Leaving for an overseas vacation is an exciting time but it can also be very difficult when a loved one is seriously ill. Receiving news of a death at home while you are travelling can spark a number of different emotions.
My Father’s Health Crisis
As I researched, planned and booked my 7-week trip abroad, the preparation was made more difficult knowing my father was not in good health. His health began to decline on the 1 November 2018; my parents 66th wedding anniversary.
Dad had always been a wonderful sleeper, then all of a sudden that changed. He became a walking insomniac, unable to settle or sleep. Everything that once gave him great pleasure like colouring in and watching his favourite trashy TV shows fell by the wayside.
The family was well aware that Dad had liver cancer but there was no real reason given to him or us, as to why his sleeping pattern changed. His GP and medical specialists tried everything to help Dad sleep more but the side effects from the drugs were worse for him than no sleep.
Lack of sleep made him wobbly on his feet and slow to react. Combine those factors with also an old dog lead to the two colliding. Dad took a heavy fall over Spencer, the dog, bruising most of his body but thankfully nothing was broken.
His health continued to deteriorate and life at home became a routine of doctors’ visits and trips to the chemist. His mobility was poor in the first place and getting around became increasingly harder for him and a worry for us.
A Selfless Wife and Mother
My mother turned 88 in February, and her role as wife soon changed to full-time nurse. Florence Nightingale as my father sometimes called her, continued to care for him around the clock. With very little sleep, she pushed on each day hoping that he would get well and that their life would return to normal.
As Dad’s special needs increased, we pleaded with our mother to reach out to the services available to help care for him in their home. Although, our family and extended family were doing our bit to help, the nights must have been very difficult and long, when our mother was left alone to care for our father.
There is no doubt our mother wanted to be with him, to love and take care of our father for as long as humanly possible.
Caring for him at home was finally taken out of her hands after a comprehensive health assessment.
A day or two prior to the assessment, we had planned a family dinner at home with Mum and Dad. It was something we were all looking forward to. My brother and his daughter were flying in from Townsville, my sister from Mackay and my niece had just arrived in Brisbane from Dubai.
The night before our planned family dinner, Dad and Mum had a terrible night. She knew he needed specialised treatment in hospital and with that she reached out for help. Our special Wednesday night family dinner transposed into a memorable family gathering around our father’s bedside.
My fears about leaving for overseas were now beginning to take hold. In my mind, I had decided I was still travelling overseas but leaving my mother when she needed me most was my biggest worry.
With a heavy heart, I flew out of Australia wondering whether this would be the last time I would see my father, and hoped that he’d be there to welcome me home.
Travelling abroad with aging parents at home has led to an explosion of thoughts in my head many times. Constant thoughts sway in and out of your head like ‘How will my family cope? Am I letting my family down by not being there for them? Should I stop travelling and be around more to help?
Months prior to our father’s declining health, the family created a number of Facebook messenger groups. One for just my sister, brothers and myself and a second group that included Mum and all the extended family. It’s here we began sharing the important information in one place rather than repeat the same things over and over again via phone and email.
Everyone was on the same page. No one was left out or kept in the dark. Things we didn’t feel comfortable sharing with Mum and the extended family were kept private between us siblings to deal with.
From Home to Hospital
When my father was transferred from home to a Brisbane hospital then to palliative care, our large family began gathering around his bedside either in person or via the computer age. The internet enabled the family members overseas and in remote areas of Australia to connect with the family, talk with their grandfather, be there even if they were thousands of miles away.
Whats App Connecting Families Abroad
The younger family members taught us older ones how to use Whats App to video conference call around the world at a click of a button. Today’s technology helped us to share our pain, fears and the sadness we were feeling from being so far away.
The Worst Call A Traveller Can Get!
Then, I got the call every traveller dreads. My father was gone, he had slipped away peacefully with a handful of family members beside him. Receiving the news that someone you love has passed away sparks a number of different emotions especially when your worst fears are realised.
Most people’s first reaction is to jump on the first plane and head for home! Fortunately for me, I had time to think about what I would do if anything did happen to my father while I was abroad. Being semi-prepared helped to reduce my fears and anxiety but not everyone gets the chance to do so.
Preparation is the Key
I knew I couldn’t put my head in the sand and tell myself this scenario will never happen to me. So before I left Australia, I wrote my youngest brother, an email outlining my thoughts should my father pass away in my absence.
Taking the time to sit down and think through the worst-case scenario was somewhat therapeutic for me. It enabled me to walk briefly into the future and make some sound decisions without letting my emotions take over.
I knew in my head that I had the power to change my initial thoughts. If it did happen and I felt the need to return home, I could, and my travel insurance would even pay the expenses.
Coping with Grief from Afar
Being far away from my mother and family was a real mental hurdle and my biggest challenge. Sometimes I felt helpless, afraid and an element of guilt for not being there to help share the load.
It is our instinct to protect one another, tell each other we are alright and not to worry. But, being totally honest and sharing these feelings can be harder when you think everyone there is doing it harder than yourself.
The Purpose of Life
The death of my father also lead me to face my own mortality and reminded me that I won’t be around forever. His passing has enabled me to revisit my dreams and think more deeply about the purpose of my life.
Stages of Grief
When someone close to us dies, an important part of the accepting stage is attending the funeral. Saying our goodbyes helps us to acknowledge what has happened and is the first step in overcoming grief. Celebrating a life well-lived and offering our respect together with the people we love is one of the most important parts of the grieving process.
So, how do you cope when you’ve made the decision not to go home?
For many people abroad flying home may not be possible because of the costs, work commitments or other responsibilities. When I was jotting down my thoughts to my brother, I wondered whether I’d later regret my decision not to attend my father’s funeral and could this decision lead to unresolved issues. There were many factors incorporated in my final decision to continue to travel on.
Special Time with My Mother
One being, my mother was surrounded by love and in good hands. Secondly, I wanted to be with my mother long past the time when the outside world had stopped sending her cards and asking her how she was doing.
Our mother would need to put her life back together after caring for our father for over 66 years and I wanted to be part of that process. On my return, I wanted to stay with her and have one on one special moments together, where she could share stories and talk about her future with me.
People Mourn Differently
I’m now sure it is a different type of mourning or grief felt by family members who can’t or decide not to be there in person. I found great comfort connecting with my niece who lives abroad knowing that we shared a very similar grief.
With my mother’s blessing, she supported my decision not to come home and left it at that. She didn’t try to pressure me to return or say anything to make me feel I or my husband was letting her or the family down.
My Father’s Funeral and Eulogy
Being on the other side of the world meant I had little to do with my father’s funeral arrangements. Expecting my family to wait until I got home was unrealistic. I knew my mother would want to lay her husband to rest and celebrate his life with family and friends.
Although, it was extremely difficult to sit on the sidelines and say very little, I knew in my heart that this time wasn’t about me. Expecting others to consider my feelings or ask my opinion would only be met with sadness and resentment. Rather than fight to be heard, I let go and grieved quietly with my husband.
With my thoughts on paper, I left these in my brother’s hands to discuss them with my mother. In the letter, I had outlined a few suggestions as to how my three sons could be included in the service as my representatives. Not all of my wishes were met but at least my family knew what was important to me.
Ways to be involved in a funeral when you can’t be there
On the funeral day, my eldest son and his partner set up funeral live streaming and video recording. My second son delivered my eulogy. The three boys walked together behind their grandfather’s casket which was proudly carried by other family members from the church to the hearse.
Eulogy From Afar
For me, I remember weddings, celebrations and funerals not by what meal was served or what people were wearing, but how I felt listening to the words spoken by a loving couple taking their vows or a heartfelt farewell tribute speech given for a loved one.
A eulogy is one of the most important elements of a funeral service and I wanted to honour my father’s memory by sharing memories that perhaps had been forgotten.
My father had written his own eulogy which I didn’t read before his funeral. The contents of his eulogy was based around his working life, married life with my mother and his growing family.
Part of the healing phrase was to deliver a eulogy highlighting my fondest memories of my father. I asked my son to deliver my message as he is fond of public speaking and I knew he would be able to portray my words and sentiments with meaning.
My Eulogy To My Father
Delivering a eulogy for a family member is a wonderful way to participate in the funeral service even if you are thousands of miles away.
It is an opportunity for you to pay your respects and acknowledge the memories and legacy left behind.
Having a trusted friend or family member deliver your eulogy can help to say things treasured in your heart.
To read my eulogy to my father download here My Father’s Eulogy
Funeral Webcasting Bringing People Together When It Matters Most
Funeral webcasting is still a relatively new concept and solution for those unable to attend a funeral and memorial service in person. Today it is a completely acceptable mode to connect those abroad and interstate to a funeral service of a loved one that they would otherwise be unable to participate in.
Connecting Through Live Streaming
Live streaming over the internet allowed me to watch my father’s funeral in real time, connect with family and has helped with the early stages of grief.
My son set up a Facebook Group and invited family members to join. We did a test run the day before to make sure everyone could see and hear using their devices.
Streaming live is very different from videoing and special considerations need to be considered such as connectivity and equipment required.
Families that choose to engage the services of a professional funeral live streaming company are given a personalised link and password to ensure total privacy and confidentiality.
Coping With Grief From Afar
Writing this article and sharing it with you is my way of coping with the loss of my father from afar. It is also my way of helping other travellers who may find themselves in a similar situation one day.
Being prepared and knowing what your options are can make a real difference and I encourage you to take a minute to think about what is important to you.
The big take home message here is that family is a valuable gift and the most important thing we have in our lives.
Family is where life begins, and love never ends.
“They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy wall, and prosperity within thy palaces.” – Psalm 122.
Farewell Dan Dan The Timberjack Man
Beloved husband of Helen and dearly beloved Father and Father-in-law of Lee and Mike, Tony and Wendy, Rodney ‘RJ’ (dec’d), Terry and Trudy, Donna and Paul, Danny and Janelle. Cherished Grandfather and Great-Grandfather to their respective families. Laid to rest at Pinaroo Lawn Cemetery Brisbane on 14 May 2019 with son, Rodney.
Final Resting Place For Father & Son
In October 1987, my brother Rodney known as ‘RJ’ was tragically killed in a car accident in Far North Queensland aged 31. He was laid to rest at Pinnaroo Lawn Cemetery in Brisbane surrounded by family and love. RJ’s passing remains the most difficult and saddest time in our lives.
When the family was arranging our father’s final resting place, it was discovered that RJ’s grave was in fact a three-plot site and our father could be reunited with his beloved son.
Best Live Streaming Apps
For those who are looking for an alternative to professional funeral live streaming, there are a number of great apps that will do the job for you.
1. One Stream
2. Periscope Live Video Streaming
3. Zoom Cloud Meetings
5. BIGO LIVE Live Streaming