On June 18 this year, my life changed. We all have moments like that in our lives. Most of them are only recognisable in retrospect, but, this time, I knew immediately.
I was standing at a tram stop in Melbourne waiting to head home when my father in Newcastle rang my mobile. That, in itself, was unusual so I answered it with some trepidation. He was already crying.
“What is it?” I yelled. “Tell me!”
“She’s gone,” he said. I knew he was talking about Mum.
“I’m so sorry Dad. I’m so sorry,” I sobbed. “I’ll call back in a few minutes.”
I didn’t know if I was apologising to him or me.
I cut the call and just walked around the tram stop in a daze, oblivious to the fact that I was crying – howling, really – in the middle of Melbourne peak hour. I called two colleagues to let them know that my life had changed but as yet, I didn’t know what that really meant. I would get back to them.
I knew what this would mean to Dad. He and Mum had been together for nearly 62 years. I knew that, although the rest of us had been quietly grieving her slow demise for the past couple of years, as her main carer, he had been in a sort of denial.
Now she was gone and, I later learnt, he had been there desperately trying to revive her at the end. His adjustment was going to be the biggest one of them all.
After about half an hour I felt able to call him back. He then had further news. My brother, Andrew, had been having a colonoscopy that very afternoon. Dad had been on his way to pick him up from it when Mum had collapsed. The news from the test wasn’t good. Bowel cancer. Probably stage three.
“Are you f---ing kidding me?” was all I could say. “We’ll be up tomorrow.”
My brother is divorced with no children and Dad and I are really all the family he has. I have a role to play here. A bloody important one.
So began a period of grief, reflection, anger and large doses of interstate travel. In a short space of time we buried my mother and started the arduous cancer treatment required for my brother.
My aunt (Mum’s only sibling) came out from Canada and my cousin came from New Zealand. We shared memories and mementos but then they had to go home. We also had to go home to Melbourne.
Melbourne was home to jobs and pets, but it was growing harder and harder to leave Newcastle each time.
I was on the plane from Newcastle to Melbourne a couple of months later when I realised I was going to have to go back more and more often. That I had no idea what my brother’s real prognosis was and, if he died in the next year or three, I would never forgive myself for not being there to help him and Dad. That asking my 83-year-old father to grieve for his wife and care for his son is simply cruel.
There’s no way that I can do that and hold down a four night-a-week presenting gig on the most listened to ABC radio station in the country.
My brother is divorced with no children and Dad and I are really all the family he has. I realised I have a role to play here. A bloody important one.
I am due back on air at ABC Melbourne in a matter of weeks but I realise deep in my gut that I can’t go back.
I need to be available to go to Newcastle at almost a moment’s notice, and to give my Dad some respite every couple of weeks. There’s no way that I can do that and hold down a presenting gig on the most listened to ABC radio station in the country.
My husband agrees. My bosses understand. One got in touch to say there's an opportunity to continue working with the ABC training team for a few months, which can be done from any city in the country.
"Would that help?"
"Yes," I said. "Yes it would. Thank you."
My husband and I spoke further and he suggested we both move back; go back to Newcastle and help out. I hugged him and cried a little.
"Thank you," I said. "Let's do that."
I announced to my colleagues, my friends and my listeners that we were leaving. I told Dad we are both moving back in January. He was, for once, a little lost for words.
“Well there are two gentlemen up here that are very glad to hear that,” he eventually said.
We told schools and café owners and neighbours and the whole thing became all too real. We are both leaving very solid, very rewarding jobs to go back to my hometown to help care for my family.
We have moments of hesitation but we have mostly stayed true to the original decision. We have booked removalists and pet carriers and told estate agents and utilities providers. I have had four beautiful, magical days of farewells on the air.
I have consumed too much champagne at other farewells and cried and hugged my friends and colleagues.
Deep down though, I am ready.
Some people have questioned our decision. They are right to do so. From the outside, it seems mad. But I know it is right. I know it is going to be hard but good. And I know Mum would have expected nothing less from me.
In the end, I am still her daughter