I have just been to a funeral of a man I barely knew. Strange, you might think. But not so strange since we were neighbours.
I knew his wife better than I knew him. His wife, who is now without a husband. A woman who had been married for forty years, who didn’t expect to be a widow so early, if at all. You see, her husband was only sixty-five.
She knew the boy at school, the fifteen-year-old, I found out at the funeral. They weren’t ‘an item’ until they were twenty-five, she said. He was her ‘soul mate,’ her best friend, the father of their four children, and the Nonno to their six grandchildren. Sadly, the unborn seventh, will have missed meeting this grandfather.
I saw a lot of love at the funeral. I saw it in those downturned mouths, those tears of grown men, those stooped shoulders. I could hear it in the broken voices, the sniffs, the silences. I listened to the stories told by brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, the mother-in-law, the bereaved widow, and I could feel the respect. Words like ‘legend’ and ‘unique’ were used. Nicknames like ‘Dancing Dennis,’ and ‘The Don’ were bandied about. He sounded like a character, a fun guy, a stirrer, an accepting and encouraging father, a handyman, a genuinely good guy.
I wish I’d known him better.
He was diagnosed with a nasty cancer less than a year ago. The last two weeks were bad. He insisted on coming home for Christmas, to ‘the best palliative care he could get.’ He shared Christmas Day with all his family. And then he went to bed and left.
There is no doubt in my mind that this man left then because it was kinder to his family. Only today I found out that his family was the most important thing in the world to him, that he was selfless, that he would do anything for them.
Observing the large family today, I believe it.
His wife, in closing, said, ‘Life will go on, as it must. But it will never be the same.’
People like this man make the world a better place. He was here, he did his best, he left a legacy. He left good people in his wake. People who will also go on to live good lives, inspired to do their best, and make their own way.
Last week, this man had two requests: I want bright colours at my funeral. I want people to be happy for the good life I had. What a great attitude.
I went to the funeral out of respect for the grieving wife. As a neighbour. As a member of the community. As a potential friend. At funerals, we hear people’s stories. We get to know people better – the deceased and those who loved them. By knowing some of his story, I now know some of hers. Perhaps in this way I can help. It might be that chat while holding the hose on the garden. Or that drink on the veranda at sundown. It might simply be the knowledge that a neighbour cares.
By going to the funeral, I have reached out a hand. By doing so, my own life has more meaning.