The Mother Magazine, Editorial
Issue 52, May/Jun 2012
The Traveller, by Veronika Sophia Robinson
Dad and his mum
My strongest childhood memories involve standing at Brisbane international airport, hand-in-hand with my mother on the viewing deck, as we waved my dad off to work. It was no nine-to-five job, but one that took him away for six weeks at a time (and home for just two) to the jungles of Papua and New Guinea to work as a leader of deep-mine explorations. He would take a special cloth onto the plane so he could wave it in the window before take-off, and I’d know whereabouts in the plane he was sitting. My dad was a traveller. First the airplane, then helicopters over jungles.
My dad was a pioneer, and a risk-taker. When I was five, he returned home from PNG covered in burns from head to toe. I wasn’t allowed to see him for a few weeks such was the state of his body. He’d entered a burning hut to save people from the fire, putting his own life at risk.
It was my dad who taught me to ride a bike and horses, and it was he who taught me to take risks ~ even though for many years I didn’t see it that way. Throwing his kids in the ‘deep end’ was his fathering style. I can appreciate the value of it now, and I learnt independence and determination, but I certainly didn’t for a long time.
My dad was the first man to make me laugh, and the first man to sing to me. He loved to travel. When news came that he’d been killed in a car accident in Australia on March 22nd, my head screamed ‘NO!!!!’. It just seemed the wrong way to die. But as time moves on, I’m finding that it fits with his life journey as a traveller. He liked to be on the move. His death, in my home country of Australia, meant that I, too, became a traveller, once more.
As I arrive at Brisbane international airport, I can’t hold back the emotions. This place is bound up with an abandonment wound within me. When the airport staff see my Australian passport and say “welcome home” it chokes me up even though Australia hasn’t been home for about half of my life. But here I am, home, to be with my family of origin, for a week.
As I stand by my father’s open casket, my fingertips gently touch his face. I’d recognise his cheeks anywhere. They’re etched with the scars of childhood chicken pox. I’ve always found it odd that people would choose to look at a dead body, but here I am and there’s nothing strange about this experience. I don’t freeze-frame his whole life into this moment. I have a lifetime of memories to remember him by. I tenderly touch his face, and let go of all my issues around his absent fathering. I whisper, “I love you dad, and none of it matters any more. I let it all go. You’re free.” I mean every word of it, even though I know I’ll always be terrible with goodbyes.
I hold his hands. What strong hands. Those hands worked so hard, for so many years, right up until his death. I give thanks. “Thank you dad for working so hard. Thank you for everything. Thank you for the childhood you gave me. Thank you.” I feel such gratitude for the childhood I was able to have because of his work: playing in 700 acres of Australian countryside. I was blessed with eucalyptus-covered mountains, freshwater creeks, dams to swim in, and fields to ride my horses across. The sense of freedom he gifted me and my siblings was priceless ~ but there was a price that was paid: we grew up with a dad who wasn’t there a lot of the time. I thought I didn’t have many childhood memories with him, and yet the past few weeks have found so many of them emerging. Being with my siblings also brought up many that I’d forgotten. We laughed so much at the different stories we shared. My favourite memories include the way he would walk through our home playing his piano accordion as if all the world were his audience; he and I riding horses together, and attending horse shows; sitting on his knee as he sang me songs. I love how he cried every Christmas eve when us children would sing carols in German and English, by candlelight. I still smile that he’d secretly share his boiled sweets with me so my mum didn’t know.
My dad, ever the traveller, spent his latter years residing between Australia and Thailand. He told my older sister that he loved Thailand because he felt it was two miles closer to heaven. Our last conversation was at Christmas, and his final words to me were “I love you”. They will remain with me throughout time. He’s on another journey now ~ and my wish is that he flies well, flies high and is free. He’s travelling now with our ancestors and ancestresses, and safe in the company of The Breathmaker.
Back in the UK, I become aware that I’ve been on more than just a journey across the world to Australia. I’ve been a traveller through the rough and rugged unchartered terrain of grief. Every step of this path has been conscious and holistic. I’ve tapped into many of the tools I’ve used as a natural parent. It has been said that “You can’t heal what you can’t feel”. At no point have I tried to suppress my feelings.
I’ve learnt that funerals are not for the dead, they’re for the living. They’re for the ones left behind. My seven siblings and I travelled from far and wide to honour our dad’s life. I read The Traveller during the service, and some of my siblings shared stories about our childhood, and two of my nieces shared their thoughts. I loved the photo tribute set to Barbra Streisand songs ~ it featured photos from every decade of my dad’s life. There were many sobs but there was also laughter. My younger brother, Rene, recalled how my dad really left his mark on this Earth through beautiful houses he built, or businesses he created, and that if you went on Google Earth to anywhere he’d been, it would say “Albert Harbers was here!” That was my dad. He did everything on a grand scale, including the swing set he made for us children. It was enormous!
