In the company of ghosts


Brian Orman 04/03/1934 – 11/05/2014

Today at 3pm, compelled by love, respect, compassion and duty, a family came together. Like so many seeds scattered on the wind we have each blown our separate ways, to land where we will and set down our own fragile roots. Years pass, relationships blossom and develop and others, once so important to us, are left behind.

As we turn our gaze inward to look with loving eyes upon the new lives that we have made, the worlds around which we have come to orbit, we slowly begin to detach from those places and people that were our lives before. Until one day, or one evening, or in the middle of the night, we are reminded by that call. The call that takes us back to the place from whence we came. The call that reminds us that somewhere else, people who were once close to us, once part of our own life orbit, are coming to terms with the sudden wrench of an enormous loss.

And when the magnitude of what has occurred has been fully assimilated we begin to reflect. We consider our extended family, offer condolences, call, visit and share our tears and our memories. We reminisce, regret and rationalise. Was it really so many long years since last we were together?

Last Friday night at twenty-three minutes to twelve I received the news that my uncle Brian was close to death. If it was a shock to me, so many years removed from his acquaintance, it must have been a body blow to his wife and children. I didn’t realise that he was sick, that for the last eight years he had fought with every fibre of his being against the ravages of prostate cancer, metastasised into bowl cancer, while he quietly went about his business as carer to my aunt Sylvia, his wife of over fifty years.

He was taken to Oakhaven to pass his final hours in the tranquil surroundings of the hospice in the company of those he loved most, his wife and children. When his exhausted body gave up the fight on Sunday afternoon it was the transition of a man who did not leave words unsaid or deeds undone, rather the rest of a man who lays down his tools at the end of his work, content with the fruits of his labour.

At around 4pm on Sunday afternoon I was returning home across Iford bridge when I beheld a sight so beautiful that I felt compelled to stop the car and just enjoy it for a few minutes. In the last few months I have found myself taking pleasure in the simple beauty of a sunset, or wildflowers growing in a field by the side of the road or any number of natural wonders that not so long ago I might have driven past, oblivious in my haste to reach a destination. Yet before me was a thing of such beauty that it refused to be ignored.

Directly in front me, in two brilliant concentric arcs was a magnificent double rainbow of almost supernatural clarity.  Each band of colour was so clearly visible to my wondering eyes that I had the powerful impression that this natural wonder held some far greater significance than just a beautiful accident of refracted sunlight against a moving curtain of rain. After a couple of minutes I got back in the car and headed home, feeling lighter in my heart and more than a little bit richer for witnessing such a wonder.

In due course we learned of my uncle’s passing and the date and time of the funeral, which had been split between a cremation service in the morning and a memorial service in the afternoon. To say I was looking forward to the service wouldn’t be quite right, but I was certainly looking forward to seeing many of those people that I knew would be there.

Although not late, Loly and I were among the last to arrive at the church and took our places where we could at the very back of the tightly packed chapel, looking forward over a sea of grey and white heads seasoned here and there with a sprinkling of red, or blond, or black. From time to time, a half remembered face etched and sculpted into someone not quite remembered, would turn and offer the slightest of smiles, or  the most subtle of nods by way of polite greeting and I would search my mind to match the altered features to another younger face that belonged to a name I remember.

All around the chapel were the ghosts of people long departed from the microcosm that forms my daily existence. This was the story of another man, a man much loved by many people. A man who, though modest of physical stature, strode like a giant through the community in which he dwelt. A man of God, possessed of rich wisdom and great intellect, a father, a grandfather, a husband and a friend. The more I heard about him, the more I regretted how little I had seen of him.

Even as I witnessed the grief that washed in waves over the faces of my cousins and heard the pain of their loss in the tremor of their voices, I could feel a deep and tangible strength that permeated the chapel, from the warmth of my wife’s hand upon my back to the words of the lady minister spoken with the conviction of someone who had lost a true and loyal friend, we stood together buoyed and embraced by the power of love.

This was the solidarity of the human spirit, drawing strength and renewal from empathy and compassion. I could feel the power and intensity of it coursing through my body as if it were the lifeblood in my veins. I thought about how much I love my wife and my children, and how they would remember me at the time of my own passing, and I felt insignificant and unworthy in the face of this man’s achievements.

At this point the minister chose to recount the story of the final hours of my uncle’s life, and what happened on his son Tim’s long homeward journey back to Bournemouth after his death. ‘I want you all to turn your programs over please and take a look at the picture on the back,’ she said with a broad smile. ‘This is a picture of what Tim saw on the way home from the hospice, and it was a source of great comfort to him and his family, that he felt sure this was God’s sign that Brian was with him now, and free from all pain.’

I looked at the picture and a thrill swept through my body. I understood what I had seen on the bridge that day and why I had felt the way I did. When I think of Brian Orman I want to be a better man. It is a measure of the esteem in which this man is held, both here on earth and in the most exalted of company, that God saw fit to honour his servant’s passing with such a beautiful, heavenly sign.




Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

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