What 16 Days on a Bus With My Dad Taught Me About Life and Loss

Published online for Father’s Day at FLARE.com and in print for FLARE‘s September issue.

Last year, my family of three boarded the plane to India, but only two of us needed tickets. My dad’s blue backpack contained our passports, an unlocked cell phone, and my mother’s ashes. My mum never really talked about the possibility of her death, mostly because she was convinced that if she lived hard enough, that day would never come. The one time she broached the subject was to request that she be laid to rest in the Ganges, just as her father had been. Now, we were on our way to release her ashes into the muddied waters of the sacred river, 150 km from where she was born.

I was never a “Daddy’s girl.” Mum was my ally, the one who would share juicy gossip or listen to me whine about work, while Dad could rarely keep the names of my friends straight. But he was my first call for real-life problems, like attempting to file my taxes. When it was just me and Dad, our conversations sounded like news bulletins of the day’s top stories: Work was fine, how about you, what movie do you want to see?

My Mum found out she had advanced ovarian cancer in 2008, when I was 19, and the diagnosis pulled our family together. By 2014, the bad news started to outpace the good, and the three of us clung even tighter. But in 2015, we fell apart. I remember curling up against my dad on the sterile, plastic-covered couches in The Ottawa General Hospital’s cancer ward. He said, “It’s going to be just you and me, bud.” Four months later, it was.

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