The Death of a Loved One

dad, death, funeral, Wes Little

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As many of the readers of this blog will know, my dad (Wes) died earlier this year. 4 weeks ago tomorrow in fact. He was 61, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the bowel and liver, and the 2 years the doctors had estimated that he had left turned into 2 months. So it was a bit of a shock when he went so soon.

I want to share my reflections on my dad, death and the effect of grief, partly as it’s cathartic for me but also because I hope it will give some of you guys an insight into something you’ll go through at some point in life.

For me, the important thing through all this has been to look after my mum (and sisters). It’s a role I naturally took on when dad went so I’ve found it OK but you sometimes feel a little bit lonely being the only man left (although I do have 2 great brothers in law (well, one’s still pending)).

When we first found out that dad had cancer I think I fairly soon came to terms with the fact that my dad was gonna die. Sure, a miracle was possible, but being someone who tends to focus on the future rather than the past (I can’t remember much of my childhood at all), I found myself in places like the shower working out who would carry the coffin at his funeral. So when he died I accepted it fairly quickly – my coming to terms with him going being helped by the fact that he hadn’t really seemed himself anyway since he’d been diagnosed – he’d liven up when friends came round to visit or he was around church, but I guess we as a family saw him acting very quiet and exhausted, watched him getting so thin, and so there was an element of relief (for me anyway) when his passing brought an end to all the pain and tiredness he’d been enduring.

There are lots of stupid little things which keep setting me off crying again. Thinking of doing any DIY from now on without him. Having family meals without him sitting to my left, laughing at my jokes. Singing anything and not hearing his voice singing exactly the same part. The prospect of moving house again without having him gladly drive across the country to help me pack and load up.

Here’s a picture of a newborn me with my dad. Yes, he had mad sideburns.

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This is an important picture for me. You can see the glint in dad’s eye as he’s holding me. Later, when I grew up, he didn’t seem to be that affectionate with me. I think that was a lot to do with his dad having shown a similar restraint in showing emotion. And I know that a lot of people of my generation have experienced the same thing with their dad. So, I had a few things to actively work through in my relationship with him, but in the end I could say with conviction that I loved him and I knew he loved and was proud of me too. My relationship with dad was in no way bad, but the way God sorted things out is one of the reasons I believe in God so strongly. So, a little encouragement to all who have ‘issues’ with their dads (which I guess is most of you reading this): be proactive and do something about it. I’d count it a genuine privilege if you want to talk to me about it.

It’s been interesting to observe the range of my friend’s responses to the news of dad dying. I won’t mention any names here, but here are some of the responses and my reactions:

  • Some said that if I needed them, they’d drive across the country/get a plane to be with me. And I knew that they weren’t just saying that.
  • Some wrote cards to my mum (even though they don’t really know her) and some wrote cards to me with great messages inside (who I didn’t expect cards from)
  • My colleagues at one of the places I’ve worked with extremely briefly sent me a huge bunch of flowers the same day; whereas, bar 3 of my colleagues/friends, I’ve heard nothing from any of the people at one of the places I worked at for ages.
  • I’ve found out so much about my dad from people I’ve never met. So many of the comments we received in cards/Facebook/emails (there must have been about 250) highlighted similar things.

Seeing a dead body is weird. I saw dad’s twice – first in the hospital the day he died, and second, the day before the funeral at the undertakers’ chapel of rest. I’m a touchy-feely person and it didn’t feel weird to see and touch him the first time because he was still warm. The second time… well, I’d recommend you don’t touch someone who’s been dead for a few days unless you’ve got a good stomach. The icy coldness of their skin is quite a shock and leaves you feeling nauseous for the rest of the day. Sorry – that’s probably a little too much information.

The funeral day was truly excellent – I’ll remember it forever. It’s a little strange that other people probably cry more than you do even though it’s your family member. Carrying a coffin is odd. Having someone faint as the coffin disappears in the cremation lift is funny. Seeing Bromley hall packed so tightly that people are having to stand in the foyer is incredible. Hearing those hundreds of people all singing at their top of their voices is powerful. Hearing so many comments, all positive, about your dad gives you a lot of pride and gives you a great example to follow.

The first time I cried at the celebration service was when my little sister Janine was giving her tribute (I have this hard-wired reflex that makes me cry whenever someone else is getting upset). As I blew my nose with one of dad’s handkerchiefs, having forgotten that I’d turned my tie-clip microphone on for my own tribute, Janine was struggling to say that one of the little things she’d miss about him was his ‘extremely loud nose-blowing into his handkerchiefs’, and so the comic precision of the sound of me blowing my nose amplified through the PA system, and my subsequent look of genuine surprise, provided the perfect moment of relief for the hundreds of people there who were trying desperately to hold back the tears. My dad would have howled with laughter. If there was any moment of the service (even the last year) that I felt God’s presence, it was then.

