(Banks of the Murray River, Riverland, South Australia)
This week I attended an old man’s funeral. He was once my father-in-law. I guess that title becomes redundant after divorce. I don’t know . . . Whatever the label, I was sad he had died.
Ray was not a highly educated man. He was proud of his lack of education, dismissive of those he saw as pretentious, and was also mercilessly dismissive of religion and believers. Given those things, I didn’t have a lot going for me. He gave me a hard time as nobody could be good enough for his daughter, least of all me. From my point of view he was opinionated and difficult to talk to, yet he was a gentle man to those close to him, and a loyal one.
All that was over thirty years ago. I’m not sure why I missed him and continued to do so. I had seen him only a few times since his daughter and I divorced. We shared a common interest in his grandchildren (my children) and many common memories. Our meetings were always cordial and even gently respectful; not something I would have expected given the history.
I visited him in hospital a while ago when he was entering his final stage of bad health. He couldn’t speak and needed to use a letter board to communicate. I told him that despite everything he was the closest thing I had had to a father and he gripped my hand. His face showed he was pleased.
Yesterday his funeral was, as expected, conducted without the trappings of any church. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass provided a slightly discordant, yet entirely appropriate, backdrop to the procedings. Ray left this life in the style he would have wanted, irreverent and unapologetic. His daughter and son showed the love they shared as a family in their eulogy.
I held his newest great grandson, whom he didn’t ever meet, and tightly held tears escaped from me as I sprinkled some sand on his coffin.
This morning I continue to think about death and dying; about the past and the future. Memories erupt unbidden and settle gently again as I think of how powerful is forgiveness; and how grateful I am for the grace, the many gifts, and the people who have come my way.