Monday, 6 May 2013

A moment of remembrance

This month marks 5 years since my Dad and brother died, both of cancer, within 10 days of each other. Now there’s a story – truth is stranger than fiction after all! The poem is pretty much Johnny, straight up, and attempts to note that story.  

Remembering John
John,    who shares my father’s name and for many years, the same address
John,    who never spoke, withdrawn, surly, silent, rude, to the fury of my father
John,    who called me a “bloody little nuisance” and had no regards for the picture of a tractor I had drawn him for Christmas
John,     who went to Holland, his first big OE, and came back talking so much we couldn’t shut him up
John,     who married and had 4 children, now all grown up and having children of their own
John,     who loved his farm and his cows, his tractors and his motorbikes
John,     who once said he’d “sell the bloody lot and move to town” except that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself
John,     who once told me he didn’t know if land would keep increasing in value, but he did know they weren’t making any more of it
John,     who sat and told me stories at a party, after a beer or 2, and laughed and talked for hours
John,     who was told shortly after his 50th birthday (what a party!) that he had a brain tumour
John,     who quietly resigned himself to his fate, saying ‘what else can I do?’
John,     who, when my mother asked what he would like for his 51st birthday, quietly asked for 20 more years please
John,     who I sat with in hospitals and homes, at bedsides, holding his hand, talking, taking him out from those four walls when he could manage it
John,     the stoic farmer, who called a spade a bloody spade
John,     who quietly died on his own one night
John,     who, 10 days later, called our father, with whom he shares a name, and once again, the same address
As I’ve said before, death & tragedy bring forth poems and stories, as my way of learning to deal with it. ‘Spring heart’ is just a simple story about an old man experiencing his last moments, as I wondered what that must really feel like. I guess I’ll never be able to really find out how close I come.
Now, don't stress about the state of my mental health. But we all go through tough stuff, and I am thinking of friends as they 'take their turn'. Hopefully these pieces will connect to them and help them accept what is happening as a normal part of life.
Promise -  after this some more light–hearted pieces!
Spring Heart
He had been waiting for this moment all his life.
And now that it was here, it caught him by surprise, really.
He had been expecting it for years. Well, for always. Who could ever presume they had a tomorrow?
But he hadn’t expected it today. There was nothing to mark this day as momentous.
As the pains came and went in waves, bands of tightness across his chest, he gasped for air, knowing that this was, indeed, the day.
He reached for his chest, as if holding his heart would encourage it to go on just a little longer.
He had just sat down at the kitchen table with his morning coffee, feeling slightly dizzy and nauseous after his usual short walk to collect the post from the mail box. Daphne was in town, she would be away for hours. So it was just him, his coffee, the morning paper, his blossoming spring garden through the plated glass, and the coronary.
Spring. How ironic. Spring was meant to be a time of growth, of renewal. But not for him.
It was true. Your life did flash past your eyes. But his was more like a slow 8mm movie, with flickers and scratches, grey and disjointed, just like those old movies he took in the 70s when the kids were little and home movie cameras were new. He saw the boys, in their little checked rompers, splashing in the paddling pool. He saw Valerie, coy and pretty, like first loves should be. How she had stolen his heart! They had married way too young, people said it wouldn’t last, but the cancer took her long before complacency and divorce could.
He looked around. Perhaps if he could just reach his coffee. He would have preferred water, but the kitchen sink was a marathon away. His shaking hand knocked the cup, the coffee spilt to make a footbath in the saucer. He had always hated that, growled at Daphne whenever she delivered his coffee already slopping around the ankles of the cup. How petty those irritants seemed now.
Perhaps she would get sick of shopping and come home early? Perhaps he could reach the phone on the sideboard? He chuckled inwardly. She would never have remembered her mobile, much less have it fully charged and switched on.
Daphne. Sweet, obliging, grey-haired, Daphne. They had been good for each other in these later years. Company. Caring. She had that wicked sense of humour which kept him on his toes. Pushed him out to join the bridge club, take up bowls, attend the rose competitions - do things no self-respecting farmer would have done without a woman to cajole him into it. She would be devastated to find him here, slouched in his chair, at the kitchen table.
His breath came short and sharp now, matching the pains which spread from his heart, throughout his body. The heart- that symbol of love. Ironic, again, that it should be the thing to kill him. He’d spent all his life working for love. The years on the farm, the miles of fences he had built; the hours he had spent walking up and down the pit in the milking shed,  putting on and taking cups off cows; the hay he had cut, raked, baled, stacked in the barn and fed out to the stock; the ragwort he had pulled; the drenching... It was all for the people he had loved. The portraits drifted through his memory as his consciousness faded in and out. His boys, his wives, his family, his mates- yes, even his mates. That had been love, although no kiwi bloke would ever use that word out loud.
He felt poised on a precipice. The pain kept him still very much in this life, but he teetered on the brink of whatever came next. Is this how a caterpillar felt as it wove its cocoon? Did it have any consciousness of the process, if not the destination?
Thoughts of his sons flashed through his consciousness. They had both done well, but neither of them had followed him onto the farm. Perhaps he had been too hard on them, expected too much, wanted them to be who they were not? How would they take the news? Gary, in Sydney, a partner in some fancy accountant’s firm. Having to take a few days off for Dad’s funeral. Bit of a nuisance. Slight regret he hadn’t stayed a few days longer last Christmas. Phil, in Auckland, living the vibrant gay lifestyle. How had that happened to a good kiwi farm boy? It didn’t matter now, anyway, he thought. They were good kids. Men. They were men now. Good men. He’d done a good job on them really. They were kind, hard working, good blokes. Valerie would be proud.
A new wave of pain shot through his chest, extending from his breastbone, up to his throat, a strangulating, suffocating pain. It pushed up through his neck, his jaw, his shoulder, crippling, shooting pain, nothing like the angina he had ignored for years.
Years. Seventy seven, he had had, nearly seventy eight. A fair old innings, although you always hope for at least 5 more.  But it had to end sometime, somehow.
His moment had come.
And now that it was here, he wished he could go back and do each moment again, laugh more, worry less; play more, work less; love more, argue less. But it was too late for regrets.
In the end, it all came down to him. Just him, on his own.
He had lived.
He had had the gift of life.
He had done what he had done; he had not done, what he had not done.
With a final closing of his eyes, he let it be.

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