Tag Archives: bereavement

The End

Knowing something is going to happen, I’ve found, doesn’t seem to make it any easier to bear when it eventually does. I – along with all of Sir Terry Pratchett’s millions of fans across the world – have followed his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease over the past eight years, willing him on (for as long as he felt able), wishing him well, sending him strength and courage and hope.

But we all knew that one day, probably sooner rather than later, ‘the embuggerance’ (as he called his illness) would wear him down. Yesterday was that day.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

I learned of his passing on Twitter, which seems inappropriate somehow. I don’t know why. It seems impersonal, maybe; like the knowledge was second-hand. Terry Pratchett has been a part of my life for almost thirty years. I feel like I knew him personally. I feel like he was a dearly beloved uncle, one guaranteed to make you giggle at the most inappropriate moments, bound to make salacious comments over the vegetables at Sunday dinner, and the first to get up on a stool with a flagon in his hand and regale us all with verse after verse of Nanny Ogg’s famous ballad, ‘The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All.’ His smile, and his ever-present black fedora, are as familiar to me as the faces of my own family.

I can’t explain why he was so important to me. I loved his books, certainly. I loved his characters – his strong women, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, Anathema Device, even Magrat Garlick, who is strong in entirely different ways to the others; his complex men, like King Verence of Lancre, Captain Carrot of the City Watch, and the incomparable Sam Vimes, and I adored the stories and the worlds  he created – but it’s more than that. It’s the fact that you can pick up any of his books, at practically any page, and read a paragraph or two, and if you haven’t either laughed, learned something new or been flattened by an amazing image or perfectly constructed sentence by the time you get to the end, then I’ll be the guy in the corner with a bladder on a stick. Terry Pratchett was not university educated, but I learned more from reading his books than I did from any university course I ever took. Every page was packed full of allusions, inferences, puns (or ‘punes’, for those in the know), and jokes which, sometimes, only made sense years later. I often had the experience of reading something in a textbook and realising, with a start, that I’d come across the idea already in a Pratchett novel – I just hadn’t known it at the time. I have been, and I’m sure I’ll continue to be, amazed on a regular basis by just how much world there is in his books – not just the fictional worlds of his immeasurable imagination, but of our world, too. His was an intellect rarely matched.

I wept for him yesterday, and I’m sure I’ll weep for him in the future. I can’t read the final few Tweets on his official timeline (@terryandrob) without blinking back tears, because they are so perfect. They are heartbreaking, but they couldn’t be more suitable. I’m staggered with admiration for Sir Pterry’s daughter Rhianna, who wrote the Tweets, and who pushed through her own terrible grief to share the news of her father’s passing with all of us who did not know him, but who loved him all the same. I know I am part of a huge fandom, almost a family, and that is a huge comfort. I know I’m not the only person who wept for Terry Pratchett yesterday, and I know that he will be remembered for many years to come. In his own words:

No-one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away. (Reaper Man)

By that Pratchettian logic, Sir Pterry will be with us until the end of time, and for that, and for his words and stories, I am truly glad.

Wiga, Wintrum Geong

One year ago today, the man about whom this blog post was originally written was lost to the world. All that is in my heart today – and believe me, I’ve tried all morning to blog about something, about *anything* else – are my memories of him and my sorrow at his loss, and my disbelief that it’s been a year already. A year.

My friend’s name was Neal. Today, I will remember him.

SJ O'Hart

Round about ten years ago now, I started studying for my Ph.D. It was the culmination of a lifetime’s effort, and it represented everything I had ever wanted to achieve. I loved my subject, I adored reading about it, I loved to write about it, and I was thirsty to learn.

I wasn’t too hot on getting up in public and speaking about it, but I figured that stuff would come later. It did, and I happily lectured and taught for many years.

But, back at the beginning, one of the things I took as a module that first year was Latin.

Image: rylandscollections.wordpress.com Image: rylandscollections.wordpress.com

I wanted to be able to read and understand the beautiful manuscripts I had the privilege of studying, and I wanted to be ‘fluent’ (if one can use that word about a language that isn’t really spoken, at least as a vernacular, any more); a lot…

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O Captain, My Captain

I’ve been sitting at my desk for almost an hour now, trying to convince myself that it’s not frivolous or silly to want to write a blog post about the passing of a person I never met when we’re living in a world where thousands of innocent people are dying, unnaturally, every single day. I want to believe that it’s important to remember people who had a huge impact on our lives, even if it wasn’t a personal connection, and to mourn them when we lose them. One thing I know for sure is this: I’ve been sitting here for a long time now, simply weeping, and even though this blog post may be nothing more than an example of how it’s a bad idea to write a blog post when you’re upset, I’m going to go with the only thing on my mind right now.

