On the other side of the ocean, in a country I like to call my own, rests a man quite still and at peace. Mourned by family and friends in a room filled with empty tea cups, half-eaten sandwiches, and hushed conversation. Where soft tissue dabs at cruel tears and laughter ripples to fond remembrance. Murmured voices change painful subjects, as the subject himself listens with deaf ears. Gone the worries, the pains and complaints, gone the insurmountable stairs.
Larger than life, a man who greedily lived his own ten times over, now lies compacted and crated in pine. A colossus who bestrode the world, shielded family and defended Empire, now resigned to a cold churchyard plot. Final prayers and sad farewells – forced to endure the poignant tone of Last Post and the whisper of unfurling flags.
Now we talk of the man in the past tense when only yesterday we were complaining bitterly in the present. The sacrifice required of loved ones who can barely take care of themselves let alone care for the sick and infirm. How if onlys and what ifs were replaced with adequate facilities and shorter hospital waiting lists – wishes that would enable beggars to ride. Those concerns are gone now, replaced with funeral arrangements and time tables, telephone calls and whispered voices. What’s best for Jack? What would Jack want that’s best for us? A man available to all, now fitting his after-life into our busy schedules.
Not exactly a knight on a white steed, more a welcome flat-capped face on a squeaking, rusting, bicycle. Scalded for dirty boots and errant household ways he’d endure the wrath of marital bliss, accepting blame for things he hadn’t done. If the Japs couldn’t get him what chance did his wife and kids have of scratching that tough exterior? An armor plated veteran in slippers and a cardigan, the epitome of Englishness, a son of Yorkshire – an inspiration to us all.
Grandfather, uncle, husband, father and friend – a man who answered to many names. A multitasking genius and juggler of renown; a Jack of all trades, who’d seen it, been it and bought the holiday home. A man who could weave a tale like no other, talk the hind legs off a donkey and yet there were some stories he wouldn’t tell. Stories alluded to by the blue-black ink on shrapneled hands that would remain with him forever. Briefly shared but never explained, an outburst of emotion and a flood of tears – a softer side to a man of steel.
Gone but not forgotten. Nature abhors a vacuum but the space he occupied will be hard to fill. The house will hold him forever and our hearts are fuller for having known him. The empty chair by the television, chocolate bars in the fridge, and the myriad pill bottles he refused to open.
“Bloody doctors, what do they know anyway?” What did they know about healing a man broken on the inside? What did they know about plugging a heart the size of a planet? Advice taken but wisely ignored.
A soldier who’s gone on to greater things – standing to attention in Elysium’s pantheon. No longer in a world carved by bullet and bomb, but one turfed and flowered, treed and hedged. A place fit for heroes and dead grandfathers. A warm welcome from comrades passed. A seat by the home fire and a welcome brew. Now he can rest that pack and throw down the rifle that needs never be fired again.
“What took you so long Jack? We’ve been waiting for you forever!”
“I was busy lads. Stuff to do and family to look after you know…Can’t just run away and leave it for others now, can you?”
Knowing smiles and nudges.
Aye, that’s the Jack they remembered. Bloody hero is our Jack.
Don’t hear that much in these days of reality drivel, where a man stands out for his qualities rather than the way he looks in name-branded shoes on the front page of some random gossip magazine.
A man’s man, a woman’s man, a family man. A man to be remembered and to emulate.
Dear Jack. I’ve dried my tears and mended my heart however, the hole you’ve created in a life a thousand miles from where you lie will be hard to fill. The red barrier tape and flashing lights that surround the crater you have left will serve as memorial, where the very depth of memory echoes in the pitch blackness of our recent loss.
Memories of a man who cried upon arrivals and goodbyes, who held one transfixed with his one good eye.
I love you Jack.
Goodnight sweet Prince.