Tuesday, 9 August 2016

BERNARD HENDY....Meandering Reflections On His Sudden Death

The last time our immediate family found themselves together was in Edinburgh in early June, all five of us to attend my brother’s memorial service. His death had come without warning, out of the blue, whilst holidaying in Africa. And so now we stood, a little group thrown unexpectedly together in the foyer of a hotel in the Grassmarket, the historic centre of the magnificent Scottish city. All of us seemed slightly discomfited at the abruptness of our assembly, searching for an innocuous topic on which to make initial casual comment and quickly seizing upon that which was the focus of our meeting, the death of Bernard John Hendy. My own thoughts were on his birth in nineteen forty seven two months before my seventh birthday, when I would so very much have preferred to have a sister. Then on his baptism that had caused so much discord between my parents because at my mother’s insistence it had not taken place in the Catholic Church but at alien and Anglican St Mark’s. Then as if this wasn’t bad enough for my more devout father, the last minute change of name. My new brother was supposed to be Bernard Joseph but because my mother harboured a great dislike of certain names, she deftly substituted John at the eleventh hour in a manner so unexpected that even the priest, holding the infant above the baptismal font, looked startled. In exactly the same manner she had seven years previously ensured that I became Jean rather than Bernadette. But now our family group did not talk of matters concerning the beginnings of life such as births and baptisms but of matters that concern the end. A sudden death is hard to comprehend. An ending that comes out of the blue is often so disquieting that family members left emotionally stranded find the circumstances almost impossible to internalise. So it had been with my brother who had so very recently enumerated to me the struggles he was having with his life and the major changes he was intending to make. I listened, as an older sister is wont to do, and then failed to give him the support he hankered after. He said that all he wanted was somebody who was on his side and I hesitated and shrugged though we both knew that somebody should be me. But I sent support scurrying in a different direction, feeling virtuous not because I wholly disapproved of the preposterous plans that he proposed but because of the chaos he might create. The conversation had taken place such a short time ago and now we stood in the tall, forbidding Grassmarket building debating the memorial service to mark his death that was to take place the next day. My prime emotion that afternoon in Edinburgh was a slowly evolving anger and I wondered if it would completely overwhelm me before I fully understood why I had abandoned Bernard John Hendy, who should rightly have been Bernard Joseph Hendy, when he most needed emotional sustenance.

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