A Short Story in Response to the Solo French Horn Piece 'Laudatio' by Bernard Krol
"Give Thanks," proclaims the Vicar, from the front of the cavernous church. His loud and confident command, however quickly softens, perhaps in respect of the service he conducts, or embarrassment at the negligent faces of a congregation, who would rather do anything but 'give thanks' for something that has torn their hearts into shreds, and buried the fragments on some painfully distant desert island.
"We are here today to celebrate the life of Donald Keneth Hart, a father, grandfather, brother, and friend to many of us here today." He clears his throat, trying to hide his discomfort at the harsh and disillusioned expressions staring back at him. "First, I'd like to invite his daughter, Donna Hart, to share how he brought light and hope to all those in his life."
A tall, tense woman takes deep breathes and slow steps, as she climbs the platform in front of the pews. She blinks back tears, and her lipstick smile only emphasizes the sadness in her eyes.
"My father," she takes a deep breath, "was an energetic, free spirited, and playful soul." A smile starts to shadow the corners of her lips. "As a child, I remember him jumping out at me from behind trees, racing me through the woods, and turning household chores into magical and fantastical adventures." Donna's shoulders visibly relax, dropping several inches, as her hands unclench. "He was a comedian, even at the end, cracking jokes in his hospital bed. Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.'” A sprinkle of laughter dashes around the church, so weak and fleeting you could have missed it, but there nonetheless.
Donna glances nervously down at her notes. “Even when his memory went, and he didn't know who he was or who we were, he was still making us laugh, reminding us that there was always something to fight for.” A sudden strength seems to overcome her, and her body stands taller and bolder against the backdrop of the alter. ‘And he did fight. He fought until his final moments."
As her words grew more confident, the gaze of her fifteen year old son, sitting isolated in the second pew, became more distant. George fiddled vacantly with the flimsy paper program as his long, teenaged fringe hid the delicate raindrops leaking down his cheeks.
His fingers traced the black and white photograph of a man sitting blissfully content in a cushioned rocking chair. Grampy had been everything to him. He looked after him when his mum was too busy working; he'd encouraged him to keep going to school, even when nobody else seemed to care, and his prospects were hopeless; he had listened to his outpour when his first girlfriend broke his heart. He was a grandfather, father, brother, mentor, and best friend all in one. But perhaps most preciously of all, Grampy had stood on the side of every rugby game George had ever played in, cheering on 'my superstar grandson.'
Every game since the fatal phone call had been empty. He had no motivation. Grampy wasn’t there, so why should he even bother?
George's rough hands clenched into fists. He was angry. Why did this have to happen? Why did he have to die? What did we do wrong?
But as the words of his mother's testimony washed over him, he suddenly realized that Grampy wasn't really gone. That he was still there, cheering him on from the photograph in the program. 'My superstar grandson.'
"Thank you dad." Donna didn't hide the tears streaming down her face as she finished her speech. "Thank you for everything you were, and everything you did for us."