This piece was written by Natasha Winter, a PhD candidate in the School of Medicine and Public Health.
Have you ever looked out a window when it rains and watched one droplet fall down the glass, catching other droplets as it falls, going whichever way it chooses? Or counted all the circles in that fake beige wood linoleum flooring covering your kitchen? Or watched the way a person’s mouth moves, watching every tooth appear and muscle flex when they speak, but hear no sound? I discovered the smallest of details in one life-changing night nine years ago.
It was 2011 and I was in my second-year nursing placement. I was young (19), free and happy, travelling through life not really stopping to think what it all means… until one night I was forced to grow up. On Friday night on the 22nd of September 2011, I received the devastating news that my father had passed away.
Rewinding six weeks prior, my Dad was admitted to the hospital with shingles. Turns out, a few weeks later, I would end up having my placement at the same hospital. He was still there though, and in a few weeks, he was moved to intensive care. My days would consist of visiting Dad before and after my shifts, breaking up the day seeing him during my morning tea and lunch breaks too. I didn’t tell anyone and kept this to myself for a week or so, until my supervisor noticed me walking out of the intensive care unit towards our ward stuffing a muffin in my mouth during lunch.
I later told her everything, bawling my eyes out in a small, white consultation room. Defiantly, I said I wanted to continue after she suggested I take some time off. I barely managed this day-to-day routine, but I got through. The placement finished and I moved onto mid-year holidays. Mum and I still visited Dad, but he was getting worse and I never believed it would happen, but it did.
Standing in the kitchen, I fell to the ground in shock when Mum got off the phone with the doctor (cue the patterned linoleum floor). It started to rain when we left (how fitting). We drove to the hospital to see him (cue the raindrops). The doctor explained what happened while Mum and I each held Dad’s cold hands (cue the voiceless mouth).
You can never truly feel what it’s like to lose someone so close and important to you until it happens. The emptiness, the ‘he’s just on holidays’ or ‘he’ll be walking through the door any moment now’, the memories and immense sadness.
Planning the funeral, everyone was over, and Mum and I were never alone. But when the funeral passed, and we received all the condolence cards and flowers filling up our dining room table, then it was just us again. The silence grew stronger.
I decided I needed to keep myself busy, so I continued Nursing in the next semester two weeks later. It’s what Dad would have wanted, right? Wrong. The skills we were learning this semester were of taking care of an intensive care patient, incubating dummies that looked like my Dad on his death bed. After applying for multiple adverse circumstances, I was advised to take the semester off until next year and ‘take care of myself’.
I did take that time off, and then six months turned into a year. I didn’t mention this to you before, but I wasn’t really enjoying Nursing and never really felt it was for me, even before Dad passed. I just did it because I wasn’t really sure of what I was going to do after school. Fortunately, my life path was redirected for the good, but unfortunately, in the worse possible way.
I’ve always had a passion for science, so in 2013 I started university again but now in a Bachelor of Biomedical Science. I was not that much older than my cohort, but I felt much older in life. At university, I reconnected with my high school sweetheart and met my beautiful friends. I started enjoying life again.
In 2016 I graduated with distinction, got married and completed my Honours. In 2017 I started my PhD, and here I stand today writing to you. For I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for my Dad. He always taught me to do what makes me happy and live every day to the fullest, the meaning of which I didn’t truly understand until now. And even in the end of my father’s life came a new beginning. A chance to make a choice and change my life.
Nine years on, I’ve learnt that even when things are tough and things happen that are out of our control, the sun will always rise the next day. Life is funny sometimes, for when one door closes, another one always opens. You just need to see it.