I went to a christening today. It’s been a long time since I’ve been inside a place of worship. Things have changed a lot. The toddlers were allowed to walk around and actually called up to the front so they could really see what was going on. No hushing or shushing.
There were several babies being christened but I was there for a little fellow called Harry; a lovely and well-loved baby with young doting parents. It’s one of life’s ironies that yesterday I heard of the death of a friend with the same name. He’d been fighting a battle against cancer for a mercifully short time and now it was over. He was a lovely man taken too early from this life.
I have a bash every year in May because my birthday and one of my children’s is in that month. I first met Harry many years ago when he and his wife Sue came along to it with another couple who were regulars. Life has taught me to be careful of new people you meet, not suspicious but careful. Harry was different.
I liked him straight away. There was something about him and I’m trying to fumble to it in this piece of writing but I fear I’ll never quite capture it. He was open. There was no “side” to him. When he smiled or laughed, it was genuine. He smiled a lot and you didn’t have to do much to get a laugh out of him either. If he gave an opinion, it was never harsh but you knew it was honest. He was nobody’s fool but at the same time, he had an innate kindness. He somehow had a centre which was at peace with itself.
So that’s how I always met Harry; if he happened to be down in my neck of the woods at the time the bash was on, he’d come along. Looking back on it, we didn’t really get into the details of each others lives. We talked about anything or nothing I suppose; to the best of my recollection, mainly about repairing things that didn’t want to be repaired and fly fishing. One year when he missed the bash, he sent along a selection of flies for me to try on my fishing holiday. Flies from Sheffield worked surprisingly well in the rivers of Wicklow that year. I was king of the river so thanks Harry.
When he sent me down his collection of flies a few months ago, I knew the writing was on the wall. It was the quiet and final generous act from one of the few natural gentlemen I’ve ever known. It was his way of letting me know and saying goodbye.
I’ve done the death watch with too many people I’ve loved. It’s the penalty you pay for being lucky and growing older. The truth to tell, you get better at it too. The first death of someone you truly love is curiously like your first love. The emotion attached will never be as intense the second time around but I find Harry’s passing is hard. The bash is next weekend but for me there’ll be a shadow over it. I’ll look into the bonfire when the Sun has gone down and think of Harry but though it’ll be with a touch of sadness, it will be fondly. Any time I think of him, I smile; even now as I write this. My friend Harry.
To you Sue and his children, I can only say I share your grief and loss. This is a hard time for you. The sorrow you feel does honour to his memory but you know he’d have wanted you to get through it. Cry your tears but in the days to come, don’t forget the good times. He was a gentle man who somehow touched my heart and he liked me. I suppose that’s it. He was someone you met and liked and you hoped they’d like you in return. People like that are oh so rare.