A Soft Returning

They say death is not an ending but a new beginning. A reemerging with the source, a folding back into the eternal.

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Benji was the smallest and clumsiest cocker spaniel of the litter, a fluff of blonde hair adorning his crown. We chose him out of 5 of his siblings, scooping him up in our arms and taking him home with us. That first night he wailed from dusk to dawn, crying out for his mother in a strange home, scratching on our doors with little claws, ‘let me in’ he protested in tiny yelps.

He was our lighthouse, our beacon, our call to come home to a house that none of us anticipated living in. We had just moved to Cape Town from London, after saying goodbye to my dad’s parents, who had departed the world a year prior. Their house in Johannesburg had been sold, furniture placed in storage, all the remnants and memories of their abundant lives, tucked away, so new life could grow.

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Benji was that life, a ray of light, our family’s new beginning. Cape Town would be our home and the Clifton rocks, his empire. Tennis balls would come to symbolize this old sandy bungalow, tucked away by the Atlantic ocean, the five of us would reside here, 97 the Ridge, Nick, and Wendy, Nicole, Michelle and Benji.

He was always her dog. She’d wake up early, excited puppy by her side and together they’d wander down to the beach, ball thrower in hand, they’d navigate the moody mornings, salty air and sand- swept beaches.

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She drove us to school each morning, dressed in our blue nun dresses, fighting over the front seat, singing songs as she wound the car around the mountain, sunlight bursting through the rear windows. She twisted our hair into plaits in the morning, ran us baths each night and tickled our backs as we drifted to sleep.

She won tennis tournaments and sewed buttons onto our school dresses, tolerated our temper tantrums, kissed our foreheads when we were tired, wiped our tears when the trials of teenagehood left us broken. She held our family in her tanned muscular arms, washed warmth and kindness over everyone she touched, had a way of lighting up a room like no other, a crooked toothed beaming smile, an interior glow that seemed otherworldly.

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Wendy was joy personified. She knew how to make you feel special, to compliment you, share her own life with you in a way that made you believe you had an intimate bond. She came to every school play and netball match, waited in the parking lot each afternoon without fail; sliding into her car always felt like coming home.

Mum hated cold water and was terrified of mice, but could kill a hairy spider with a flat palm. She had a laugh that felt like the first flowers of spring opening, she once got drunk with her brother and danced around our house with pantyhose on her head. She loved music, loved to hum songs under her breath, click her fingers, sashay her hips, she always danced like the world was watching.

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She liked to venture out on solo canoe rides and spend hours painting alone in her studio. She’d bake our birthday cakes and stitch our Halloween costumes, she painted giant cityscapes and dyed her hair with the changing seasons, red, blonde, brunette; she was never afraid of taking risks, for what was the point of living if not to be bold.

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When my mother grew sick, Benji started to age as well, a natural order of things, they waned together. He’d crawl up onto the couch beside her, she’d gaze at him lovingly, always akin.

Mum was ill for seven years, a slow and arduous period, a slipping away, a gradual goodbye. Watching her quietly withdraw often felt agonizing, to ache for someone who is right in front of you, longing for someone still alive but no longer there. Yet her hands remained the same, soft and wrinkled, her chest still a place of comfort to rest one’s head. But time and illness took mum away, a lighthouse enshrouded by thick fog, too heavy to break through.

Yet remnants of her remained, even months before her departure, when I went to visit one morning at the care home, entered her room and lay in her bed, breathing in her scent for what I did not know, but in my heart understood, would be our final goodbye. I traced the outline of her beauty spot with my fingers, whispered I love you a hundred times. Mother and daughter, a sacred connection, she saw me, and I saw her and we smiled through tears, I know she longed to say I love you too. Her lips fumbled for the words but her heart spoke to me in silence.

I left and said goodbye, tears spilling onto the sidewalk, the last time I saw my mum.

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It was decided that May 23rd, Thursday morning, would be Benji’s last day on earth. Time had rendered his body weak, unable to sit comfortably or run wild, 16 golden years of chasing tennis balls, barking at birds, sprinting along the beach by my mother’s side, it was time for him to return to the infinite. The vet arrived and dad held him as he slipped away.

That afternoon my father went to visit his wife, whispered to her that Benji had finally gone and held her hand as she sank into a peaceful trancelike state.

They say we should not fear death, for what is death but to reunite with the source of all things. What is death but a soft returning, a surrendering, a cyclical closing of everything that ever was.

When Benji went he called her, invited her to come to the place where all is at peace and everything is one, and quietly, that evening, she slipped away. For they were always kindred spirits, divine partners on a quest to bring joy to this world. And so together they flew, from the confinements of their tired bodies and melted back into the sun.

We mourn for the losses in our lives, cry for the everlasting impact they had on our world but smile for all the love they gave us, all the golden years, all the laughter and memories, all the songs we sang out loud. We smile in knowing that they touched our lives in ways that cannot be expressed, for love is bigger than language, its magic, its holy.

Goodbye to our angels, our Wendy and Benji, together forever, always in our hearts.

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4 Comments

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  1. Brian and Mary May 26, 2019 — 11:54 am

    Brian and l are so sorry for your loss. You have such good memories and that can never be taken away. Thinking of you and your family at this sad time . Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Mary and Brian .

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  2. Michael Bernard Wolffe May 26, 2019 — 8:48 pm

    Michelle your words are profoundly accurate, I have only known Wendy and Benjy (and Nic) for about 8 years, but experienced the warmth and beauty and Joy of Wendy and the fundogedness of Benjy. May peace and good health and good company be with you and Nicole and Nic.

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    • sylvia manning baumgartner May 27, 2019 — 10:20 am

      Dear Michelle, What a pleasure to read your words. I am sad and glad and grateful to have been part of your family. For years we played tennis in Canada with Wendy and Nick in the summer and met you and Nicole several times. Then we were lucky enough to visit in S Africa with both Nick and Wendy being part of our adventure. You are all welcome in Innsbruck any time at all, whether we are here or not, all can be arranged. Sending you prayers and love and very big fat hugs, Sylvia and Holger

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  3. Tova Gita Sharon May 30, 2019 — 5:02 pm

    What an awesome tribute to your Mother… Have been following your entires, praying for you though we have never met… seeing your love for life – such a powerful love!!! – drawn into your story through your amazing talent with words… Have been truly worrying why I have not seen any posts from you anywhere, concerned for your wellbeing, and then this testimony for your Mother… the thought that alongside your own “battle” with cancer you have had to lose your Mother… so you and i are thousands of years and miles apart – but through your passionate entries, through the photographs capturing your beauty and your love for life and people and places i have learned so much and am praying for your complete healing of soul and body, for renewed joy and new loves and adventures ..

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