Monday, 14 January 2013


Today is my first official day back at work since I lost my dad and I am not going to lie it is hell!! I know people need to sympathise but it is so difficult for me to keep my emotions in check when every two minutes someone is expressing their sympathy.  

I spent some time thinking about how I was going to get back into blogging and I am not sure if I can say that I am back and will write daily posts at this stage but I thought that perhaps the best way for me to ease back into things is to share with you the service we held to celebrate my dad's life.

Dad never wanted a funeral or even a memorial service because he hated the idea of people crying over him.  But since July 2012 when he landed up in hospital we slowly started having chats about it.  I got him to talk about it by asking him if he wanted everyone to gossip about us because there was no service. He laughed but I think the penny dropped and he realised that it is an important part of the grieving process not just for us his family but also for those who loved him as a friend and as a colleague.

Dad did not want a church service….he said that the moment people walk into a church building they start to whisper and there is no laughter and he did not want that.  So we had discussed having a service outside under trees in a garden although I am not sure what we would have done had dad’s time come during the winter months.

Dad also did not want a formal service so it was very simple with a few of his favourite songs, a couple of prayers and a scripture reading. My brother and I both did “eulogies” which were simple but celebrated my dad.

Here is what I said:

Celebrating my Dad:

Needless to say, this is not a place I expected or wanted to be today.  For days I have thought about what I could say to bring honour to dad in these moments, words that would celebrate his life.  I could, I suppose tell you lots of bits of information but I wanted to share more than just the information of dad’s life.  I could fill reams of paper and still not scratch the surface of who he was, but before you all start heading for the exits please know that although I had hoped for words….eloquent and profound words I am simply going to speak from my daughter’s heart.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.  This piece of Shakespeare was probably one of the first pieces of literature dad taught me.

Friends, family, loved ones, lend me your ears, I come to praise my dad, not to bury him; The evil done will be interred with his bones, The good will live long after. Every one of you sitting here today has a memory of my dad.   And it is wonderful to have you here to join mom and Donovan and I in celebrating the life of my dad. It is such a healing gift to be surrounded by your love for my dad.  Thank you for coming and showing my family and I that my dad holds a special place in your heart.  Your love and support allows us to know that my dad will be nearby always because of the memories you hold within you.  And please share them with us…never hold back, not now or in the years to come.

Dad accomplished much in his 69 years on this earth but I wanted to speak less about what the man made and more about what made the man. I have struggled to find the right words, the right stories and the right note that would speak truly of my dad.  But, there simply are too many…Faith, family, flying, fishing, friendships and serving.
Single words that hold a lifetime of connecting you, my family to my dad.  He had a rich life and a life that I admired even to his last breath.  I can only hope that I can be as generous in my love as he was in his abundant love for life and his family.

Dad was the light of my life.  Even as a little girl I remember him making me laugh and him being very protective of us and proud of us.  I am pretty sure that my dad is grinning at me right now, cheering me on and whispering in my ear that I can do this. Dad was always a constant and reassuring presence in my life and I always felt safe when he was around. To me he was larger than life, a giant among men.

It is no secret that I have always been and will always be a daddy’s girl, not to mention a chip of the old block.  Dad was my knight in shining armour, my rock and my wise sage.  He was also my intellectual, political and religious sparring partner….I’m pretty sure many of his grey hairs were caused by my opinionated self. Dad allowed Donovan and I to express our opinions freely and to ask questions in a safe environment. He taught us to think for ourselves and to keep an open mind, to always listen to the other person’s perspective.  Dad was good at that. He could argue the other sides point better often than the other guy…even if he did not agree.  He taught us never to make fun of others but to always laugh at yourself. Dad taught me that education, learning and knowledge are key in life and I often heard the words “look it up” if I didn’t know something.  I used to get so frustrated when he told me to look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary because how do you look the word up if you can’t spell it!!! But dad used to read the dictionary and encyclopaedia for fun…go figure!!

