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And flights of angels

We gathered in the RC church of St. John the Baptist in Hoofddorp yesterday morning for Joost's memorial service and funeral. There had been a wake the night before, that I hadn't been able to attend -sometimes I curse myself for not having gotten another car after my VW got stolen, when it means I can't get anywhere in the countryside at night- but it had been well-attended by all accounts, and at the end of the ceremony the casket had been closed, so there was no final viewing of the body in the Mary chapel when I arrived half an hour before the service started. The church was packed, filled to the rafters with people from all over the country and abroad, and it reminded me of something Joost had once said, that if he had one talent, it was for forging friendships. The sheer number of people present in the church confirmed the accuracy of his words.

Other than his illness, I don't think I've ever told you about Joost, who he was and what he did. He was an exceptionally gifted man, with a warm personality, a thoughtful demeanour, a wicked dry sense of humour, inquisitive, capable, confident, knowledgeable about the most diverse things, and a lust for life that was astounding. He collected hobbies like other people stamps, and he did this cumulatively: he kept adding more to them, but rarely let one drop. He loved being on and in the water, so he took up sailing, and deep sea diving. He drove motorcycles, took up hiking (we were planning to do the Coast to Coast walk one summer when he became ill), loved DIY and pottering around in the vegetable patch (he had a keen interest in organic farming). He was also something of an armchair philosopher, who never embarked on any new science, venture or pastime without reading up on it properly first. He played the violin, self-taught. He knew about whiskies, and cigars. In his professional life, he started out as an archaeologist specialising in underwater archaeology, but in the late 90s in order to better support his family, switched to a career in Public Relations, until in 2002 his illness forced him to give that up too. He was a lifelong Bob Dylan-fan, so it wasn't surprising that the service he had for the most part arranged himself was centred on some carefully chosen Dylan songs: I Believe In You when the casket was brought up front, Lord Protect My Child when his children and their nephews lit the candles next to it, Lay Lady Lay after his wife had delivered her eulogy, Saved after the lesson (Luke 10:25-37) and the sermon, Shelter From The Storm during Holy Communion. He had intended for I Believe In You to be played a second time while his casket was taken outside, but the verger made a mistake in pressing the buttons on the remote and it was Shelter From The Storm again...

Nicole, his wife, Jean-Paul, his brother, two of his friends and Rein, his father-in-law, all made moving speeches, as did Father Cees who'd gotten to know Joost quite well over the last few years they've lived in Hoofddorp (they moved there about 3 or 4 years ago, I think) and joined his flock; they'd worked together quite intensively on the christening of the children early last year for instance. Because that's another thing about Joost: he had a deep and abiding faith, that didn't preclude his ability for independent thought. Many's the nights we sat up in our student days and discussed the finer points of theology and dogma, and so it was only the most natural thing for me to ask Joost to stand godfather to me when I arranged for my own baptism. He took it as an honour, but also as a real responsibility, and so now I have not only lost a friend, but a spiritual guide as well. Even on my last visit, we talked about the difficulties of practicing the Catholic faith in the day-to-day, and how much harder the likes of Bishop Wilkinson and the former Joseph Ratzinger make it to keep sight of the central tenets and not give it all up in a fit of rage and desperation -- even though as usual, nothing got resolved. But that's OK, because I've learned from Joost that it's possible to question, be critical, and still be a good Catholic.

