On Tuesday, 20 March 2018, we will lay to rest my Uncle Brian, Mum’s brother, in the little town of Bodalla, next to his beloved wife Gwen. They both grew up there and although they’d lived in Bateman’s Bay and later Moruya, Bodalla was still thought of as ‘home’.
Most families have one member who is a bit of a legend and in my Mum’s family, her brother Brian, the third of four children, was the one they all loved spending time with. He was the “apple of his mother’s eye”. My Nanna always told me with pride how he won the local baby competition back in 1937. He was a character and would have us all in stitches with his hilarious and sometimes wicked sense of humour. Mum and Uncle Brian together were like a comedy act.
When I received the call last Tuesday from my cousin to say that he was in hospital and would I like to come down to see him, I knew it was serious. He’d battled cancer, diabetes and heart problems for decades. He was about to turn 82 and had defied the odds many times. The trouble with legends is that you think they’ll always recover and go on forever. It wasn’t to be this time.
It was such an honour to spend time with him and his kids, grandkids and partners over the next couple of days. When I arrived he was still able to acknowledge my presence and respond to conversations. The nursing staff had put him in ‘the room’ where his family could have privacy and space for that final part of his journey.
The thing that struck me was the love and respect every person in the room had for their Dad and Pa. The love was almost palpable. No matter whether it was his daughters or son, grand-daughters or grandsons or their partners, every time someone entered the room they all kissed him hello and goodbye and said gentle words of encouragement. I watched my cousins and their daughters nursing him, looking after his personal care as he was now too weak to do it himself. One of the young ones lovingly massaged his hands and feet and I remembered my own Mum, just before she passed, asking me to massage her just like that. Whether it was to help her circulation or just to have that human touch, I’m not sure. I still remember the touch of her skin.
Typical of the Connolly family though, amidst the tears there was also much laughter. I looked across the room at my Uncle Brian, lightly dozing, and thought how beautiful and comforting it must be to hear all those familiar voices and know that his loved ones were there with him. Laughter is always the best medicine. I’m sure it helped him relax. I will never forget those couple of days and I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of it.
Yesterday morning, at 3.40am, surrounded by his family, he gently drifted off to sleep. If there is a perfect way to pass, then surely this was it. Nothing is ever the same once your parents pass. That ache in your heart is always there and grief will still come at times when you least expect it. Often it’s when there’s something major happening in your life – the good and the bad. “…I’ll just give Mum a ring…” and then you remember. I’m not so sure that ‘time heals’ as the saying goes. I think the raw grief does eventually go, but grief still simmers just beneath the surface. When I feel that happening, I try to focus on the beautiful moments, the laughter and the love. I hope Uncle Brian’s family will do that too. Mum said to me just before she passed, “No regrets,” meaning how lucky we were to have had such a special relationship and to always focus on that. After watching this beautiful family supporting their darling Dad and Pa, I know he’d say to them all, “No regrets.” Love lives on.