thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “father”

Memories of MND: Goodbye, Joost van der Westhuizen

I couldn’t let the final passing of South African rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen, after his six-year battle with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), go by without putting down a few thoughts.

Joost was part of the Springbok rugby team that won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and – with the input and support of our late, great then-President Nelson Mandela – at least temporarily helped to unify a nation.

madiba

Joost died on Monday this week, 6 February 2017, and since then I’ve had troubling memories of my own late dad’s suffering, with the same disease, rise to the surface of my mind at unexpected times.

And make no mistake: Motor Neuron Disease is a disease of true suffering, especially at the end.

joost-mnd

I am glad that today I saw and heard the eulogy given at the memorial service by his wife, Amor. (Technically I suppose you could call her his ‘estranged’ wife, but what does it really matter at times like these?)

She spoke in front of dignitaries who included members of the 1995 SA Rugby World Cup winning squad, South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, and Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby‚ who flew out from Dublin to attend the memorial service.

amor-on-stage

I thought that Amor was brave and dignified. She managed to say her goodbye to Joost at Loftus Versveld Rugby Stadium without breaking down. And she was honest in her admission that once, she and her husband had been in a fairytale romance…

joost-wedding

…which had then hit some serious bumps along the way. The scandals and the trying times are out there for all to search for and read and point fingers, if they want to.

However, Amor rose above that and thanked her late husband for the priceless gift of their two children, and for his fighting spirit and the memories of the good times.

They never did get around to divorcing, Amor and Joost, and whatever their reasons were for not legally finalising the death of their marriage, does it really matter?

What matters for me is that there was deep love, once, and there were two children created who had all this enduring love then poured into them.

And so now I wish the children and Amor, and all Joost’s other close family members, strength through this time, and finally peace.

For me, my father has been gone after his own battle with Motor Neuron Disease for 15 months already and I continue to miss him, at times, with an ache that is sometimes like a physical stab in the heart.

If I ever become a millionaire I will make it my quest to support today’s research into Motor Neuron Disease, to try to rid the planet of this scourge in the way that, once, we as human beings managed to eradicate smallpox.

Rest in peace, Joost.

joost

http://www.iol.co.za/sport/rugby/joost-believed-he-would-beat-the-disease-

7696858http://www.iol.co.za/sport/rugby/zuma-declares-provincial-funeral-for-joost-

7696476http://www.heraldlive.co.za/news/2017/02/09/95-heroes-carry-joosts-casket/

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

My daughter, my dad

In the midst of a life that has blessed me with our two amazing boy children…

LIam and Matthew philosophers

…I have still, at moments that always take me off guard with their painful intensity, yearned and yearned for a girl, as well.

A girl child.

I breathe out sometimes when I think it, with a tiny stab of hurt.

A soft, small, mini-me who would grow up understanding what it is to want to wear dresses (or not), apply make up (or not) and understand the trauma of a bad hair cut that needs to be grown out.

 

A girl child.

A soft, green-eyed (maybe blue?), fair-haired being like I was when I was younger, who would understand me in a way that my little boys just don’t always get.

 

A girl child.

A delicate baby to dress in pink or white or pastel green; a little girl whose face and body would stay soft and eventually grow curves and never stubble; a young woman who would read the kind of books I read and react to emotional issues as I do, and who would eventually speak the language of women with me.

 

A girl child.

And I did not have her, and I have mourned.

Even as I loved my boys with all my being, there was still a little hole in my heart that felt not quite filled, which sometimes I forgot about and which sometimes came back to haunt me unexpectedly.

 

It returned to haunt me about ten nights ago. I was sitting in our back garden enjoying the moonlight and the wind on my face, looking up at the night sky and the stars. I was feeling peaceful. I love a big open sky, night or day, and I don’t sit under it often enough.

And as I absorbed the peaceful night air and the sky with my body and my soul, the haunting was back, and with it the sudden tears in my eyes. But I wasn’t ready to go inside and ignore the hole in my heart this time; I was really enjoying being under the stars, and so I stayed and I felt the pain return all the way through my body. And as I enclosed it inside me, I remembered a long-buried fact – two long buried facts.

I remembered that, before Liam and again before Matthew, I was also pregnant for a very brief time: two pregnancies where the babies did not quite come all the way down to earth, or else they did come down but did not stay.

