Saying goodbye to a parent is the most difficult experience I have ever gone through. You never really know how hard it will be until it happens.
Your parents have been around all your life. Through thick and thin. Men come and go. As do friends. But Dad was always there for me.
My best friend John who lost his wife in her 40s told me two incredible things when I found out my Dad had liver cancer - say everything you have ever wanted to say, and that afterwards, your life will never be the same again. I did and he was right.
He passed away just before Christmas 2009. It is still like yesterday. The flurry of activity to make his last few months comfortable and even joyous and then after - a crushing void. He was my rock, my protector. We were up until then a secure family of 4 - yet without the 4th leg we fell apart.
Everything happens for a reason. 6 months after my father died we found out that my husband's mum was in terminal phase of cancer. It was a like reliving a nightmare but at the same time I knew I would be able to help them through my recent bereavement. It was also another sign of our common destiny.
Cancer is such a mysterious disease - you never know why, how long and ultimately when. My beau's mum is the most darling gentlest woman so to hear of her extreme sickness was very tough for all of us. No more medicine or chemo. Just the slow sad decline. Marie Curie helpers pop in to make things comfortable, everyone stands around trying to keep a brave face yet underneath it all you know then inevitable is hurtling towards you faster than you thought possible.
It is at these times that all my experiences in the spiritual lands of Australia are invaluable. I brought both my dad and my belle-mere healing crystals to cool a hot chemo ridden brow, angel cards to bring hope for the after life and a journey processer to liberate from the past.
The moments around a dying family member are like precious jewels. For my Dad we rallied around him day and night for four weeks in the London Clinic. It was the festive run up to Xmas and I was determined to keep his morale up. I brought a mini Xmas tree into the hospital, hung decorations on his IV drip and a found a sweet smelling gardenia that reminded him of his Greek homeland. I brought in old family photos,chirped on about our happy childhood and asked him to tell us his favourite jokes, his legacy.
We lived on tea and biscuits - every effort going into tending to his needs, feeding him soft boiled eggs like a baby, arranging his pillows just right and reading to him from the Telegraph. Dad as ever the Greek pater familias worried more about us than him - Were we sacrificing work meetings? Were we eating three regular meals?
My sister, pregnant with baby Oscar, brought him much cheer with flutters of the baby beneath the bump and 4D scans of the micro bub. Even with her heavy bump she cooked all his favourite suppers and brought them in every day in vain hope that he would eat something. She arrived like a Beatrix Potter character laden with wicker baskets. I never seen so much love in a vegetable broth.
The weekend before he died his long lost cousin George flew out. The years fell away and there sat my father as a young Greek man, gesticulating and cracking jokes with shining Mediterranean eyes.
I remember clearly my mother and I sleeping in my dad's room the night before he died. He had been restless and was so happy we were all staying by his side. Mummy and I both slept in the same single bed which was no mean feat. My dad must have fully relaxed as the next day, the first day of the winter snow, he left us. It was a struggle at the end but it was peaceful.
We felt the end was very near and a nurse came in to say that the fight could go on for several days. In one of those solemn moments of life humour helped bring levity. I said to my mum - have we peaked too soon? She dissolved into hysterical giggles. We had another similar moment at the cremation. We drew up in the herse at the crematorium and there was a men's loo at the entrance - my dad always liked to know where the gentleman's toilets were so this was all so perfectly fitting. Even though away from us his spirit was still with us.
This for me is the key to getting through such time of sorrow. As the adage goes if you don't laugh you will cry. And there are alot of tears. But once the trauma of the illness has passed the memory of the person in his full glory remains. This is how one should remember them. 4 months after Dad died Oscar, my nephew was born and carries on the male Kesses lineage with his big Greek forehead and soulful eyes.
My dad also left me a huge legacy - his Greek DNA. After leaving Athens at the age of 5 I never spent much time there. His departure gave birth to a longing, craving for all things Greek. I listen to Manos Hadjidakis music now, play with his Komboloi when I feel preoccupied and sleep with his Orthodox icon by my bed. I also spend time on Greek soil with the Kesses family - retracing Dad's steps at the Kafeneion in Piraeus or buying a cheese pie - tiropita - that he used to buy me for breakfast.
My beau and I recently got married. It was a day of love and life and our absent parents shone on us like the dappled sunlight through the trees. I danced the Greek sirtaki for my dad and nibbled on Greek mezze with my French champagne.
The hardest bit was walking down the aisle without him. I was married before and I will never forget his gentle but steadying arm. Yet I was able to do the walk alone knowing that he was by my side. As he always will be.