Raoul Siska - Obituary

born 3/10/1927 in Tartu, Estonia, died Melbourne 5th July 1997.

When Raoul was very sick, Freya asked me why people have to die. Why canít  we live for ever? Why  canít we just get to a point and stay there?  In answering I said something along the lines that the world  always needs children to keep it young and fresh, for the laughter and tears, for that sense of newness that engenders wonder and anticipation.

Raoul was very much of the view that his time had come. He believed he had lived his life and that, as his health declined, he felt he was simply waiting for the inevitable. In the final weeks , he positively wished for death to come. He was tired of the incapacity that came with his lack of oxygen, tired of being confined to a chair and a television, tired of his sense of a growing dependence on others.

For him, death was not something to be feared, but a welcome  and wished for end. When it came, it came quite quickly, without pain and without foreboding. Raoul died at home, with Linda by his side, as he had always wanted to.

But none of this makes it much easier for those of us who remain when someone we love dies. While the hole that is left in the people of the world is soon filled many times over, for those of us who know the person,  he who is gone can never be simply replaced.

Whatever ones spiritual beliefs, there is a clear sense in which every person continues to exist after their death. Everybody here has some memory of Raoul. For my own part I have only known him for some twelve years, as the father of my wife and the grandfather of Freya, as a gentle, frail  and friendly man who enjoyed reminiscing about his childhood in Estonia and his early years in Australia. Lorraine and Linda have known him for much longer. The longer the memories perhaps the greater the loss, but also the more the person lives on in you.

Raoul, it always seemed to me, had a hard road to travel down. Born in 1927 in a small newly independent country just a few years before it was invaded by the Russians, as no more than a child he was fighting in a losing army always on the retreat.  Chances of birth and world events can lead to very different perspectives on the world. From his point of view the Germans were the liberators of his country, not the invaders. When he spoke of these times to me however he thought of them mainly as times of living in fear, of  privation and of terrible uncertainty.

 He spent the rest of his adolescence in the post war displaced persons camps in Europe, with never enough food and no chance of things that we take for granted today, like an education. He wanted to go to America, but at the age of nineteen put up his hand for a trip on a boat to Australia when the opportunity arose. He was on the first ship of displaced people to arrive in Melbourne in 1947.  Then of course, he was off to another camp, at Bonagilla.

There is something truly heroic about the lives of many ordinary people of that time. Here he was, 12000 miles from home, 20 years old, speaking next to no English in  country not renowned for its linguistic tolerance,and  vastly different in almost all respects from the country in which he had begun his life. He had no qualifications, no trade, but he took a job as cookís hand at the open cut mines in the LaTrobe valley.  There he began to learn something of the country that he had arrived in more by chance than choice. I always enjoyed his story about seeing his first large goanna in the bush and running off, sure that he and his friend were being pursued by a crocodile and his early concern that kangaroos may be carnivorous.

In the LaTrobe Valley Raoul learnt English. The next decade saw him moving to Melbourne, marrying Lorraine and having two children, Raoul junior and Linda. Work was reasonably easy to come by in those times, and Raoul turned his hand to a variety of jobs, working primarily as a driver. But life was never very easy and often very hard. In the 60ís and 70ís if anything it became harder. Illness and stress began to take their toll.

When I first met Raoul in the mid 1980ís he was living by himself in Kerford Road, Albert Park. Soon afterwards he moved into the flats in Victoria Parade where he remained until his death.  We disovered in about 1986 that blackouts which his doctor had ascribed to drinking were in fact due to undiagnosed epilepsy. His life became easier when medication provided a solution to this problem.  He was able to travel more freely without assistance and began visiting us at home every weekend,  something which he continued to do until just a few weeks ago.

We all miss these visits. Not just the people , but our various animals too. Raoul Iím sure, infinitely preferred animals to most people and they reciprocated.Our three cats would leave their chosen places in front of the fire or snuggled on the couch when he arrived to take up a station in close proximty. The dogs bowled each other over in the joy of seeing him. Even the chickens seemed to celebrate his arrival (no doubt anticipating some particularly choice leftovers).

We shall all miss Raoul. I will miss his gentle conversations, his outrage at the cost of everything from meat to motor cars, his whimsical sense of humour, his memories of his early days in Estonia. Ari and Margaret will miss his quiet presence and helpful friendliness. Lorraine, I know, will have as many memories of times when things were good as she will of the times that were hard.

But Linda and Freya, who have both known him throughout their entire lives will  I think miss him the most. Iím sure they both know how much he loved them, but I hope they also know how much happiness they brought him.

Freya brought him smiles and laughter and pictures. She also gave him a sense of continuity, of the strength and vitality of existence at a time when he was himself becoming very conscious of his age and increasing frailty.

Linda provided him not only with physical help with the mundane aspects of life like the shopping, and the washing, but  did so without intruding on his dignity, his desire to be self reliant, his sense of independence. She did so for more than ten years. More than this though, she provided him with immense  love, companionship and warmth.  She also intuitively understood his needs, his likes and dislikes, his humour and his fears. As a father of two daughters I can only hope that I am worthy of half of the love that Linda both gave to and received from Raoul.

When Freya and I were talking about death last week, I mentioned an Aboriginal myth (found in other cultures too) in which after death people become the stars above. When we next have a good clear night, with the stars shining brightly, we are going to go outside and find one of the brightest ones to remember Raoul by.

Now its time to say goodbye, but on earth too, Iím sure Raoul will continue to live in the memories of all of us here.

Rod Hagen

9th July 1997

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