I sang a song at the funeral, which seemed like the only way I could give dad my tribute. It finally came to me the day before. Here are the words:

The sky is grey, and the rain-clouds loom
I never thought you’d have to leave us quite so soon
I never got to say the half of things that I meant
So I hope that you can hear my heart and see my intent.
Life from now on will be bittersweet,
You’ll jump into my head when I’m just about to eat
And other normal things will make me recollect
But I’d rather hold onto my grief than try to forget:
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home
You were the glue that made us stick
The insides of the watch that makes the pieces all tick
So constant, never-changing from my moment of birth
So I’ll try and be a rock for your three angels on earth
I know you’re fine, cos you’re face to face
With the one who pours upon me his generous grace
Your pain is gone, you’re heartache free
But would you have a word, and send some healing for me?
You’re home, at peace
Where strivings cease
And you’re home, you’re home
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home.
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12 thoughts on “The Death of a Loved One

  1. I’m sad I couldn’t be there to celebrate his life with everyone.
    I can picture him singing the harmony with you with all his might.

    He always had time for us, always interested in what we were up to, most likely because it was normally trouble we were up to and he wanted in. Spending as much time living in your house as I did, I never once felt like i’d outstayed my welcome, Mum and Dad have always made it a home away from home.

    I’ll miss you Dad.

  2. Im so sorry for your loss Matt.

    I lost my grandad probably about the same day. Its all a bit wierd. (And I know what you mean about dead bodies, although i didn’t go to the undertakers)

    Your words were very touching, thanks for sharing them, I cant imagine how much it must have hurt to have to sing them infront of everyone, but thats so special.

    Much love to you and your family, even though I dont know them (or you all that well.)

    Sam x

  3. Matt,
    Your words are so genuine and honest and I love reading them. Thank you for being so open. I got a bit teary reading this entry as all the emotions from the funeral day came flooding back with your description and stories about the day and your dad. He is truly missed. Thank God for such a wonderful man and a true example to follow. I love you loads and will keep you and the girls in my prayers.
    Em x

  4. Hey my brother from another mother,

    I only really got a few fleeting moments to say how awesome your song was. But just wanted to let you know that those words were so obviously heart felt, God inspired and well… beautiful. An amazing tribute for an amazing Dad. Gonna miss him.

    And if ever being the man of the house gets a little heavy, then just shout… I’m here for you always.

    Thanks for being an awesome example for me, and a perfect bro for Janine.

    Love u mate. CP

  5. Matt,

    You know something? I don’t know you that well, and I never had the pleasure of meeting your dad. But something that I understand immediately from everything you’ve written during this difficult time, is how much you loved your Dad and how much your Dad loved you.

    That’s a rare thing to see. You are very blessed. As someone who has a pretty knotty relationship with my own Dad, it’s actually awe-inspiring.

    Rock right on, and thank you so much for sharing so much about this,
    Mel

  6. Hi Matt

    I’ve struggled to find some good words to express how much the grace you have shown since your Dad became ill, and eventually was Promoted to Glory.

    So in the end, I’ve given up trying to come up with anything profound except to say – and you already know this – I’m so blessed to have had my life gently bump into Little men of various generations since I was a kid, and you have all affected me in the most positive way.

    Your Uncle Rob was and remains a huge influence, and has done since I was not even in my teens. He introduced me to Wes’ music, and was there when a bunch of kids went to see Bill Booth Revival Machine’s last gig. (I think I even bought a t-shirt which looked a heck of a lot like the one in your beautiful pic of your Dad.)

    I got to know Wes a lot better when we went to Norway with Bromley SA Band, and found him to be a funny, generous, kind Christian man…and since we got to know each other a little, each time we’ve crossed passed since then, each time has left me feeling better for the experience.

    You too are a positive influence on me – you’re an adventurer – authentic, real, and a man who’s trying hard to follow Jesus. For that, you have my respect.

    Bless you, my brother. You and your family remain in my prayers.

    J

  7. Matt,
    Sitting there that evening, the privilege of being part of the celebration of your dads life, will be one of my memories for the rest of my life, until I can chat with him again in Heaven.
    I am so glad I followed my “gut” reaction, and made it to Bromley the Sunday before Christmas, and was able to talk with him then.
    Between them Wes, Hans, Geoff and Lionel, pushed me on the route that led to what I am doing now. Their willingness to have a crass teenager help move gear for gigs,( even record them on Geoffs valuable reel to reel machine), spending time with me, someone half their age, showed me much about how our faith should be lived.
    I hope that I’ve done a small fraction of that for those who have followed on from me, just like I have followed on from your Dad.

    Our love to you, your sisters and your mum.

    Mark Denise Ruth & Rebecca Walford.

  8. I loved the song you sang. My husband Richard died 1 wk ago 06-13-08 in a car crash very shoching to me and his family in the song you hit it perfect I wish I had just a few moments to hug him and remind him (he always knew) that I loved him and was always so very proud of him. I hope someday God allows him to let me know he knows and hes here(in spirit) what a comfort that would be for me and his 3 kids (from another marraige) I love his kids and want to help them though this they are 15,13,11 hard ages to loose your dad. Thanks again for your story and God Bless your family. Donise A

  9. You blog is a wonderful tribute to your Dad. My dad was similar in many ways. He died in March and I handled it in much the same way you did. I knew he was dying weeks before his death and we were able to have awesome, wonderful conversations that we should have had long ago. This provided closure for me. Thank you for you blog post.

    Morris

  10. Hello Mat.

    I heard the sad news today that Wes had passed away. I had the pleasure of working with your dad for a couple of years. You could not have met a nicer man. I am sorry for your loss.

    Andrew

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