The Day My Clocks Stopped (Part 2)
Grey Loerie - Go-away-bird and Olive Thrush
Family passes on
I flew high as a kite after that. We landed in Johannesburg and I was picked up by a driver and delivered safely to Cynthia’s cottage. The following day my Dad’s gravestone was to be revealed amongst family and friends, and prayers uttered once more. That night, my brother asked me to go through my parents’ computer and delete all old messages as the computer would be given to one of their caregivers. I worked on the computer and my laptop simultaneously. I checked my emails and in doing so, was shocked to discover that my brother-in-law and father-in-law had both died, the former a week after my own father, and the latter, two days after his youngest son. I bless my father-in-law’s sister for letting me know, as I was then able to prepare myself to attend their funerals the day after I arrived back in Texas.
Wednesday dawned cooler than the preceding week, but the sky was bright blue. Not as many people could attend the service revealing my Dad’s gravestone. Cynthia was the only woman who accompanied me, but after we arrived at the cemetery and began walking to the gravesite, my dear friend Alys, another friend from high school days, appeared at my side and held me around my waist from beginning to end. Her face shone with the light of love and wisdom as she supported me in what was a more difficult day than the funeral had been. As prayers were said, she stood close by me and over the words of the service, I clearly heard the call of one of my favorite birds in Southern Africa: the grey Loerie. It is commonly called the “go away” bird, because its call of “gwaaaaaaaaaaay” sounds just like that. I often look for these birds when I am home, and had not seen any at the retirement village. It was the call of an old friend and said that my Dad had gone home. He is buried right beside my mother and I know that he has joined her in the realm of spirit and he is finally happy.
Supporting the Bereaved
I am so grateful for the love and support of my friends who came to pay respects to my Dad and to me and my family. There is so much to be said for the comfort that we get from loving embraces, offered condolences, kind visits and food that is brought with love to nourish and sustain. After my mother died, I had only one such visit and it was rather devoid of love and warmth but appreciated nevertheless. I was alone in my grief, just as it was when my husband died. So much comfort can be gained from family and friends – and I thank each person who came by to visit and offer their condolences.
On Thursday, my last day in my beloved country, I had to check with the airlines how to take home a box of personal effects from my parents’ cottage. When I finally got hold of a representative from Delta Airlines, she was understanding and helpful. She made notes that I was allowed by compassionate grounds to add the box without a monetary penalty. I was so grateful. In addition, when I checked in, I asked for an aisle seat (was previously informed that there weren’t any) and the woman at the check-in counter told me that there was only one right at the back of the plane, but that the seat would not recline. I accepted the seat, which was a blessing because it was one of two at the very back, closest to the bathroom, which I need to visit regularly on such flights, and a man occupied the second. He was both friendly and helpful and the seats did recline. I offered up a silent prayer of thanks and travel ensued with no further difficulty.
Flowers in memory of Tom Sr. and Tommy Jr.
U.S. Route 59 in Texas
Return to the States
We landed in Atlanta around 6 a.m. on Friday. I had to wait for my connection to Houston six hours later, as earlier flights were full and if I had found a seat on one of those flights, my luggage most likely would not have been transferred, so either way, I would have had to wait in Houston. I switched on my cellphone and Googled a florist in Corpus Christi and placed an order for a basket of flowers to be delivered to the funeral home in honor of my father-in-law and his son. After hours of waiting, when all my body wanted to do was lie down, I boarded the flight for Houston and, after departing about 10 minutes late, Delta caught up during flight-time and we landed about 5 minutes early. It was a huge relief. My luggage (which had been loaded an extra hour earlier than normal in Johannesburg), was one of the first items off the carousel. Oh… wait a moment, I had needed to get it off the carousel in Atlanta and recheck it for Houston… but after all was said and done, I had it all safely in hand, or should I say on a cart (which now costs $4 to free from its tether), and went to get the bus which would take me to car rentals. I must give a compliment to Delta Airlines for the smooth flights that thankfully had little delay and more than made up for flight times. I was helped each step of the way and I am thankful that ground and air crew are supportive during times of extreme duress. When I did let attendants or ground crew know that I had just lost three close relatives, they each empathized in their own way and gave me blessings to travel on. It made my travels a lot easier to bear.
Without much further ado, I picked up yet another car with different features. This car had an ignition switch and was thankfully automatic, but, I searched in vain for a cigarette lighter in which to plug my GPS cord. I could not find it and was reflecting about the need to use my cellphone again, when I asked the attendant as I exited the parking area if she knew where it was. She looked around the console and found a cover, which, when slid up, revealed a hidden cigarette lighter. I was relieved. A friendly woman at the baggage carousel had suggested I follow Route 59 South back to Corpus Christi. With persnickety GPS plugged in, and faithfully following road signs guiding me to 59 South, I drove the hair-raising six-lane highways through a busy Houston and breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching the outskirts of the city an hour later.
Two more funerals
With my head banging and back breaking, I drove (at the posted speed limits) back to Corpus Christi International Airport to drop off the car, this time, with gas topped up. My friends, Shelly and Ed, were faithfully waiting to pick me up, baggage and all, and take me home after stopping for milk, bread and something to eat once I got there. I was greeted at the door by a thoroughly relieved Mr. Hobbes who was so delighted that I was back, and after much brushing against me, Mr. Hobbes hopped up onto my bed to sleep happily at the foot, so glad that his human was back home and I passed out. I awoke around 2 a.m. and went downstairs to feed the family of kitties there, who were also glad to see me again. My friend and neighbor had picked up the slack while I was away and also popped in daily to see to Mr. Hobbes’ needs. Then I went to buy some groceries, the best time to shop, Dear Readers. No traffic and no people clogging aisles and checkout tills! I enjoy the peace and quiet of night.
