A Funeral, A Flood, A Festival

A frantic flight home, a funeral, floods in Bangkok and a missed festival – a pretty crap couple of weeks for us. If “pretty crap” can sum up the huge hole in my heart that Dad’s sudden death has left.

Even as we packed and panicked and prepared to leave Chiang Mai, I had the idea that I’d like to be back for Yi Ping, a festival that involves thousands of paper lanterns, fashioned like tiny hot air balloons, being released into the night sky. Yi Ping, also called Loy Krathong, is scheduled for October 29.

But I hesitate to book our return flights. There is so much to do, so many people calling and dropping into Mum’s house. So much food being delivered by friends and family who want to do something to help. So many people in the house, floating around and bouncing off each other like dazed balls in a giant pinball machine.

More shocks — trying to get Dad’s body home, authorising an autopsy in the Solomon Islands, choosing a coffin. Taking clothes to the funeral home for Dad to be dressed in.

“Odd socks?” says the lady at the funeral home counter. My sister and I smile through tears. “Yep. Odd socks.”

Then another shock — the funeral director hands us the autopsy report. This we weren’t expecting. We thought it would take weeks. The cause of death is heart disease. The report says one of his heart arteries was 100% blocked. How could this be? Mr Superfit was always exercising. He’d just lost 11 kilos and lowered his cholesterol, which had been a bit high in an earlier blood test. And he’d just damn-well ridden 800 kilometers on his bike. Surely that would have cleared any blockage?

In the midst of all this, I check flights and prices online a few times, but don’t actually book. I’m still worried about my Mum. I’m worried about giving Dad’s eulogy. I am so worried about the eulogy and the funeral that my stomach aches. The ache gets worse.

The funeral was as good as a funeral gets, I guess. Dad’s coffin, which transported his embalmed body back to Australia from the Solomon Islands, was draped with some of his whacky hats, his odd socks, his custom-made mis-matched shoes. His bike, helmet hanging off the handlebars, water bottle still in its holder, sits in front of the lecturn. It seems like Dad should walk in any minute. I can’t believe he’s actually lying inside the coffin.

We all get through it, with many tears shed. The slide show, set to an old Highwayman song, is almost too much to bear. I selected 30 pictures of my Dad — baby photos; black and white photos of him as a young man; a wedding photo; photos with his sisters; family photos; photos of him clowning around with his grandsons; a photo of the day he met my daughter, her second day of life; Dad in a go-kart, knees up to his elbows as his grandsons fall about laughing; photos of Dad at the beach and a photo of him and Mum wearing Carnivale masks. “Oh, Jim, Jim, so you’re riding on ahead,” the song goes. My chest starts to ache as much as my stomach. God, I hope I haven’t got a bad heart.

The next day, I turn my attention to getting back to Thailand. I’m fed up with being on the computer, so I go to a travel agent. And, in this age of online booking and budget airlines, I am so glad I had professional help.

I tell the travel agent I want to travel on the 28th so we can go to the lantern festival on the 29th. The agent checks the flights, there’s a Brisbane-Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight leaving on the right day. The connection is great, just one hour and ten minutes in Bangkok. It would be a long day of traveling, but we’d get back to our Chiang Mai apartment by midnight.

But she can’t confirm the Bangkok-Chiang Mai leg. We spend a few days waiting for confirmation. Travel agents overbook flights all the time. Seats usually open up, sometimes within hours. We wait.

I start checking the news reports. Bangkok is flooding. Heavy rain, a broken dam and floodwaters moving south towards the ocean have coincided with a king tide. The government has declared a five-day holiday and told Bangkok residents to leave the city. Flights out of Bangkok are booked solid.

I’m torn. I want to get back for the festival but I want to stay with Mum. I have a contract that I’m supposed to start on November 1. We were househunting the day we got the terrible call saying Dad was dead. And then there’s the lease on our apartment, which runs out on November 1. We were supposed to be in a new place by then.

I tell the travel agent I want to continue to wait. Surely we’ll get seats from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. If we don’t, we have a friend in Bangkok we can stay with. But on the day we’re supposed to fly, we still aren’t booked on the Chiang Mai flight. Rather than pack, I dither. What to do? What to do?

Finally I decide I don’t want to be stuck at the airport with Miss M. The airport may flood and our flight to Thailand might have to turn back, or land somewhere else. Or it lands in Bangkok and we’re stuck in a flooded airport. Or we land, go to my friend’s house, then can’t get back to the airport the next day. I tell the travel agent to cancel the flights.

She begins checking alternatives and we book an overnight flight Sunday that stops in Singapore. I hate overnight flights, but I figure it’s better to go through Singapore than risk getting stuck in Bangkok. We’ll miss the festival, but we’ll be back in our apartment before the lease runs out and I’ll be able to start my new contract on the scheduled day.

Then I hear from my friend in Bangkok. He’s taken his wife and daughters to Phuket. We didn’t have a place to stay in Bangkok after all.

I haven’t got pithy conclusion to this post. We are just heading back to Thailand soon. And I miss my Dad.


8 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Sending hugs across the seas, Barbara. We’re thinking of you here.
    Julia x
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Istanbul: When Köfte (And A Nice Man) Comes To The Rescue

  2. A difficult situation during a stressful time. Wishing you a safe and easy journey.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Buenos Aires Odd Jobs: The Tour Guide Part 3 – Private Custom Tours

  3. i’ve been thinking of you so much – what an extremely difficult time this must be -i can’t even imagine. but first!!!

    i love how you all arranged the things your dad loved, around his coffin. it is like in ancient egypt, where they put all they needed with them. you sure did that for him – what a gift, that was, to all of us (and to him, i am sure).

    glad you stayed put. how tenuous these times are. AND – i am really glad you don’t have to worry abt going back to work on someone else’s schedule. timely, this.
    wandering educators recently posted..Apple Cider Pancakes – the Essence of Fall in Michigan

  4. robin says:

    It didn’t need a pithy conclusion. Take care of yourselves x
    robin recently posted..La Torre

  5. Suzi says:

    I’m so sorry to read about the traumas that you have been faced with recently. Having just written the eulogy that i will deliver at my gran’s funeral next week, i was particularly interested to read yours, and I was really impressed – what a beautiful tribute to a dad that sounds quite exceptional. look after yourselves.
    Suzi recently posted..Filling in some of the blanks…

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