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"My father was a man of few words, some of them consecutive."

Niels Jørgen Grundtvig Nielsen, 23/7/1926 to 22/3/2000

Well, it's true enough to be worth saying; and the quotation itself is elegant enough for me to offer thanks to the anonymous author. Perhaps because he had made a conscious effort to learn the language he used every day, he never used words carelessly or spoke just for the sake of speaking. Building on his accuracy without a moment's pause, my generation of Nielsens followed Mother's example and delighted in allusions and word-play almost for their own sake. Talking, for us, is no more a mere exchange of information than dancing is a mere move from A to B – but when Father spoke, we listened with love and attention.

A few months before he died, he asked if we would visit him. We hastened to do so, and during that long weekend in Cornwall he took the time to talk to each one of us and make sure nothing important was left unsaid. I told him, the circumstances having encouraged me to look back over the years, how grateful and how comforted I was to realise he had never shown the slightest sign of being disappointed in me however many silly mistakes I felt I'd made. He told me that on the contrary, he had always been proud of me for what I had made of my life despite these set-backs; even, boasted about me a little to his friends. Bear his example in mind next time a rebuke or criticism is on the tip of your tongue.

Difficult to sum up what someone has meant over more than forty years, someone who has always been there. I think this very familiarity cushions the blow; he was so much part of our lives that even now he's gone ahead of us I have little feeling of absence. The tribute of grief is not missing, however: my brothers-in-law, having had less time to grow accustomed to his wisdom and quiet virtue, feel his departure keenly. Yet he, and they, and I all believe most firmly that this inexplicable event marks no more than a temporary separation.