18th August 2015. The date of Dad’s funeral. It was a day of contrasts: of smiles and tears; of laughter and sobbing; of colour and darkness; of music and silence; of jokes and solemnity; of youth and old age. Of life and death.
My uncle, Dad’s older brother by ten years, came all the way from Johannesburg with his daughter at his side. Dad’s brother was the stuff of legend to us while we were growing up – the older brother who, in his twenties, was often tasked with some parental responsibilities. Dad loved him absolutely and we know that love was returned in equal force. ‘I did not expect the little fellow to go before me,’ he said, the night before the ceremony.
On the day, my teenage children stepped up to the plate and gave a reading (Wind in the Willows – what else?) and a piano performance which tugged at my heartstrings almost more than the sight of Dad’s bamboo coffin being borne through the church on the shoulders of, amongst others, my husband, my brother-in-law and another cousin. My little niece and nephew, who had given me such joy and comfort since coming back from Thailand, also stepped up, behaving immaculately through, what must have been for them, a baffling and at times boring ceremony.
My sister and I said our last words to Dad – our eulogy – together. We had written the words together and now we stood, shoulder to shoulder, in front of two hundred mourners, to tell everyone a few anecdotes, to remember Dad with smiles and fondness.
As we were saying goodbye to friends and old colleagues – some of whom had travelled huge distances to pay their last respects to Dad – my husband said, ‘Are you going to invite people back to the house?’ My sister and I hesitated. Mum would never have allowed such an impromptu invitation. But Mum was not there. ‘Yes!’ we said. The party that ensued with the remaining guests (mostly family and neighbours) was so jolly that more than once I caught myself looking for Dad to see if he was enjoying it.
Shoulder to shoulder : this is how my sister and I have stood in the days, weeks and months since we gave that eulogy. Shoulder to shoulder as we went to meetings with solicitors, and financial advisors; shoulder to shoulder in front of psychiatrists and doctors. Should we rent our parents’ property or sell it? Should we keep hold of Mum’s furniture “just in case” or sell that too? Should we find her a care home or care in her own home? We have made all these decisions, and many smaller ones, together. At times the decisions have had to be made without much time for discussion or deliberation. Sometimes we have not been sure we have done the right thing. More than once we have caught ourselves about to ask Dad what he would say.
18th August 2016. It is a year since Dad’s funeral. I have just come back from a magical two days with my sister in her home by the Norfolk coast. We have spent hours talking about Dad, going over the events of the last year, remembering the funny little things he said and did, the things he loved and the people who meant so much to him. Sometimes, unintentionally, a saying of his or a snatch of a song he used to sing would find its way out of our mouths.
‘It feels as though Dad has been here with us,’ I remarked before I left my sister. ‘Well, you know how that song in the Lion King goes,’ my sister joked. ‘ “He lives in you, he lives in me!” We laughed, but I thought, ‘Yes, he does.’
Today might be the last of the first anniversaries, but it will not be the last day of remembering. It will not be the last day of grieving either. And I am pretty certain it will not be the last day I feel the need to write about everything that has happened to our family. But it will get easier to bear the sadness, we do know that. And for as long as we have each other, standing shoulder to shoulder, my sister and I will be all right.
‘He lives in you, he lives in me!’ We might just have to go and see the show together sometime, little Sis.