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My father died on 7 July this year, at home in Melbourne. The day before, I had been released from hotel quarantine after rushing back to Australia from France to be with him. The day after, Melbourne went into a lockdown that would last four months. That was the third lockdown I experienced this year. Last week, I entered my fourth.
My father did not die of Covid-19. He died of cancer. We had learned in the very last days of 2019 that the chemotherapy he had been receiving for seven years was no longer working, and that he would move to palliative care.
In other words, I knew my father would die in 2020. I knew that at some point I would have to make an impossibly painful, impossibly long journey from my home in Paris back to Melbourne to say goodbye. The only question – one that haunted my nights and stole my sleep – was whether I would get there in time. In the end there were many more questions than that.
Here is what I did not know about 2020.
I did not know that I would be evacuated from a reporting trip in Mexico in March because the WHO had announced a pandemic, and that I would choose Melbourne as my destination because borders were slamming shut everywhere and I couldn’t be sure when I would be able to see my family again otherwise.
I did not know that I would fly into Melbourne from Mexico City, get tested for Covid-19 and go straight into self-isolation until I received my negative result. I did not know that as soon as I was free, Melbourne would go into its first lockdown with me in it.
I did not know that after two weeks in Melbourne, I would choose to go home to Paris to be with my partner and my small dog and that I would spend my birthday in my second lockdown with a homemade cake and part of myself still in East Brunswick. I did not know that I would creep out of my house each day with a certificate on my phone that proved I had permission to walk my dog, that I would see stars in the Paris sky for the first time in five years, that I would walk across empty streets to smell the wisteria that clung to the empty houses of rich neighbours who had fled the city.
I did not know that when the French government said we could travel up to 100 kilometres from our homes we would try to go to a tumbledown cottage in the woods but that the weekend before we were due to leave my mother would call me and say the end was near, and so instead I would hug my partner and pat my dog and take a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport to do the only thing I knew I would have to do in 2020, and fly back to Melbourne.
I did not know I would spend 14 days sealed inside the Melbourne airport Holiday Inn begging for compassionate leave so I could go and sit by my father’s bedside and that a couple of times I would be allowed to go. I did not know that when I got there Dad would smile from his bed and say he liked my dress and we would talk about scrambled eggs and Goya.
I did not know that I would see firsthand the conditions that allowed the virus to escape quarantine, that I would raise the alarm on Twitter, that I would go viral and a Channel Nine camera crew would stake out the hotel.
I did not know that when my father died, we would not be able to hold a funeral and that I would not be able to hug my friends or cry on them or try to drown it all out in a pub. I did not know that with nothing more to be done in a locked-down Melbourne, I would soon fly back to Paris, desperate to sleep in my own bed.
I did not know that life would seem almost normal in Paris for a while after that, and we would even be able to go on holiday and look at the sea and nearly feel safe if we just ignored the steadily rising number of cases each day. I did not know that it wouldn’t last, and that mere days after Melbourne came out its second lockdown, Paris would start a new one of its own.
Last week at 5am, scrolling through Twitter in bed, I read the news that Melbourne would be released from lockdown. I looked at the pictures of doughnuts and read the delighted vows to get on the beers and I wept with my whole body and I could not stop.
I cannot fully explain this reaction except to say that, having entered Melbourne’s second lockdown on the day after my father’s death, it seems part of me remained there after flying home to Paris, that for four months part of me was holding on with my family and my friends and every other Melburnian who was confined to their homes as a miserable winter howled outside, even as I was sitting on a terrace in Paris or walking in a forest at the end of a French summer.
Another explanation is that on some level I felt that shutting down a whole city was an appropriate and rational reaction to a loss as great as that of David Clement. Stop all the clocks, close the schools, shutter Bunnings.
My father described himself as an eternal optimist, a trait I have failed to inherit but one I am trying to embrace more in this year of horrors that extend far beyond a pandemic. And so, looking back on 2020, I engage my father’s sunny point of view and I am struck by how fortunate I have been.
If I had not been in Mexico in February, I would not have been in Melbourne in March and I would not have walked with my father to the park on a sunny afternoon while he was still able to. If I had left Paris mere days later in June, my flight would have been diverted away from Melbourne entirely and I would have flown to Australia for nothing.
Despite circumnavigating the world more than once in a confined space with recycled air, I have not caught Covid-19 and neither have any of my family. Those friends who have been diagnosed have recovered. And, when it came down to it, did I get to Melbourne in time? Bloody right I did.
I enter my fourth lockdown under the shadow of bone-chilling terrorist violence and with skyrocketing coronavirus cases in France making the promise of a Victoria-style vanquishing of the second wave seemingly remote. I enter it smothered by grief. But I also enter it with a secret weapon: the optimism of my father.
• Megan Clement is a freelance journalist based in Paris
Source: The Guardian
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