So you could say that the most significant relationship of my life has really been the one I observed between my parents. Although I wasn't privy to the ebbs and flows that marked the interior life of their marriage, I think I can safely say that they were bound together by the fundamental truth of their love for each other.
My father, a stoic man's man, took care of my mother above all others. He gave her unique oddities to show his love - a makeshift transportable shower for camping trips at
the beach; a wine cooler decorated with bursting purple bougainvillea flowers that was meant to last a single dinner party but travelled with us for 20 years; a now-famous ballad he wrote to describe the social minefield she had waded into in the form of an extended Queensland country clan.
All these things have passed into legend in our family - proof that a love really existed as we thought it did.
Because this has been my most significant relationship so far, it's also the one that's been most difficult to let go of. I always believed that my parents would shine on through together until the end. That they would, as they promised gaily so many times, spend their lives together right up until their inevitable parting.
Like all the mythologies passed around our dinner table, we knew this one off by heart: they would sit hand in hand on a cliff overlooking the ocean and watch the sunset. And as that sun burnt out for the very last time, so too would they.
Of course, it didn't work out that way. When the time came for my mother to go, there was no cliff top and no sunset. Just a family with heavy hearts, a room perfumed by the stale smell of death and the racked body of a weeping man who'd promised to love her until the end.
Although I mourned my mother for myself, I mourned her mostly for my father. It was difficult for me to see him in such emotional agony. He was only 54 when my mother died from cancer and I knew there could be 30 or more good years left in him. How could I want him to spend them alone, living with just his memories? I wanted him to be happy. He deserved that much, at least.
Still, I couldn't help but feel a little betrayed when he remarried a few years later. I had already lost my mother, and the most selfish part of me felt I was losing the fundamental ties that still held me to my father. It was difficult to see him profess love for another woman, and hear him talk about how happy she made him, but he seemed to have a new lease on life. When Mum was alive, he had been committed to work, often overseas for long periods and only home for short bursts.
Death might force you to reassess what's important in your life, but I couldn't help but feel a bitter irony that the woman who was now getting to enjoy this more relaxed version of my father wasn't the one who'd endured those long absences.
Our family dynamic changed rapidly. We'd all become very close after my mother died, and had begun to develop an easy kind of friendship. But his new relationship seemed to change that. It felt apparent to my siblings and me that our company was no longer needed as often, and that on the times we did see him, he would come as part of a package deal.
There are so many conflicting emotions when people remarry after the death of a spouse. Our father naturally wanted to make sure his new partner felt welcome - but there were times when his efforts to do so made his children feel less like family, and more like part of a support crew they hadn't signed up for. It didn't even seem as if we could talk about it, as mention of my mother had been all but banished. Last year, my dad's birthday coincided with Mother's Day. I phoned him to wish him happy birthday, and he told me how he and his wife had celebrated the latter with her children. Having acknowledged the date, he still didn't ask how I was feeling.
It isn't easy. I don't know if it will ever be. My father has moved back to Queensland and, due to distance, sees more of his wife's family than his own. I know he wishes it were otherwise. And adjusting to this situation has brought up in me a maelstrom of emotions - bitterness, anger, sadness, happiness, joy.
In my darker moments, I have been guilty of uncharitable thoughts. In my sadder ones,
I have been overcome by the feeling that I've lost a part of him forever. Most of the time,
I just get on with things.
We forget, as children, that our parents are humans, too. We can't expect our love to be enough to carry a now-single parent through the long days and nights that loneliness brings. So we feel jealous, betrayed, angry and stubborn - and we rage at the sky and make unkind jokes with our siblings - but these feelings pass, and we can hopefully see what's real. That our parent, once so sad, is happy again.
And perhaps that's all that matters.