thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the tag “dad”

I grieve – one year on

I have been out of sorts all day today, and in fact all week.

I’ve been anticipating the first anniversary of my beloved father’s death.

grief-2

My dad died on 28 October 2015. It was a Wednesday. It was  probably the most dreadful Wednesday of my life. I will never forget the call when I was still at work one year ago saying, “Come. Now.”

By the date, then, the anniversary is the 28th, but by the day of the week it is Wednesday – today, the 26th.

Maybe it’s just me but I often do an anniversary (good or bad) twice – by the actual date, and by the day of the week.

So here, on the day-of-the-week anniversary, is a song of grief.

I post it for my dad, for my mom, for my sister. I post it for his grandchildren, for his daughters’ life partners, for all those who loved him and were loved by him.

I have believed all year that my father’s benevolent spirit brushes over me from time to time – usually when I’m least expecting it, and sometimes when I most need it – in the form of herons flying overhead.

I see herons quite a lot, actually, and I live in Johannesburg.

(Not many people whom I interact with in my home town seem to notice herons flying majestically above us quite the way I do.)

I saw two of them earlier this week, and they made me smile.

Thanks for the herons, my dad. It was a good week to send them. We miss you, so much.

But I know that you are flying free now, and it comforts me.

heron-fly-past

 

I grieve – Peter Gabriel 

(Ed’s note: if you access the song via the link above, you will see I have deliberately chosen a version that pays homage to the victims of 9/11)

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It’s just the way that you would tied in
Now there’s no-one home

I grieve for you
You leave me
So hard to move on
Still loving what’s gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty, empty cage
And I can’t handle this 
I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what’s gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

My father’s voice

A eulogy for Ralph Gray

 

My dearest dad

Daddy.

We are still trying to process your absence. I have told the awful news a few times over now; I have kissed your peaceful sleeping face and watched my dear mother, your beloved wife of so many years, cry over your still form in anguish because you left her; and still I can’t quite believe it.

Right now, I can’t really think of a life without you in it.

And yet, I think you were fading from us for a long time; slipping mentally and spiritually into shadow realms where we could not always follow. Peaceful realms, I like to think. You always looked peaceful when you opened your eyes again this past short while – as though you’d been in pleasant, restful places.

a_patch_of_sky

The last three years have been so hard – on all of us and most especially on you. You fought to stay with us for so long, doing your best to fight off a terrible enemy that ravaged your own body from within, just for a little more time with us all.

Now I am going to start remembering you as you used to be, before the disease took hold. I am going to start erasing, or at least subduing, the memories of my dad who could no longer move or talk, and had to communicate with hand gestures and facial expressions.

I am going to wave the magic wand of memory back to a time when your body was still as active as your mind; when you jogged down the driveway to open the gate to visitors; when you worked in the garden to bring us organic vegetables, or climbed a ladder to clean the leaves from the gutters, all the time wearing that funny hat to – ostensibly – protect your face from the sun.

Dad bday 2011

In my mind’s eye you are again that stocky man with broad shoulders who kept busy around the garden until finally you allowed yourself to relax when the work was all done. The Scotsman who enjoyed a temperate measure of Bells in the evening or maybe a can of Guinness; the man who read poetry at quiet moments; the family man who loved to tell stories and jokes and chortled with laughter all the way through the telling.

I loved it when you told jokes. They were always long and complicated, and you so frequently messed up the punchline – that was the best part!

V and dad Christmas 2011

My earliest memories of you, when I was very small, encompass bedtime stories and you trying to save a baby bird that fell out of the nest. Later on there was a time when you untangled a heron from some fishing line at a local dam. Whenever I see a heron flying majestically overhead I always think of you. I also think of how I loved to hear you say ‘heron’ – with a double ‘rr’ in there and a bit of a Scottish ‘burr’ (brei) on the ‘r’ sound.

Herrr-rrrrrron.

great blue heron in flight

I wish I could hear you say it again. Together with words like ‘loch’ and ‘poetry’, which you rolled around your tongue and pronounced as ‘locch’ and ‘poi-ye-tree’. It was very poi-ye-tik, I always thought.

Your eternal Scottishness sometimes entered conversations at unexpected moments and in unforeseen ways. In my teens, you amazed me once by requesting that I play a song from ‘Dew-rrrrran Dew-rrrran’ on my brand new boom-box. I couldn’t get away with the fact that you even knew who Duran Duran were – let alone that you actually liked any of their songs!

Duran Duran

Another time, when I’d recently discovered a Scottish rock band called Runrig and you’d apparently been listening to my music again, you gleefully referred to the lead singer as ‘that Teuchter (choochter) from the highlands, but he haaaaas a guid voice’.

Donny Munro

Apparently the word ‘teuchter’, said by a lowland Scot about a highland Scot, has implications of being a bit of an unsophisticated roughneck. I remember you chortling when you called him a teuchter. Sometimes mornings before we went to school and work were quite entertaining.

And who of us around the table that family dinner could ever forgot the immortal time you demanded of your own wife and teenage daughters, with huge exasperation, “Cahn yoo lott no onder-stond me?” The answer was gales of laughter and a pithy ‘no dad – at that precise moment we couldn’t’. I think you were asking someone to pass the salt, or something fairly mundane like that.

