconsistent emotions and uncontrollable tears. It’s a reminder of what was, what is and what could be.

It’s the month of anniversaries, but not the fun anniversaries – it’s a sad one. It’s the hardest one. It’s remembering my dad, my soldier and my hero.

I’ll never forget the day: it was school holidays and I was at my nanna’s house, playing in the garden. Mum had just dropped us off, and within a haste, had returned to tell us the news. Dad was in an accident at work.

In his career, he was a clearance diver in the navy. He left home when he was 16 and fought hard for his independence and reputation. His work mates knew he was reliable, dependent and there for them no matter what. He worked on various jobs when he left the navy, diving all around Australia. He was one of the good ones, my dad.

On the day of his accident, he was working at BHP in Newcastle. Dad was diving and cleaning debris from filtration pipes in the river, when an employee started the filtration tank – completely unaware Dad was below the surface. As the fan excelled with speed, he was knocked unconscious, and was injured on his foot by the fan. He remained underwater for a further 10 minutes, until he was rescued. Then, having been flown to hospital, placed in a coma and having his leg amputated, were we able to visit him.

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My Dad and my Brother. Cute!

He was a tough, yet gentle man, who wore his heart on his sleeve and would go to any length for his family. His love was unconditional and his cuddles were warm. He always knew how to give the best hugs.

It was weird. It all didn’t make sense to me when it happened, but that night, we visited him in hospital. I distinctly remember the nurse telling me I could do and say anything to him: hold his hand, talk to him, cry next to him – even yell at him and express my anger and frustration. But none of which I did, I just stared and cried. I remember the image and the sounds vividly – him lying there with a blanket over where his leg once was, the were cords all over his body measuring his functionality and performance, the constant ‘beeps’ of machines keeping him alive and the large bruises on his forehead. Almost like being slapped with a frying pan. I didn’t have much of an idea, but I knew it wasn’t good. I was six years old.

The next day there was no improvement, and later in the afternoon, he was pronounced brain dead. The machines were turned off, but he fought and held on for another eight hours. His breathing was erratic and heavy, but he knew what he wanted. Even at the age I was, I knew he was fighting. The next morning I woke up in my mum’s bed, with my mum and my older brother, and she told us what happened. Somehow, she pulled herself together and held us close. It was a tough day for all of us. Especially her.

The funeral wasn’t far off, and I hated the dress mum made me wear. There were more people outside the church, than there were inside – a testament to the man he was, as not all of us could fit inside. And flowers covered the room, and the coffin. It was crazy. He was so loved by so many.

With only four days until ANZAC day, it was tough. He always marched in the Sydney morning march, and he loved his 2 up with his mates. Since then, my family and I have marched for him, wearing his medals and hearing stories from his friends about what he got up to in the navy.

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A clearance diver during the 70’s, in the Australian NAVY

And as all things come in threes, his birthday was only a few days after, on the 30th of April. He was only 34 when he died. He was much too young.

This year on the 21st of April, marks 19 years since these memories were made. Every year for me, its funny reminder (in a not so hilarious way…) about the fragility of life. How quickly it can be taken. It’s been a definitive part of my life, my upbringing, my experiences, my perspectives and my grounding. I realized – in one of the toughest ways possible – what life is all about. It’s about love, trust and finding genuine happiness in the every day events. It’s about embracing and rejoicing in the highs, and learning and growing from the lows.

For me, life is all about perspective. Every day I make a choice to be who I am, and to do what I can to make the best version of me. I could quite easily sulk and use the negatives of my situation as an excuse and a reason to hold myself back, or I could use these same negatives as a positive to motivate myself and push myself further forward. I’m lucky that I’ve had these experiences – not because of what I have lost, but because of what I have gained: the power of positive thinking, the opportunity of the future, the experience to understand. I’m lucky to have a dad who loved me. It’s these experiences and life lessons of truth that help shape my soul. And for that I am forever grateful. I’m proud of the stronger woman I’ve become, and I know my dad would be too.

So today, on all days after I’ve gotten through another year of survival and memories, Happy birthday to you, my papa bear. I love and miss you so much xx

 

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Mum and Dad – on their wedding day. 05.10.1993.

 

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  • Thank you all so much for your thoughtful, kind and generous well-wishes for my birthday today. It has been such a welcome inundation of love in a true time in need. 
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