I am back from Belgium, where I went to visit my family but also for a very special occasion: to launch a book for our granddad who passed away earlier this year.
On Sunday at 2pm, we got to the Youth Hostel in Oostende (west Flanders) without really knowing who or what to expect. The first ones to arrive were family, but soon friends, old colleagues, old acquaintances and more family members started to arrive.
It was an incredible turn out. Over 70 people came, all of whom in some way knew and loved Bob (my granddad). The environment in the room was friendly, chatty, emotional and extremely endearing. It was impossible not to think of him.
Some people talked about how and when they met him, others about the things that brought them together, others picked up on conversations started a long time ago.
I have to say my sister and I mostly focused on catching up with family: it’s not that often that we get to see them anymore, so we chose to catch up with them more than other people in the room. There’s also the language barrier, which in this situation can be quite annoying, given that I would actually like to know their stories better, but just couldn’t manage with my ‘Tarzan French’ and my ‘rubbish Dutch’ (as a friend kindly pointed).
Despite that I could easily tell that everyone in that room had somehow met him – I could see it in their eyes, that glittering and spark of happiness to have in some way been part of ‘Bob’s world’; at the same time I could see the sadness for the circumstances that had brought us there.
Have you ever seen ‘Big Fish’ by Tim Burton? If not, ignore the whole next paragraph *massive spoilers alert*
You know at the end, when all the characters come together for his funeral, and it turns out that he met the most unbelievable characters (even if still not precisely as he described them)? My Opa didn’t have as strong of an imagination as Edward Bloom did, but he was as cherished as the Big Fish, by everyone who had the fortune of meeting him. His energy and passion, and mostly his curiosity and ‘non-judgemental’ attitude, made him a very attractive personality to anyone who would have 10 min to spare. Our very own big fish.
I think Opa would have been very pleased with our gathering last Sunday. He was very much right: it’s much better to hold a ‘family and friend’s reunion’ a bit later, a few months after the funeral, after people had the time to morn in their one way, and when they’re finally ready to pick up the conversations where they were left off.
As soon as his good friend started the introductory speech about Bob and the book ‘Zin in een babbel?’ though, the room went quiet and attentive. You could tell that some people were just listening to his kind words, but most of us were actually thinking about Bob.
Because one thing is for sure: this was a very ‘Bob thing’ (as my sister put it). He would have loved it, most of all, he would have loved to be there. I can literally picture him saying to Oma (our grandmother) ‘only five more minutes’. I can imagine the happiness and enthusiasm in his eyes of being in a room together with his oldest and newest friends, his family, and old colleagues. Oh my, he would have been the happiest of us all. And that somehow gives me reassurance that this was the best way to honour him.
I will now do my best efforts to read the whole book – most of it is in Flemish, oopsy – and learn about all the incredible ways he touched other people’s lives, but also his own views on the world.
Even though another chapter is over, we can’t help to still miss him. I don’t think that feeling ever goes away. Somehow, there’s always things that will remind us of him, and there’ll always be things and stories we would like to share with him, and I think that’s normal… I still see him at breakfast, coming in with the coffee; I still see him struggling as we play ‘Labyrinth’ (board game).
As I went to the train station, I could see him nervously driving us there, rushing to make sure we got the last train, and clumsily carrying our bags for us (which he always insisted on doing).
But for now I am pleased that we made this reunion, and that people got to joyfully remember him, one more time.