‘In my experience, Kevin, there’s no such thing as ‘a long time ago.’ There are only memories that mean something and memories that don’t.’
On a late summer Wednesday eve in 2015, this tall, charming gentleman walked in the SingNow rehearsal room. I remember sitting next to him, chatting before we even started the session. He made me laugh from the first moment we met with his frankness.
His name was Ray.
As per Jack’s tradition, whenever someone new joins the group they introduce themselves and tell us something we wouldn’t know about them. He was 80 years old. We were all in shock, we would have never guessed.
His wife of sixty years, the love of his life, Bet had died recently and he missed her terribly. He hated being on his own and thought he’d give our choir a go.
Little did he know then how much he would love it, how much we would love him.
About a year and a half later I left SingNow and I’d only see Ray at SingNow gigs I now occasionally went as a fan or One Sound, our ever so growing choir collaboration show.
But for that year and a half we had a chat and a laugh every week. He’d always make me feel good about myself, compliment me, remind me to live my life and not dwell on things. He was a reminder himself. In his 80s he was more active than most of us. He played tennis, had tea parties with his neighbours, he got out and about.
He didn’t miss a single performance. Always smartly dressed, he sang in the rain at Music in the City, Fareham, Guildhall Square.
Ray was one of a kind. Funny, witty, shockingly honest, charming, sweet and always a gentleman. I used to refer to him as lovely Ray. Because he really was.
He’d chat to everyone, he’d be friends with everyone, he’d help anyone.
I’ll never forget a warm Sunday afternoon after a SingNow gig was cancelled at the last minute and Claire, Les, Alison and I went to Ray’s for a cuppa and cake. He lived in a beautiful bungalow, bursting with vintage furniture, floral wallpapers, character. It was so pretty Claire and I joked we’d move in with him. After giving us a little tour of the house, we went through the double doors out to the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen in real life.
‘My wife used to take care of it. But now she’s gone I can’t keep up with it…’
He were to move to a retirement flat soon.
The last time I sang with Ray and SingNow was on an autumn Saturday afternoon, at Mountbatten Hospice. It was a special one for many of us. It brought up memories of my aunt I lost a year earlier to cancer, she was moved into hospice for a while before she did, others had relatives who spent their last days there. What an unsettling… serene place it is.
I last saw Ray at One Sound, two months ago.
We had just finished the show and on my way home, there he was, smiling. We had a quick chat, gave me a kiss and a hug and said goodnight.
Friday, 8th of June 2018.
I’m at Test Valley Crematorium. The chapel is packed. Of course it is. Ray was loved by everyone he met.
I wonder if I’d have so many people at my funeral. I doubt it…I’m no Ray. Nowhere near Ray.
Ray died peacefully… and unexpectedly three weeks ago. When I told Donna and Matt about it, they remembered lovely Ray, although they’ve never met him. That’s how wonderful he was. People liked him just from hearing about him.
Is it worse than he died unexpectedly? We were not prepared. As much as one can prepare for this. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. To tell him how much we loved him. To have a last giggle, to see his smile again.
This very thought terrifies me and I break out in a cold sweat. You’ll never know when is the last time… What if I die? What if a friend dies? Or family? Some of my friends I haven’t seen for months. There is so much I want to say to everyone… Oh my lord…
Is it better? He didn’t suffer for months, or years. He was not stuck in a hospital bed, depending on others to take care of him, slowly and painfully falling apart…
I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to a funeral in this country before so on our way there I ask Fraser to give me an idea of how it’d be like.
I feel a bit underdressed. The family requested no black (except the choir peeps who dressed in the SingNow black and orange colours) and I wore the only clean clothes I had that were no black.
I stand at the back with my old SingNow friends. I’m desperately trying not to cry.
Ray wouldn’t have liked that.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see something that shocks me. The date of his death on the funeral program. 21st of May, 2018.
But he died on a Saturday, He didn’t die on my birthday did he? Did he? What does that mean?
I see Pat welling up and tears are streaming down my face. I can somehow manage to control them. I sing along to the Hymn although I have no idea how the melody goes.
It was a beautiful service, a celebration of his amazing life. His family gave wonderful tributes to Ray. I cried and laughed with my old SingNow pals.
The ceremony ended with the Lord’s Prayer.
I didn’t realise until half way through that’s ‘Πάτερ Ημών’. I pray along, but in ancient Greek. I haven’t said it out loud in years. I can’t even remember the last time.
Since I’ve never been to a funeral in the UK, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get to see Ray again.
The last and most painful but cathartic part of a Greek Orthodox funeral is saying goodbye to the deceased one last time. (None of the words used to describe death ever feels right).
It didn’t happen but attending his funeral still helped with closure.
I wish my parents let me go at my giagia Stella’s funeral 23 years ago. It’s already excruciatingly painful when a loved one dies, the brain struggles to cope, to understand that you’ll never see, hear, touch that person ever again and being there, at the funeral, saying goodbye, seeing them with your own eyes lie there, in the coffin, which weirdly seems comfortable, looking so peaceful, almost grinning, that’s what you need to help you make sense of it (as much as possible). Of death. Of mortality. The surrealism of it all.
Chris gives me a lift back to Southampton. We talked about loved ones we lost, we get emotional, we laugh. She is amazing. I hope she knows that. I wish I told her.
Ray was buried in his favourite black and orange SingNow clothes. That’s how he’d have wanted to. That’s how much he loved it.
I still can’t believe I’ll never see him again. I’m sad but so happy I had the great pleasure of knowing the lovely Ray Dyball.
I bet he is having a glass of gin and giggles with Bet right now.
You may rest in peace Mr Dyball.