Losing Kath

Love lost, read and found

The order of things

What does a parent really want for their child? Despite a whole life of living for your children, how does the wanting shape you? When does the wanting come to a stop and where did that wanting take you?

As a parent we want so much out of life for our children that we don’t ever stop to think where will it all end and if there is anything more than to be scattered or laid in a grave. But our journey until then will be filled with nothing but hope and what we wish for the lives of our others.

I guess a parent wants to raise a close knitted family and hope the bonds between siblings will always stay true, but we are really powerless when you think of the nature of things. A parent will raise their children and do all they can do to keep the family together, but their presence in life cannot be granted forever and when they have finished shepherding our relationships, the togetherness of siblings is overwhelmed by the journeys anew. In life we are designed to look both forward and back, and that keeps a family together, but when it comes down to death and being laid somewhere to rest, in more cases than not, a family is not buried together.

In life, if it has turned out somewhere close to as hoped, your partner or children will end up laying you to rest and the place that they do so will have little to do with your own parents or siblings. In short, despite the blood ties of family being so strong as we grow up, when it comes down to being buried or having our ashes scattered somewhere special, few of us will be laid to rest with the siblings we grew up with.

I don’t think a parent ever gives it a thought, but the children they spend all their lives loving and raising and regularly reuniting, will probably be scattered miles apart from each other, if and when their own descendants choose to lay them to rest.

The apples of a family tree will fall and over time rot away, but in most cases none will return to the orchard. I guess we can look at life and almost determine a measure of good, happiness or success by where a person’s remains ended up and who they, if anyone, they where joined with.

Our parents brought us into this world, yet when our spirits are ready to leave it, it’s not always with them or your siblings, you hope your remains alone will be laid with.

I don’t know if I really believe it, but what if just maybe I am wrong? So can things really happen for a reason? Perhaps the following reflections are just me with too much time looking for a pattern in things, or perhaps they are just the order in things.

Katherine’s father Ernest was one of four siblings and a man I came to admire immensely. His older brother Frank I met on just a couple of occasions including our wedding day, but I never really got to know him personally and as he died not too long after that, no further family opportunities presented themselves to do so. Ernest’s younger brother Len did not even make it to our wedding day dying some time before, but despite this I did come to know him very well and he was as easily likeable as his older brother (Katherine’s Dad). The youngest of the siblings was their sister Rita who once again I can say was just lovely and along with her husband Fred, I had the pleasure of meeting many times over the years, but from Ernest’s siblings it was Len that I came to know best due to his regular presence at Katherine’s home.

Well that was the order of things among those siblings and with her brothers now all gone, only Rita is left still living. Over the years that proceeded those chain of events, I came to know Ernest and his brother Len very well, as Len was the ever-present handy man that his brother Ernest often lent on.

Len was still single when he died quite some years ago and back then when sat at his hospital bedside I could never have thought much of the order of things that were happening except perhaps how hard it must be for Ernest and Katherine to see a part of their family ailing.

My father-in-law Ernest had lived in his house for 50 years and his brother Len’s handy work was present in every part of it. Ernest was quite a capable man himself but he bounced off his brother for more than just morale in getting things done in and around the home. In those first few years I guess I was young and my relationship with Katherine’s dad was still growing, but being quite a reserved quiet man it took a few years to get to know him. As my persevering presence in his daughter’s life continued through the years, I too became a regular fixture in their home and at their family get-togethers and over that time my bond with Ernest was fast in forming however it was right from the start that I was impressed with his attitude to do it all and find ways to problem solve and cope from his wonderful basement workshop and vast collection of tools and resources, but I also know he took a lot of motivating influence from his brother who earned his living doing handy work.

I don’t really know if there was an order in things here or neither if and how badly Ernest might have taken the loss of his brother as he was a very private man and wouldn’t have automatically shown it outwardly. I probably wouldn’t have noticed his loss too much myself except for the obvious absence on special occasions around the dinner table when I was invited to join Katherine’s family.

As my courtship of Kath continued, it is fair to say that Len had died quite some time before even years before I got around to approaching Katherine’s Father for his blessing to allow me to propose to his only daughter and a couple of years later we were married and in our first one bedroom home. Fast forward another two years later and with a young baby and suddenly too little living space, Kath and I set out about finding a bigger home. After months of searching without seeing anything that gave us that feeling that this could be home, on our 25th house viewing something finally screamed out at us in a way that we couldn’t ignore, and once we had put an offer on the house, it wasn’t very long after before Kath’s parents sold up their home of more than fifty years to move close to where it was that we were moving to. In their efforts to be close to where their daughter, granddaughter and myself were going to be starting our new life, Kath’s parents, just as we were, bought a house that needed a heck of a lot of work but that was just around the corner from where we would be living.

As it turned out, the purchase of our house was anything but smooth, taking more than a year while Kath’s parents sold up and purchased without any hiccups and moved into their new home which was in need of attention in just about every corner of every room and before very long the toil of the undertaking soon set in. It became very apparent that Ernest had taken on more than a man of his age should try to and after 50 years of being settled in his home, he was fast becoming undone by the upheaval of living in the shell of a home that was far from any comfort and in constant chaos.

