On this day 4 years ago I had my first sight of a front row seat to death. I wasn’t in the front row, but I could see it clearly from where I was.
That day, my Grandad, Hedley Barker, went into hospital for a knee reconstruction. The operation went to plan, and early in the evening I had a phone call from Mum to say that everything went well.
Then later that night, I took a phone call from my Dad. He was choked up, and said to me he was ringing to tell me some bad news. That my Grandad had died. Apparently his heart just couldn’t take the stress.
Here he is, with my darling Grandma, Marjorie. Grandad was a bold man, who knew his own mind, and lived his life according to his beliefs and his faith. He knew what he was here for, and he acted on his convictions.
I remember when he was buried that I was completely unprepared for how small his coffin appeared to me. He always seemed like such a big man, but somehow his coffin looked just so ridiculously small.
A while after he died, I had stopped off at the cemetery, to, well, have a chat with Grandad. Or something. I can’t remember when it was now. But I was surprised, because at the time his gravesite was still a big heaped pile of dirt. I presume there is some settling or something involved. I couldn’t talk to a pile or dirt.
Today, 4 years after his death, I finally stopped by again. For that chat.
Here is the marker for my Grandad’s grave. He is at rest with his parents, William Henry Charles Barker and Frances Evelyn Barker. Who both died in their mid 50s. Mid 50s!
I was surprised at how quickly I became teary, standing there, looking at the marker of a life. In fact the marker of three lives.
Then I looked up, and saw the markers stretching away into the distance.
Each one of those markers would have had at least of cluster of people who stood teary and heartbroken at the loss of their loved one.
I felt surrounded by humanity and family and connection. And yet completely alone in my solitary journey through this world. After all, given enough time, there will be no one to tend to any marker for me, to tell my stories or to feel the heartbreak of my loss.
And that is as it should be.
I spent a while walking through the cemetery, looking at the gravesites, in their varying states of care, reading the inscriptions. I thought about the lives they represented, the young ones cut short in tragedy, and the long lives full of loving connection.
There was the son, killed accidentally in aircraft training at 20 years of age. There was the shared grave of a husband and a son, with their inscription clearly representing their connection with their wife and mother. But she was never buried there. I wonder where her life took her?
There was the family plot, turned into a cheery flower bed of sorts.
Then, there was Beverly. A loving daughter who died at 11 years of age in 1943. No surname.
She just was who she was. Someone’s loving daughter. And she was sadly missed.
In the end, it was only her connections that mattered.
There is just so much about life that I am learning from those who have come to the end of their own.
I’d like to think that maybe someone would leave for me a sparkly pink flower that spins in the breeze too.
Grandad, we miss you. Please don’t worry about Grandma. Grandma is being wonderfully looked after and cared for.
Could you look after Uncle Neil and Mum for us? Thanks x