Uncle John #keepsake

I cry every time I come across this and read it. The pencil is faded and the paper thin. #keepsake

Sometime after March 2, 1990

The hole is huge – and so is the ache. I just can’t explain the feeling – the force that hit me when I heard that it was Uncle John. I heard and saw the event twice on the TV news. The first time I was drawn to listening by the key words … Ardmore … Harvards … aerobatics team … and then I saw it. The ruin. The once handsome, proud world war fighter, a crumbled wreck – a mere sheet of distorted corrugated iron after a cyclone. But – a green Harvard – relief. He has a green one. Until but a few terrifying minutes later when it dawned on me, a creeping crawling realisation that made me feel ill, that one of Uncle John’s new toys was a GREY Harvard – like the mess on TV. The phone rings, and a distraught father on the other end chokes to a hysterical daughter, the ghastly, horrific news of a dearest friend once alive, now dead. I was shocked of course, and all I could do all day was think about how utterly repulsive it was that Uncle John lay mangled at the bottom of a six metre pit with his plane, his dream, passion and life destroyed on top of him – never to let him free.

Many horrible hours passed as I drifted about, stunned – the picture in my mind of Uncle John – his smile, his sparkling eyes, his tallness and amazing strength, his love of life and willingness to do everything and help anyone. Years of memories kept flooding back – best not to shut the door – smile and remember fondly the man, love him still – these things don’t have to stop just because his life did. Boy it’s hard to convince yourself of this – but you have to.

Many days also passed – always filled with happy memories but so much disbelief. Horrible times of choking and crying, a slow dawning that it was true and no amount of grasping was going to bring him back – just the kite-tail of memories floating above.

And in a minute of relative calm I all of a sudden sat bolt upright – Auntie Catherine … what was she going through? And their sons Paul and Colin? Their husband and father – never to return. It’s just too, too tragic. Nothing but. That’s what makes it so unbearable. Their house will be empty, the bike, Porsche and plane will roar no more. How will Auntie Catherine sleep? And then thoughts wander and more terrifying possibilities creep in, what if it was my family? Just can’t shut them out.

Blank faces, many of them look at me: faces that don’t know, faces that don’t understand, faces unsure of emotion, faces of fear – fear of not knowing what to do. Sue, Gareth and Damien helped me to regain a little strength, we talked openly – talked about the accident and life before it, for me, for Auntie Catherine.

And to the funeral. To be in Auckland – I was going that day anyway, Uncle John was going to pick me up from the airport – I was going to stay with them – what a terrible terrible turn of events. I clutch Mum at the airport and cry – she has taken it really badly – Uncle John played an important part in her life when it was difficult. Mine too. How can I help her? Everyone cries. They play his music. I hold back tears. The service was lovely. Brian spoke beautifully. I cry hard only when I see Auntie Catherine and the boys leave, even more when I step out into the sun and I’m alone. Many faces of strangers pass by me – everyone is comforting someone else. Mum and Dad meet up with old friends united by the worst of reasons. But we were all there for John and Catherine, all grieving in our own way, and all loving them as we never have before.

I love you Uncle John.

About a week after 2 March 1990

John was a friend of Dad’s from high school, part of a three-some who were lifelong friends, friends of your parents who you call ‘Uncle’. I can still remember his face, smile and sparkling eyes vividly to this day.


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