Robin Williams. He can’t be gone. I simply won’t believe it.

Image: chicagoreader.com

Image: chicagoreader.com

I grew up with Robin Williams’ work. Mork and Mindy made me laugh as a tiny child, Mrs Doubtfire made me wail with laughter as a teenager, and the magisterial Dead Poets’ Society broke my heart and healed it again repeatedly as I grew into an adult. For a long time, it was my favourite film, and it still holds a warm place in my ‘all time greats’ pantheon. Watching the tributes to this awesomely talented man pour in on Twitter this morning reminded me just how many brilliant films he made, and how many parts became his own – he was the voice of Aladdin’s Genie. He played a hilarious cameo role in Friends. He was Patch Adams. He was electrifying in The Fisher King, and compelling in Good Will Hunting. He was Garp, one of my literary heroes, in the underrated classic The World According to Garp. It’s only now I think about it that I realise how much his voice and image contributed to my life, and the lives of so many others.

The fact that he has left us suddenly, and tragically, is hard to bear. If it is hard to bear for his legions of fans, I dread to think how devastating it is to his wife and family, and my thoughts are with them.

And yes, I know there is a humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and in Syria, and in Gaza. I know there are wars everywhere we care to look. I know that women, children and men are being brutalised all over the world, and that the death of one more human being hardly matters in the grand river of destruction which we have created.

But this death does matter. They all matter. Every single life – they all matter. If I were to cry about all of them, I’d never be done crying, so I will cry for Robin Williams. I will cry for the beauty he brought to my life, for all the laughs, for the times I was stopped in my tracks by his talent, whether it was his comedy or simply his acting ability. I will cry that there will never be another film from him. I will cry for his family, and for all who loved him. I will cry for myself, because part of what made my childhood so magical is lost now, forever. I will cry because the tiny glimmer of hope he shone on the world has been extinguished.

And then, I’ll dry my tears and try to remember to make someone laugh today. I’ll try to remember the power of laughter, and how it bridges even the most unbridgeable of gaps, bringing together people who seem to have no common ground. I’ll try to remember to ask others whether I can help if I think they’re going through a bad time, and I’ll try to remember to ask for help if I’m going through a bad time, and I’ll try to remember that there is no shame in asking for help.

And it will all be for you, Robin Williams.

Image: thewrap.com

Image: thewrap.com

If you have been affected by the death of Robin Williams, or if you need help dealing with feelings of depression or suicidal impulses, please know that there is so much help out there. Click here for a link to a list of international suicide crisis helplines, or see http://samaritans,org or http://pieta.ie. Please reach out to someone if you’re finding things difficult, and don’t feel you have to deal with your feelings alone – there are so many people who will help you, and there is no shame in asking for help.

Wednesday Write-In #85

Apologies for not only the lateness of this week’s post, but also the fact that this story may make sense only to me. In my defence, I have had a high temperature, sore throat and quaking, shaking limbs for the past two days, and have been mainlining Paracetamol for the last twenty-four hours. If the story sucks, let’s blame it on the flu. Cool? Cool.

This week’s words were:

porcelain  ::  flex  ::  shadow  ::  strawberry jam  ::  frozen

Image: aicsa.com.au

Image: aicsa.com.au

The Clause

‘Well, of course, we’ll have to divide up the estate,’ droned my uncle Philip. ‘I think the porcelain should come to us, naturally, and I was promised the oak dresser years ago. It might be sensible to start moving the heavier objects now, in advance of the Will -‘

‘Oh, Philip! Do shut up!’ yelped my aunt Teresa, and Philip stared at her as though she’d slapped him. I watched his fingers flex as he, no doubt, fantasised about wrapping his hands around his sister-in-law’s neck. ‘Mum is still warm, and you’re already divvying up her things!’

‘I beg your pardon – ‘, he began, before the frozen tones of my aunt Tracey filled the room.

‘You shan’t speak to my husband in that manner, Teresa,’ she said, and it was like a shadow had fallen over the sun, or a dark hand had yanked the lightbulb out of the ceiling over our heads. ‘I simply shall not stand for it.’

