The Friends Gather
2001 – Conté on Arches Paper – 122 x 153 cms
Photograph by Martin Wakelin
When my father was dying, my dear friend Berni travelled from her home in the Forest of Dean to see him for the last time. From our days at school together Bern had known and loved my parents, staying with them regularly at their home in Newport, and continuing the custom after my mother’s death. When she walked into the ward with her beaming smile, Bern was the very best visitor a dying man could wish to see. All three of us, Bern and I and Trevor, knew that he was not long for this world, and yet the meeting felt affirmative.
Death is the great unknown abyss, on the edge of which we all stand balanced. Trevor’s manifested illness and diagnosis came fast, the one on the heels of the other a bare ten days after he had turned up on our doorstep with his pyjamas in a carrier-bag, asking to stay over because he thought he might have the flu. He was probably being disingenuous, never having been a man who admitted to any physical weakness. Trips to the doctor were simply not what he did. Years earlier, when to his disgust he’d been required to produce a clean bill of health in order to renew his driving license, a G.P. at the surgery in Caerleon where he’d presented himself to get the despised form, discovered that the eighty year old hadn’t seen a doctor since before he’d enlisted in the army and gone away to war! Not once! His record, which amazingly they’d kept, had been labelled ‘Never returned’!
He was well cared for at Velindre Hospital in Cardiff, and though a hospice regime ensured that he was free from pain, he did not yield easily to the sinking, roaring and battling until the morphine dragged him down. However before that, Bern’s visit calmed Trevor, and it was to celebrate her presence at his sick-bed that I made ‘The Friends Gather‘, multiplying her likeness in the drawing because she was fearless and strong as an army of friends when reassurances were most needed. That day Berni was our shelter in the storm. It’s just not possible to be frightened when safe in her embrace.