For Whom the Bell Tolls

Life and Death: 3 more Funerals!

6 September 2010: 4 years on …

Despite the heart sore of all the funerals of the last few months, we have also joked about the number of family and friends who have passed away. Is it co-incidence or is it because of the age category in which we now find ourselves?


Despite the sadness, I have also experienced the fun of funerals. They have become sort of enforced reunions – seeing family and friends that you have not seen for years. In some cases, the funerals have also brought people together who, because of stupid arguments, have deliberately for years avoided each other.


Despite the tears, there are the laughs of funerals – in some way, I suppose, that is our human way of coping with the loss of losing people who have been so close to us in life.


Some while ago, I wrote an article entitled Four Funerals and Not a Wedding.  Since then, and during the course of the last two weeks, we have experienced another four deaths – Aunty Elsie, friend Sergei van Niekerk (brother of Lorna Brown and uncle of Wayne, Lindsay and Duncan Brown), friend Jenny Collier’s dad, and then on Thursday, Nico Malan, from Stellenbosch, who was killed in a car accident in Wellington in the Western Cape.


Nico was Tilly Wust’s sister. I have written about the Wust family often – we became friends at Stellenbosch and we often stay with either Willem or Jacobus when we are in Cape Town. In fact, in February 2007, I stayed with Willem and Gretel in Durbanville on the night before I was diagnosed with CBD at Tygerberg Hospital. Little did I think or know when I left their house that morning en route to the Hospital how my life would change within that next hour of my consultation with Professor Carr.  


The Wusts were five brothers: in descending order of age – Willem, Jacobus, Chris, Francois and Marius. Willem was Primarius of Helshoogte in the year before I was (1980) and Jacobus was Onder Prim in the year after me (1982). At one stage, Willem, Kobus and Chris all played rugby for the Helshoogte First Team. As a student, I often used to go home with them to Durbanville or to their holiday house at Pringle Bay. I was almost like the 6th brother in the family!


Willem and I visited George and Plett in his red Toyota during varsity holidays, and I have fond memories of our stays with Dr Hendrik du Toit and his wife Anna at 21 Caledon Street, George. I also often stayed with them when I was on weekend pass from Infantry School in Oudtshoorn. Willem married Gretel du Toit during my second year at Oudtshoorn (1983).


We met up again with Chris and Susan in the Eastern Cape when Chris was a civil engineer involved with the building of the marina and canals at Martina Martinique at Jeffery’s Bay. We drove around in the man-made canals before they were flooded and I remember Chris telling us then that the project would never work.


Well, it didn’t quite work out as it was planned to do, and today the harbour there has silted up and disappeared – and there is no access from the marina to the sea! The water has to be artificially reticulated through the canal system.


Chris sadly suffered heart failure some five years ago and, despite a heart transplant, passed away some while thereafter. 


Jacobus married Tilly Malan. I spoke at their wedding reception in the Sanlamsaal in the Langenhoven Student centre at Stellenbosch University.


Those were the years of the weddings – not the funerals! And I seem to have become a professional speaker and cut my public speaking teeth at weddings in those early days – the first reception that I acted as MC was for my room mate Glynn Jones (from Tulbagh) when he married Carol Friend in Plattekloof in Cape Town. (They have since emigrated to Vancouver, Canada) Then there was Thomas and Marzeth Moolman who got married in Rawsonville, and Richard and Helena Glennie from Somerset East who married in Somerset West. There were weddings in Paarl and Riebeeck-Kasteel – I simply can’t remember them all!


I saw Jacobus (and Gretel and Willem) two weeks ago when I was down in Stellenbosch, and just last year this time, we celebrated Jacobus and Tilly’s 50th birthdays at a function in Welgemoed. And Nico was there. We also saw each other when we visited at the Wust’s holiday house in Kleinmond. His funeral took place in Stellenbosch today – all too soon!


Tilly’s parents (both since have passed on) worked at the University. Working at the Education Faculty, Mrs Malan often joked about inside information that she had about us as students! They also ran a B&B in Stellies and I stayed there when I went back to study for the Postgraduate Management Diploma in HIV/AIDS in 2004.


That’s the qualification I obtained Cum Laude. I had wanted to continue with my Master’s degree, but then I became ill!  I saw the M.Phil advertised again in last week’s Sunday Times and wondered whether I would have enough time left to pursue studying again? It irks me sometimes when I see jobs and things advertised, and I can no longer participate in the main stream of life!


That’s also the qualification that burst my bubble when I graduated. I stood in the queue with thousands of other students at Coetzenburg’s DF Malan Centre – all dressed in cap and gown, and feeling twenty years’ old like the rest of the crowd. Blending in just like the rest – or so I thought. Until a young lass approached me and said “Oom, sal jy asseblief ‘n foto van ons neem?”!  Uncle, will you please take a photo of us? The years had taken their toll!


Anyway, with the passing of Nico, another bubble in life is burst. If anything, all the funerals of the last few months have emphasized to me the frailty, the fragility and the finiteness of our human life. Sometimes, I get angry at the apparent unfairness and injustice of it all. Just yesterday I spoke to my friend, Sonja van Rhyn, in The Strand. She has also been struck down by a neurological illness. I cried from hopelessness – I just didn’t know what to say or how to make it any easier.  


No one is invincible. Not kings, queens or commoners. Just this week, we were reminded of the anniversary of the sudden death and funeral of Princess Diana thirteen years ago, and yesterday, the father of the Prime Minister of Great Britain passed away suddenly in France. No one is spared!


We are not here on this spaceship Earth forever! The journey ends.


The funerals, therefore, have highlighted to me how important it is for everyone – healthy or unhealthy, firm or infirm, enabled or disabled, old or young – to make the most of every single day, every single hour, every single moment, which is given to us.


Don’t delay, don’t procrastinate, and don’t waste. Before you know, it’s gone to soon. Your candle’s burned out …


Jason Eichacker says:

Time is the measure of all things.

Yosemite Valley is a stark reminder of what came before you and will outlast you. Trees stretch a hundred feet above your head, looking on silently as you buzz past its trunk.

Regardless of what you do, the whole system carries on.

There is a quiet peace: things grow, things die. The system is indifferent to what survives and what perishes as long as each job is filled. The surroundings respond only to your action.

What matters is what you do.

Humans pass lives without making much of them, skipping the important stuff in favour of what is within reach. Like redwoods pushing into the sky in search of sunshine, we have to shed what would hold us back so we can continue to grow.

Make a decision or limit your future.



No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

(John Donne)

2 comments on “For Whom the Bell Tolls

  1. those words uttered by my then Maths master after a putrid effort in the June Exams in Matric 1985 – ” for whom the bell tolls” shall always remain with me as a reminder that our bell is tolling by the second – thanks Ed for that reminder to all of us!!! Although it has over the years been part of many a smile and a laugh when remembered, the words ring true in all our lives!

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