Words always fail on occasions of great lost. If you knew Ruth, and if you know me, you understand. These are days when friends and family are starting to craft the written word, and our collective voice will be stronger for Ruth. This is what I promised Ruth in her dying hour. In her passing, this is the greatest gift that I can give from out of myself. My only regret is that I could not give it to her in life. In our long journey, as a couple, we were both community workers, but Ruth was the social worker, and I am the historian.
That is where our story started. Ruth was utterly fascinated on a double date in 1985 that I was a historian, albeit a humble undergraduate student of history. Ruth had been my mate’s date for that one night, and it would be two more years before I would see her again on a front doorway of a house in Jane Street, West End. Our passions and love alighted on that July evening into a 28 year romance.
I knew in those days of 1987 we had something very special. At one time in the early tussle of young love, I had made up my mind that, if the relationship did not work out, I would completely resign myself to a life of a bachelor scholar, entombed in the basement of some university library. Ruth most kindly saved me from that fate.
In one of my last final moments with Ruth alone, I told her that she had shaped the person I was today, and all Ruth’s qualities – loyalty, compassion, kindness, mercy, a deep love for our daughters, courage in the face of personal tragedy – all have become embedded in me as an outcome of our passion and love as a couple.
I told Ruth in her dying days, “We had a wonderful life together”. Ruth wanted her friends and family to know, “We had a wonderful life together”.
At Ruth’s funeral I said,
“A world without Ruth is ruthless.
Yet I will be Ruth. I will be Ruth.
We are no longer a couple.
That part of life is history.
And as her historian,
as her lover,
as her life-partner,
I will be Ruth. I will be Ruth.”
The truth, I realised later, is that I cannot be Ruth. I cannot expect, as days pass on without her, that I will be the same person. Something beautiful died of me in the loss of Ruth’s life. However, in being her historian, I can bring Ruth back to life, as the written story. It is probably the most important reason why we do history, to re-live the lives of those who we love. And we can do that, but remembering we are who we are in the present (not in the past). So, yes, in that specific meaning, “I will be Ruth.”
Our 28 year life partnership, Neville and Ruth, reflected that sense of history. Ruth kept me grounded in community, friends, and family – the participants and listeners of the story, while I was Ruth’s story-teller of those things beyond the memory of the community, friends, and family.
It was not always easy but our love kept it together. It still does.
With the great loss of Ruth and with the time that has pass, and will continue to pass, I am experiencing the strange condition of being happy and sad at the same time. I am happy because there is still something of Ruth who shaped me, and that enjoyment in life she gave me flicks, so that in an instance I sense the pleasure of that happiness; even as there is the sadness of that part of me that died with her, because of how much our lives were infused.
Neville Buch, 27 May 2017