He called him “Mama”

There are many stories to be written, to be heard and to be read but there is only one story for me today. There is only one story that tugs at the bottom of my shirt, an eager child wanting my attention, but it is story that has no words. It is a story that tells its tale by clawing at the hollow in my chest. It is a story that confounds and hurts, a hurt so deep and profound even though it is not my story. It is a story of loss. It is a story of love. And it is in the telling of this story that I hope for healing, even though it is too bold a hope, even though there is too great a loss.

In a time before teenage dreams and hopes had started to shape Husband’s imagination, he held far simpler dreams. One such dream held the promise of a long-awaited cricket match that himself and some boys in his school had planned. I can only warrant an ill formed guess as to why the cricket match held such appeal to the ten-year-old version of Husband, but I can assume that it was probably all he spoke about in the weeks leading up to the event. It would be over twenty years later that Husband would tell me this story as the sun set one evening, after we had returned from a trip to Durban. It was a story I would hear for the first time, but it was not a story I would soon forget. In the telling of his story, Husband offers me a rare glimpse into the vulnerability of his hope and I am touched by the thought of who he was as young boy eagerly awaiting his childish dream. In classic story teller fashion, Husband weaves his eagerness to play at the cricket match into the story by describing his special cricket gear and a new peak cap he donned for the day. My heart is with this young boy, I feel the sun on my face as he shows up to his cricket match. When he isn’t selected to play, I am sure I see a shadow in the otherwise bright sky and when he sits on the grass, his thin body heavy with disappointment, I feel the grass tickling my legs. I imagine he does not see the car pull up. I imagine he does not hear the man approaching. I imagine that if it were not for fear of embarrassment, that the little boy would have embraced the man who, in more ways than one, stood by his side. There are few people in the world who can offer comfort and solace by their presence alone and by showing up, that man who stood beside a sad little boy, gave legitimacy to both what the child valued and to the man’s belief in the boy’s potential. Husband would grow to call this man “Mama” as a sign of respect for his uncle but in truth, he was so much more to Husband than that. Standing on the cricket field with Husband that day was testament to who Husband’s “Mama” was. He was a man who gave of himself, he was a man who showed up, he was a man who took care of those he loved, and he was a man who loved deeply irrespective of biological ties. He was a man made of far greater qualities than my words are capable of describing. And he was more than that even. I can think of no greater gift than the gift of his presence in Husband’s life, both that day on the cricket field and every day until his death.

I may have only known him as “Uncle Roy”. I have never shared a home with him or have had to endure the Maths lessons that he was famous for, but I see him, all the greatness in him, in those he loved. I see it in Husband’s drive, in his selflessness, in his sense of duty. In the grief on his grandchildren’s faces I see a grandfather who was not unlike my own; gentle, kind and rare. In his wife’s last words to him I hear the love that he was capable of, an all-encompassing love that never grew tired or weary, that grew stronger with each person he drew into his fold. I have wondered since his passing; how does anyone honour a man like that? How does anyone come close? In this mix of grief and gratitude I am drawn to the words said at Uncle Roy’s funeral, I am drawn to the idea that to honour him is to be twice the person he was. I am drawn to it because to makes me feel like he is infinite, as infinite as was his ability to love.

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