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Ingrid Wolfaardt

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE


My dad is dead. It’s been five years to the day, this coming Thursday and I have shed no tears. Not with his death, not with his memorial service, not over his ashes and not once after. My lack of tears is something rather extraordinary for a woman who weeps for the woes of soapie stars so why is it that I find myself unable to cry for a man who has made me who I am?

It is not because he was a man who did me any injury, my heart is not hardened towards him, in fact I cannot recall a moment when he did me wrong. His forgetting me at the school one afternoon, as a five year old, probably ranks up there with the worst of his crimes, to me his child and for years after he would apologise for letting me down. I myself have a solid reputation with my own offspring for regular non arrivals at the school gate and I wonder what that has done to their faith in me?

He was an older dad, a man who had gone off at seventeen to fight in the great War, the first group of ex soldiers to enter Helderberg, men’s residence in Stellenbosch. The youngest of four brothers, he had been gone five years, in which his boyish bravado, quickly sank into the sands of the Sahara, as he has saw the horrors in the desert, his naive choice of entering the tank brigade, literally backfiring on him. Despite this he kept his boyish charm and lust for life through all his days.

He was a man who loved singing, any place any time and to anyone. He loved to dance, to tell stories and life was never dull with him around. As a child one woke up to whistling and then to bed with fantastical stories that even now I remember. He was a racing horse, finely tuned as a concert piano, who could fly off the mark and be easily offended and yet the rise and the fall of his anger or irritation quickly past. He dealt well with my melancholy spirit, inspiring me to look beyond the moment, to believe tomorrow would be a better day. In a crisis his volatile personality changed to one that was completely calm and in control and so much of this I see in myself today. He mixed with those who thought themselves to be grander than the rest and he mixed with men whose homes were on the street. He never ever refused another who came to his door for bread and I guess this was shaped by his near starvation in Italy as a young man.

Church and religion played no part in his life and yet he prayed for us daily and his vision on his death bed of a beautiful other place that he was going to, I will never forget.

The last ten years of his life are the years I treasure the most. As he slowly began to change from vibrant to the gentle vibrations of a man who had had his fill of life and was content in his lot, I was there to witness this, I could display daughterly gestures of affection, tuck him into bed and put off the light, this man whose own arm weighed me down as a child, so much so, that I could not move, hardly breathe, lying next to him in the absence of my mother, that arm so strong, so full of life across my chest as he slept, the weight of it, I will never forget and to lift those very same arms, as light as a feather, years later will never leave me either.

What an amazing privilege it was to be near him, daily, weekly as his spirit made ready to leave this planet. The singing was still there, in a thin, weak voice that could still move everyone in the room. The dancing was there, too, even if it was a shuffle of his feet, leaning on one of his grand daughters. The stories themselves began to change from boisterous comedy, to one’s where he spoke, brokenly and in parts of the suffering he had seen.

As his mind and body went, bit by bit, it was as though we saw his spirit more clearly, a spirit that had been infused with such an over-sized personality that we had sometimes missed it. I began to see the essence of his being distilled by old age; a good man, with a great heart with so much love and joy to give, his cup continued to runneth over, even to the end.

I have written in detail about his exceptional passing away to another place but what I want to share again is the feeling I had as I walked away from his death bed, after I had kissed him, numerously over his face, him still alive and knowing enough to know it was me.
Death where is your sting? I asked. His death has giving me a greater freedom to live unbounded by woes and worries,
I see life more clearly. His gift to me was his goodness, his generosity of spirit, his unconditional love. Perhaps there is something in war, that happens to some men, they seem to shine brighter for it.


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