Anyway, back to the service: the church was awash in flowers and wreaths (all pink and white roses as per Joost's request) and after Shelter From The Storm had sounded a second time, we were asked to take them to the churchyard and form a flowery corridor for the casket and family to pass through. Then the flowers were stacked all along the gravesite, covering the adjacent graves as well, and under the watchful eye of the congregation, Joost was lowered into his grave, all the children let go of their white balloons, and then we all filed past throwing handfuls of rose petals onto the casket. After that, we repaired to a nearby hotel for the reception and lunch. His poor family stood shaking the hands of hundreds of people, while the rest of us milled around exchanging a few words with people we hadn't seen in years and aren't likely to see again if ever. It's funny how people don't really change even if you haven't seen them for twenty years. Yes, they may wear a suit now when you can still remember them in their scruffy jeans all those years ago, they may have filled out a bit and their hair might have a hint (or more) of grey, but their eyes and their gestures are still the same so you recognise them instantly, and in some instances it's fascinating to learn what they've been up to -- some of them have gone on telly, others have had to deal with private tragedies (Demetrius's wife for instance became brain damaged through some sort of sudden illness very early on in their marriage, and he's been caring for her for the last 15 years when she can't speak, can't walk, can't do anything for herself, yet he's devoted to her and does it without complaining...and this is the same Demetrius who was the poster child for juvenile amourous irresponsibility, a Jack the Lad who when we were at uni together, had several girlfriends on the go and treated them all abominably).

I left the reception after about an hour, when I could hitch a ride back to The Hague with another uni friend. In my bag, the order of service and a booklet with some of Joost's poems (the writing of which was another hobby of his). I'll just quote one here:

De pop met het gebroken hoofd
Roos wil fietsen, fietsen
Verder dan het einde van de straat
Voorbij waar de mensen zijn
Of iets nog maar bestaat
Want haar papa is weer ziek geworden
Ze heeft het al die tijd gevoeld
Wat met mama's snikken en
'Ik neem de telefoon wel boven'
Werd bedoeld

Gisteren is ze apart genomen
Op papa's warme schoot
Aan het eind
Kon ze alleen maar zeggen
Lieve papa ga je dood
Ik weet het is weer teruggekomen
De celletjes in je hoofd
Maar je zou toch altijd
Bij me blijven
Dat had je toch beloofd

2005

(translation: The doll with the broken head

Roos wants to go cycling, cycling
Farther than the end of the street
Far beyond where there are people
or where anything else even exists
Because her daddy has fallen ill again
She's felt it all this time
What was meant with mummy's sobbing and
'I'll take the phone upstairs'


Yesterday she was taken into
Daddy's warm lap
All she could say at the end
Dear daddy are you dying
I know it's come back again
the little cells inside your head
But you would always
stay with me
That's the promise that you made)

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Comments

( 14 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )
nwhepcat
Mar. 24th, 2009 11:51 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend. He sounds like an amazing person, with a well thought out life, and a well thought out service to say goodbye to his friends. (And what an amazing poem.) Thanks for sharing this.
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 12:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you. It was a wonderful send-off, very like him.
enigmaticblues
Mar. 24th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
*hugs* It sounds like a lovely service for a wonderful man.
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
It was. Words can't begin to do it (and him) justice.
herself_nyc
Mar. 24th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
My condolences.
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
empresspatti
Mar. 24th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
It sounds to me like you were very lucky to have him in your life.

My condolences on your loss. It sounds as if you have many loving memories to sustain you. I'm glad.
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
I was very lucky to have known him. It's something I'll always be grateful for.
deborahw37
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
(((hugs)))
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you ((hugs back))
curiouswombat
Mar. 24th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
That does sound like a wonderful funeral for a wonderful man.
gamiila
Mar. 24th, 2009 08:04 pm (UTC)
Having known it would come to this for so long, Joost certainly had the time to plan it down to the last detail. He took me for a stroll around the churchyard he's buried in about a year and a half ago, and gave me a rough outline of what he was planning. I think in the end it's worked out even better than he thought.
diachrony
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
That's a lovely poem he wrote.

It sounds like the funeral was a suitable send-off to a wonderful man. I'm sorry you lost him, but I'm happy you had him for the time he was here.
gamiila
Mar. 25th, 2009 08:38 am (UTC)
I have no doubt that now that he's no longer here on the physical plane, Joost's indomitable spirit will live on in his children, his family, and to varying degrees, in his friends as well.
( 14 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )

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