THE DEATH OF MY FATHER…from Rachman Mitchell

Rachman Mitchel writes…

This took place in the April of 1947 when I was on holiday in Scotland visiting my Aunt Rena in Pitlochry.

Our parents had divorced at the beginning of the war. Their marriage had long been inharmonious and had suffered one of the worst things that can happen to married couples, the death of their first child, John or Jackie at the age of about eighteen months from diphtheria. Their second, my sister Sheilagh (now Roanna) did not satisfy their longing for another son, hence my conception and birth.

Taking me back to be seen by my maternal grandparents led to long periods of separation between my parents, and the resulting infidelity of my father was the final straw that broke the back of their marriage.

Changes in My Life

My mother returned to England and soon married my stepfather Frank Clause, someone about 10 years older than her.

My father, still a lieutenant in the RN, joined up immediately the war started and soon became a lieutenant commander with the duty of escorting convoys taking guns and tanks to the Soviet army up around Bear Island to the port of Murmansk.

He visited us almost every leave he had, although he had remarried. He enjoyed being a father and we both felt his love and care for us.

Bonding on My 12th Birthday

At the end of the war he spent almost another year ferrying Commonwealth troops back to their home country and he was demobilised in July of 1946.  We met him in London for my 12th birthday before he was to return to his previous or pre-war work in the Indian Forestry Service.

We had a great day, at least it was for me, as he took me shopping at Gamleys, the big toy shop of London, and bought me a board game called ‘Dover Patrol’ that played out the old Battle of Jutland that he had been in as young man of 23 or so, and also a small pocket chess set which I was into then. My sister spent the morning with our stepmother “Auntie” May and we all met up at the Cumberland Hotel, where they were staying, for lunch.

It was here that Daddy talked about his father and how proud he was of him, enrolling at the age of fifteen in the great sailing clippers that raced from Shanghai to London in the middle of the nineteenth century and how after 3 years of that he enrolled in the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman and worked his way up to being a captain. (I later found out that he was probably not commissioned as a captain)

 My Father, the Hero

My sister and myself had probably not spent more than 4 weeks in the whole of the war with our father as there was little leave time that he had, and most leaves he did spend with us. He was our hero and I never had the adolescent revolt against my father, which most children go through as they witness their parent’s weaknesses.

He was an expansive man who, when travelling in a railway carriage, would be talking with everybody, making an interesting social gathering of it.

His second wife said he would give the shirt off his back if someone else had greater need of it. He liked a drink and tended to stand other people drinks when they could not afford it.

It was a very full and happy day with him that last day and we would ever see him again.

The Premonition

The premonition of that was very strong as we got onto the bus at Hyde Park corner to go to Victoria station and catch the train home to Sussex.

I wept .

Not long after this episode I had gone to Ascham, which was the new building for our Prep School having been boarded at one of the Eastbourne College house for two terms before that. We had a new and excellent Headmaster, Henry Collis, an outstanding educationalist and one with a very civilised mind and heart. I owe him a great debt of gratitude, as I do for many of the masters at school.

Dream about My Father

After moving there I had a dream that my Father’s belongings had been taken to the school after he had died. I woke up feeling both sad and guilty over the dream and my apparent desire for his belongings.

Henry Collis set us a task of writing to absent parents every Sunday and my father replied in his neat handwriting with photos of the elephants that he now worked with as a Conservator of forests in India. I was always delighted to see these letters with the king’s head on the stamps, but with the amount marked in annas.

In the Easter holidays of 1947, I went up to Scotland and stayed for a day or so in Edinburgh. I cannot remember whom with. As I was walking along Prince’s Street quite near my maternal grandfather’s old shop, an old lady accosted me and said, “Whatever happens to you. Remember to believe in the Lord”

I forgot all about this and one day I was standing in the central hallway of my Aunt Rena’s house when I heard her crying in the bathroom. I wondered what all this was about and when she came out she was waving a piece of paper which was a telegram from my stepmother to say that my father had died after a fall in India. Both of my aunts had felt that my mother had been lucky to marry my father. They were bridesmaids at the wedding and both felt that they could have made better wives than my mother!

The Finality of Death

Part of me denied the death and believed it  all a lie and that he will suddenly turn up from the jaws of death, as he had done many a time during the war. There was no mourning process to go through. Everyone lost relatives in the war and one just accepted – the “Stiff upper lip”, or the “grin and bear it”. In fact, what happens is, that sadness is just driven underground or under one’s day to day consciousness.

I found I could not talk about my feelings much with anyone. The only one who seemed to make sense for me was Ludwig van Beethoven. When I first listened to the slow movement of his ninth symphony, it spoke to me of another world perhaps a heaven where people may reach after much struggle and suffering.

Subud and New Connections

Actually the feeling of sadness did not go until I was opened in Subud ten years later, when I first experienced for myself the vibration of the soul within me and the connection with my father.

I was travelling in the Underground railway in London when suddenly I felt my father sitting next to me.

Later one evening in Wisma Subud Cilandak in the old latihan hall Bapak began to test the state of our fathers and I received he was truly happy.