This is an email I just received from an old friend that I publish here with permission. Gerald is a very old friend from my teens. We studied together in the UK where he did law and our friendship has spanned both time and continents. In all the time I have known him he has never spoken of his father. Gerald now resides in New Zealand. So here in his own words.
My father, Major(Ret'd) Gregory Joseph Henry Lopez P.J.K, died last Thursday after several weeks' illness, and was buried in a small village in East Timor.
As a child in World War II, he was imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, and escaped with his brothers.
He was an intelligent and dashing young man, and went to Sandhurst Military College in the UK, where he a met a beautiful French woman who was to become my mother. He became a Major in charge of a whole regiment of men, engaging the so-called Communist Terrorists in the jungles during the Malayan Emergency.
Although I didn't see much of my father, I recall that at the tender age of seven I was very proud of him, and wanted to grow up to be smart and important like him. One year later, while my mother and sister were away in France, he left me all alone in our apartment, and disappeared to Singapore. I fed myself and went to school for three days before someone found me and took me to my uncle's. The rent went unpaid, the landlords took possession of everything we had, and sold it or destroyed it. I can see the moment my mother came back from the airport, the look of horror on her face as she realised her home had gone, and my vague sense that something terrible had happened.
Over his life of adventure and exploit Gregory left a trail of financial disasters, of dispossession, of women with broken hearts, and of children with shattered dreams.
Yet he chose to live the last ten years in one of the poorest countries in the world, a country of dispossessed people who had long suffered extreme inhumanity and unspeakable cruelty. He avoided the luxuries and trappings of modern civilisation to live a life of simple needs, helping the people of East Timor to rebuild their shattered lives. He fell in love with the country, and with a woman who looked after him with heart and soul. He must have touched their hearts, as his funeral was attended by many who had travelled long and arduous distances.
I realised in the last few days that there is an invisible and very real web in society, a web of positions and roles to be played. As men, women, fathers, mothers, sons, daughter, youngers or elders; each "place" has a set of responsibilities. We can choose to either take our place or not; and depending on the choice there will be hurt and destruction, or healing and repair in the fabric of family, community and humanity.
I was never aware of my role as a father's first son, until I was called to give my consent to his burial in East Timor.
The grief that I have felt all my life, and the tears that now roll down my cheeks; are for a man who, in his early life, did not take his place as a father and husband. He later knew this, yet he also knew he was unable to mend the many broken bridges within his lifetime.
From endings shall come new beginnings. From his passing have come many wonderful realisations, many heartfelt connections, and many new possibilities for redemption and repair.
Peace can come not from changes in external circumstances, but from lifting of judgment, and from forgiveness. Forgiveness not only releases others, but also frees ourselves from our past.
Although this is a general email, I have specifically addressed it to you because you are important to me, and you have a place in my heart. If I have caused you the slightest hurt or grievance any time in our life, I am truly sorry. Please forgive me.
My deepest love, and wishes for your health and joy,