Saturday, January 21, 2012
Honesty Is All Well and Good -- So Is Funereal Discretion the Better Part of Valour?
On Wednesday last The Man and I journeyed to Girvan in Ayrshire, Scotland to attend the funeral of a very old personal friend and colleague from The Man's days in the Royal Air Force. We were only in Scotland for a little over 24 hours, but to say the least, it was a very interesting visit and a very beautiful part of the world. I had only been to Scotland twice before -- once to an RAF reunion at Lossiemouth and the second a birthday surprise for The Man to the Isle of Skye. I enjoyed both visits very much.
Shortly after our arrival at our hotel -- just before dark -- I managed to take a photograph of the sea with Ailsa Craig in the background. I first saw it as we came down off the hills into Girvan where it loomed before us. Very impressive. The photograph from the front of our hotel complex was from a surprisingly different angle.
Our purpose for the visit was not tourism, however, and most of our time was spent in reminiscences with another couple who was at the hotel with us. Tony was a huge character and definitely one of a kind. He was a man of strong convictions and a colourful personal life! He had been ill for quite some time with cancer and had fought a very brave fight against the disease. Though like many others he never did give up those cigarettes and denied to the end that smoking had caused is condition! Women adored him -- he had a James Bond aura about him and to me a bit of the Noel Coward as well! Against all odds he made it through the RAF training process and through his persistence and determination attained his dream: he was a fine RAF pilot.
The failure of his two marriages led to estrangement from his children and it was only a few years ago that there was some reconciliation with his youngest child. As you can imagine this caused disquiet and tension at the service for family members as well as for others who shared his life toward the end. Not to mention endless speculation as to what final outcomes would be!
To begin with the church service went very well. His closest friend gave a moving and interesting synopsis of his life and the minister's address was very considered and thoughtful. His son was present and his stepchildren and many of his friends and colleagues. We all set off to the Crematorium in the nearby town of Ayr.
At 1.15 we gathered in the chapel. The minister said a prayer, Tony's sister recited a poem and then his son spoke. He told us that he would not be a hypocrite when talking about his relationship with his father. He spoke of the many difficulties and issues in their relationship but also about the joy of their reconciliation and of seeing his children rollicking with their new-found grandfather. Unfortunately, he could not refrain from the build up of a great swathe of emotion as he spoke. He began to repeat himself -- over and over again he would repeat how terrible a father he was and then he would say 'But he was my father and I loved him...' The atmosphere began to feel somewhat uncomfortable -- but he could not stop himself and finally his anger and frustration and the pain of his loss and tears overwhelmed him and he said 'He was a bastard... but he was my father and I loved him.' Honestly, I think we all winced together.
Fortunately, Tony's story was known by all those gathered in the room and much of what was said would not have been surprising. But I hope his son's final outburst was as cathartic for him as it was painful and shocking to hear.