I regret not trying to help him

My dad used to tell a story about some people who lived on the West Coast when he was young - called Rudd. They were famous because of a dead dog. Mrs Rudd was wailing because it had died, and my father said that he hadn't thought it was much good as a dog because it barked all the time and bit people.

"That's just the point," said Mrs Rudd. "We loved him for his unfaithfulness and his unreliability."

All through our childhood, Dad muttered about Rudd's dog whenever any of us showed ourselves as unreliable, which was often. Now I do the same.

And that was how I named our eldest daughter's favourite boyfriend Rudd - a dear old thing, but unreliable.

Tall, rangy with direct, quizzical blue eyes, a humourous drawl - always going to do great things, but getting sidetracked along the way. Overly sociable, always late, always able to sidestep unpleasantness with his adroit humour.

Our daughter often became infuriated with him and sent him "down the road" quite regularly. He would stay away about two weeks then return, and she was always glad to see him.

We all liked him but he sure didn't look like husband material. He drank quite a lot, too.

The thing we all really liked about Rudd was his charity. You could tell him a trouble and he would give it his full attention; he always kept a confidence; he forgave instantly.

He wasn't just kind to us either. We discovered by chance that he spent every second Sunday at the SPUC, cleaning out the dogs' cages and taking them for walks. He was a volunteer driver for Social Welfare, too, taking people from geriatric homes for drives. He often had a young retarded man called David with him. David seemed to be with him, or at his home most of the time - his mother seemed to have the same natural charity as her son - their house seemed like a haven to everyone.

But our daughter was a person in her own right, too. She felt unable to be a sacrificial lamb to an alcoholic, unstable husband, no matter how humourous and lovable. Rudd had to go, eventually, and for good.

After that he seemed to deteriorate. He had lost his ballast. He seemed hell-bent on self-destruction. Finally he took his own life. He left a rather disjointed note asking his family to look after David.

We were shattered. Our daughter was heartbroken because she had truly loved him. She had the urge to be with his large and loving family. They welcomed her and let her grieve with them.

Because they were not church-going people, they asked us to choose the readings for the funeral.

When the minister was saying "I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me" I felt as though these words could have been written for our friend and his family.

They would not be so appropriate at my funeral. Nor would the other reading "Happy are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy."

I still think our daughter was right to follow her conscience. But I regret I did not try to help a person who was crying out for help - especially as that person would have put out his hand for anyone who needed him.