My mother conducted the church choir. Sometimes she would feel frustrated when they learnt a new piece of music and not everyone could master it to find the harmonious sound she was looking for. The discord of death slipped into my voice and so many notes I sing are out of tune. I am learning to sing the duet of sorrow and joy. It is the song of life. The flipside of the coin. The reality.
There was the intense joy of the birth of our first grandchild followed by your death, my Beloved. Now we face the ‘firsts’ without you. The first birthdays in the family, our wedding anniversary, Christmas and New Year coming up. We are planning how to say goodbye to your physical remains by scattering your ashes in the sea. The sea was our happy place. You desired to become part of its eb and flow. Thus, with the help of our bereavement counsellors, we plan what we want to say and do at our ‘funeral ceremony’.
There are so many decisions to make and things to figure out. Where will we scatter your ashes? We could not do it in Cape Town where we live because you died in the middle of lockdown and the beaches were closed. I think aloud: Perhaps we could scatter some of it in the dam on the farm where I grew up and the rest in the sea? Githa feels uncomfortable with the suggestion and asks: “What if Jesus comes back and Daddy has a split personality because we scattered his ashes in two different places?” Her counsellor says that our sense of humour is a strong family value. It becomes clear that we prefer to do it in one place. I think of Great Brak River where we used to go for holidays when the girls were small. It is near Oudtshoorn where we have our family weekend. Everybody loves the idea and agrees. Each of us will write a short letter that we will read aloud. We page through your Bible and talk about Scriptures that you loved. What will we read? I speak about forgiveness that is so essential and non-negotiable to me. How can we accept the forgiveness of Christ if we cannot forgive each other? However, we are not on the same page about that. Though we are bound together by a family bond of blood and love, each person is on an individual journey in their grief. We decide to respect that we each have to find our own map for our route of grief. We will leave it to each individual to choose if they feel ready to make such a declaration.
We drive to town to fetch the cakes for Githa’s birthday celebration. Danica comes to sit next to me on the backseat of the car. When I ask why, she says: “That I can hold you tight.” And so we drive the fifteen minutes to town while I allow my sorrow to spill over on her shoulder in the comfort of her embrace. How do we celebrate while we are so heartbroken? We find a way because death and life are the flipsides of the same coin. We light Githa’s thirty birthday candles and sing our birthday song. We miss the sound of your voice my Beloved. At dinner we decide who is going to do what during our farewell to you. Sean will be the master of ceremonies and do the Scripture reading. Simon will hold and comfort our precious grandchild, Lucy-Antoinette. Danica, Githa and I will walk into the shallow seawater and each take a turn to scatter your ashes. When that is done, we will release a balloon as our salute to you. We chose Isaiah 43:18-19. You experienced these words as an encounter with the Lord during your hospitalisation in March 2019. “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Lucy-Antoinette starts crying when we walk away towards the sea. Simon rocks her in his arms. He is her Daddy – her safe space. He stays standing in the shelter of the rocks that buffer them against the strong wind. I open the wooden box with the plastic bag that contains your ashes. Danica takes a handful and walks into the water with determination. She returns in tears and gives the box to Githa who takes off her hat and gives it to her sister to hold. She walks hesitantly towards the sea and reverses when a bigger wave rolls out on the beach. She takes some ashes, releases it above the water, shudders and bows to rinse her hand before she walks back. It is my turn. I walk with slow feet. The waves come in quick succession. I look up to heaven where my help comes from. I bow down and release what is left of your ashes, into the water. I walk ‘next to you’ for a few steps in the water and then turn to walk back to the beach. I enfold my girls into my arms and we stand crying together. Goodbye, my Love, goodbye once again. And so we will continue to remember you, celebrate you and say goodbye to you in all the different layers of grief. This tangible goodbye was painful and it was good. It felt like it was your funeral today.
John 16:20 “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” Until we meet again, my Beloved, I will practice the duet of life: songs of sorrow and songs of joy.