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Gospel + grief in Cape Town

My step dad died on Sunday.

He’d been unwell for a while. I think my mum chose not to tell me how much his health had deteriorated after leaving the UK so I wouldn’t worry. He didn’t recover after an emergency surgery. My sister kept in touch via text during his last two days.

I was a difficult teenager when Mum took me to meet Ray in the early weeks of their courtship. I have a terrible memory, but I do remember the feel of that day. I felt the energy of two people having just discovered each other. Mum and Ray nervously moving around me. He had a long beard then. He carved wood into beautiful, smooth, fluid shapes. I focused on his sculptures to ignore the flirtation between mum and him.

Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ray with family. He was always there. Always when you needed him.

It wasn’t long before they married and Ray became a loved and central presence in our lives. He was wise and daft and loved to drink whisky and eat. He loved to talk and opine. He would describe far away places, long ago times, engineering, politics, sports and ideas from the middle out, from the outside in, from round and about.

Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ray – always interested in the news and keeping the sun off his head
The tightest hug

I visited them both before leaving to travel the world with my family. I paid extra attention to Ray’s talk that morning and I’m so happy I gave him the tightest hug when I said goodbye. I told him I loved him. Even then, I wondered if I’d see him again.

Mum gently chided me, ‘He’s not going to pop his clogs whilst you’re gone, silly thing!’

Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ray with baby Thomas
Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ray with baby Robert. He had a knack for sleeping.
The morning that he died…

I was at a Methodist church service in a township just outside downtown Cape Town. Without knowing the heartache at home, without knowing that my mum, my sister and my step-brother were saying their final goodbyes before Ray’s life support was turned off, I was struggling to hold back my tears.

I was overcome with emotion.

A small gospel choir was leading the vacillating chords of praise, sung in the native Xhosa language. The whole congregation was on its feet and singing with joyous fervour. People swayed their hips, held their hands up to the sky and stamped their feet in time with the drum. ‘This,’ I thought. ‘this is what this trip is about.’ Educating ourselves about other ways of living. Other ways of thinking.

Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
The church was packed. Here, people are making their way into the aisles. The colour, the noise, the sincerity was overwhelming
I’m not religious, but I do have a degree in religion.

At times I pan the Christian church. I lambaste religious ideologies and practices. But that morning I was overcome with hope. We are all just trying to be the best of ourselves. Trying to hang on to our better selves.

My mum has always been quiet in her Christian faith. She’ll be happy knowing I was at church when Ray died.

Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Thomas at the waterfront

Later that afternoon, as we wondered along the waterfront in Cape Town, Thomas held my hand. ‘Where do people go when they die?’ I asked him. Because, in the Southern Hemisphere, so far from home and the people I love, I had begun to comfort myself that Ray would be looking down on me there telling me to ‘just enjoy yerself’.

With all the wisdom of a 10 year old, Thomas replied, ‘somewhere peaceful, Mum’.

Somewhere peaceful, Mum.
Gospel + grief in Cape Town - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ray Bovey

I’ll return home to Devon from Bali for the funeral.

September 13, 2016

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Oh Ruth – just read this post and it is beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss, but glad that you had a “positive” experience in the Method church as Ray died. Those experiences are special. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your Mum and the rest of the family. Special love and I hope that the journey back for the funeral goes smoothly. X

I’m so sorry for your loss Ruth. A beautiful tribute to a great man. Lots of love & thinking of you all xxx

If there’s Internet in heaven, he’ll be chuffed as anything to read what you’ve written about him.


Thank you for writing about my dad and describing him to a tee he was always there with so many words of wisdom and experience I just so lucky that I had him for such a long time have a safe trip back Ruth

I’m sorry for your families loss. Peace & ❤️

I cried at the photo of Ray with baby Thomas… after that I was a blubbering mess!! What a wonderful man he sounds to be.

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