Trigger - Death and cancer
2021 was one of the worst years of my life.
Early January I received a phone call that no daughter wants to hear. My dad was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer & would likely not live to see the end of the year. The next day I was researching flights and quarantine regulations to get back home to New Zealand. I was very thankful that I was allocated a spot in the managed isolation for the two week isolation program. A few days later I was on a plane, heading to Melbourne for the night, then onwards to Auckland.
11am I left the Melbourne hotel via shuttle and headed to the airport. Whilst on the plane to New Zealand, we were told we would be staying in Hamilton. There were 3 known hotels in Hamilton that were part of the Isolation program but we didn't know which one specifically we would be heading to. After arriving in Auckland International airport around 6:30pm (I had never seen it so empty), we went through customs & immigration and were individually escorted and loaded onto a bus about 8:30pm. We were taken to the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton where we then had to line up and go through our initial screening and health check. By the time I got into my hotel room, it was 11:30pm & I was exhausted.
The next 2 weeks were spent in my room, watching a LOT of Netflix, calling my kids, husband, sister and mum, colouring, editing, dancing like a crazy person & a few selfies. After the initial 3 days to wait for a negative COVID result, I was allowed to leave the room 3 times a day; one was a mandatory health check every morning, another was for a 2 hour (low intensity) exercise around the fully fenced carpark) and another was a 30 minute 'grass time', to be booked in through the quarantine guards. I was rather impressed with how it was all planned and managed. There were a number of international flights at the hotel, but we never crossed paths. My 3 meals were delivered to my door every day, I even got some groceries (and clothes) delivered to the hotel. They would call me down when I could collect it. It was very lonely, and I was an emotional wreck, but more so because I knew why I was there. I missed my kids and I just wanted to go see my dad.
At last, I was free. It was a bizarre feeling, going from wearing masks whenever I stepped out of my hotel room, to being free to roam the streets and shops of Hamilton without a mask at all. I was lucky enough that my childhood best friend, Libby, drove down from Auckland to see me. We spent the afternoon walking around Hamilton, getting lost before finding a cute little bar to sit down at and chat. And chat we did. It felt like 1 day had gone past since seeing her last, in reality it would have been 10+ years.
The next morning I boarded the plane to Christchurch to see my dad. After a long wait, it was an emotional reunion but wasn't long until we were giving each other shit for one thing or another. Before flying to New Zealand, dad had said he wanted to spend my time there filled with activities; some new, and some revisited from my childhood memories. So over the next 10 days, we did the following (Yes, I need to do a list)
My mum, who lives in the North Island, travelled down to the South Island to see me during my quick visit. We met up for coffees & shopping dates on a number of occasions which was really special. She was very cautious and respectful of not taking too much time away from dad so we mostly timed our catch ups when dad had his afternoon nap.
Just as I thought my holiday was coming to an end, Australia changed it's border restrictions; I had to be OUT of managed Isolation for an entire 14 days before being allowed entry. I had 4 additional days with my dad.
Because we had no plans, My mum and I walked down the street one day and popped into a tattoo parlor. Although they were booked out for months ahead, that morning they had a cancellation for the following day. I went home and told dad I was getting a tattoo for him. Growing up, my dad grew and sold flowers and bulbs at markets. One of the flowers I will always remember and relate to dad was the Gladioli.. so I knew I needed that. The next day, It was being tattooed on my arm with dad watching (he was not interested in getting one himself, as much as I tried to convince him).
Saying goodbye at the airport was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I walked away with new and old memories surrounding my heart, knowing I just had my last hug with dad, just about broke it.
I flew into Auckland, where I was picked up and taken to see Libby in her element - teaching. It was amazing to see my beautiful friend teach her class, something I had never done before. After school we went to Te Ware Whare (of course) and then back to her house.
My Aunty then called and told me some news - Melbourne Airport was not accepting any international flights in.
I spent the next few hours re-directing my flight from Auckland, eating dinner, more talks with Libby, then bed. I managed to get a flight to Sydney but the times didn't add up, so I stayed over in Sydney and took a flight to Mildura the following morning. Travelling was all a bit of a shit show from the start, but I got there and I got back to my babies and my man eventually.
Dad went downhill pretty quickly after that. He was in and out of hospital a fair bit and on regular Morphine by March. I received a message from dad one night in June saying he was on his way to the hospital. The next morning the nurses told me it was close. He would be gone within hours. I organized a video chat with my Aunty, who was by his side, understanding I wouldn't get a response from dad. I knew that it was close and I wanted one of his wishes to be fulfilled - well, as best as I could anyway. My dad wanted his dog to be with him when he passed. Unfortunately that couldn't happen with dad in hospital, so I did the next best thing; I brought out my phone and started playing a video I took when I was over there, of dad and Reuben playing together. During that video, dad passed away quietly.
With COVID still raising hell around the world, we haven't been able to go back to New Zealand since for a proper goodbye, but I organised a little of dad's ashes to be sent away to make this gorgeous necklace.
We will be heading back to New Zealand in a few months to say our goodbyes and to bring my dad's ashes home.
Since Dad's passing, my husband and I have bought and moved into a new home. We have plans to renovate some of the rooms in the house and are in the process of bringing you a brand new studio, so stay tuned!
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Mildura resident and Photographer, Lauren Southwell launched Pure Beauty in late June, 2018 & is committed to helping woman feel beautiful, sexy and empowered through the art of Boudoir Photography.