And so it came. In a way it’s weird… I always felt there were only two likely things to happen.
First, I would find my father (or he would find me) and a period of reconciliation may take place. Closeness, perhaps never, but reconciliation would be fine.
Second, I would never find him, and that would be that. Finito.
I’d actually come to the conclusion a few years ago that maybe he’d died some time ago. In some ways it was an easier conclusion… it stopped me feeling guilty for not continuing a search or trying harder.
I don’t think I was ever ready for this. And this morning I woke up very early at around 5am. Partly because I went to bed very early, but also because my mind was spinning. I decided to put some music on. And this piece came up:
And I took a moment to try and remember what was really good about my father. I’ve told the story that shows the negative in him. The curious thing is that our negative moments in life tend to be far fewer in occassion than our positives, yet they often define us.
So I remembered:
- Football in the garden when I was very young.
- Him teaching me pinball – and his pride when I started to beat him, and most people, from the age of about five. I still love pinball and if I ever have the space, I’ll have one!
- Going to watch Liverpool play at Anfield on several occassions.
- Learning about different cultures through him, that there was more to the world than the area(s) I was growing up in.
- When I was 16 I met a girl in Oostende and, late in the evening, him quietly handing me enough money to take her clubbing. He then made his excuses and dragged away others to give us space. He continued in this vein all week. It was just a holiday romance, but hey…
There was more… but those are what sprung to mind. And I had my first ‘moment’ there in bed at about 6am this morning.
The next came during the funeral. But first, a little about Chilean funerals…
Chile doesn’t feel wildly different to Spain, in so many ways. The climate, the landscape even… at least, when I compare it to Alicante where my family lives. Culturally it’s similar enough that you expect things to be reasonably similar. And I suppose they are. But that’s still quite different to Britain.
First things first, you arrive at the hospital with all your paperwork a little before the funeral directors come to collect the body. In our case we then had an hour or so of waiting before heading to the cemetary. I’ve already mentioned that instead of burial plots, niches are used.
And in our case, as there were only two of us at the undertakers we could ride in the hearse, up front. I was disappointed, in a way, as the hearse was simply a silver Ford Taurus Estate. With BMW hubcaps. As a car geek I was disappointed! But then in the UK we use Fords for hearses as well, so I can’t complain… but I’d still prefer to head off in a Daimler, if anyone’s listening….
In the back was the coffin, wrapped in the skin of Bungle.
I realised that if we had an accident (not entirely unlikely) the coffin was unrestrained. It would be… messy, to say the least. Still, we made it to the cemetary where I met the kindly David Hucker from the Anglican Church, his wife, a singer he’d brought along, my father’s landlady, and several of his friends.
Given that funerals tend to be arranged very quickly here, and that he had no family at all here, it was a good turnout.
We then slowly walked behind the car to the tomb, where two rows of plastic garden chairs were laid out. The Bungle-Coffin was then placed on a support, and the car left. Nearby a bell tolled.
Rev. Hucker gave a simple ceremony in both English and Spanish with accompaniment and song from the delightful guitarist. And then the moment I was completely unprepared for. Everyone who knew my father stood up to say a few words of remembrance. When it came to my turn, I fell apart. I didn’t even start talking, just sobbed.
It’s so unlike me. A few tears, sure. But sobbing? Proper, wobbly belly, heaving chest sobbing? Nope, not since I was a little kid.
Every time I remembered the good parts of my father, I went again. More than in the morning which was a single burst of tears.
After a few minutes and a few tissues I managed to compose myself to string together a barely articulate sentence. It would have to do, or I’d just be off again. I patted the Bungle-Coffin, sat down, and the ceremony was then brought to a close.
Of course, the English bits didn’t make sense, entirely, in the context, but they were familiar, which helped, I think.
Then the next new part – the coffin was then pushed into the tomb, and we got to watch the workers carefully seal it up. The flowers were then placed in front of the stone, and we took turns to quietly pay our last respects.
My thoughts have also drifted to my brother and half-sister back in Europe. The five grandchildren my father never even knew about, and the joy he missed out on with all of them.
One day I’ll explain this whole story to my son Conrad (and any others) and maybe I’ll be back in Arica once more.
And when we come back, I’ll give Joaquin Alvarez, the British Honorary Consul, a call. He has been amazing, taking a lot of time and trouble to help me with arrangements. He came to the funeral with us as a friend of my father’s, and has touched me with his kindness and generosity of spirit. A true giant amongst men.