In 2003 Counting Crows had a hit with Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi.The chorus goes like this “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”
This thought is captured in a brilliant article by Amy Remeikis called ‘Facing a father’s death with laughter and tears’.
Amy Remeikis battles with the emotions of watching her father die, using laughter and conversation to make sure “nothing is left unsaid”.
He wants to rob a bank.
Maybe take out some “bad guys”.
“What are they going to do? Lock me up for life?” he laughs. And so do we.
My dad is dying and he can’t stop making jokes about it.
We play along. Until we can’t. We laugh and rib and poke until the ridiculous rolls back round to the tragic, and stark reality slaps us in the face.
Because the man who once drove a Tarago like a failed race car driver, who swam naked at midnight and believed the secret to happiness was Radio National, a ride-on mower and a cold beer, now finds it a struggle just getting out of bed.
My dad is dying and we’ve tried desperately to ignore it.
Our leader is faltering, but we keep propping him up, dragging him onward. He knows it is more for our sake than his, and he lets us. But we all know he is rapidly approaching a time he’ll demand we go on without him.
A child could take him down these days. He can’t hear out of his left ear (“all that nagging finally got to me”), or move his left arm (“lucky it’s not my drinking arm”). He doesn’t so much walk as force his legs to shuffle (“guess if I did rob a bank, they’d catch me pretty quick”). But when we’re just sitting, with a beer in front of him and an animal in his lap, we can almost forget and begin joking again. In those moments we freeze time and everything is as it ever was and ever will be.
But to borrow from William Maugham, dying is a dreary affair. It’s long and uncertain and hesitant and awkward, and people treat those in the midst of it in exactly the same way.
Dying is not death. We have rituals for death. Words we know to say. Procedures. We have ceremonies and customs and conversations and comfort. But dying is different. Dying has no set end date. It can go on for years. It has peaks and troughs and false starts. And hope. Hope that it will be reversed. That the dying can go back to just living. How do you talk to someone living with death? How do you talk to their loved ones? The Eastern European influence to our upbringing means we are comfortable talking about death and the process that leads up to it (“What can you do? We will all die. You’re closer to it, right now”), but facing it, living it, aches. Every moment.
My dad is dying and I want to talk about him all the time and not at all.
He is in pain now, eased slightly by medication provided by science and, when that fails, by a remedy passed down for time immemorial – red wine.
He has become obsessed with entering the lottery, intent on winning us each a few million before he goes. We have become obsessed with documenting every part of his life. His voice. His face. His stories. His ability to leave the house for bread and milk and return with cheese and chocolate because he knew it was what we really wanted.
He can’t remember what makes his goulash taste like home, or the names of the grandparents he never met. We’ve lost that to the ether of his mind. He himself has no grandchildren. To that future generation, he’ll be just be a spectre, a creation from his children’s own memories. They’ll never truly understand why Arrive derci Roma makes us smile, or why the Day-O chorus from the Banana Boat song causes us to roll our eyes.
My dad is dying and we can’t ignore it, but nor can we acknowledge it.
Read more here.
This is what I wrote at Amy’s blog.
“Brilliant work Amy. Your eloquence is remarkable. You have excelled in the art of storytelling and bearing your soul so that we can join you in your laughter and in your tears and so discover our own tears and laughter. As Sting sang “We are spirits in a material world”. Amy you have reminded us of this reality with your story and in so doing have lifted our spirits to catch a glimpse of eternity in a “little thing called love.”
In last week’s Frontline about a world that says fathers are not valuable,the above story about a brave woman makes us realise that fathers really are valuable after all. Our relationships are precious to us and it is in the absence of them or in the risk of losing them that we understand the truth.
Appreciate every moment with your children. Don’t wish their childhood away. One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car you drove, or what kind of house you lived in, or how many books you wrote, or what your clothes looked like. But the world maybe a little better because you were important in the life of a child.
Yours for valuing the moments
PS. Fathers are valuable, just as mothers are too. The challenge is for each father to embrace the challenge of increasing his value by up-skilling. The best way to learn is to teach. Applications for the Dads4Kids Train the Trainer Summit, 16-18 May 2014, will close soon.
Check out the A4 Color PDF and pass it onto your friends.