Dom Joly: A sad homecoming, to bury my brave father

Related Topics

My father died last week. He was a good man who served in the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War before running the family business in Beirut with integrity and considerable bravery. He had a good life, but it's still a shock when you realise that somebody is no longer there.

He died in the Lebanon and I had to fly there for the funeral. Normally, funerals in Lebanon consist of three days of condolences, during which the family sit in a big room lined with chairs while people file in and out whispering words of regret. My sister had thankfully decided to restrict proceedings to a single day. Arriving at the church hall in downtown Beirut, we settled down for a long day of nodding and handshaking.

People started to drift in and out, and my sister, who now runs the family company, would quickly whisper a briefing to me about each arrival. It was strangely comforting, with people appearing from every corner of my father's life and talking quietly about their memories of him. After five hours, however, we were starting to droop – I don't know how people survive three days.

We retired to the new Four Seasons Hotel on the Beirut seafront. After a couple of stiff gin and tonics, we were ready for the service. This was in the All Saints' Church round the corner, a church for which my great-grandfather donated the land and in which I was christened. Back then, the building was on the seafront. We used to swim off the rocks below. No longer, however. The bay had been filled in with the rubble of war-damaged Beirut and the church was now dwarfed by huge, soulless blocks of flats that entirely surrounded the little stone building and blotted out the hot Levantine sun.

The church was packed. I sat under the stained-glass windows dedicated to various members of my family. My father had rescued the windows from the church when civil war broke out. He had stored them at home throughout the troubles, before having them put back when the church was re-consecrated in 1992. I read a passage from Ephesians. If I'm honest, I didn't understand a word of it but I read it loudly and clearly, looking up at the congregation just like my dad used to tell me to. My sister started to weep and I put my arm round her in a slightly rigid manner: Sadly, 10 years at British boarding school make it very difficult for me to deal with any public display of emotion.

The service over, family and close friends were to follow the cortege to the Anglo-American cemetery where several relatives were buried. I hopped into a car driven by my childhood friend, George. He is a Lebanese Maronite and, like many Lebanese, finds it almost physically impossible to drive slowly. I could see several cars following the coffin longing to overtake. We lost the hearse in Beirut's infernal traffic and ended up outside the wrong graveyard – one for the Armenian community. After frantic enquiries, we got our bearings and found the right place, a beautiful little oasis hidden from the frantic chaos of modern Beirut.

The sun was setting on the umbrella pine trees and clumps of vivid magenta bougainvillea that filled the cemetery. The priest's voice blended with the cacophony of cicadas and drifted over the scene. One by one, we picked up handfuls of earth and dropped them on the coffin, before the elderly gravedigger methodically filled in the hole. We stood in silence for a moment before leaving my father to sleep for ever in the land he loved so much.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A banner supporting the NO vote in the upcoming referendum hangs from the offices of the Greek Finance Ministry on Wednesday  

Greece crisis: The Troika’s inflexibility on austerity amounts to nothing short of an attempted coup

Caroline Lucas
Chancellor George Osborne will present his post-election budget on 8th July (Getty)  

Osborne’s Budget will touch on social reform – but he’s no Lloyd George

Donald Macintyre
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy