Welcome to another disclaimer with Hana.
Now the next few posts I will be talking a lot about grief, obviously.
I just wanted to say that I am no expert, at all, on this process or topic. This is purely my experience. If you have dealt with, or are dealing with grief, you would know that everyone’s experience is completely individual.
Anything you are feeling, or what ever way you choose to cope with it is completely normal, and completely fine. Weather that is starting a blog to talk openly about your experience, seeking medical help to boost you to get you through, getting out into nature, or staying inside with a blanket and chocolate: It is all okay, because no one can or should tell you how to deal with losing someone you love dearly.
Like I said, my first emotion was blinding anger. I walked back up to my room in the hostel and I sat on my bed in shock. This lasted about 2 minutes before I went into full panic mode. I tried to call my best friend. No answer. I tried to call her again, and again. I couldn’t sit still. I felt like someone had pumped my body full of adrenaline.
I was getting rushing waves of crippling nausea. I wanted to disappear, or go back to 5 minutes earlier when I hadn’t spoken to my mum on the phone and just pretend like none of this was happening.
I called my other best friend and she answered in her usual, beautiful chipper voice.
‘My dad died, and I need you to get me home’, was all I could manage to squeeze out of my throat. I forwarded her my flight and insurance details and I messaged her every 2 minutes asking her to update me on what was going on. I paced up and down my hostel. I considered showering. I brushed my teeth. I gaged over the sink about 15 times.
I finally couldn’t take it any longer and I just shoved all of my clothes into my bag. At this stage people had started to walk into my shared dorm and they were looking at me like I was a wild animal.
Without thinking I just smiled and walked out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door. I got in a cab. My brother called me, and I cried for the first time in big, long sobs.
My friend called me to let me know that she had organised my flight out of Ho Chi Mihn back to Brisbane, but I wouldn’t be able to leave until the next night, at 9pm.
I had just expected to be able to get a flight back immediately. Isn’t that what happens in movies? They find out the tragic news and then the next scene they are back home in the arms of their loved ones.
A very hard truth I have learnt from the last 12 months is that life will take your expectations of things and it will sling shot them so far out the park you will be confused why you ever thought they made sense in the first place. Let’s all say it together guys ‘It will rip the rug out.’
I now had no choice but to spend 24 hours in another country by myself.
I was sitting at Da Lat airport with a phone on 12%, talking to my mum, making her explain to me in every detail what had happened while I sat in front of an entire flight full of people and cried.
I got off the phone to my mum and I messaged my friend who was still in Ho Chi Mihn; the boy who convinced me to get ‘Fuck it’ tattooed on my leg. I didn’t know what to do but I knew that I couldn’t be alone the whole time.
He replied and told me he’d meet me at Ho Chi Mihn as soon as I landed.
I had gotten in the cab to the airport because I just needed to be moving somewhere, but my plane didn’t actually leave for 4 hours. I went and spoke to the help desk at this tiny airport. There was a flight back to Ho Chi Mihn in 1 hour instead of 3, but only Business class was available.
Now I’d always dreamt of flying Business class. Those hot towels and extra leg room for my huge 5’2 sized body always sounded like bliss. I didn’t picture my first (and probably only) business class experience being like this: A tiny plane that was in the air for a total of 28 minutes. I got a hot towel and a glass of orange juice and they let me off the plane first. I think I would have gone crazy if I had to sit at Da Lat airport for 3 more hours.
My friend met me at Ho Chi Mihn and we got in a cab back to the hostel I’d been staying at before I left. I was so exhausted mentally. I was so uncomfortable with what was happening that I didn’t know how to act.
I booked the private room in the hostel and went and dropped my bags off. It was around 10pm and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
I was forced to go and get Pho and I walked through the busy streets of District 5 in Ho Chi Mihn. What was I meant to be doing? Was it okay for me to eat? Do I talk about it?
My friend was this brilliant America guy who had this way of telling stories about mundane things in a way that was entirely entertaining. I laughed over my pho and for about 2 seconds I pretended things were normal, and that I was not a girl whos dad was no longer alive.
I actually can’t remember a lot of this night or the next day. Trying to recall it is like trying to remember a night you went and got black out drunk. It’s blurry around the edges and I think I have manipulated some of the facts.
The next day I woke up in my private room. I managed to sleep for about 4 hours. My brother called me, then my aunty, then 3 of my best friends.
I got messages from my ex, from people I went to school with. I thanked everyone. I posted a photo of my dad to Facebook.
I didn’t allow myself to feel anything real though. I had no feeling attached to anything I was saying. I was saying things I thought I was meant to say.
I spoke to one of my friends on the phone and I told her ‘I know he loved me, and I loved him’, which is true but I remember saying this and it being like I was reciting a line from a book.
I had to get home and I knew that kicking and screaming and falling into a pile would help absolutely no one, myself especially. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel the full reality of the situation. I just had to get through this day.
My family was calling me begging me to just be safe. To stay inside if I could. To just wait out the 14 hours I had left in Vietnam.
I got a bike to a massage parlour and I had a 2 hour massage.
The women in the parlour did not hide her hate for me. I don’t think anyone has every actually booked the 2 hour massage option before. My masseuse took a phone call 45 minutes in and proceeded to massage my shoulders half heartedly with one hand for the remaining 75 minutes.
I didn’t care. I just wanted time to pass.
The day crept on but finally it was time to leave. I said goodbye to my friend, promised I’d come see him in America and thanked him. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without that tiny bit of comfort that day that he provided.
The first leg was the hour flight from Vietnam to Bangkok and I had 2 panic attacks on that flight. It was absolutely horrible and when I got to Bangkok I really didn’t know how I was going to make it through the next 7 hours wedged between people on a plane.
I timidly walked up to the cabin crew for my next flight who were scanning passengers boarding passes so they could wait at the gate. I asked to talk to the manager and I had no idea what to say. I just wanted people to be able to read my mind. I didn’t want to say it out loud. She walked up to me and I explained that I was flying back because my dad had died, and I was terrified I was about to have the worst 7 hours of my life.
She honestly looked a little bit freaked out, but she gave me the entire back row of the flight to myself. I boarded the plan and I drifted in and out of sleep for the next 7 hours.
As the plane dipped below the clouds on the way down, the first gentle wave of grief hit me.
Brisbane came into view and I thought: you will never fly into Brisbane and see your dad again.
The next week was full of photo albums and stories and family members I hadn’t seen in years. It was full of hugs and tears and sitting on the edge of my parents bed wondering how I was meant to be feeling. My brother and I organised my fathers funeral and I stood in a room full of people who loved him and I spoke about how he was my hero.
My dad never thought people liked him, but that room was so full that people were standing at the fringes of it.
Everything was a blur and even writing about it now sends a deep pain into my chest.
For me, my initial shock lasted the 3 weeks I was in Brisbane.
After 3 weeks, I left in my dads old Toyota to drive down to Melbourne over 5 days.
I knew it would all start to hit me at this time but I promised myself that above all, I would be kind to myself.
It seemed that the further I drove away from Brisbane, the more it all started to sink in.
I pulled over in Coffs Harbour and sat on the beach and spoke to my dad out loud and let myself cry and cry. I hiked up a mountain in Nelsons Bay and I clung to my locket that holds some of his ashes, and a little bit of happiness slipped in. I yelled his favorite songs in anger on the windy drive out of Sydney and stopped at solar farm on a mountain, and screamed so hard into the wind that my throat hurt. I stayed at an Alpaca farm in Crookwell, this tiny, freezing town about 2 hours before Wagga Wagga, with this woman who taught me how to make ginger jam and who cooked me dinner.
This night is the first night I dreamt about my dad. This was the first night that the cushion that was around my brain started to give a little, and I had this shocking overwhelming pain in my entire body at the thought of him being gone.
Now I know this is going to sound weird, but for the first time since he had died, I thought about my dad as who he was to me, and not about him like he was the main character in a sad story.
Driving back into the Melbourne I thought about how I had left 5 weeks earlier. All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for my life changing trip to Vietnam.
It was like a bubble had been popped around my life.
Nothing was the same anymore. I didn’t feel the same. Everything that I had been worried about before I left seemed absolutely and completely trivial.
So, I guess it was pretty life changing after all.
Till next time.