Dad was a clever man and could at times be very introspective especially when there were serious decisions to be made or when we asked him for advice.  Dad was my friend and our friendship was cemented when he was retrenched in my Matric year.  We spent many hours together at home and dad became the person who always showed up at the right moment…when I needed him most.  He would lift my spirits, make me laugh or just listen to me whine. Dad always brought a unique perspective; he would share the wisdom of his own experiences.  My dad just knew how to be there for me. 
And NO, like all good children I didn’t always take his advice.  And when that happened, he would argue the point until I appropriately defended my position and he gave in….sometimes I was right and sometimes he was right but it never really mattered because he always had my back. And that went further than just advice…it extended to spiders as well. He even used to tease me that I had a special “spider” scream….if he heard it he came running with a bottle of doom in the one hand and a shoe in the other! Of course he would take the opportunity to scare me with the “remains” afterwards.

He was EVERYTHING a daughter could want in a father and much much more. I have always said that I could not imagine my life without my dad because our lives were so deeply intertwined…..and now I am faced with that reality and the thought of the future hurts beyond what words can describe.

Dad wore so many hats in his lifetime, among them son, husband, father, cousin, friend, colleague, manager, CEO, deacon and Elder. Each varied in responsibility but he approached everyone with the same principles of honour, integrity, purpose and service.

My dad was a man of great Faith…the day before he passed I arrived at the hospital and his nurse pulled me aside and said “Your dad has such a passion for God.  He doesn’t stop preaching to me”.  That was dad.  His work colleagues will tell you that there was many discussion about faith around the tea table. Dad was dedicated to his congregations and served as a deacon and later an elder at the Ashlea Congregation.

Over the past couple of years I have often been asked how I (at my age) can still be living at home and how we as four adults get along so well.  The answer is simple.  My dad was always the peacemaker.  When Donovan and I would get into arguments dad would always make peace between us.  And when we disagreed with mom dad would make peace but only after making sure we understood “that’s my wife you are talking to/about”.  You see my mom was the love of his life for 45 years. He was devoted to his one true love. My mom and dad shared a very special love story, one that was real, honest and one that set the bar incredibly high for us.  To see them together has always been a testament to the endurance and sanctity of marriage. My dad’s success can be credited in a large part to the total love and support of my mom. Together they raised two Fabulous children. The four of us were a unit, a quartet that played the most beautiful music together.  My family is the way it is because of my father and mother’s faith, their faith in God.  It is a legacy of love that cannot be taken even in death.  It lends us grace and gives us courage.

My dad had grown up believing that his heart’s desire was to become a surgeon.  He wanted to do medical research and find out why the body works the way it does and then be able to heal it.  However, on a hot summers day he was offered an opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an airplane and that ended his dream of medicine and started his lifelong love affair with flying. The Saturday before he passed away dad tried to put into words what it felt like the first time he sat in a cockpit. He used words like remarkable, amazing, life changing and life changing it was. In the same discussion dad spoke about the importance of having what you do recognised. He said that although awards and certificates are not important having your contribution validated was.  He said that it was important to know that what you did, what you brought to the table mattered.  Going through dad’s papers there were many certificates and awards and yet he never made a big deal out of them.  Even the trophy’s he received were just plonked down anywhere….dad’s contribution was validated but he did not have to make a big deal out of it. Dad loved the work he did and was so anxious to share the knowledge that he had gained with others. Dad dedicated some 30 years to the air force and another 21 to other businesses only retiring one month before his passing, his contract having been renewed four times.

As I’ve been thinking about my dad these last two weeks, certain memories have come up and I’d like to share them with you.

Dad carrying me up mountains and down mountains literally because I was sick….it was the caravan and by extension camping that made me sick! I think it was just because I enjoyed the piggy back rides.

Dad teaching me to score cricket…the problem was that I got so engrossed with what was happening on the field that I forgot to score but he never scolded me!

Taking his life into his own hands trying to teach me to drive.  How we both escaped that one time event is beyond me.

Dad cooking dinner and when it was ready calling down the passage “It’s dinner time….and the living is easy”.

Dad playing rope with the dogs.

Dad trying to force me to get over my fear of the darkness by sending me (all of about 7) to fetch something in the bedroom without switching on lights…..not quite sure if that was good parenting but I made it through ok.