‘But he’s being mercenary about Mum’s property!’ protested Teresa. ‘We’re all entitled to our fair share. Don’t you think so, Trudy?’ she said, turning on my mum, whose jaw dropped.

‘I – um.’ Her mouth snapped shut again, and she shrugged.

‘Eloquent as always, dear,’ sniffed Tracey.

I rolled my eyes. Enough’s enough. ‘He’s being an ass –

‘Pauline!’ gasped Mum, whirling around to face me.

‘Well, it’s true!’ I licked my lips as I flicked my gaze from face to face, one pair of eyes more crazed and incredulous than the next. ‘You sure know her stuff well, Philip, but what year was Granny born, tell me?’

‘Well – ah. Well. Nineteen twenty one… no! No. Wait. Nineteen twenty four. I clearly remember -‘

‘Nineteen twenty six,’ I snapped, ignoring Philip’s muttered Poppycock! ‘And what was her favourite colour, aunt Tracey?’

‘Purple,’ she crowed. ‘I gave her a beautiful purple brooch for her seventy-fifth birthday – which I’ll have back now, of course – and she told me it was quite her preferred shade.’

‘Nope. Green,’ I said.

‘But, I -‘

‘Now. Aunt Teresa. What was Granny’s favourite thing to eat? In all the world?’

‘Well – ah. She was partial to roast lamb, I’m sure, and there was something about rhubarb – wasn’t there? I’m certain she liked rhubarb.’

‘Well, maybe,’ I said, in a small voice. ‘But her very favourite thing was strawberry jam.’

The silence that followed this was deafening. Even Philip, for once, said nothing, and the four of them spent several long moments avoiding one another’s eyes. Clever girl, Granny, I thought, swallowing hard. You had the measure of them, right enough.

‘Come on, then. Plenty to do. The undertaker’ll be here soon,’ I said, levering myself out of my chair.

Nobody moved as I walked across the floor. I stood in the doorway looking in at them, each wrapped up in their own cold little cocoon, and Granny’s face washed over my memory like a sweetly remembered dream.

‘I’d love to see their faces when this is read,’ she’d said, signing on the dotted line with a flourish. ‘Philip, particularly. He always thought he was in the money as soon as he put a ring on Tracey’s finger.’ She grinned, rather grimly, as she folded up the large document in front of her. ‘The fool.’

‘Are you sure about this, Gran?’ I’d asked, but the look she shot me left me in no doubt.

‘Just remember the clause, girl,’ she’d said, her eyes sparkling. ‘Say one word about this – one little brag, just the barest hint, and you get nothing. Just let them all believe they’re getting everything they’ve ever wanted, and more. Do that right, and it all goes to you.’

She’d be so proud of me, I thought, as I turned and made my way out of the room. As I passed the mirror in the hallway, I spent a few seconds practising my ‘surprised’ face, so I’d be ready when the time came.

Like my Granny before me, I was a gifted actress.

 

 

A Quick Thought for Sunday

I’ve just returned home from a funeral service held in memory of a man who was well known in our hometown.  I didn’t know the man well, but my mother is friends with his daughter.  I know some of his grandchildren, too, as we attended school together and we’ve all been vaguely aware of one another’s lives since we grew up and moved away from home.  The ceremony was a very emotional experience, even though I wasn’t a personal friend of the man who had passed away.  I tend to get quite upset at funerals generally, but I found this one particularly touching because one of the deceased man’s granddaughters sang, beautifully, during the ceremony and she moved me to tears.  It wasn’t just her skill as a singer that moved me, or even the choice of hymn, but it was her ability to pour her grief and love into her voice without once losing control.  I found tears rolling down my own face just listening to her, and my admiration for her was immense.  It was a wonderful tribute to a dearly loved grandfather, and it made me think about the important things in life, and what we leave behind us when we go.

The reading at the Mass was about the riches of the world that pass away, and the silks and fine fabrics of the earth which will, with time, return to dust – in a way, it was appropriate.  I’ve never aspired to be rich, or to accumulate ‘things’, but I do want to accumulate love.  The greatest treasure I could ever own would be the thought that, when it was my time to be mourned, that those who loved me would miss me and be thankful for my life.  I would hope too that they would then move on and live their lives, remembering me fondly every once in a while, and that – in time – all memory of me would pass into the wind, at one with everything else.

‘Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand…

Yet if you should forget me for a while,

And afterwards remember, do not grieve…

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.’

from Remember, Christina Rossetti