When my dad died, at 41 years old, in 1965, understandably as family – mum, my sister Vivien, and me – it was a massively devastating event. I was 12 years old: my sister ‘celebrated'(hmm!) her ‘coming of age’ 18th birthday – and was diagnosed with what had killed my dad, thrombosis – on the day of dad’s funeral. Some birthday that was….
My dad was a wonderful bloke. I’ve said before that, to this day, 45 years on (September 30th, 5.09 pm), that I miss him as much now as ever. Why do I remember the date and time so clearly? I’d just got home from school, ben in the house maybe 3-4 minutes, and I heard dad die. In some respects, the day he died, part of each of us ‘died’ too, especially mum, as you can well imagine.
Why am I writing this? Well, today, I’ve just been to ‘visit’ the container that has arrived in Ireland now, from the United States. I’m so glad that my dear mate Alan came with me, as it was a strange experience really…. it’s almost 4 1/2 years since I saw any of the stuff: and to be honest, it brought right back home, in moments, in the time we were at the storage company, all of the pain, stress, hurt, loss, of the last 4-5 years.
Although there’s not really a large quantity, it’s going to take time to unpack it, as my little house here doesn’t have any storage space – except a corrugated tin, rotting garage, that is too damp even to stores damp stuff in! I think I just needed to see it, and Alan, as a true friend, was there with me. It was a strange 90 minutes….
When dad died, we were part of a church in Eastbourne, East Sussex, that had some amazing people in it. Four in particular I will NEVER forget, and be eternally – literally – grateful to, people who, when the shit hit the fan, were ‘there’, immediately. Leslie & Shirley Edgell, Roy Lanning, and Norman Barber. Les & Shirley were amazing: within about 30 minutes of dad going to be with Jesus, they were at our house, and seemed to then be part of our lives forever. Roy was the leader of a boys group called ‘Covenanters’ (I doubt it still exists, as I’ve just googled it and found nothing), Norman was the Sunday School Superintendent.
Les & Shirley were there for all of us, for the next 20-30 years. Les went home to be with Jesus a few years ago, Shirley is the only one left ‘living’ of those people, and is still a close family friend, especially to my sister, who lives reasonably close to her.
For me, as pre-teen, Roy instantly stepped into the void that dad had left, and without any need for conversation or discussion, took on the ‘role’ as my ‘spiritual’ dad. Roy died a couple of years ago, was still regularly in touch, and a supporter of the ministry God has called me to, right up to the end. Norman took on the role of my ‘practical’ dad: taking me to things like the Farnborough Air Show, England rugby internationals at Twickenham, museums in London, and so much more. He died many years ago now, but I’ll never forget what he, Roy, and the Edgells, invested in me. For 4-5 years after dad died, I was under child psychologists – today I guess it would be given a name, what I went through, and I know that I can’t have been easy to be around (maybe I’m STILL not…!!).
It came home to me as we stood at the container, trying to work out if there was anywhere other than the storage company, that I could store everything, as it costs £20 a time to go and get a few boxes out, but we couldn’t think of anywhere, or anyone…
So what about the title of this maudlin blog? About 30 years ago, Les and Shirley sent me a card, just to be in touch, and the title was what was written on the front of the card. It was one of the few things that came back to the house with me today: at the time I got it from them, life was tough (a lot of the last 40 years HAS been tough), and I framed it.
And it’s mad me think again: about my four Christian friend ‘giants’ who helped to shape my life, and made me wonder – do I do that for other people? Without them, probably by the time I was 17-18, I’d have topped myself. And it made me wonder about church today, most people significantly interested only in their own lives (perhaps understandably… though it ain’t God’s way…). ARE there people who’d do for others what they did for me? Would I? Much older friends of mum and dad, many who were proxy ‘aunt and uncle’ to me, are all with Jesus now, and many of them, right up to their deaths, prayed for me, mum, and my sister, every day. I MISS their prayers.
And so to the ‘motto’ on the card. In a generation where we fight for the best of education, however expensive it is, and rejoice with those who got their good ‘A’ level and GCSE results, what does God look for? None of it. He looks for battle wounds, sacrifice, scars.
I’m so glad my little framed card made it safely back across the Atlantic. And it made me even more grateful for Leslie, Shirley, Roy, and Norman, and Alan & Barbara, for friends who are closer than a brother.