It was almost a month ago today, February 14th in fact, Valentine’s day. My father was up in Auckland for the day and I was treating him to a meal at a nice Italian restaurant. We sat there sipping our drinks, crammed in amongst all the star-struck couples exchanging meaningful glances over their glasses. Well, there’s no time like the present…
â€œDadâ€, I started as quickly as I could â€œI have bad newsâ€
Something in my tone must have resonated in him because his smile waned sickly on his face. Best to get it over with.
â€œDavid, big man, he’s dead.â€
Dad’s reaction was much like my own, shock and disbelief. A surreal disconnectedness. It’s hard to conceive of someone that’s been a big part of your life no longer being there. For the rest of the evening, Dad became very philosophical and introspective. Musing about how much we take people for granted while they’re still in our lives. How we take for granted that we can see so-and-so any time, maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year, but we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we forget to share ours with them and then they’re gone and that brief moment during which the threads of your lives were intertwined can never be recovered.
â€œI wonder if I should call, do you think that would be weird?â€
I had wrestled with the same question myself. Dave & Bev (or, Bebby & the Big Man) are my aunt and uncle, they had been a big part of my childhood, but how do you talk to someone who has been through that loss? What words can you say to assuage such sudden loneliness? Nothing. Just hollow noise.
I had heard the news that morning. I answered with a groggy â€œhello?â€ My mother was on the end of the line, crying audibly.
â€œDavid, big man, he’s dead! They changed his medication and…â€
Mom says I took it rather well. Truth be told it wasn’t David IÂ worried much about at that very moment, it was the people he leaves behind.
Big Man lived a big life, a rich, good, full life. One of my enduring memories of him was at a particular Christmas dinner. That was the first time I had a real Christmas pudding with custard and a real coin in the middle. Family, friends, food, that’s how I remember David Reid. His childhood had not been the best and so later in his life, he surrounded himself with a strong, warm circle of friends and family. Every weekend there was something going on at the Reids’, most likely around their big cement swimming pool. It’s where (I think) my mother met my stepfather. It’s where I had my first shot of Tequila, it’s the place for a number of firsts actually.
For me, growing up, that home with its solid stone floor was one of the few constant landmarks in my shifting life. My family and I moved house every few years, even my grandparents moved eventually, but Big Man’s house has always been a resolutely fixed reference point in my mind. He was good to us kids and taught me a lot, both consciously and unconsciously. I learnt a lot about family from him, and a lot about how to love life. There’s something very important about having that fixed reference point and I think he implicitly understood that.
It’s strange that since I heard of his death, I haven’t cried until right now. The timing of this post is not entirely random. Today, 13th April, would have been Big Man’s birthday. He leaves behind him his wife Beverly, his daughter Jacqueline, grandchildren and a big hole in all our hearts.