This Christmas, while travelling down to my ageing parents (young at heart, they are!) I was entertained to the top 10 Christmas songs, both radio stations were playing, ‘All I want for Christmas is you!’ What if, like the film ‘Back to the future’, you could go back to 1984 (for instance), to have your life back … take up from where you left your life perhaps? As a widow I reflect how one measures the loss of a loved one. If when measuring a piece of wood you measure with a tape measure. If you want to record rainfall it’s a rain gauge and so on. So then. What of grief and the measurement of loss?
From experience I can only speak of Fred George, my husband of 29 years including a gap year. Who was he and what was he like?
George was a chef. He learned his skills as an apprentice to a French chef at a beachfront hotel in Durban, South Africa. He certainly knew how to turn out some tasty meals including beef stroganoff, chicken a la king, curries and bolognaise being the real specialities. Puddings, Baked Alaska the best! Thankfully he cooked and chatted in the kitchen to both our kids, passing the baton onto the next generation. Well you can imagine what a loss he was (and still is) to our family, we were so spoilt by his culinary talents! One minute he was cooking meals and the next he was ill and unable to stand for a long time. Eventually the number of tablets he was taking meant that blurred vision and dizziness put an end to his much loved days of cooking. Christmas was a special time for him, time to be with family.
George was fiercely protective of his family. He took this role very seriously and felt he had to be the protector, even if it meant phoning the head teacher or scout leader in defence of his kids. By no means perfect, flawed and willing to admit it. He loved his wider family, devastated by the loss of his sister (to cancer), his brother (to leukaemia), his father, his mother and then another brother, in the time I knew him. He knew the pain of loss and the implications of the return of each anniversary.
George was a good friend, listening and keeping confidence of those who visited him and showed him friendship, especially in his final years.
George showed empathy and compassion for those in need. One incident I want to share with you now. He was in his early 30’s, working near Johannesburg. He phoned home one day and relayed to me a story of this family he had come across while on his lunch break. The family were very poor, in fact they were destitute, living in the woods and eating the roots of trees for food. After discussing their plight and ruling out over the phone that there was anyone else who could assist, he brought them home and arranged for the local church and community to provide food and clothing for them. They stayed with us for a little while until other accommodation could be supplied.
George had a great sense of humour – some of his jokes and everyday humour below:
He’d mix up his words, so instead of saying ‘ to kill two birds with one stone, ‘ he’d say, ‘ to kill one fish with one bird’ (get it?)
If someone asked, ‘What day is it today?’ He’d say, ‘Tuesday … the whole day!’ (HaHa!)
When asked, ‘How many sugars do you take in tea?’ He’d reply, ‘ one in a cup, two in a mug and three in a jam tin!’ (He loved his tea!)
When we were into about our second year of marriage, he said ‘ The mistake I made,’ pausing for effect, ‘ was letting you call me by my first name!’ (implying ‘Sir’ would have been preferable!) His mother in law, (my mum), had this to say of him: ‘He always had a lot to say, but when he’d said his say, that would be over – no grudges.’ (Mmh that’s food for thought , hey?) Well. It’s one thing having a sense of humour when conditions are right but quite another story when ‘the wheels have fallen off’… unemployment and a number of health challenges across your path – like osteoarthritis, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, asthma, leukaemia, cirrhosis of the liver.
He loved his sport – fishing, watching rugby, cricket and boxing with much enthusiasm!
George was a man of faith. Known as ‘Fred’ in his early days, he made a commitment to follow God. Difficult to do when most chefs work weekends, Sunday being the main day of worship for Christians. One of the scriptures we held onto is in the book of Habakkuk in the bible, chapter 3, in the New International Version (NIV)’17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour …’
This is what someone had to say about George in an encouraging card received soon after he died suddenly, on Boxing Day, two years ago today, at the age of 56…
The card reads like this: “Remembering his smile and his funny sense of humour. He has left his mark here & especially at the way he dealt with his long term illness. He was a man of courage and he was full of love for God.”
My reflections today are of a man I shared my life with for three decades. This is the second anniversary of his death and grief is ever so raw. Still. How can you forget someone like that? How can you cease to talk about someone, as if they never existed? You see people grieve in different ways, some want to talk and reflect, others don’t. A fellow ‘blogger’ describes it aptly, this grieving process from a Christian perspective: Raw grief. Raw hope. (https://rawgriefrawhope.wordpress.com)
Dear Reader, if you like me have lost someone very close to you (or know someone who has), it may be useful to write a timeline, a ‘grief history’. In one or two of the books read soon after George died I was encouraged to do just that; write a list of events, listing losses, the highs and lows etc. Possibly, reading this, you still have your spouse, parent or loved one. I’d encourage you to spend time, documenting your memories and sharing your precious time with each other – well worth it!
Take care, till next time.