My father was sick for 35 years and one day he just didn’t wake up. His skin in the funeral home is the coldest thing I’ve ever touched.
The rest of what I write will fill in the gaps between those two points but those two points are all that remain once you take everything else away.
My father, an immigrant from England (strange, I know) to South Africa, met my mother, from South West Africa (now Namibia) more than 40 years ago, at the church where we had his funeral service. She pointed out the gate where they first spoke.
At the age of 32, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A year later, I was born. I can remember him walking with crutches but I’m not sure if the memories are real anymore or just memories of memories. Now I mostly remember him in his wheelchair or, more recently, in his bed.
My father, as he got worse, was given the option of early retirement due to disability but opted not to take it so that he could better support my mother, my brother and me. So for the rest of his working life, as the disease took more and more from him, my mother and him would wake up earlier and earlier, so she could help him get ready in time to go to work.
The engineers at the car factory where he worked built a machine that fitted on the roof of his car, that lifted the wheelchair up off the ground when he left home and put it back down again when he got to work.
I watched him drown in his own body, slowly, over decades and I have never loved or respected a greater or stronger man.
My father would force waiters and ushers and my brother and me to carry him into restaurants and movie theatres if there were steps in the way because he would be damned if he was going to let his disability get in the way of a good meal or a half-decent movie.
Most, if not all of the restaurants and movie theatres in my hometown have wheelchair ramps, because of my father.
And he taught me to laugh at the world. Laugh at anything that hurts, laugh at anything that tries to bring you down, just fucking laugh at it. My father taught me all the crudest jokes I know when I was still a child.
He never wanted any pity, just the laughter and happiness of his family.
His voice started getting softer each time I visited and I started clenching my fist and my jaw at the thought of him trapped in his own body, unable to talk. But it never got to that. He left before it could take anymore.
When I touched his skin in the funeral home, it felt like the cold became a part of my fingers but I couldn’t stop because whenever I used to see him, I’d move his hair and touch his face because he couldn’t do it himself and now this was the last chance I’d ever have to do it and so I let the cold become a part of me because I owed him that much at least.
For showing me where real, true strength comes from. For loving me and teaching me to love others, regardless of their circumstance.
So I’ll be back, properly, soon. Otherwise I wouldn’t be his son.