D / P / O
New Zealand www.timjveling.com
This body of work is about my father and friend, Peter Veling.
At the end of October 2014, Dad sent me a text message. I was at work and in the middle of a meeting, but my iPhone happened to be on the desk in front of me. I glanced at the message that flashed up on the screen. It read, “I have been admitted to hospital. Please don’t worry, but call me when you can. Lots of love, D / P / O.” That’s how he always signed off his text messages; shorthand for Dad, Pete, Opa. I excused myself from the room and called him straight away. Exactly what he said to me I can’t recall, but I do remember him saying the words “lung cancer” and “Maybe three of four months, if I’m lucky.” I felt like the ground had been pulled out from under me.
Over the coming months, twice a day, my wife Lizzie and I would bundle our seven-month-old daughter, Frankie in the car and drive to Dad’s house. We’d spend at least an hour with him, drinking coffee in the morning and beer at night. My mother, dad’s ex-wife and still good friend, travelled down from her home on the Kapiti Coast to visit every three or four weeks. She’d cook him roast chicken dinners to make sure he was eating. Frankie would run around the room with crackers coated in Marmite spread and smear dirty fingerprints all over dad’s furniture. We’d talk and laugh and sometimes cry, but mostly we’d sit and just be.
Everyday dad told us how lucky he was to be leaving this world knowing how happy our little family was. “A job well overseen on my part, I reckon,” he’d say with a wry smile. “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than witnessing that for my only child. Honestly, what more could a man want for his life?”
In the end, he went downhill very quickly and was admitted into Nurse Maude Hospice when he could no longer take care of himself. “It’s the end of the line for me,” I overhead him say to Mum while I packed his overnight bag. A day later, he fell into a coma.
During the early evening of the 24th of March 2015, I kissed dad on the forehead then traced the shape of a crucifix with my thumb, just like he’d always do to me when saying goodbye. I held his hand and said it was okay to pass if he wanted.
With that, he drew his last breath.
The room fell silent. Just Dad and me, together.
His wish was to go, “Straight from bed to the oven.” So that’s exactly what happened. He was cremated with photos of family and friends in the pockets of his well-worn blue jeans.
He is Dad to me; Pete to Lizzie, family and friends; Opa to Frankie. We’ll all catch up over coffee and beer soon, just like he promised.