Through the pastry case, I saw him walk in. Tallish, large weatherproof jacket, hat, backpack. Glasses. He reminded me of my dad. Not that I that much paid attention, it was more a registering of a fact. The bloke ordered a coffee and sat at the small table closest to the door. Couple of minutes later I looked up from what I was doing. He was on his Mac, doing I don’t know what, because we must be the last coffee shop in Melbourne to not have Wi-Fi.
Eggs, bacon, cakes, cleaning, I went on with my work. Time passed, the bloke finished up and left, and the small table closest to the door became occupied by a woman and her grandson.
I took a toilet break. I walked along the outside of the building thinking about that bloke and I reminded myself that dad sometimes used to visit me at work. And I smiled as I remembered a time Dad dropped into work and the thrill of his surprise visit. ‘That’s my dad!’ I said to the other girls behind the counter before I hurried around to greet him. There I was, somewhere over forty years old and rapt to unexpectedly see my daddy. We are always their kids. We slip off our work personas and into our roles of somebody’s child without noticing.
I wasn’t until I was actually sitting on the toilet that I remembered that dad would never visit me at work again. He’s in hospital, he’s in bed, my dad hasn’t sat on a toilet for months, and a chair for weeks.
Tuesday morning, there I was, crying on the toilet at work. Proper, good old-fashioned, bawling. Poor dad, poor me.
‘Grief,’ I said aloud, ‘I remember you.’ I sniffed back my tears, wiped my eyes, splashed water on my face, and in the mirror I watched myself breathe deep. Yeah, Grief, I remember your gut punches. A look, a song, a jacket and hat. Sudden reminders of the one you lost.
It’s been nearly five years since I lost my little sister, Libby. A heart attack at the age of forty-two. Now, years later, I can listen to Madonna with no problem. I turn her up and remember how much Libby loved her. But Crowded House, one of my old favourites, is off my playlist indefinitely. Don’t dream it’s over and tears fall.
I retraced my steps along the building and reminded myself that Dad isn’t dead yet. Could be days, weeks, we don’t know. He’s still here.He’s glad to be alive even though for most people palliative care doesn’t seem like living, Dad’s glad he’s in that bed, receiving visitors, though often he’s barely aware of their presence.
‘Dad’s still here,’ I said to myself. I listened to my feet on the footpath, back to work, the swing of the door, the tinkle of the metal OPEN sign on the glass. Be real, be here, Dad is. ‘Dad’s still here.’
I understood that I could worry about grief later. I didn’t even use my ‘and there’s also the joy’ technique. I’ll save the positive self-talk for those after days.
Tears can wait.