Two weeks ago, as I was running home from the school drop off, in the crisp sunny autumn weather, I received a somewhat unexpected phone call. It was Jimmy, a colleague of ‘The Rebound Guy’, whom I have not spoken to for at least a year.
I realised straight away that he could only be calling because something had happened – and my gut was telling me it had to be bad.
I was right.
“I had to call you.” He said. “I really thought you should know.”
He went on to explain that RG had had two brain haemorrhages. The second one had put him in a critical condition, in intensive care.
“He’s dying Lara. It’s just a matter of time.”
The whole thing seemed surreal. I couldn’t quite get my head around it. I wandered around all day not quite knowing how I felt about it. Then finally, that afternoon at 5pm, as I was driving back from school, he called again.
“I’m sorry Lara. They did a brain stem scan earlier, and there was no activity. So the family decided to switch off the life support. He’s dead. I’m so sorry.”
The chit chat of my youngest son seemed to disappear into the background. I struggled to concentrate on not rear-ending the car in front, whilst trying to absorb what I had just been told.
I have never had such a strange mixture of emotions.
Having separated on such bad terms, I had had no plans or desire to see him ever again. But that was, largely, within my control. His death, and the fact that I no longer had a choice in the matter, was very confusing.
If I had had the chance to see him before he died, what would I have said? Would it make any difference? Would it generate an apology from him for his bad behaviour? Would I have forgiven him?
On reflection, I would have liked to know earlier and I would have gone to see him, although I have no idea what I would have said. The only possible explanation for going to see him would have been that I knew he was dying. I doubt I would have been able to acknowledge that to him, because he may not have been aware of it himself.
And in the unlikely event he had apologised for his behaviour, would I have forgiven him? Yes, of course. If someone is genuinely sorry, I could never hold a grudge.
Over the course of the next week, I was very distracted thinking about it. Jimmy called me again to tell me the details of the funeral and I spent the next two weeks agonising about whether to go.
Finally, I decided that going to the funeral was the ‘right’ thing to do. And I didn’t want to regret afterwards that I hadn’t gone.
Jimmy offered to pick me up on the way. He turned up in his van (!), wearing a very smart suit. The whole thing seemed quite comical – and after I’d teased him about dusting my seat before I got in, we had quite an honest and entertaining conversation on the way to the crematorium.
When we arrived, there were a lot of his Italian relatives in attendance. I couldn’t help but comment to Jimmy that it looked like the cast of The Godfather.
As we went into the chapel, it struck me that he would have been really pleased at the number of people who had turned up to see him off. It was a strange mix of people and I was amused to note that so many of them were clearly wondering who everyone else was.
The service was humanist – which was only befitting his staunchly anti-Catholic views – and the minister (if that’s what you call them) summed up his life perfectly:
He was a larger than life character who had lived life hard. He was highly intelligent, had a wicked sense of humour, could be brilliant company, was a talented artist and had an incredible eye for detail. In his work, he was a perfectionist. He also had a very dark side, he was controlling, had an evil, sometimes violent temper, was a terrible parent and his chaotic childhood had left him unable to function in any relationship.
But - he was a one off.
After a brief ceremony, the curtains closed around the coffin and we all filed out. Whilst I felt deep sympathy for his sisters and his son, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow, given the chaotic way he lived his life, dying so suddenly and at such a young age, was his ‘get out of jail free’ card.
Being the glass half full type that I am, despite all the chaos he caused me, I have to thank him for giving me the courage to leave a failed marriage. And if there is any kind of existence after death, I hope that he has been set free.
It’s hard to explain how all the chaos and trauma of my divorce were entwined with the relationship I had with him. In the back of my mind, I had always had a terrible fear of his reappearing at an inopportune moment and dredging up all those horrible feelings.
As Jimmy drove me home after the service it struck me that strangely, I felt set free too.