Ray. You died at the weekend. I’m not sure if you know, because you made yourself a cup-of-tea and then you sat down to drink it. That is quite a normal thing to do, isn’t it. I don’t think you thought that you were going to die.
I didn’t think that you were going to die.
That Saturday was Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding day. I went to Lesley’s to watch the wedding with her, Barbie, Ryan, Ellie and Elliott. We watched The Greatest Showman too. When I was getting ready, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to invite Ray, but it was one of those swift thoughts that flies out of your head as soon as you have your next thought. I don’t know if you watched the wedding or not. It’s not really important. I am just trying to imagine what you did that day, and how you were feeling.
Last week, you said you were feeling great. You said that you felt more like yourself. You had been through a difficult time recovering from that horrid flu: it left you weak and very dejected because you weren’t able to do the active things you were used to doing: the walking, the tennis, the gym.
But last Wednesday you looked bright.
Before I did your cleaning, we had a good chat, as we always did. I sat on your bed and you sat at your computer desk. We talked about the shows I’ve seen recently and we talked about the choir. I told you about the big meeting I was going to have at work on Friday and you listened and gave me some very wise advice.
I want you to know that I said all of the things you told me to say, and they listened to me. I want you to know that the meeting went very well and was very fair.
You said you hoped, (for me) that I would be able to return-to-work, but that deep-down you hoped I wouldn’t, so that I could still be your cleaner on a Wednesday at 10am.
This made us laugh.
You’re so silly. I said I would just clean in the evenings or at the weekend instead.
It’s quite an intimate job, being a cleaner, changing bed-sheets, being amongst all of your belongings and business. I am only realising this now.
It turns out, following the meeting, that I am still available to clean for you on Wednesdays at 10am, and do your shopping afterwards.
It made us laugh that you would write me a shopping list for Asda, but of course you didn’t have to, because I knew it off-by-heart: 5 Fairtrade, greenish bananas; extra special vine tomatoes; sweet oranges; a small bag of new potatoes; a pack-of-four jacket potatoes; free-range, medium eggs; Cravendale, semi-skimmed milk; Kingsmill 50/50 bread with no crusts; Richmond sausages; bleach; Weetabix; frozen peas; salmon fillets; rice pudding and 4 microwave meals. But you didn’t want me to do the shopping last Wednesday, because you had met an ex-police officer friend, who lived downstairs in Hillier Court, who you’d been to Marks and Spencer’s with.
Normally, while I cleaned, you would rehearse the whole One Sound 2018 set in your newly-cleaned bedroom. The songs were all in-order from America to Livin’ on a Prayer, and you never missed a single harmony. It would take me the exact length of those eight songs to clean your bathroom, lounge and kitchen, and it warmed-my-heart to listen to you sing.
Bless you, Ray.
After that you would gossip about all the different people at choir, tell me stories about your fascinating life with Bett, and about all of the many different jobs and homes you’d had. I loved listening. I loved Bett because of the way you spoke of her. I loved it when you said that you had an argument with Bett every-single-day, and that that is the secret to a happy, long-lasting marriage.
I think everything you said and did reminded you of Bett. We never had a conversation without you mentioning her. It is the fourth anniversary of her death today, and you are with her. I am so happy for you.
This week we just listened to Smooth Radio. I was cleaning your bathroom and you poked your head round the door and shouted “is this James Arthur?” I got the giggles a) because it was Ed Sheeran, and b) because I was thinking why does an eighty-three year-old man know who James Arthur is? We also listened to Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel.
Two weeks ago, when we were drinking wine on the balcony, we made some plans together: we were going to go to the beach, and get fish-and-chips, we were going to explore some little country pubs. You told me about your trips to Las Vegas and you said that you might like to go on a cruise on your own. I can imagine you doing that. You said if you wanted company, you could make friends with people by the pool, at the bar or in a restaurant. You told me to have a go at going on a holiday too.
You really knew how to live. And I had no worries when I was around you.
One of the last things you said to me was: I’ll be eighty-four soon, I don’t know what I’ll do when I get too old to come to choir.
On Monday, I went to the shops to get some things for Lesley, and I took them to her house. I remember there was thunder and lightning when I knocked on the door. We had a cup of tea and then she told me that she had some news. I said is it bad? Lesley nodded. She said “It’s Ray,” and I said “where is he?”
I didn’t think Lesley was going to tell me that you had died. It doesn’t feel right or true, even now.
I bought her some roses because I know how hard it is to tell people when someone has died, especially because Lesley loves you so very dearly and whole-heartedly herself. You loved each other.
I stayed at Jack’s Monday but I couldn’t sleep, so I sat-up and wrote a tribute to you, to share with all of your friends at choir.
You are really easy to write about.
I think you will have liked the words, and it’s sad that I cannot read them to you. I read out your sister, Chris’, email too. Lesley thinks you will have been proud. You would definitely have been proud of Jack and Lesley. At the break, Jack read out the Facebook status you wrote after your birthday party and many people laughed through their tears. You were so missed on Wednesday, Ray. Lesley thinks this all feels like a dream and that you will be inviting us over for coffee later.
I feel like this too.
I walked to Hillier Court on Tuesday to give cards to your sister and your friends in the other flats from Sing Now Choir. I walked out into the garden and could see your favourite chair though the balcony doors. Your car is still in its parking space.
I am not sure why those things feel so strange.
I rang Ashton to tell him that you have died. He spoke about you so fondly and said God will look after him. I think Ashton is a bit like us, he can’t really believe it. When you first joined Sing Now Choir, you asked Jack if I was Ashton’s carer. Ashton thought that was so funny, he said “she is my carer, she just doesn’t get paid!”
The things I miss about you are a bit weird: I miss your enormous ears and enormous cuddles. You remind me of The BFG. I miss when I buzz your door and you say ‘come on up.’ I miss how you called everyone ‘babe.’ I miss your matter-of-factness. I miss your singing. I miss your home. I miss how you said ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to me at the start and end of every choir session. I miss your funny-flirting. I miss you going on-and-on about the Sing Now website. I miss our honest chats. I miss your strength. I miss how meticulous you were. I miss you pulling funny-faces at me when you’re all singing in lines at choir. I miss your stubbornness. I miss you blasting out Barry Manilow in your car when we drove to places.
You’re not really a normal old man.
I know that you didn’t want to clean or change-the-bed or do the big-shopping any more, and I want you to know that I would have done that for you forever, and anything else that would have become necessary as the years went by.
Not many girls my age can say that they are friends with a funny, wise, handsome eighty-three year old man like you. I am privileged to have been your friend. Thank you for everything you taught me. I will be thinking of you forever, Ray, and I will look after our Lesley and everyone.
Rest peacefully, Ray Dyball.