I landed in Doha on Thursday, February 27, 2014. I'd mercifully slept on the flight; this made the 1-hour wait at customs bearable.
My flight was two hours early. Since Smilin' Vic hadn't checked the flight status online, this meant no exuberant greeting party at the airport for me. That was ok. I was truly beyond caring. The last goodbye had depleted me. I waited about twenty minutes outside the airport for Smilin' Vic and Kiddo to show up.
When they finally rolled up, the first thing Kiddo said to me was "You look so sad, Maman."
I decided then and there that I had to smarten up. My Dad wouldn't want Kiddo worrying about me. I put on a happy face.
We got home, and I unloaded the clothes and gifts I'd brought back for her and Smilin' Vic. They had wine and candles set up and ready for me, and we spent a few hours catching up as a family.
Then we put Kiddo to bed and I proceeded to get toasted.
Not a nice thought, eh? That I would land after three weeks from home and get drunk on the first night back ...
But let's be frank, getting drunk's not that foreign to expats. Amazingly, it's probably more common to expats living in the Middle East than to expats anywhere else worldwide. And I guess I figured "If ever there was a time to get loaded out of my gourd, tonight's the night". Having said my last goodbye and all, you know?
I'll admit I was sloppy. Cried all the tears I'd kept bottled up inside and then some. Expressed my anger at the world and allowed myself to shout out "Life's NOT fair!", and "Only the good die young!"
I got Smilin' Vic to YouTube "The Highwaymen" and just about every song Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristoferson ever sang. And I listened, and I drank, and I cried like a baby.
I slept until about 2 p.m. the next day, while Smilin' Vic carted Kiddo around to a school festival and a birthday party. I woke up with a head that felt like led and a true sense of despondency. But I soldiered on; took a shower, prepared a nice supper for Kiddo and Smilin' Vic, laid off the booze, and steeled myself for the workweek ahead.
I returned to work on Sunday with greetings of "how was your vacation?" and "did you get to go skiing?"
I'd just spent the last three weeks in a nursing home with a father who could no longer walk, barely whisper, no longer sing.
I wanted to punch everyone in the face.
Instead I smiled and replied "it was just a tad too cold for sports".
I carried on for five full days. Sunday to Thursday.
Wanting to punch everyone in the face.
On Thursday, March 6, 2014, I left the office at 17:05 and headed for the parking garage. As I got into my car, at exactly 17:09, I heard a 'ping' on my phone.
It was a text from my sister, my mentor. It read simply "Dad has passed away."
I drove home numb. Apparently I called Smilin' Vic. By the time I'd gotten home, he'd arranged for my flight back to Canada for the very next morning. Seven days after having returned to the Land of Sand. Fourteen hours mid-air. Just in time to reverse the jet lag.
I didn't have to make a new list for Kiddo's school activities and lunchbox contents; they could use the one I'd prepared for my last trip a few short weeks ago.
Upon arriving home, I proceeded to drink half a bottle of wine, type out and send two projects with "next week" deadlines to my boss, throw half my closet haphazardly into a suitcase, and inform Kiddo just before bedtime that I wouldn't be seeing her for the next week because Pepere had died and I had to fly out really early the next morning. We'd talked a lot about the fact that he would die soon; she was sad, but 8-year-olds are amazingly resilient.
Keeping busy kept the tears at bay. Everyone always says you should be prepared for these events as an expat, but I'm strangely glad I hadn't packed my bags, bought an open-ended plane ticket or thought the whole thing out that much. The busy-ness halted the insanity.
I boarded my 14-hour flight the next morning. I landed in Montreal. My sister and brother-in-law picked me up. I spent the night at their place, and the next morning we got in the car and headed out on the 9-hour drive halfway across Canada, headed to my father's birthplace and final resting place.
I gazed listlessly at the rolling, snow-covered landscape as we drove along silently. I typed out my Dad's eulogy in the backseat of the car. I held my sister's hand while her son and husband listened to music in the front seat. And her and I ... well, we cried our fair share.
But we laughed too. Quite a bit, actually. It felt so good, on those last miles home, just being with family.
We spent the next few nights in a small motel in my Dad's hometown; all my siblings and me, a few nieces and nephews. We mourned at the funeral home during the day and celebrated my Dad at night as we all congregated in my room. We had a huge pajama party. We laughed, we cried, we told stories.
We stood together as they closed the coffin. We cried together. We held each other. We supported each other.
We sat in the front pew as my sister read the eulogy with the voice of an angel. We gathered with extended family in the church basement after all was said and done.
We got back in our cars the next day and headed back to Montreal. And I boarded a plane a few days later.
Away from the pajama parties, away from the solidarity, away from the familiarity, away from my Dad.
Back to Doha. Back to Qatar. Back to normal. The 'new' normal.
Back to work.
If anyone at work asks me if I went skiing, I think I might just punch them in the face.