MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: Your guitar is quiet now

Before I was your girlfriend, you fell in love with a guitar. You were a devoted lover and spent three hours a day practising scales, techniques and preparing for your lessons. This was a frustration to your friend Jurie Goosen who had a dorm room adjacent to yours and often had his afternoon nap disrupted by your disciplined practice sessions. Those in your friendship circle were devoted lovers of classical music, especially from the Baroque era. When you and Louis van der Watt drove to Bloemfontein for university holidays, you would listen to Bach for the duration of the journey. Dietrich Wagner was your guitar teacher. A quiet man with a gentle spirit and a soft-spoken voice.  I remember the first time you invited me to come along to listen. I got a chair in a back corner of the room. It was clear that I was on holy ground. A witness of harmony between teacher and student. An audience of one.

Mr Wagner birthed the idea of a “proper guitar” for a serious student such as yourself. Like many theology students, you were a part-time bus driver that took children to and from school and on weekends drove them to sporting events. You faithfully put each R10 per trip away in a savings account to buy your dream guitar. On a Sunday you had the opportunity to play guitar at a restaurant on a farm outside Stellenbosch. They did not pay much more than the bus company. The biggest treat was that you could dish up free of charge from the Sunday buffet after the guests were done.

Finally the big day arrived when you could fetch your dream instrument at the airport. Imported from Spain, it was built by hand by the Ramirez family, a fourth generation of guitar builders. It was made from rose wood and you assured me enthusiastically that the sound would just improve over time. As your fiancé, I was honoured to accompany you to the airport. Your hands shook with excitement when you opened your much-awaited cargo. What a joyous moment. It was April 1983 and the next week you had to go away to do a series of Pentecost sermons at a congregation in the countryside. I called you once a day from a payphone to hear how you were doing. All you could talk about was how magnificent the guitar was and how amazed you were at the quality of its sound. After a week of the same content in our telephonic conversations, I finally asked in desperation if you even had a photo of me in your Bible… I had a nagging feeling that I was second in line.

Your guitar stayed part of your daily routine. Like David ministered to Saul, you ministered to your soul by playing your favourite pieces and devoting time to master new ones when your concentration and attention span would allow you to. The children learnt to wait with their questions until you finished playing a piece of music. “Don’t disturb Pappa when he is playing his guitar,” was my instruction. They would fall asleep at night at the sound of your guitar music. Over the years you found different guitar teachers. Nobody ever replaced Mr Wagner. He was one of a kind. When your mood was low, you often did not have the energy to pick up your guitar to play. Whether you were playing your guitar became part of our feedback to the psychiatrist. You were elated when you could do master classes on the internet. You would devote time every day to listen to a class on technique and during lockdown you would sit down daily to practice. One of the items on your list of thirty dreams in your journal was to send your guitar to Spain for restoration. We would travel together to Madrid and you would have the joy of personally meeting the Ramirez family of guitar builders. Your guitar stool, footrest and sheet music are still exactly where you left them. A silent monument to a devoted musician. You now play for the Trinity in heaven. They are the ultimate “Audience of One”.

Isaiah 38:20 “The Lord was ready to save me; Therefore we will sing my songs with stringed instruments all the days of our life, in the house of the Lord.” We will Hold onto Him as a family as we mourn you: Husband and soulmate, father, grandfather. With our memories we will give you an encore for the music you brought to our lives. I see you bow before you walk off the stage of our lives.

Leave a Comment