At 8.30am on Monday 9th January when I was just about to have breakfast my phone rang and I could see it was my parents calling. “Odd” I thought. Without even saying hello, Dad said “I’ve got some bad news” Assuming the death of an elderly relative I wasn’t at all prepared for what he said next. “Alexander is dead”. Alexander is my 19 year old nephew who was healthy, fit, extremely good looking, full of life kind of boy and the eldest child of my sister and brother-in-law.
At that moment I felt a huge wallop in my chest and had to sit down. I’m guessing I discovered what my solar plexus was and it had taken a severe bashing. The telephone conversation I had with Dad was short because I couldn’t actually speak very much and neither could he. I was too shocked to cry and struggled to make sense of the horrific news. Nothing like this had ever happened to our family as we’d only experienced death in the form of aged relatives past their sell by dates. Things like this only ever happened to other families, not to ours, but now it’s our turn. You see, not having had any offspring of my own, until I acquired step-children, Alexander, his sister Laura and their cousin Sophie were the nearest thing I had to having my own children and the grief I was experiencing was, at times overwhelming.
I wanted to jump on a plane and go straight back to England as soon as I could but with the date for the funeral not yet being set my family told me to wait awhile. It was terrible being so far away from them all I seemed to be able to do was mope around listening to sad songs which only made me cry. The Kiwi was out at work all day but somehow my golden girls just knew I was sad and stuck to me like a warm enveloping glue. Eventually I could bear it no longer and booked myself a flight home. Leaving the Kiwi with a freezer full of food early the following Tuesday morning I caught the bus from Glenthompson to Melbourne and just twenty-four hours later I was back in England.
What could I say to them? How could I make it better? In the end I needn’t have worried. Even though she was stricken with grief, my sister was just the same old “Smelly” as we used to call each other and still do. Their house had just been through a massive renovation project and the builders had left a bit of a mess. Together with my other younger sister and two cousins we formed our own DIY SOS gang and galvanised ourselves into getting the house into a condition where a wake following a funeral could be held. Clearing up proved to be a healing and cathartic process for everyone which helped us get through some very dark days.
There were so many practical details to be carried out; food and wine for the wake, the service card, the flowers, the real nitty gritty of the burial, such grim stuff that none of us had experienced before. And then the rain came down and flooded the entire area making us think that God was crying too. But at last the rain stopped, the house was looking great, the food and wine were ready and all we had to do was get to the church.
It was at that moment, when we entered the little Catholic church and saw Alexander’s coffin and all the flowers, that the enormity of what had happened and what we were about to do really hit us. We were about to say goodbye to the dear lovely boy that had bought us all so much joy. Alexander’s father Damian showed the most amazing courage and gave a jaw dropping eulogy that brought us all to tears. The rest of that day was just too sad and private to write about but this poem has given us comfort:
God Lent a Child
I’ll lend you for a little while a child of mine, God said. For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years or forty-two or three. But, will you, ’til I call him back, take care of him for me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you and should his stay be brief, you’ll have his lovely memories as a solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay, since all from Earth returns, but there are lessons taught below, I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked the whole world over in my search for teacher’s true. And from the things that crown life’s lane I have chosen you.
Now will you give him all your love? Nor think the labour vain? Nor hate me when I come to take this lent child back again?
I fancied that I heard them say, Dear Lord, Thy will be done. For all the joys Thy child will bring the risk of grief we’ll run.
We will shelter him with tenderness we’ll love him while we may. And for all the happiness we have known forever grateful stay.
But should they angel call for him, much sooner than we planned, we’ll brace the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.
So, now I think of Alexander up in heaven dancing with his great-grandparents and my family is left to organise a memorial service for him at his old school, Sherborne. A huge number of his friends and wider family are expected to gather and remember him. Meanwhile we will and try to carry on without him. I won’t physically be present but with the wonders of the modern world I shall attend by Factetime because now I’m now back home in Australia where life carries on, with my Kiwi working hard and my Golden Girls snoozing in the sun.