In my last post I said that one day I will tell you all about my Dad. I have always toyed with the idea of writing a book, with the passing of ‘Big Den’ I now KNOW this has to happen at some point in the future. There is just so much to say !
Here are a few words and images I’ve already shared on Facebook plus some photos from Wednesday.
I have three brothers, Matthew, Mark & Luke. I’m the oldest and the best 🙂 . Clearly, I ‘m a little darker than they are. My biological father passed away when I was a couple of years old. I’ve never known him or felt the need to. Dennis Ward met my mom soon after and took me on as his own when they married. He was always my Dad. I was always Andrew Ward, in my own mind and to everyone else, yet my birth certificate carried a different surname. On my 16 birthday I changed my name by deed poll to WARD. Some people were already aware of this when I shared it on the podcast series Have I Got Heat for You.
I was proud to be a Ward, proud of a man with a status as big as his shoulders and proud of my brothers. We were all taught respect from an early age and the importance of helping others. I feel I could write here for hours as these thoughts are swirling through my head but I will indeed save them for a later time. Our story is a best seller !
Right now I would like to share the day we had on Wednesday with you.
Myself, Michelle, Drew & Mikey left Birmingham City Centre Wednesday morning and headed to Aston where my Dad had a small flat. It is on council grounds which he had turned into some kind of tropical garden/bird sanctuary, with a Koi Carp collection worth thousands and the meanest looking dogs you’ve ever seen ! He was known as “The Buddha of Aston” (I’ll try to share the newspaper article at some point which explains why).
His Family had always lived in Aston and were just as well-known there as we all were in Castle Vale and Stockland Green where we had grown up. A testament to how well he was respected was shown by the turnout at his flat as we waited for him to arrive.
The three massive dogs he kept were eerily silent whilst hundreds of people walked thru the garden, admiring the birds and the many, many wreaths of flowers laid down. I had a Lacoste bouquet made, his beloved label he wore throughout his whole life. Others had made Rottweilers, tattoo needles and a large Buddha in flowers looked over them all. Amazing.
Friends and Family arrived. They came and they came. As the cars pulled up, the dogs started to bark, as if they could sense their Master returning. It was one of the hardest moments of my life, second only to that of my nan’s passing just a few months ago. My brothers were inconsolable. I tried to be strong for, well, just because.
We had 4 hearses for Family, along with my Dad proudly at the front of the procession and a further car at the back to carry all the extra flowers. It took some time to get all the flowers! The short drive to the church seemed to take forever as the entire area came to a standstill. We drove past the local store which proudly emblazoned in the window RIP BIG DEN. Outside the church, a sea of black and white stood in silence and respect of the Man. Again, my brothers wept. I tried to be as strong as I could for my kids. We four brothers lifted him onto our shoulders alongside two of his best friends. His weight pressed down hard and yet it felt so comforting.
Big Den, as you can clearly see, was not a subtle man. He didn’t do “quiet”. Mark aka Elma aka The Big Fud, is a carbon copy of the Man and as we took the first step, through his sobs shouted out “Go on Big Den”. The whole crowd cheered with him “Go on, Big Den” and applause rang through the streets as we walked into the church. Inside, the pews were already filled with people as he shouted out again. Big Den lives in my Elma. He lives in us all!
My mom was broken. We all were. The service was a fitting tribute to a true legend. Elma shared some amazing words. He stole the show. He told how, like most people who were close to my Dad, the two of them were ALWAYS at war one minute, best friends the next, sharing a curry and a joke. This was the cycle with Big Den.
Elma had said all there was to be said really. I hadn’t prepared anything but I knew I had to say something. I can’t remember what I said but I know I had to say it whilst choking back the tears. You know that annoying talking/crying kind of voice ? Yeah, that one ! We watched a slide show of images, the transformation of Big Den through the years. People laughed and cried. At the end, the Vicar said it was only fitting we should give Big Den a round of applause. We all clapped and clapped.
Finally, as it was time to leave the church the people piled out. It took forever as I had to wait at the back for my mom & hold her tight as she sobbed.
Eventually, we made it to the Graveyard where my Dad was lay to rest on top of his own mother. We released 10 white doves, my brothers, his brothers, his friends. Everyone clapped and cheered “Go on, Big Den”. The four of us had a moment. My mom was not able to attend the graveside.
The “after party” was just as he had wanted. The finest reggae and soul music blasted out all day long and many of us got up on the stage to sing our hearts out. I now have a tattoo in memory of him, with the words from Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds proudly’ on my arm. Even THIS song he got the words wrong to when he sang. You had to love Big Den !
An open bar for all for one hour, alongside finger buffet to start and then a full curry buffet later in the evening. All on Big Den and organised by The Big Fud. It was such an amazing occasion and one of my best friends said after “I don’t know if I should have been having so much fun”. Fun was had by all. It was a day from start to finish I will never forget. It has given me strength.
I too had a strained relationship with Big Den. Everything I am and everything I am not, I owe to him. He had spent a few years living in a house on the road behind us in Spain, some of that time we weren’t on speaking terms.
I am happy that we had long since patched things up on this particular cycle and the last time I saw my Dad the kids were with me and we had the chance to spend a few days together. Our final words were “I love you”. I take great solace from this as well as knowing he went peacefully in his sleep. He passed away short of his 61st birthday, his heart slowly stopped beating due to complications from Diabetes brought on by years of Coca Cola, Ice Cream and Curries. He would not and could not have had it any other way.
Sleep Well, Big Man !
Here are a few shots captured of the morning.