My father passed away ten years ago today. January 15th 2003.
It was actually a relief, most especially for him. As a man whose whole being could be summed up in his intelligence, it was cruel that in the end, that was all he was really left with. In a mirror image of those with fit, healthy bodies whose minds are robbed by dementia, my father kept his wits and memory right up until the end, while his frail body packed it in around him.
In a complete shock to the medical system, my father left home for what was (unknown to him at the time) the last time, in the back of an ambulance on December 8th 2002. He was destined to see a doctor for the first time in about 30 years! I don't think he had ever used his Medicare card before! (He had asked me simply to make him a doctor's appointment. I rang the surgery and explained he was technically a patient of their practice but his records would have been archived. The speechless receptionist recommended a visit directly to hospital would be a more simple option.)
By January 15th, he was in a rehabilitation facility and plans were being made to look into nursing home facilities. In an ironic twist he would have much appreciated, about four hours after his doctor advised the gathered family that he wasn't going to die any time soon, Dad did precisely that. After a visit that included both his daughters, son-in-law and five of his six grandchildren, he was given his first shot of morphine and we all headed home, not knowing it was a final goodbye. It was actually just as he would have liked it.
Unfortunately, his affairs were not quite in order. His niece, a lawyer, was coming in the next day to prepare his Will. That simple error in timing was to be the family's greatest regret. My father died intestate.
My parents had divorced several years earlier, ending a marriage that had probably not been for the best. I am the eldest of two daughters, three years senior to my sister. Although I have happy memories of childhood, ours was not a happy home.
Eventually, my mother settled on the other side of the country. Unusually - and with dire impact - my parents did not sell the family home. They each retained a 50% share in it. Even when my father moved into a house next door to our new home in the late 1990s, so we were able to better support him whilst maintaining his independence, that arrangement was unaltered: both parents sold the existing home and both parents purchased the new home.
Although my mother now lived interstate, we were still relatively close. So it was natural I turned to her when my father died and she arranged to come over only a couple of days later. Adding to an already devastated extended family, my father's cousin (whose family had been as close as siblings to he and his sister) died suddenly the day after his death. My father didn't believe in an after-life, but at least he would have company if it turned out to be after-all. Her funeral was to be held the day after his - his would be held on my husband's birthday a week after his death.
My mother arrived. You will forgive me if I don't go into complete detail here - the short story is that my father's presumption that his 50% ownership of his home would be inherited by his daughters was shown to be incorrect: in the transfer of home ownership - and seemingly unknown to my father but in the knowledge of my mother - the full ownership would go to my mother. It soon became apparent that this was her primary purpose for returning and that her intention was to move into the property and claim her rights as soon as possible. As in, before the funeral.
The obvious outcome was an emotional confrontation that ended in my walking away from the situation - and the relationship. Despite her moving permanently into the property soon after and living there the full twelve months before selling it, we have never spoken again. Furthermore, she has not communicated with her other child, any of her six grandchildren, any of her three siblings, any nieces, nephews or in-laws. A rough estimate of my large extended family? Easily more than 100 relationships completely and utterly severed.
Ten years is a long time. My three children have grown. There has been a wedding and will soon be a grandchild. My niece and two nephews have grown. Two cousins have sadly passed away. My two maternal aunts and uncle are octogenarians, as is my paternal aunt. I stay in touch with many of my cousins and their children. I am on speaking terms with every single person I am related to - with the exception of my mother. I love and treasure my extended family but every time I connect with any of them, invariably we have to discuss "Have you heard anything from your mother?" The answer is always no. None of us have any idea where she lives or with who (during her time living next door, she shared her home with man unknown to any of us.) She is the youngest of four, all her siblings are living, so presumably she is to. (She would have turned 84 last birthday). Unless she remarried, I would remain her legal next of kin.
Could I track her down? If I chose to. Do I chose to? No. My life is rich and filled with relationships I cherish. I miss her, but not her - I miss the mother I knew for almost 40 years of my life. I miss my children's grandmother, who loved and nurtured them, but I cannot forgive a grandmother who could walk out of their lives that way.
Could she track us down? Absolutely - we live in the same house. Apart from my daughter who took her husband's name on marriage, she could easily look us up in any directory. My Facebook account is public, as is my blog. If you Google me, you find only me. One has to presume she chooses to stay out of contact.
Ten years. This year, I turn fifty. I become a grandmother. My husband and I will achieve 30 years of marriage and 35 years as a couple.
I am a motherless daughter. I may be an orphan. But I am a mother, a wife, a niece, a daughter-in-law, an aunt, a mother-in-law, a friend. I have no material inheritance. Not a cent - I even had to pay for my fathers funeral costs. But I have the richest inheritance possible. I have the people of my family - past, present and future. And that is worth more than any possession on earth.