Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Brian died in Wellington Hospital on Friday 29th August, aged 65. He died as he had lived without fuss or fanfare and in his own time. Brian faced the past two years of his illness with courage and dignity and always with his trademark sense of humour.
He will be deeply mourned by his family; his wife Lesley and dear children, Reuben and Laura. His extended family in Christchurch and his many friends and business colleagues will also miss him deeply.
Brian’s funeral will be held at Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral at 2pm on Friday 5th September.
When my father died I knew I would never recover. As I passed though those dazed, underwater days with everything moving in slow motion, I had the chill of foreboding to accompany me. Nothing would ever be the same again.
And up through the depths came the open-mouthed, hand-flapping, tail-waving well-wishers. And ripping and rolling came their hollow promises – Time heals you know, It’s easier when they go quickly like that- I know how you feel. And in the centre of it all I wavered, treading water and trapped, as they pressed food and flowers into my arms and led me through. I had never felt more alone.
Six years later we are driving to the airport.
“I wonder if I’ll get to sit by the window?” asks Kimberley.
“Of course not, you’ll only be an unaccompanied minor,” replies Laura with the dismissive sophistication of her twelve years. Kimberley takes it in her stride, storing up the exact timbre to deliver plumply to her younger sister when she gets home in a few hours.
The holiday in the city with her cousins has been full of excitements and wonder for nine-year-old Kimberley. There has been so much to take in and trying to keep up with the nouveau teenage cousins has really kept her on her toes. This town can get pretty chilly in winter, especially when you have to wear the same thin tee-shirt for three days because it is the only one in your bag, (packed by your mother) which doesn’t look impossibly babyish now. Lanky Laura seem to have an inexhaustible supply of cool clothes hanging off her skinny frame. Oh to be twelve, not to be so round and clumpy, not to be only nine and not even allowed to catch the bus by yourself.
They swirl away from me as the automatic doors open at the airport entrance, and I find myself in the queue alone holding the bags and the tickets. These two girls have formed an unlikely alliance over the three days that they have been together. They are different in every way; Laura, tall, shadowy, quiet, all straight hair and angles. Kimberley, a bouncing flash of enthusiasm with her curly blonde hair and feet that are always on the move.
They head first for the toilets where Kimberley will need to brush her hair yet again. She has spent quite a lot of time brushing her hair, trying to brush those curls straight but they bounce right back again regardless. Then they are off at a trot down to the bookshop and the oblivion the books and magazines offer until that nerve-wracking moment when the plane is called.
Kimberly is twitchy, anxious to be out of the bookshop and into the next part of the journey. And now they are off, up to Gate 10 where the air hostess waits, red lipstick and a badge. Kimberley hops from foot to foot as they fuss with the forms, then a quick hug and away she goes, leaping into the next experience, wide-eyed.
Laura and I are left standing there, all of a sudden alone and the quiet that we had begun to wish for towards the end of Kimberley’s stay is upon us before we are ready. We turn and, linking arms, start back down the sloping walkway. It tips us into the waiting area and the hustle of the airport. There, directly in our path kneel a cluster of air hostesses around a prone figure. They are brisk and don’t meet our eyes, this is serious.
Laura and I hesitate, have they called an ambulance? I see the figure of an elderly man and take in the small pool of vomit nearby. This man is having a heart attack. We wait, willing him to move, to sit up, to not be dying there on the floor like that. The seconds are slow. Where is the ambulance? Where? We can’t move away. We are frozen there. Someone is trying CPR and stops. I know he is dead.
We wait – it’s not true.
I look at his thin, elderly ankles and feel a wave of grief wash over me. It’s back. It’s back as though it was yesterday, not six long years ago. Now I understand the truth that I always knew. It would never leave me, this underwater grief. It is never over, it is merely put away into the hidden box, where it waits, always there. When you least expect it, the lid is open again and out it flows with that familiar wave of loneliness, engulfing you.
Laura feels it too, moving closer to me and taking my hand.
As I stand in the airport terminal, I so desperately wish for my father back, to live again with that familiar fondness, the steady warmth of a father’s love. Why do fathers have to die? This man lying, dying in public is somebody’s father. Tomorrow, a family that I do not know will begin wading through that deep submarine gloom. Now we can’t leave. We are the mourners. We hold each other and wait.
And into the airport march the uniforms, police, ambulance, but they don’t run. They have already been told. The hushed consultation and eventually they move to the waiting ambulance. Laura and I walk out too – we can’t leave him. We follow the ambulance as it moves quietly back into the city and offer up our grief for this unknown man. He is my father, he is their father, he is every dead father.
And now, as the ambulance glides smoothly through the early evening traffic, he makes his last journey with Laura and me for company, past all the others in all the cars and buses who think that today is just an ordinary day.
Laura says, “When I get home, I am going to get dressed all in black.”
Here’s another little anecdote about barely suppressed rage. Too funny. Today I went to the skin specialist; everyone of a certain age has the legacy of all those hours slathered in coconut oil and Coppertone. It’s sunbathing payback time
I deliberately went there 20 minutes early so I could have a nice little peaceful rest in the calm and ordered waiting room reading the mags, chilling and finding inner calmness. So there, sitting opposite me is the mullet headed, slouching young yobby-looking guy sitting on his bum-crack showing bottom and blathering into his phone. And then he starts watching things on You Tube or something. Things that go crash, bang, motherfucker motherfucker, crash, bang. He is laughing out loud and I am steaming in my seat. He appears oblivious to my stiff demeanour and disapproving stare, which ought to be surprising – it is very well practiced by the time you get to my age. So, I got out my phone, Googled up one of my favourite You Tube upholstery tutorials and turned it up to full volume and had a little watch of it. He turned his phone off – hah.
Today I discovered that I have lost the petrol cap from the car. But how? I drove off and left it behind at the petrol station of course. My life on a short rope is filled with these small annoying bits of attention deficit. It is all about concentrating and it seems that is rather lacking these days. I recognise the symptoms but seem powerless to avoid the consequences. There is a lot of losing the keys, chopping the finger and overdue library books. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to ring my phone to find it somewhere in the house, or pocket or car. I remember when the kids were small, these things were common place. Once I even slammed my own hand in the car door by leaving it in the door jam and slamming – ouch. And another time I had to get the neighbour to get a ladder to climb in the window because I couldn’t find the door key and then discovered the door wasn’t even locked!!
It is a feature of stress. I try to drive carefully because I know that car crashes are a definite symptom and we can do without that. But somehow, backing into things and jamming the mags up against the curb just seems to happen. Rushing, having too many things to think about and not having time all add up.All these irritations can have a funny side though and with rage rather close to the surface, it’s gotta go somewhere.
Last week we went to the hospital for tests and as we crossed over busy Riddiford Street outside the hospital on the pedestrian crossing, Brian dropped his Daffodil Day daffodil. With his current unawareness, he then proceeded to slowly bend down in the middle of the road and try to pick it up. The traffic waited and waited, but one driver (male – need I describe more – hardly – fill in the blanks girls) started doing that awful gesturing and shouting. There was nothing I enjoyed more than giving him my biggest, filthiest, rudest finger ever and stalking slowly across the crossing. It felt great.