A Passing

But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.

There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things. 

Wendell Berry


paternoster april 2011 224


My father-in-law died on Saturday. He became suddenly ill just days before Christmas and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, only two months and a little more than a week ago. In that short time, he celebrated his birthday, my mother-in-law’s birthday and their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary. We watched him grow frail even as we continued to chat about politics or sport. My brother-in-law brought him books about Georgia O ‘Keeffe (an artist my father-in-law loved) and he shared them with us, his delight in art and beauty evident. We talked about ballet and the performances he and my mother-in-law had seen on their travels abroad.

He loved to play poker with his family (he and the grandchildren often had mini tournaments during school holidays). We laughed a lot in those games, and I will miss them; I will miss hearing his laughter mingled together with the laughter of my husband and my sons.

My husband’s entire family live in Cape Town. There have been numerous birthdays and Christmastimes when everyone was there. I remember what a treasure that was for me when my parents and brothers were living far away and my children were small. Those big family gatherings were a wonderful gift. I’ve watched as the number of grandchildren grew from two to three and eventually to eleven. The babies and toddlers who sat around plastic tables and who scattered lego and train sets over the floor have grown to teenagers and young adults. And still we’ve continued to gather together. One of my father-in-law’s favourite sayings was: ‘If I’d known how much fun grandchildren would be, I’d have had them first.’

On Sunday we were all together again. We had planned a birthday celebration for my mother-in-law and one of my nephews.When the candles were blown out and the grandchildren had drifted off to chat amongst themselves, we sat talking about dates for the funeral and a gathering to celebrate his life. I watched as my husband and his siblings sat with their mother and talked things over. I was filled with a sense of the love that is there between them all, in the way they are coming together to walk through this season of grief. That love really does seem ‘like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.’


One thought on “A Passing

  1. This is a beautiful piece of writing Carolyn – it touched me, bringing prickles to my eyes. You wrote poignantly about the stitches that make up a life – at the time each stitch seems insignificant yet when you look at the millions of stitches made in a lifetime it creates a unique tapestry that is a magnificent celebration of a single life – lived bravely. All lives are lived bravely I think – just to get up each day and do what needs to be done requires courage and sometimes not getting up because you can’t face what needs to be done is also courageous.

    Chris did many great things in his life – doing things most people don’t – like being part of a heart transplant team and yet he also played poker with his grandkids… his life lived both out in the world and in his living room.

    A beautiful tribute to your father in law Carolyn .. maybe you will share it with Val

    Lots of love



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