When I plugged in my laptop upn my return home, I discovered that I had no internet service and no phones. I would need to deal with that later. My next port of call was to arrive at the cemetery in Corpus Christi, to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law. After the service, I greeted family and offered my condolences. My late-husband’s nephew, George, invited me to say a few words at my father-in-law’s funeral later that day. I went home and put together a short speech and then made my way to the funeral home for his memorial service. My father-in-law, who served in the Navy for 27 years, saw action during the Second World War, the Bay of Pigs crisis, the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam conflict. He subsequently joined the Sherriff’s office and when laid to rest, he was buried with full honors. His coffin was draped with the American flag, which, during the ceremony at the graveside, was given to my grief-stricken, mother-in-law. My stepson attended, dressed in full marine uniform, and my other stepchildren stood by with their mother and aunt. Three naval soldiers gave a three-volley salute, a ceremonial act performed at military and police funerals. I greeted all members of the family warmly and offered my sincerest condolences. It was a sad day.
In memory of my father-in-law and brother-in-law:
I will share with you, dear readers, my final tribute to my family here in Texas:
When Dad first met me, it took him a while to understand my “accent” and he would tease me by calling me “Englishman.” I would listen with great interest as he told me about his time in the Navy and the places at which the ship would dock. He said that although they sailed around the world, they never stopped in Africa. I was always interested in hearing about Dad catching the “bad guys” during his days with the Sherriff’s Office, and I have been privileged to share life’s ups and downs, happiness and sorrow, birthdays, anniversaries and religious holidays with the Grace family for the last decade.
Whenever I would call Dad and ask how he was doing, he would tell me in his masculine way that he was “Mean as ever!” Like my own father, Dad was usually quiet and a man of few words, but was always fully present. As y’all may know, I left for South Africa at a moment’s notice, two weeks ago, to attend the funeral of my own father on the 21st. I was not able to speak to Tom to wish him a happy 87th birthday and was shocked to hear of Tommy Jr.’s passing, followed by Dad’s just two days later. Like my father, Thomas Sr. and Tommy Jr. are both now free from the restrictions that a physical incarnation imposes, and they all fly free. It is a very sad time for those of us left behind, but I do know that for Tommy Jr. and for Dad, there is a welcoming committee on the other side. At Tommy Jr.’s service a little earlier today, I could feel his big brother’s presence. I believe that now, they will all meet both of my parents too, and I take comfort in knowing that even in our bereavement, our loved ones are only just a thought away and I wish to pay tribute to the special men who were part of the fabric of our lives. I thank my father-in-law for giving me the opportunity of calling him “Dad.”
"Texas, Our Texas"
Last picture of me and my Dad
End of an Era
Thereafter, I returned home to spend 2½ hours on my cellphone trying to sort out my internet service, after purchasing a new router and having to spend $100 at a time when I can barely afford to spend money on such unexpected nuisance items. I fell onto my bed exhausted and woke up at 4 a.m. I was too tired and drained to worry about the phones which were still out. Luckily, I picked up a message via email that my sister-in-law from South Carolina wanted me to join her for lunch. It was good to spend time with members of family that have always been loving and kind. After lunch, we made our way to see her mother – my mother-in-law. Viola was in bad shape. She was hurting physically, mentally and emotionally. We did whatever we could to help. Eventually her daughter and son-in-law had to leave and I stayed on for another hour-and-a-half trying to help her in any way I could. Nurses changed her position and gave her pain medications and Xanax. I removed a heavy blanket, rearranged her pillows and held her hand. I smoothed her hair and spoke to her gently while she waited for the medications to kick in. She grieved and I grieved with her. I tried to help her but felt helpless for the most part. Finally, after over an hour, she yawned a couple of times and eventually fell into a troubled sleep. I left at that point and got home and fell in bed exhausted once more. When I awoke early again this morning, I tackled the phone problem, found an old phone and removed the wireless phones that apparently had stopped working. Now I have only one phone upstairs and have to run up and down whenever it rings. I do not intend to buy a new one at this time.
I feel as though a chapter of my life is ending. I don’t know whether I will ever get to see my beloved South Africa again. I feel that these are the last weeks that I will be living in Texas – proud Texas, the Lone Star State, which has become my home. I have a feeling that my sweet mother-in-law is not long for this world, and that will be the final end to this story. If there is one thing I have learned through this heart-wrenching time, it is that we are enriched only through our relationships with one another. Loving kindness is what we take with us when we depart this physical plane. All the rest is simply “stuff.” I have been shown kindness and unkindness by various members of my family and my late-husband’s family. I have made great efforts to be kind only and to continue with strength through my life. Not only did I return to a dead modem and dead phones, but both the clocks in my kitchen and living room, stopped. One needed a new battery, but the other, in the shape of Texas, has died too! It reminds me of the song I learned at school when I was a young child: My Grandfather’s Clock. As this last photo shows the cottage now an empty shell when before it held the lives of my Mother and Father in its space for a decade, so I realize are the bodies of my parents, which housed their precious spirits, now flown to a far, far better place. They soar with angels.
I have memorialized my Father in my writing about his beautiful garden – a wonderful legacy he gave me in more ways than one. I have also written about his death in “Paradise – There or Here?” You may be wondering why I have inserted some humor here and there and so much detail about my travel. The fact is that it takes much effort to get from one part of the world to another, especially under these circumstances. Writing about it and sharing my experiences with you, Dear Reader, is cathartic for me and is helping me to deal with my grief. It may not be easy reading, but I am hoping that somewhere along the line, it will help others too.