The Comfort of Strangers

In the days after Dad’s death, we came across the best of human kindness. We came to realise that, even though neither of us has lived within a hundred miles of our home town for over twenty years, we are still considered part of this little community because we are ‘Martin’s daughters’.

We had not realised either, how many people would want to honour Dad’s memory when it came to the funeral, but a quick round-up of all the groups and clubs he was involved with soon revealed why this was. Dad was a member of the Civic Society, the Philharmonic Society, the French Circle, Round Table and then 41 Club, the Conservative Society, the Canoe Club, the Wine Club and took regular Italian lessons with a class who had quickly become fond of him – and these are only a few of the local groups in which he was heavily involved. He had also, in his time, organised rowing regattas for various banks in the City, was the treasurer for an educational organisation which promotes the teaching and learning of the Classics (JACT) and was the only Englishman ever to be awarded an honour in the secret Swedish society, the BVs: Bärsärkar& Vikingar. The BVs and the Philharmonic were possibly his favourite pastimes and certainly, as he confessed to me towards the end of his life, his best method of escape from home when things were getting tough. He enjoyed the BVs a little too much on occasion, ending up at the end of the line on the last train home ‘by mistake’.

All this before we took into account close friends, family and old work colleagues.

So, looking back, it is not really surprising that at every turn there was someone ready to help us out. A close friend of Dad’s gave us the name of a solicitor when we could not find Dad’s Will. This solicitor was a ‘local boy, born and bred’ who became of invaluable assistance to us over the next few months and charged us the bare minimum for his time. An old friend of mine swept in the day after Dad died to offer help with finances and is still standing alongside us to this day, answering questions and calming us down when needed. A family friend who is a lay-reader offered to lead the funeral service, perfectly sensitive to our varying faiths and beliefs and intensely in tune with Dad’s sense of humour and our love of him.

But it was the strangers who were there at the right time and in the right place whose unexpected, unlooked-for kindness was most poignant. There was the lady behind the counter in Boots who took my mother’s medication from me and said, ‘Are you all right, dear? You look at bit shaken. Has your mum passed away?’ When I told her, briefly that, no, it was Dad that had died but that Mum was now under Section and that her medication had changed, she blanched. ‘What a terrible, terrible story,’ she said, and made me promise I would come and find her if ever I needed help. There was the florist who gave us a ‘good deal’ on Dad’s flowers and threw in a free, extra arrangement for when Dad was held at the funeral parlour. There was the gardener who had helped Dad out for a few months and who offered to do table arrangements for the wake, telling us Dad was ‘a great guy’ and hugging us, telling us to take care. There was the GP who called to tell me that Dad was ‘without doubt the bravest man I have ever met’ and the OTs and the nurses and the oncologist and the surgeon who said much the same thing and assured me that Dad had put up an incredible fight against the most virulent, inexplicable form of cancer any of them had ever seen. And there were the people who came to the funeral, many of whom I had never met, who told me over and over what Dad had meant to them and how they shared our sorrow.

And since then there have been people who I have gone to see for my own needs who, after only minutes of talking to me, have looked into my eyes and seen what is behind them and have just known what to say and do. The most recent of these was an osteopath who said, ‘You strike me as someone who is holding on to a lot of stuff. You need to be kinder to yourself.’

Perhaps I do, although I am not exactly sure how to go about that just yet. I do know, though, that without the kindness and comfort of friends, acquaintances and strangers, I would not be doing as well as I am now.

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