I sat in the white Audi TT, the black leather sport seat curved at the sides and dug into my hips. The engine sounded like a growl as my husband and I just sat in silence outside the old building we were about to go into.
I turned to look at Ross, new lines had formed around his eyes and his face was as white as paper but for dark rings under his eyes. It had not even been 30 hours since he had to do the hardest thing in the world – hold my dad’s frail hand and watch him die.
I looked out the window and stared blankly at the young couple walking hand in hand along the road towards the shopping district. I envied the smiles on their faces. I wondered if I would ever smile again.
Ross squeezed my hand. I looked at him and blinked, surprised at the wet tears that had pooled in my eyes and started rolling down my cheeks. I didn’t feel sad. I was numb. Shocked. I felt like I had died. Not Dad.
We got out the car and walked into the old building. If I had my wits about me, I would have taken in my surroundings and pondered what the building was used for in the past. Surely this was not always a place for people to register births, deaths and marriages? The floors creaked as we walked toward the reception desk. I glanced around the high-ceiling room. It reminded me of one of the rooms at my old school, Clifton High. There were a lot of beige colours on the walls, the windows were big and had black edges from mould. There was a musty smell that reminded me of my drama lessons in the old small hall. I was happy when I did drama, the whole rush you get being on stage and acting like someone else. I wished I could be someone else on this day. I wished I was anyone else.
A slightly-overweight gentleman swaggered through the doorway and approached me. He was unshaven and dark-haired with a business-like attitude. He actually reminded me of Del-boy from Only Fools and Horses. I shook his hand. “Laura Burton? Nice to meet you,” he said in a gruff voice. I noticed a faint body odour coming from him and wet patches under the arms of his striped shirt. We followed the man into a tiny room across the hall.
There was a narrow table by the door with two picture frames, I glanced at the people in the pictures – presumably his wife and two sons. They were smiling. I kept walking and took a seat by a very small desk. Ross sat next to me and we both watched the gentleman hold his tie to his bulging stomach as he side stepped to his desk and sat down.
“So I understand you’re here to register the death of -“ he looked briefly at his computer “Brian Burchell” he asked looking at me. He wouldn’t even look at Ross. As if he didn’t exist. I was not used to this, normally I am the one who is ignored.
“Yes he’s my father,” I said weakly
“Fantastic,” The man replied and started typing on his computer with a smile.
It suddenly struck me that to this man, this appointment was just one of many he had today. This day was just an ordinary work day. I stared at his dark eyes and pondered how it could possibly feel like the world has just ended and yet to him, just another day at the office.
“Do you have the paperwork from the hospital?” He asked with his eyebrows raised and he was smiling again. I looked down at my lap, at the small pack of documents I had been carrying the whole time without realising it. With a shaking hand, I opened the folder and took out a sealed white envelope from the hospital. I handed it to the man who took it and ripped it open in an instant.
“Cause of death, Interstitial Lung Disease, excellent,” he said and continued to type.
Yes, excellent – my dad had just died after weeks of struggling to breathe on 100% oxygen and having his lungs turn into cement. A bolt of anger shot through my heart and got caught in my throat. I swallowed and cleared my throat.
I had to tell him dates and information he requested and occasionally referred to documents in my pack.
“What was Mr Burchell’s occupation?” He asked. A laugh got caught in my chest and I coughed. My dad had a million jobs and professions. Project Manager, Business Owner, Landscape Gardner, green grocer, school teacher, teacher to the blind, IT manager, Will Writer, Financial Advisor, Glass Blower (lol funny story that one) and so, so many more.
What was my dad? What word could I give to describe who he was? The only word i could think of was; Brilliant. My dad was Brilliant.
He was the best father, coach, friend, loving husband, grandfather, advocate, true follower of Christ, he was kind and friendly and intelligent and funny and wise and so incredibly selfless.
“I’ll just put Retired Project Manager,” the man said after I shared some of my thoughts. I nodded in reply. It’ll have to do.
A few moments later and the man was pushing a freshly printed piece of paper in front of me and handed me a pen. “Sign here please,” he said lightly.
CERTIFICATE OF DEATH
Was printed clearly across the top of the page. My eyes flickered down to the words: Brian Arthur Burchell. And I felt like someone had just slowly pushed a hot poker stick through my heart. I forced back the sobs that were threatening to come out and took a shaking hand to sign my name.
I thought it was almost poetic. If my life was a book, I would have noted how fitting it was that I was the one who took Dad into hospital, of course it was right that I should be the one to have my name on his death certificate. Yet at the same time, doing that has broken me on a level that I think will never be repaired. I mean seriously just stop for a second and imagine just how messed-up that will make you feel. THAT is something I will never heal from.
Dad, you said you were going to get better. You told me this was just for a time, that it would all be ok. Then you died. You left.
It’s been six months since you asked me for a Kit Kat from the vending machine. Watching you eat it gave me hope you were getting better. You made me believe that if I had faith, all would be ok. I had faith. I fasted. I prayed. I believed.
And you died anyway.
It has taken me this long of prayer and soul-searching to come to the conclusion that Heavenly Father did not want you to live. That His plan meant you needed to leave us. I have come to terms that just because I pray for a miracle with faith, God is not at liberty to grant it. And I know that your obedient nature would have meant you would have had it no other way.
For months I was angry, lost, hurt, abandoned. I felt betrayed. I felt unheard and forsaken.
Until I stopped.
I started to feel better. Like the dark cloud of sadness hovering over my head had passed.
I dreamt I was sitting in the kitchen in my home with Mum and Ross. We were talking when I looked and saw you, Dad. I saw you walking towards us from the hallway. We all rushed to our feet and hugged you. I felt the bristles of your beard scratching my cheek as I kissed yours and I felt your arms holding me. You looked at me with your loving brown eyes and smiled that fabulous smile. “I said I was going to help you in any way I can, here I am.” You said. I looked at Ross who was smiling in shock and pleasant surprise. “I can’t believe it’s you,” he said as you hugged him. The moment was so healing.
I remember it Dad. I remember you telling me to sit still and you took my head in your hands and turned it up – a cracking noise filled the air like when the chiropractor makes adjustments. I remember looking back at you, you looked purposely at me and said “You will be ok now,” I won’t forget that.
Ever since that dream I have clarity. I have peace. The grief comes in waves and ebbs and flows through me, but I also feel rays of warmth and sunshine too.
I know I’m going to be ok. I know Dad has not truly left me. He is fulfilling his promise to be there for his family. I know it because I dream of my Dad often. Sometimes he has advice for me, many times we are just together and I feel happy.
I realised that all is not lost. And it’s time to stop being so sad all the time. It’s time to DO something.
It’s time to start living.
Love you Dad.