My Uncle Ray couldn’t have been more appropriately named: he loved the sunshine and I’m sure he was never deficient in Vitamin D. It was a terrible shock, a couple of weeks ago, to learn that a heart attack had taken him from the many who loved him. My cousin Karen referred to our uncle as a ‘gentle giant’: he was a tall, well-built man, who stood ramrod-straight, took great care of his appearance, and was affectionate with his loved ones.
Ray was my dad’s younger brother (by two years) and, when I was growing up, our families lived a long way apart: his in Devon and ours in Cambridge. I didn’t really start to get to know him well until 2010, when he accompanied my dad on holiday for the first time, staying with us in rural Mallorca. It was the first of their thirteen holidays together at our place over the next few years. Sadly, his deteriorating eyesight put an end to Ray’s visits; his last was in September 2017.
His first visit to us in 2010 was the motivation for clearing our annex guest suite, which had been a neglected storage space ever since we moved here in 2004. With its own independent entrance and en suite shower room, it suited Ray perfectly. As an early riser (he couldn’t wait to feel that sunshine), he was able to open his annex door and be out on the terrace enjoying the freshness of the early-morning air. He repeatedly told us during his stays that he loved Mallorca and his room; he particularly enjoyed the cup of tea and biscuit I delivered to him each morning, in exchange for a ‘Ray hug’.
Rooms need a name so you can identify them in conversation. I’m writing this in what we grandly call ‘the library’; it contains a lot of books, but wouldn’t win any interior-design prizes for ‘best home library’. Our annex suite has been known as Ray’s Room ever since he first stayed and I think we’ll always refer to it thus. He has slept in that room more times than any other visitor, so it seems only appropriate.
Whenever we collected Dad and Ray from the airport, Ray would arrive looking more tanned than most of the departing holidaymakers and, over the course of a week’s holiday, he’d keep an eye on the progress of his tan.
He loved going out on our excursions, but was just as happy sunning himself on the terrace at home, lounging alongside his elder brother and sharing stories of their childhood and youth. He also enjoyed our outings for meals and drinks; his favourite tipple under the hot Mallorcan sun was a large beer, but he didn’t say no to a glass of wine or one of The Boss’s legendary G&Ts.
The brothers’ holidays in 2011 were particularly memorable: Jetta—the feral cat we’d been feeding for a few months—produced two litters of kittens. Her timing couldn’t have been better, as the kittens’ first adventures away from the area where they were born coincided with both of Dad and Ray’s holidays that year. The kittens kept us all entertained and charmed with their crazy antics.
I last saw Uncle Ray in March, just a week before the lockdown began in Spain. I’d flown back to the UK for the funeral of my Auntie Joan (Dad and Ray’s elder sister), never imagining then that I wouldn’t see him again. He would have been 90 next May and there would have been a family party (Covid-19 permitting).
Saying Goodbye … via an iPad
Today was Ray’s funeral in Devon, but we were unable to attend because of the UK’s quarantine requirement. Technology came to the rescue: my cousins had made it possible for us to watch the ceremony online, courtesy of a business called Obitus. The ceremony was due to start at 4pm but, when I logged on to the site a quarter of an hour in advance to check the connection, the link didn’t work. Our WiFi signal wasn’t strong enough.
At this stage, I had a wobble, fearing that we would miss the ceremony. I bashed out a Messenger request to our lovely Swiss neighbours, whose WiFi is more reliable than ours. For some minutes there was no reply and I realized they were probably having a siesta, entertaining friends, or enjoying their pool. Time was ticking by, so I tried the link on my iPad instead and re-positioned the router to see if it made a difference. At last, we were able to see inside the crematorium, where a photo of Uncle Ray beamed from a monitor on the wall.
Our Swiss neighbours replied then, having just seen my message. They offered the use of their internet and a quiet place to be on our own. I thanked them, explaining that we’d finally been able to connect at home, and I’ll always be grateful for their kind offer.
I never imagined that I would one day watch a family funeral online, at home, but it’s only one of many things that none of us could have imagined happening in 2020. It was painful to see the slumped shoulders and bowed heads of grieving mask-clad family members and not be able to exchange comforting words or consoling hugs (although the latter are forbidden anyway now). But what tore at my heart was seeing my dad saying goodbye to his last sibling and not being able to give him a hug or hold his hand during the ceremony, as I did at his elder sister’s funeral in March.
Wakes don’t happen online, of course, but I imagine that those who were able to attend Ray’s wake in person will have shared many memories of a dad, grandad, (very proud) great-grandad, brother, uncle, and friend.
And, when I’ve finished writing this post, we’ll open a bottle of Mallorcan rosado (from Mesquida Mora) and raise a glass (or two) to Uncle Ray – a man who loved his holidays with us in Mallorca.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Ray. We hope the sun is shining up there.
Jan Edwards ©2020