I remembered Frank and I together in the doctor’s office that first time, and the look on the doctor’s face when the expected heartbeat did not sound through the monitor and he braced himself to tell us the bad news. I remembered hearing the term ‘blighted ovum’ for the first time, where there was no heartbeat, only a tiny empty shell.

 

blighted ovum

That first time, there were apparently hormones in my body but no life, and an operation to follow – when enough time had passed for us to be certain – to clean out my womb. And I woke up in the hospital bed with Frank standing beside me, and a shadow hanging over us because we did not yet know that Liam was still to come.

And then we had Liam, and joy returned.

And then we had a second miscarriage when we were trying for Liam’s sibling – before Matthew’s safe arrival, and more joy.

 

But the second time, Frank is convinced, was slightly different, because he swears he saw a heartbeat flicker, and even the doctor was not quite sure but said, “Let’s give it ten more days.”

And I hoped.

And we hoped, together.

But instead my body bled.

 

And again there was the operation, only this time we had felt – we thought – a stronger life pull. And this time round, Frank had to be away on a work trip and so my dad, instead, was beside me at the hospital bed when I woke up – my dad, younger and stronger than he is now, with a sorrowful face and unsure of what words to offer.

And this memory returned as I sat under the big night sky, and as the stars shone their light on me, I sobbed as I have not sobbed for those lost babies for many years. And I sobbed also for my father, who is battling so bravely with the disease that is unceasingly ravaging his body and taking away his strength and his clear speech. And for my mother, who has loved him for so many years and who loves and cares for him still.

And as I sat there, I felt a presence somewhere deep in my body, and words that were not words spoke in my being and told me that there was, indeed, a girl child once.

But she had to go back.

And all these years later, when my dad crosses over into the spirit world, she will welcome him to his final home.

blonde shadow fairy

Somehow this is what I learned as I sat under the stars, through the voiceless words.

And the hole in my heart was almost filled.

 

I believe I had a daughter once.

I shall call her Skye.

 

painting baby

 

Postscript:

I found comfort, after this emotional experience, in these words from Journey (click on the link for the song):

 

“Remember me”

 

 Remember me, remember me
Find myself all alone

In darkness without you

Now I can’t turn away

From what I must do

You know I’d give my life for you

More than words can say

I’ve shown you how to love someone

I know you’ll find a way

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

I’ll live on somewhere in your heart

You must believe, remember me

 

No way I can change my mind

I don’t have the answers

If you could see through my eyes

You’d let go of your fears

And though I have to leave you now

With the thought of each other

I’ll miss your touch, you call my name

I am with you forever

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

Be there to watch over you

Remember me

Feel I’m gone, my heart lives on

Remember me

 

Don’t you think of this as the end.

I’ll come into your dreams, remember me

 

Close your eyes, say goodbye

Remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Close your eyes, remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Say goodbye, remember me

Heart sore

Dear Blog.

Nice to be back.

Sadly, I am not my usual ‘every cloud has a silver lining/the glass is half-full/I can do this; yes I can’ self today. (Sorry President Obama, you actually didn’t invent that last one; you just globalised it, and good on you by the way and yes, I’m a fan, but just for the record I was there all by myself with the Yes One Can scenario like I said.)

I digress.

Today I am heart sore.

I am heart sore for a few reasons.

Where to start.

I am heart sore today because.

Amongst others.

Not a completely comprehensive list.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the Oscar Pistorius ‘fallen hero’ desperate, desperate story that has been invading us through the media for nearly two weeks now. So many lives ruined. So, so many. So much human sorrow encapsulated in the bitter story of this fallen demi-god.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because little Layla died a week ago, despite so much love and hope and optimism and energy and goodwill that got poured into her brave, wonderful mother’s ‘Love for Layla’ campaign’ and the bravery of the little girl herself. And their family, and the community at large.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because little Adam’s  condition is unlikely to improve significantly unless stem cell research and miracles come together super-fast, like, oh, say, no really – super fast.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the children – yes, children – who are raped and stabbed and left for dead and outright murdered in South Africa every day. Male and female, birth to teens. Cry, the beloved country. Cry. For shame.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the corruption and ineptitude that seems to be endemic around us at the moment. For shame, I say again. For shame

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because today I am not in my twenties and I now know I am not invincible.

Because sorrow has etched its way across my heart.

Because I can’t fix it.

Any of it.

None at all.

I will look for silver linings again tomorrow. Today, I am heart sore.

Because my father is so fragile now.

And because my mother is so brave.

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