Life, Death, and Other Opposites

The morning after my father died, the NZ Herald had this article on their front page. The first signs of Spring – cherry blossoms, daffodils – have always brought a smile to my face. I smiled at the image, and then … well … didn’t smile.

Spring is a wonderful metaphor for what we’ve been going through these last couple of weeks. Our gorgeous new baby girl arrived one week, almost to the hour, after Dad died. The timing, while far too early for Wallace, was logistically perfect. Dad always had lists and calendars. Bookings and management – everything organised to a tee. He was the same in his death: the drinks trolley rolled past his hospice room at 5pm. We had time to charge our glasses, and then he slipped away gently at 6:15pm. Yes, the drinks trolley. St Joseph’s Mercy Hospice is a wondrous place. Part hotel, part hospital, and completely caring.

Ollie and AmelieSo with the arrival of Amelie, it will truly be springtime in the Fleming-Gracewood household. The end of an unusually cold winter. The closing of one chapter and the opening of another. Spring also marks the transition from one extreme to another. Have you ever walked on a beach in winter, looking at the icy grey sea, and imagined diving in? Isn’t it weird that that same sea is so incredibly inviting on a hot summer day?

Those summer days are made all the more wonderful because we remember the frosty winter mornings.

Without cold, we wouldn’t know what warmth is.

Without death, we wouldn’t know what life is.

Opposites. I’ve been thinking about them a lot over the last few days!

In the same way, when I think back about my time with Dad, it has been punctuated by opposites. Let me take you through a few.

Love (always) and pointless teenage hate. My late teenage years were spent living in a 100 year old villa in Mt Eden. That house seemed to be under constant renovation. I vividly remember the demands to scrape paint off 3 weatherboards (proper 12″ 1910 weatherboards, not tiny modern ones), before I was allowed to go out with my friends. While I understand the motives, and the result was incredible, I still feel the impotent teenage rage.

Sober and oh so very, very drunk. Both of us, at various stages. Me becoming a taxi driver for Mum and Dad when I was old enough, and soon after that (I’m sure I must have been over legal age), me returning home after a big night, totally convinced that I could act sober if I just concentrated on one task at a time. Walk in, place a steadying hand on a wall, then say “Hi Dad!”.

Creation and demolition. I’ve truly lost count of the fences, retaining walls, house renovations, and sundry construction projects that Dad got us involved in. I do however remember the corner post of the front retaining wall at Mt Eden. Dad left me and Greg to put the final post in – a huge show of trust from such a perfectionist. We took the responsibility with the requisite solemn concentration. We checked and triple-checked the levels, and stood back proudly to admire the concreted post, standing straight and true. The next morning, in the cold light, Dad kindly pointed out the very obvious twist that the post had. Perfectly vertical, but twisted out of alignment with the rest of the wall.

Life and near-death. There was a time that Dad fancied himself a bit of a sailor. He purchased a small, cheap catamaran to sail in the estuary at Pauanui. He went out a few times successfully, then took me and my friend, both aged about 9 or 10, for a sail. The wind dropped completely as we floated out into the middle of the tidal estuary. In surprisingly short order, we were swept downstream, out through the notorious Pauanui bar, and spat broadside into the 10′ surf on the main beach. Thankfully, some deft rudder work eventually had us surfing in on a giant wave, barely avoiding a huge pitch-pole dive in the process. I remember having to use one hand to open the other’s grip on the rope I was using as a lifeline. 5 minutes later, I had my first ever brandy-laced hot tea – Mum’s attempt to stop my shaking.

Ups and downs, but the trend is obvious. Life goes on.

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  1. Nice stuff Ben. My youngest son was born at about 6:50pm on November 8 last year (election day!). My grandmother died at about 10:30pm that night. She never got to meet him but we like to think she somehow knew.

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