Where to start… To understand why I did this, I guess it’s important to explain a bit of my past. My parents divorced when I was about 7 and my father moved to another town, and we (Myself, mother and sister) ended up moving in with my grandfather. My grandfather, Malcolm Ernest Alfred Berndt (or ‘papa’ as he was known in the family) lived in Gordon’s Bay which is a small coastal town just outside Somerset West. And for as long as I can remember, he became what could essentially be considered my replacement dad. I only saw my real father on some weekends and while there were character traits I could now appreciate or relate to with him, at the time I didn’t feel as though it was about teaching me anything as opposed to it being about dragging me along with him out of obligation. However, my grandfather on the other hand was always there to show me things and to try broaden my knowledge and teach me things, from meteorology to sport.
I still have vivid memories of standing out on the patio of the Gordon’s Bay house and watching thunderstorms and driving through to Bikini Beach during storms to watch it break at a good 4 to 5 foot. Eventually we moved, but my grandfather and mother bought a house together – so we remained in a single house still. And that was the time, around 1995 when we started visiting the beach almost daily. You see, my grandfather had been a surfer for decades and my mother used to often talk about how when they were kids he would drag them around to various beaches looking for a good break. As he grew older, he ditched the long board and opted for a bodyboard which I think was mainly due to his knee problems. But none the less, from around 1997 to 2001 we would go to the beach all the time. He taught me to bodyboard and bought me my first bodyboard, and my second and my fourth. Despite him being in his late 50s and even 60s, he was still riding the waves well, carving in and catching the occasional barrel. And even though we never talked much, we spent a whole lot of time out in the ocean together and the reality of it is that most of my memories from back then involve bodyboarding.
My grandfather suffered a stroke in 2007 or 2008, three years after my father died. Though the stroke wasn’t the beginning of the end, the first signs started after he went in for a routine knee operation and suffered side affects from the anesthetic which brought on dementia. He would wake up in the night reaching for his gun because he would imagine there were people in the garden. And while I did a good job of blocking it all out, it’s still difficult to think about that period where someone close to you is healthy and fit one day and a few months later they can barely take care of themselves. The stroke occurred after he was put into frail care, and things suddenly went downhill very quickly. He lost the ability to speak, and close his mouth. I ended up trying to avoid family gatherings just to not have to witness it. How do you see someone who has taught you everything you know, now unable to do basic functions like speak? And how do you speak to them? What do you say? How do you know that they can even understand you properly. So when his death came in 2010, to me personally I felt it as a relief. I knew him well enough to know that there was no way he would have wanted to be living in that space. And in hind sight, him and I could probably now engaged in some interesting topics – both him and I being the only atheists within our family, who put science above religion.
One Final Wave
I stopped bodyboarding for many years, turning my focus towards rollerblading and then computers. But I recently got back in the ocean again for the first time in nearly 10 years… And it brought back memories of a great time in my life. Though now it’s very different.
While driving to the beach one day I was thinking about the topic, and I remembered that his ashes still sit in a cupboard in the house alongside my grandmother’s (another amazing person who I need to find a fitting tribute to) – having not been scattered yet. And then I had the idea of melting some surf wax, and putting in some of the ashes.
Instead of sitting in a dark and dreary cupboard, I could ensure that the man who spent so many years in the ocean could ‘see the ocean again’. Not only that, but share my time in the barrels – just like 15 years back.
So this evening, I eventually got the box of ashes – cracked it open and for the first time in over 7 years had some form of physical contact with my grandfather. And while I think many people may find it slightly macabre, I know my sister does; it was anything but.
It’s important to note that for the most part cremation ash is not really soft and powdery, it’s more a course combination of what looks to be crushed bone. So I would only be using a small about.
I took a glass container and put the wax on it, and stuck it in the microwave for 10 minutes. I found that the heat of the microwave was enough to make the plate hot as hell, but didn’t do much to the wax itself. So the process involved rubbing the wax square on the plate so that it melted.
After the wax was melted, I poured in some of his ashes and mixed them together with a stick. I found that despite having a few solid small pieces in it, it wasn’t enough to ruin the sticky qualities of the wax and considering I wear a wetsuit, I don’t have to worry about it too much.
After mixing them together, the wax begin to become solid and I assisted the process by putting it in the deep freeze for a small amount of time.
I then used a wax comb to pull the wax out (while it was still not completely set, as I wanted to remould it).
The wax and ash combination was then turned into a ball – which is obviously not ideal for applying, but it looked better and was easier than shaping a square.
I then applied the wax and remnants of my grandfather to my board and now know that the next time I head out into the water, he’ll be joining me – at least in body. And for us non-believers, that’s all there really is.
We definitely never always saw eye to eye and still dislike some of his thought processes, but in the end – if it weren’t for him, who knows what I would have missed out on in life.
RIP Malcolm Ernest Alfred Berndt