We have worked out that it will take me the best part of 36 hours to reach the Hospice in Pembury from our little cabin on Koh Tao. I sit on the ferry to Koh Samui, watching the waves rise and fall, willing that with each wave Dad is still breathing. In and out, in and out. 36 hours is a long time for him to hang on before making his own crossing. What will that be like? Will it be dark as in the images he painted for me in his stories of Charon ferrying poor souls across the Styx? Or will it be a release into light?
It took 36 hours for my daughter to make her journey from the warm darkness of her foetal bed into the bright lights of the hospital, sixteen and a half years ago. Hour upon hour filled with pain, fright, struggle, release, joy and love. I will come to think about this deeply strange connection between the experiences of giving birth and assisting at a death many times after today.
But for now I am sitting on a ferry, crossing a choppy foreign sea, watching Mr Bean on a screen in front of me and thinking, with a peculiar sense of dislocation, ‘Dad would love this.’
At Koh Samui airport, I hug and kiss my husband who has insisted on coming with me this far. Our children are on that tiny jewel of an island and he has come here to make sure I can get on the flight to Singapore where I will change for Heathrow. I am torn between anxiety over what will happen to the children if he doesn’t make it back on the ferry today and deep gratitude for his love and solicitude.
I find a cafe and sit and write. It is the only thing which I know will ground me, will stop me from pacing and crying and looking like a mad woman.
By the time I reach Singapore I do look like a mad woman. I packed so fast that I have only a pair of yoga pants to change into and a shawl my husband bought me in Luang Prubang. My hair is wild with wind and sea salt, my eyes already red from crying. I have no Singapore dollars, so I pace around the airport until I think to check if I can access free WiFi. I can, and within seconds I am using Facebook to tell everyone and anyone about this journey. I don’t care who knows. Right now I need to feel a connection with people, and the people on Facebook, even the ones I have never met, are less faceless than the hordes swelling through this airport.
A friend sends me a private message: ‘Call your sister and ask her to put you on speaker so that your dad can hear you.’
It is the best advice anyone could give. I call from behind a pillar where I have found a power socket for my phone.
‘Dad? Dad, it’s me, Anna. I am on my way. I will be with you by morning.’
It is 11pm UK time. My sister has been sitting at Dad’s side for over two days. In spite of the clarity of the connection, she sounds drained, small, far away. Yet she is calm.
‘Dad is smiling. He has heard you. We are doing really well. He’s going to sleep now so that he can be ready to see you in the morning.’
We say our goodbyes and I find a corner to sit and continue writing. I check Facebook hungrily every few minutes and find an outpouring of heartfelt messages.
It will be all right. I sense this deeply. I will get there. He will still be alive. He will see me and I will see that beautiful, beautiful smile again.
I am on my way, Dad.