Phone of a tall man, legs crossed, sitting in a great chair, holding up a glass of wine. He's seated in a living room with family photos and a lamp in the background.

2021 Grateful 17: And then the lily opened

When I was told this week that the inimitable Ray Grindley had breathed his last, I felt a curious mix of emotions. I say curious, but perhaps only to others. I was reared in the echo of the tenet that there are worse things in life than death. It would be a few years before I’d fully understand what my mother meant by this oft-repeated phrase, but the first time I heard her say it, it made a lasting impression. It was said with such certainty that it knocked death off its pedestal and made it an ‘also ran’.

The emotions that hit in rapid succession (seconds) were shock, regret, sadness, relief, heartbreak, and helplessness.

I had known Ray hadn’t been in the whole of his health for a while but I hadn’t realised how serious things had gotten. The news came as a shock. I regretted that of the many recent times I had planned to go see him, none had materialised into an actual visit. I was sad that I wouldn’t get to chat with him again. I was relieved that his suffering was over and he was at peace. I was heartbroken for Orsi and those much closer to him who would feel the pain of his passing so acutely. I felt helpless. There was little I could do to help make this better for my friend.

Ray was a patron of the Caledonia back in the day when it was a second home to an eclectic assortment of characters each of whom added an interesting thread to a comfortable tapestry. He always had a smile for me, a ready word. At times mellowed by that one beer that opens the door to reflective melancholy, he’d tell me that he had great time for me. If both of us were smoking, he’d give the nod and we’d step outside to his outer sanctum where he’d impart some of the immeasurable wisdom gleaned from being around a tad longer than I had been.

Our conversations ran the gamut from politics to religion, from Irishness to Britishness and he was never shy about offering an opinion, solicited or otherwise. Even on his quiet days, he’d have something to say. We didn’t always see the world in the same way but we shared more than we differed. He invited us to dinner shortly after himself moved over where he proceeded to vet him over Peking duck. He got the thumbs up. I was highly amused. What can I say? The man made me smile.

He had that gangly, long-leggedness that I’ve long associated with Peter O’Toole. He always seemed so, well, so foldable. I’ve stood beside him in the stands cheering on Big Z’s soccer team and sat beside him in the pub watching the Six Nations. He was a regular at the Gift of the Gab, back in the day. A solid supporter. A cheerleader. A fixture.

Part of a legendary group of friends who came to mine one Easter Sunday for lunch – and then stayed for tea and for supper – I, in turn, had a seat at his table when he celebrated a noughty birthday. I remember being particularly honoured by the invitation because although we had our share of deep and meaningfuls, I never really knew all that much about him, about his life. On my mental timeline, he was more of the present than the past.

Lilly in full bloom in a Fruit Tea bottle.
Of the flowers by his hospital bed, one lily opened in full the day Ray died.

Time these days being what it is, I’m having trouble remembering when I last saw him. I’ve spoken about him rather than to him, and always with a smile. He was a gentleman.

The featured photo was taken in the UK the day he decided to move to Hungary. I, for one, am grateful that he made the move and that our paths intersected, however briefly. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.






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