Welcome to Good Grief! 2022. In following posts we’ll detail exciting developments for Good Grief! this year. But before that, a tribute to my dear old Dad, Kenneth Parnell Rice, who died on December 22, 2021, aged 97. What a wonderful man he was.
His Christmas holiday-time death gave an opportunity to step out of the whirl – to mourn, reflect and think about him. After his January 4 burial I withdrew, following something a little like a Jewish Shloshim – the 30 days following a burial, when the Jewish tradition is not to party or celebrate but to reflect, remember and adjust to the world without that special person.
Dad’s funeral was plum in the middle of my usual beach holiday with children and grandchildren. Planning a funeral, attending it and recovering from it cut a swathe right through what was supposed to be a relaxing pause. But many months before, unusually, we had organised an additional few days at Thredbo, in Australia’s High Country. And that planning turned out to be prescient.
Dad and his mates built a ski lodge, Neewalla, at Thredbo about the time I was born and it has been a winter play-land for the Rices ever since. Yes true! – even though snow is not something usually associated with Australia. Dad taught me to ski, I taught my children to ski – and have just recently started teaching my grandchildren.
As children, we also had plenty of summer holidays there, learning about the Australian bush, connecting with snow gums and icy rivers, alpine bushmans’ huts and looking down Australia’s tallest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, at a carpet of Billy Buttons and Everlasting Daisies.
One summer, when I was nine, four of the Rice children were supposed to go on a climb up Mt Crackenback with Dad but the other three had to pull out due to illness.
So Dad and I trekked up the mountain, under Merritt’s Spur, across the ridge to Eagle’s Nest and then wound down the slope under the chairlifts. That all-day bush walk changed my relationship with Dad. I had never spent so much time with him alone before. But more importantly, I had to complete an adult task – a long climb, facing the elements and hacking through rough terrain. The only way out was through. There was no car to suddenly arrive to pick us up. We had to rely on ourselves and each other. I had to trust Dad’s bush skills and he had to trust me not to give up.
I still remember the hard work of the climb, the conversations about the High Country fauna and flora. The opportunity to get to know Dad, to hear his stories, to theorise together about life.
So all these years later, being at the lodge for those five days was a wonderful way of connecting with Dad. Here I was again at this place, so important to him and so symbolic of my relationship with him. Every gum leaf, every babbling brook, every meandering hiking path said something about him.
And as my grandchildren dipped their feet in the same freezing cold river we had played in as children, I saw the long sweep of life. Generations up the river, generations down. It was a place where I could let him go.
The Good Grief! website was triggered by my mother’s death, 10 years ago. Dad’s death, 10 years later, was vastly different, although it happened in the same aged care facility.
Many of the ways we deal with death have improved since then – although there is still a long way to go.
Dad was healthy and vibrant, only developing noticeable dementia from about the age of 94. His path over recent years helped to inform this work.
Dad wanted doctors to make decisions that now are made by the individuals themselves. That presented dilemmas. And there were other issues. What is the fine line between ignoring and honouring the wishes of someone who has no ‘capacity’? How do you advocate for this person and what does that advocacy look like when dealing with hospitals and nursing homes? When hospital admissions occur suddenly, in the dead of night, and the theoretical is transformed into the here and now, what does that look like? And how is the palliative stage juggled with Covid-19?
Finding answers to those questions did and will continue to inform this work.
Vale Ken Rice.