Back home at last…

I’ve been off the air for a while (no Internet connectivity), and it seems that an eternity of stuff has happened in the mean time.

Last week, on Saturday (on March 9th), I was woken up at 8am when my father called me. My parents were little over a week into a three week vacation in Australia, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a call from him then. In a completely emotion-less voice, he tells me to take a piece of paper, and to start writing down information. He then starts telling me which hotel he’s staying at, and what the room number was, and the phone number at the hotel.

Of course, I was groggy from being woken up, so the alarm bells that should have been going off at 100+ decibels that something really bad must have happened were only going off faintly, but then he tells me that that afternoon, he and my mother were in a class learning how to snorkel, in preparation for seeing the Great Barrier Reef.

The instructor noticed at 3:25pm that my mother was the only one of the class who hadn’t let go of the training/flotation ring, so he went over to check on her. She was unconscious, and had apparently aspirated a lot of water into her lungs. Why isn’t precisely clear yet; after all, the instructor was keeping his eye on everyone at the time. But they dragged her to the beach, and attempted to resuscitate her, and although they managed to get her heart beating again when the helicopter ambulance came to pick her up, she was pronounced dead on arrival at the Hospital in Cairns at 5:25pm.

My father is almost seventy, so he requested that I fly out to Cairns as soon as possible to help him deal with the funeral and the cremation, and then help him travel back to the States. (My mom was always the person who handled all of the logistics in the family, so he really didn’t want to travel alone.) So with my weekend (and my life) turned upside down, I immediately started planning to an emergency trip to Australia.

This was amazingly stressful, for a number of reasons. (1) I found out that Airline’s “bereavement fares” were generally a fantasy, and (2) the IETF meeting in Minneapolis was coming up right afterwards. So I spent Saturday and Sunday packing, setting up airplane tickets to Australia, paying bills that couldn’t wait, sending e-mail messages prepping for the IETF meeting, etc. Even more stressful was all of the things which I *knew* I was dropping on the floor due to lack of time.

The one bright part of an otherwise pretty horrid weekend was Saturday evening, when a friend of mine (whom I will call Brighid for the purposes of this journal) offered to come over and cook dinner for me, and keep me company. That was a very welcome distraction. I’m really glad to have Brighid as a friend; she really is a wonderful person, in so many different ways. I don’t know if we’ll ever be more than just friends (there are a one or two reasons why it might just not work out); still, I haven’t been this comfortable talking with someone for a very long time, and we’ve spent two evenings now talking until it was way too late. We’ll see…

Anyway, Sunday evening I flew out on United (yay frequent flyer miles) to Los Angelos, and then on to Sydney, and then from their, to Cairns. Thanks to the international date line, I arrived on Tuesday around noontime, and met with my dad. Fortunately, my parents were traveling with a group of friends (three other couples), and two of them, Wayne and Roberta, had volunteered to sacrifice 2-3 days of their vacation to stay with my dad and support him until I could arrive. So I met the three of them at the airport, and we went back to the hotel.

That afternoon, Jodie Blanchard from the Svendson’s Funeral Home arrives, and she’s amazingly great and sympathetic. She walks us through the all of the details. The autopsy had been scheduled for the next morning (Wednesday), and that in all likelihood, the body would be released by the police at that point, and so we could have a funeral service at the crematorium Wednesday afternoon.

We had dinner at a restaurant called Ocean Palace Chinese Restaurant, whose head chef, Mr. Lum, was amazingly good cook, and a very kind person. My father had been having dinner there every night that he had been in Cairns; the first night with my mother, and the second night after the accident, and every night thereafter. Each night, it was chef’s choice, and Mr. Lum would ask some questions of my father about what sort of things he liked, and would come up with something new and wonderful — usually stuff that wasn’t on the menu. As it turned out, we ended up eating there for dinner for the rest of the week as well, and we never got bored. (Indeed, I think my dad liked having something that was stable and familiar to go to each evening.)

Wednesday morning happens; after introducing my father to the joys of using a phone card (and paying 5 cents a minute to call the States, as opposed to the highway robbery rates charged by the hotel, especially for international calls), we make lots of phone calls, including coordinating with my sister, who has been holding down the fort back in Chicago. (My sister was really hit hard by the news of the death of Mother, and she really wanted to come down to Australia as well, but with a nine-month-old in the house, it really wasn’t practical.)

I spent the rest of the morning hastily preparing the funeral service for my mother. Fortunately, I had enough presence of mind to pack a Book of Common Prayer (the book of rituals/prayers/liturgies used by the Episcopal church), and so I used that to sketch together a service. Also fortunately, among the MP3’s on my laptop was a collections of hymns that I had ripped from the CD, “Abide with me”. So a few hymns from that collection, plus the song “Psalm of Life” from an all-women’s acapella group called Taproot, would serve as the music for the service. My father, and I would serve as the congregation.

After lunch, my dad takes a nap, while I try to catch up a little with some work that I had brought on my laptop. At 2:30pm the car from the funeral service arrives, and my father and I are driven to the Crematorium. My father asks me to do all of the readings and the prayers, since he fears that he’ll be overwhelmed by emotion. So at 3pm, we arrive, and I get to see my mom one last time before the casket is closed, and we start the service.

After the service, we go around back, and watch as the casket is prepared to go into the cremation furnace. I saw one last prayer, committing my mom’s body to the elements, and then the furnace door is opened, and the casket is rolled into the furnace, and the door is closed. We go back to the hotel.

Thursday is spent packing; first my stuff, then my dad’s stuff, and then my mother’s things. Before lunch, we spend a bit of time walking through the touristy downtown of Cairns, just to give ourselves something to do. One of the places we stop by is a photo gallery, where there was an amazing limited-edition photograph which I fall in love with. It’s one meter long, and shows a sunrise over a beach in New South Wales, and it is entitled, “Bach’s Air in G”. While I’m purchasing it, I ask if the photographer is based in Cairns, and it turns out the person I’ve been talking to is the artist himself! So here I was praising the photograph and it turns out I was talking to the photographer all along.

That afternoon, we continue packing, and at 4pm, I stop to visit a church across the street from the hotel, where they had an amazing set of stained glass windows depicting the creation story in Genesis. My parents had visited that church on the first day in Cairns (one of the last things my mom went to see before the accident…), and I was told that I had to see it; the windows were both beautiful and powerfully symbolic. Every day at 4pm, the church plays a tape which describes all of the details and symbols found in the window, and my father strongly suggested that I see it.

We go to the Ocean Palace Restaurant one last time, and then go to bed early, since we have a 5:40am flight out of Cairns on Friday morning.

… and that brings things to present. After traveling for some 29 hours, we arrive safely in Chicago, where my sister picks me up, and drives us back to Libertyville.

I’m scheduled to go to Minneapolis on Sunday, to attend the IETF meeting. I’m still way behind on my e-mail, and lost the previous week worth of work and items that I had planned to get done during that week. But life goes on, albeit with a empty space in my heart….