Saying Goodbye from 6000 Miles Away

I said goodbye to my dad over the phone. I told him that I loved him. 

He passed away a few minutes later. I listened in, helpless in my grief.

I'd always told my family that I could be back in the UK within a day, in the case of an emergency. I often repeated that in conversation, to reassure myself just as much as it was to put my family at ease. Until very recently, it was accurate.

The greatest fear when living abroad is not being able to be there for your loved ones back home, when they need you the most. You know that there will come a time when your world will be turned upside down, and you'll be pulled in two directions at once.

My dad had been battling cancer on and off for the last decade. It seemed like he'd beaten it, until he fell ill again last Christmas. Surgery followed in the New Year, and I was able to be there for him, alongside my mum and brother. I didn't realise it then of course, but that would be the last time I'd see him. The last time I could give him a hug; the last time my family could all be together. 

Dad knew.

The plan was to visit again a few months later, along with my wife and daughter. Coronavirus put a stop to that, as Japan closed it's borders for almost six months and the UK went into lockdown. 

Despite the surgery, the diagnosis was terminal. There were stretches this year where he seemed his old self again. We'd joke over Zoom, he'd let my daughter boss him around, and we'd try to forget that the end was looming. I took the opportunity to tell him just what he meant to me - I made sure nothing was left unsaid.

He stayed at home as long as he could. He was scared of going to hospital, but he knew it was inevitable. His condition deteriorated rapidly over the summer, and the ambulance came and took him away. For two agonizing weeks, we had no access to him. He was too sick to talk on the phone for more than a few minutes, and he was rarely with it enough to hold much of a conversation. No visitors were allowed in the hospital. Just before the end, he was moved to a hospice, where they let my brother and mum be by his side.

And now he's gone. Life goes on, uninterrupted.

Tomorrow, I'll watch his funeral on a live stream. A return to the UK was too risky, and the re-entry restrictions for Japan too demanding. A painful decision for my family and I, but I know it's the right one, and I know that dad would understand.

I don't feel like I have mourned. I feel detached from it all. I had hoped that writing this would be therapeutic, and maybe it has been. I will hold on tightly to the promise of a return next year, when my family will be able to grieve together and we can say our goodbyes side by side.

I know he won't mind waiting.

I love you dad.


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