Friday, 30 December 2016

Saying goodbye in 2016

Headnote: which is a bit like a Footnote, but comes at the beginning. I've been trying, and failing, to write this for the past few weeks. I keep thinking of a sentence here, or a thought there, but nothing that quite works. I'm still not sure that this version quite holds together, or says what I want to say, but since I wanted to finish it before the year ends, I think this is the version that you get.

There isn't an error in the title of this post. This isn't about seeing out the old year. This is about all the goodbyes of 2016. I'm not talking about David Bowie, or Prince, or Alan Rickman, or Terry Wogan, or Carrie Fisher, or Debbie Reynolds, or any of other celebrities that you've all heard about. It's not that I don't think it's sad when someone famous dies, but in truth, their deaths are, for me, a gentle regret that something creative and bright has been lost from the world, and not a great depth of grief.

The goodbyes that I've said this year have been closer, more personal and more painful. There are three losses in particular that have cut into my life and hurt.

First of all, I lost a friend. And I still rage at the injustice of it. That someone so good, so deserving, so kind, who was so needed and wanted and loved could be gone, so quickly.

The second loss is not truly mine, and is not my story to tell, and there is nothing I want to say, or can say, other than that it has left me numb and lost for words. I want to say the right thing, but I know there is no "right thing" to say. So, I'll just leave that here - a spark was lost from the world this year.

And now, I have lost my uncle.

Many years ago I lost my father, and the final days of both their lives were, medically speaking, very similar. I have found myself being forced to remember and re-live the time spent by my own father's bedside, and the final acknowledgement that there was nothing more that modern medicine could do, and the waiting for the end to come. I have seen and heard my cousins doing the same with their beloved father. And I've discovered that I've spent more than twenty years carefully not thinking about my own father, not remembering his decline and illness, not thinking of all the bad times and sad times. And only now, as I start to grieve for my uncle and for my cousins who have lost their Dad, am I finally looking back and remembering the little girl who loved her Daddy so ferociously. And missing him. And wishing things hadn't been the way they were. And wishing we'd had all the years with him that we had with my uncle.

And so I find myself grieving not only for my uncle, but, decades too late, for my Daddy too. And even so, I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to write about him, no matter how many years have passed.

Instead I'm going to write about Uncle P.  Because I want to tell the world how wonderful he was. I want to share him with everyone. I want other people to know that the world has lost something special. I want everyone to hear his softly spoken asides, his puns, his wit and his wisdom. I want my friends to bask in the undivided and devoted attention he would bestow upon those who spoke to him, the interest he would take in your interests, the huge depth of knowledge and experience he would bring to every conversation. I want more people to delight in his gentleness, kindness, warmth, and enormous capacity to love.

He was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the great and the good. He spent more than three decades serving his country with the Foreign Office, and then, even in retirement, didn't just sit back and relax. Instead, he devoted huge amounts of time and effort to helping others, most obviously working for Habitat for Humanity. And that's probably what marks him out most clearly as a truly good man - his immense generosity. And I don't just mean the easy generosity of giving money or material goods to others. No, I mean the deeper generosity of spirit that meant always placing others before himself. Always looking for, and finding, the best in others. Always giving his time, thought, love and hard work to make the world a better, brighter, warmer place. Even when in pain in hospital, when the pastor visited he didn't ask for prayers for himself, but for the confused, sick, elderly man in the opposite bed who had no visitors. He welcomed everyone into his home, with good cheer and kindness. More than that, he drew those who were alone, or bereft, or hurting into our family and made them part of us, extending the idea of family into much more than simply a matter of blood.

He's almost sounding too good to be true now, but he wasn't. He was simply a good man, in a world where there are far too few good men. He was a father, a son, a husband, a grandfather, an uncle and a friend. And he was bloody good at all of them, and he will be missed more than I have even begun to describe. There is a P-shaped hole in the world now, and though we may tug and pull to stitch the edges together, and patch up the hole, we will always know the place that should still be occupied by one of the best of men.

Goodbye Uncle P.

I loved you.

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