Whilst Kath and I waited impatiently for all the legalities and constant solicitor related issues to be addressed and for probate to run its course, I did all I could do and every evening and weekend I was there helping him decorate and bring in the repairs to make it once again feel like the comfort of home, but despite all my efforts I was very worried for him and he lost an alarming amount of weight in the first few weeks of moving. Kath of course was equally concerned and wanted desperately to complete our move to be near him and support her parents more even if in just keeping morale. It was a worrying time and I also had the memory of my Grandmother in my mind, who had gone from perfect health to dying not too long after having being moved from one room in the house to another, and so seeing Ernest losing so much weight at his age and to see him so unsettled in his new surroundings, we all thought that they had made a huge mistake. Ernest was far too proud to let us see it or to voice his fears, but Esther who was even more worried told us he had sobbed alone through one of the nights, and it made me ache and worried sick to hear it. The family all rallied round and did what they could and I continued every minute I could around the working week and helped paint and wallpaper every room and put up lights, erect new fencing and many many other jobs, and it was to everyone’s relief when the carpets came and were finally laid and to see the great man once again relaxed and calm in the comfort of home.

In the years that followed, Ernest and I were always there for each other and we relied heavily on the other for setting up home, decorating tasks and all types of Do-it-Yourself necessities. Perhaps Len’s passing was the catalyst to Ernest’s reliance on me but if that was so, it came with his willingness to be there whenever I needed him too, and that is how we both managed.

I could not bear to see the man that I so admired look so undone for that short phase in his life after he moved, but over the years that side of him never resurfaced and he was the enduring rock that never faltered even during the testing trials we faced as a family in the year to follow.

Fifteen months after putting an offer on our hopeful house of choice, we finally got the keys to the place that we would call home and as coincidence would have it, it was on Ernest’s birthday. I like the thought that having his beloved daughter living 30 seconds walk from his home was the best present he ever could have hoped for, and now both our families could look forward to what life would be bringing anew.

As it turned out though, despite the overhaul of both homes, the year’s biggest news was that our family was set to grow even bigger.

The very next year was a lifetime in the living, one whose diary entries are more than so many and one of these days I will find day cause to open it up and go through its torrid pages, but for now I summarise just by saying instead of enjoying a new start, we had to endure our new addition and second daughter, suffer set back after set back and eventually just a year later the sad acceptance of our losing of our baby daughter Jessica from our lives completely. Ernest quite simply, was a rock. He supported constantly and quietly, always sensitively, caring without ever smothering and from a man to another, he got the balance just right.

A lifetime when full, is sure to be full of memories we cherish and hurdles we have had to overcome.

Sometime later when Ernest was diagnosed with cancer it was very upsetting for all of us of course and the worry came thick and fast and stood firm. But as time slowly passed, the ‘at first’ changed to ‘managing’ and he lived with it for quite some years until it the grand old age of 94, it finally overwhelmed him and took him from us all.

I remember it constantly and I can still feel Katherine’s daily sadness that was present for months on end as much as I feel my own aching for the loss of a great man and friend, but mostly these days I remember my daughter Aimee whose silent mourning for Granddad was the loudest. Their bond together was a special thing, so much that months into being bedridden Ernest dragged himself out of bed for an hour to make a brief appearance at Aimee’s special day of her 1st Holy Communion where unknowingly then, they posed together for what would be his last ever photo.

I didn’t think if there was an order in things or if there was any justice, just that how sad it was to see such a giant go. But often sat at his beside through his last months he repeatedly told me that he had had a good life and being in his 90s, he had seen everything he could have hoped for. He asked me to help out Esther as much as I could and to take care of his daughter and with that knowledge and belief that he was more than ready to go, and so it was with my sad blessing and God’s grace when he finally was set free from months of endless suffering, and at that time I never thought I might let him down, but for one more cruel twist of fate. Less than eight months later, my beautiful wife, his only daughter, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then suffered seven cruel months of debilitating illness before she too in the agonising blink of an eye, while I stood powerlessly by, was taken away for good with my sad but very bitter blessing.

Yet maybe even here, there was a bigger plan in play.

We cannot bear to see our loved ones suffer and so it is with bitter sad relief we let them go, but Ernest was a family man and his daughter Katherine was his pride and joy and I have to wonder if I have to be grateful for the order of things. I don’t know how Ernest would have managed if he had been well and seen his daughter die, and just as much, I don’t know how I would have coped to lose my wife and see the great man crumple and that at the time in my life that I know would have needed him the most.

I have to give thanks to God that in his wisdom he spared us both from this.

I don’t know if we can we really give thanks for the tragedies or sad times that we face in life, but perhaps we can give thanks to their order, and for that if we are grateful, perhaps there might even be comfort to think there is purpose in their order.

Yes the apples of a family tree will fall and over time rot away, but in most cases none will return to the orchard. Perhaps in this case I cannot determine if the measure of good, happiness or success by where my loved one’s remains have ended up but it gives me some pleasure to know they are together.

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