My dad beat cancer ~ twice. He survived a triple heart bypass. No matter what troubles afflicted him, whether it was the end of his marriage to my mother, financial ruin or health issues, he always looked on the bright side. I recall the many times he would say “things can only get better”. He was an optimist with a real zest for life.
Some people avoid funerals because they’re sombre, morbid and everyone wears black. There was a lot of white at my dad’s service: his casket, the lilies, his clothing. There wasn’t a lot of black to be found among his children’s clothing, either. My dad’s funeral, beautifully arranged by my younger sister, Ramona, was a celebration of life. Yes, it was sad, but it was so much more than that: it reflected how much he lived his life. I’m so grateful I was able to be there. It was therapeutic on many levels. His funeral service was on his mother’s birthday. My dad adored her.
By sharing the experience, my brothers and sisters and I have been able to re-establish our family network ~ some of us hadn’t seen each other for more than twenty years. And indeed, due to the twenty-year age gap between the oldest and youngest, we’d never all been together as a family at the same time. Oh how I value that healing time we shared, and how precious are the photos of all eight of my father’s children together. One night I had a dream that we’re having the photos taken and my dad is standing behind us.
The process of grief is one which heals, and it should never be considered a sign of weakness when our body recognises such great loss, and responds in the way it needs to.
Dad at 77
On the day I found out about my father’s death, all I could do was walk. My beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter, Bethany, walked by my side as I kept leaving the house to go on yet another walk. I’ve since discovered that walking is one of the best therapies for grief, as it gives the adrenals (which are obviously in a state of high alert) something useful to do with the adrenaline they’re pumping out. And yet, how many people walk when they’re grieving? They’re told to sit and have a cup of tea. Or worse, “take this tablet to numb the pain”.
The wonderful TM writer and homeopath, Sara Bran, ensured I had plenty of the homeopathic remedy Ignatia (1M) to take every day, as it helps the grief to flow, rather than becoming trapped in the body. To nourish my adrenal glands during this time of high stress (grief, long-haul travel, and eleven days away from my husband and children), I’ve been taking astragalus and Siberian ginseng.
Karen, a beautiful TM subscriber, gifted me with an Alaskan essence aura spray called Calling All Angels to use during this time. It has felt deeply nourishing.
I allow the tears ~ no matter how gut-wrenching ~ to flow as and when they need to. Reflexology and acupuncture have also been part of this journey through expressing grief consciously. Bodywork is particularly beneficial at a time like this.
Grief has pummelled me; torn me inside out. And yet, I know She is not my enemy. The body has its protective devices which kick in for up to six weeks after the news of a death. I have trusted this process.
My father has been in my dreams every night. I’ve always been an active dreamer, but these dreams are different to any I’ve had in my life. I feel closer to him since he has died. Our journey together continues, but now it is unhampered by ego, wounds and defences. Now there is just love. And isn’t that all any of us really want?
I don’t own grief. It happens all around us, every day, but sadly we live in a culture where death, dying and the amount of time we’re ‘allowed’ to spend grieving are great taboos. If I can offer any advice, it is this: reach out to someone who is in a state of mourning. Every kind word means so very much. Everyone approaches grief differently. Some express it openly, and others suppress and deny according to their life-patterning.
I hope my daughters, in witnessing the loss of my dad, will remember ways to express grief consciously when She comes to visit during their lifetime. My siblings and I have been blessed with such kindness from friends, colleagues and even strangers. Whether that kindness comes from a card, email, the gentle touch of a hand, a hug, prayers, a visit from a friend, flowers, a homemade meal or phone call, the sentiment is deeply appreciated. Don’t shy away from someone who is in pain. Reach out to them, because grief is very difficult to move through if you have to do it alone. Thank you to everyone who chose to light candles for me, my dad, and my family.
Thank you to the dear friends who enabled me to fly home to Australia and be with my family at such short notice. May you be richly rewarded for your kindness, love and generosity.
~ Blessings, Veronika
By James Dillet Freeman
He has put on invisibility
Dear Lord, I cannot see ~
But this I know, although the road ascends
And passes from my sight,
That there will be no night.
That You will take him gently by the hand,
And lead him on
Along the road of life that never ends,
And he will find it is not death, but dawn.
I do not doubt that You are there as here,
And You will hold him dear.
Our life did not begin with birth,
It is not of the Earth.
And this, that we call death, it is no more
Than the opening and closing of a door;
And in Your house how many rooms must be
Beyond this one where we rest momentarily.
Dear Lord, I thank You for the faith that frees,
The love that knows it cannot lose its own;
The love that, looking through the shadows, sees
That You and he and I are ever one.
Albertus Altman Harbers
17th March 1935 - 22nd March 2012
Born: Kiel, Germany. Died: Eumundi, Qld, Australia
A brave and pioneering man who lived his life fully, and explored this Earth with adventure and passion. He leaves behind his children: Wolfgang, Heidi, Horst, Veronika, Ramona, Kamahl, Rene and Albert; eighteen grandchildren; the mother of his children, Angelikah; and nine siblings.