When we lived in Vryburg there was no congregation so on Sunday nights dad would lead a Lord’s supper service for the four of us and nine times out of ten his lesson came from the writings of John because he loved how he wrote.

In more recent years coming home from work our first stop was to sit a while with dad and just chat.  Sometimes it was just about ordinary things and other times he was looking to bounce a meaning of a scripture of me or to theorise about something.

Dad would start talking about technical stuff like chemical compounds and use all the right names for it and for a while I would listen but eventually it would just go right over my head and he would stop and say “Maraai are you with me” and I would reply and say no and he would say “ok, I’m almost at the point so just hold on” and carry on with his story even though I had no clue what he was on about.

Dad taught me to appreciate history especially Greek and Egyptian history.

Dad taught me to appreciate the slapstick humour of Bud Spencer and Terrance Hill.

Dad taught me that reading means you can go anywhere and do anything and be anyone…it gives you the world.
Us going to cricket games especially day nights at Centurion.  I was so proud the first time I could afford to pay for the tickets and take him out on a “date”.

Dad cooking his special chicken which he never would give me the recipe for.

Dad’s love for his Celtic heritage and how he loved every detail of my trip to Ireland.

Dad was generous to a fault and would give you the shirt off his back even in the dead of winter.  I don’t think there was ever a beggar who did not get something from dad and if he could help out with a “ou ietsie” here and there he would.  No matter what his own financial situation looked like.  But dad also gave of his time, his abilities and his love. Every child should be blessed with a father who shows them what love is all about.  My dad was loving down to the bone.

Every time I walk into the church building I will look to his pew in front and see him there, I will miss him doing the announcements and will often remember that his last act of service in the church was taking the Lords Supper a week before he passed away. I will remember him talking to his “partner”, asking his “ousus” how she is and asking me how his “langhaar” is doing.

The last six months much of our lives revolved around dad.  We spent many hours with him sometimes just chatting and other times taking care of him. I spent a lot of time with him the last two weeks of his life and although at the time I was wishing for sleep I am now so thankful for those endless night time hours. We talked a lot.  We spoke about all the places I wanted to travel to and all the places he had seen.  We spoke about God and his Great love for us.  We spoke about us being a family, a unit and we spoke about how we were to carry on when he left us. 

The night before he passed dad called to say goodnight.  He had said that he wouldn’t because he was tired and he had seen us all a couple of hours before.  But he did….the last thing my darra said to me was that he loved me and those were the last words I spoke to him.  Isn’t that such a blessing.

I am grateful today for one thing and that is that I never took dads presence in my life for granted.  He was my best friend, the light of my life, my favourite person in the world and he was my darra. I will remember his growl on my voicemail (he hated voicemail) and his smile whenever I walked into a room.  I have always been very proud and very privileged to be Don Wilmot’s daughter

There are no regrets other than I wish we had more time together but the reality is, that we had said all we needed to say, we done all we needed to do and it was time for dad to swap his earthly tent for his heavenly dwelling and is resting free from pain and suffering.

Dad asked me when we finally spoke about having a service for him to tell people how he lived and not how he died.  He said to me “Lila, I died one day but I lived for so many more”.

I know that my darra would have given me the world if he could but every day of my life he gave me what mattered most and that was his unconditional love. So darra, for your love, you patients, your understanding, your wisdom, you sense of humour and your memory will live on through me and through Donovan because we are your greatest legacy, your greatest achievement and we will live every day in such a manner as to make you proud. Darra it’s so hard without you but it’s going to be ok.  Your little girl is ready to go it on her own.  You rest now and I will see you when my time comes.  I will always love you.

One of my dad’s favourite poems was by John Donne and this is also one he taught me from the cradle:
No Man Is An Island
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 manor 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. 
The memorial corner...was under the trees where mom and dad renewed their wedding
vows almost twelve years ago. The nose wheel is from an Impala aircraft which
dad flew during his time in the airforce.

Photo's from dad's life. The photo of  mom and dad kissing was when they renewed
their wedding vows and the last four are some of the last photos taken of dad.
A view of the gardens at the Willows Country Lodge where we had the service.

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