And then there is the “No-aht the caap! No-aht the caap!” memory (‘not the cap’). It turned out that you’d been holding out on your teenage daughters when they went through a brief stage of requesting some of your Bells to put in their coffee, together with some cream, for an occasional little treat in the evenings. When we were writing exams, you understand, and were stressed.

Lorna and I were deliberately mis-informed, for quite some time, that the standard unit of measurement for making the Scotch version of an Irish coffee was the cap of the whiskey bottle. Which is not actually a lot of whiskey. This went on until the night that we offered to make you, too, one of our special coffees. When you realised that you were about to be short-changed on the amount of Bells in your coffee cup, it seemed that a mild panic set in and the truth came out. Thereafter the true unit of measurement for Scotch was revealed to us for all time.
glass of Bells

Of course, your accent got put to good use when it came time to read the immortal words of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. Around the world, people sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ every new year, but in real life, only you, my dad, could spout Scotland’s most famous son, Robert Burns (Rabbie Burns) without a book in front of him. Chapter and verse – you used to pull it out of the air.

So here is one for my mom. I’m not going to try the accent.

 

A red, red rose

By Robert Burns

red rose inkwell

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

 

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

 

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile.

 

I’m going to end with another poem, this one from John Keats. I think it was one of my dad’s favourites. I won’t read the whole three verses, just the first one, because this verse especially reminds me of how much my dad enjoyed working in his vegetable garden. Mostly. The digging, of course, wasn’t so much fun.

 

Ode to Autumn (verse one)

John Keats

season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness

Close-bosom friend of the maturing son

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more

And still more, later flowers for the bees

Until they think warm days will never cease

For Summer has o-er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 

 

Goodbye, Ralph Gray.

Or shall I say ‘Au revoir’ and ‘Arrivederci’?

 

You were a truly special man. We were so lucky to have you in our lives.

With much love…. Always.

Linda and Ralph young

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking up the hill in your absence

My dearest dad

You’ve been gone for about 36 hours now and we are all still getting used to your final, definitive physical absence.

This morning I walked the children to school.

The way back, as you know, presents a slight incline. I’m sure that clever engineering mind of yours would easily have been able to tell my less mathematical mind exactly what the gradient is.

All I can tell you is that walking back up that little hill to the house suddenly seemed like climbing a mountain.

But life goes on, doesn’t it? And we have to do the things that we have to do. Sometimes we just have to get on with it, while being as kind to ourselves and others as we can.

You and my mom taught me that.

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

So I stopped a few times en route and looked at the view of the nearby Melville koppie under a beautiful clear blue early-summer sky.

Melville koppie

I felt the cool breeze on my skin and I even stopped to smell some lavender in a neighbour’s garden. I thought of you every step of the way.

For now, it is enough just to see your face in a patch of clear blue sky when I need to keep on moving forward.

Flower-sky-clouds-sunshine-mood-485x728

I eavesdropped on your photos

My dearest mom

Today I found myself unexpectedly eavesdropping on your photos.

It was so good to go back in time. Do you know there are photos on there that you still have to print out from 2010? (Yes, yes, I know you are busy. A truer word was never spoken.)

The reason I was snooping inside your digital memories is, of course, because I’ve been using your camera on an ad hoc basis lately for my work: partly because my own gave up the ghost long ago, and partly because I currently own a smartphone with an un-smart camera.

In the process of borrowing your camera on a semi-regular basis these past few months I have been, er, keeping it between assignments. And, of course, quite rightly you wanted it back.

So today I had a spare couple of hours to turn on my laptop and start processing. Firstly, I sorted all my work photos from the happy family photos on your camera’s memory. Then I gaily deleted my work photos, which I don’t need any more. And then I started looking at the family photos, and found myself on an unexpected trip down memory lane for the next two hours.

In vivid technicolour (mostly un-blurred), I remembered previous birthdays for Liam and Matthew.

I remembered previous Christmases when we were all together as a family: you, me, dad, Frank and Liam and Matthew.

I saw some of the photos from the time you and dad went over to visit Lorna and Domenico in Italy and celebrate dad’s 70th birthday.

 

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

I remembered times when dad could still walk and talk; when the scourge of his motor neurone disease had not yet manifested and brought with it this overwhelming sorrow for us all.

When we still had so much joy on those family occasions.

And so I eavesdropped on your photos.

I ended up copying all of them. Going through them was utterly marvellous. It reminded me that life is a process; that there are some things that can be changed and others that must be accepted and made the best of; that sometimes we discover our true strength only in the fires and the burning of unavoidable bone-deep sorrow.

And yet, at the same time, I refuse to give up on the flames of happiness and hope for the future. I just can’t. It‘s not in me to let the darkness overcome the light. I’m quite pedantic about it, really.

Vivienne and dad wedding

I find myself so grateful for all the happy times we have had – as well as for the strength and courage and sheer (sometimes bloody-minded) tenacity my Scottish heritage has bequeathed me. It’s been a most surprising gift.

I know the less-diluted happy times will come again in full strength, albeit in a different form and with different players taking centre stage or different roles.

I plan to be there.

Flower-sky-clouds-sunshine-mood-485x728

PS Just one tiny confession: I deleted an image from your camera – just one, from almost 500. I simply had to. I knew I’d picked up quite a few extra pounds back in 2011/2012, but it was really quite unbearable to imagine this particular photo being around for posterity. It’s called editing.

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