“Thinking about death clarifies your life.” Candy Chang
I’ve just been reading over my last blog post from late October. I was feeling refreshed and renewed and about to really reconnect with my writing. http://ordinarymagic.me/2015/10/27/the-rains-of-change/ But as is so often the case, life had other ideas.
Today it is 48 days since I last saw my dad, last held his hand, gently rubbed his forehead, as he left this world to join my mum. The dulcet tones of Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ were playing on my sister’s iPhone. We felt it only fitting that the music that embodied my dad, heralded his departure from this realm to the next. It was the morning of Christmas Eve. His passing was quiet, peaceful. He had lived a full and happy 89 years and loved nothing more than his family. He was a good man.
Two days before he died, whilst wiping his fevered brow, he opened those dark Welsh eyes of his and looked straight into mine. He’d only had glimmering moments of consciousness over the previous twenty-four hours. “Hello beautiful” I said as I smiled at my dad. His eyes smiled right back at me. I will hold that image deep within my heart until it is my time to see him again.
New Year’s Day normally unfolds with copious cups of tea and lying on the lounge with a good book; an attempt to wash away the previous late night and one too many glasses of champagne. But not this year. January 1 2016 was spent putting the finishing touches on my dad’s eulogy for his funeral the following day.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines the word remarkable as “unusual or special and therefore surprising and worth mentioning.” My dad led a remarkable life. He grew up in pre-war northern England, the eldest child of ten. His father was a publican, his mother a housewife. Yet his early life wasn’t traditional, as he was raised by his maternal grandparents and much adored great aunts until his 10th birthday. He often said he had an idyllic childhood, days spent exploring and getting up to mischief with his best mate Kenny. Dad used to love regaling us with stories about his life. It is a blessing that he wrote a lot of them down. Like me, an aspiring author, he had hoped that one day his words may fall within the pages of a book, be published, see the light of day. So here you go dad, a few of your words in electronic print<3 My favourite story was the time his grandma and great aunt were placing baked goods into a rear pantry for ‘safe keeping.’ Little did they know what lurked behind the pantry door……
“On this particular day I was playing with Kenny when I saw my grandmother and great-aunt Louie carrying pastries into the pantry. I snuck into the house and hid in a broom cupboard just inside the pantry door. Eventually, the pantry full, I heard my grandmother remark that she had better lock the door to keep me out. After hearing the key turn, I opened the small window giving access to the backyard. Ken was standing there, arms outstretched, collecting the goodies as I handed them down….I had hardly closed the window behind me, as I made my escape, when the pantry door opened. Then I heard my grandmother cry out “Louie! Someone has stolen the cakes. How on earth did that little bugger get into here!” I think this story explains dad’s love of cakes and sweets. Luckily he had two granddaughters who loved to bake!
Four years after moving back home with his parents, WWII started. He told us about the time a 10 day blitz by the Germans hammered Liverpool. Having thought the bombing had stopped he was sent by his father to retrieve the family from the air raid shelter situated under Liverpool Cathedral. Two sisters chose to stay in the shelter, but dad carried their belongings home, trailing behind his mother who had the baby and younger siblings. She told him to hurry up but his load was slipping so he stopped to reorganise things in front of a house. As he did, he heard the aircraft engines and the familiar whistling sound that pierced the stillness. His father was running up the hill yelling for them to run like mad. My grandfather grabbed the baby under one arm and his wife under the other and thrust them all into the pub’s cellar. The bombs missed the cathedral but destroyed the house in front of which dad had stood only moments earlier. Jimmy G was meant to be here…he still had many things to do.
Not long after, he walked in on his parents in the midst of a violent row. After this, he went back to live with his beloved great aunt until immigrating to Australia at the age of 22. He lived such a varied life, working in outback Queensland, the Philippines, on oil rigs in the Middle East and even vacationing in Cuba!
Of course, when he finally met the love of his life, Joan, the bachelor days of traipsing all over the world were over. The proud and devoted father of two daughters and later an admired son-in-law, his world was completed with the arrival of his two cherished granddaughters, although he never got over the loss of his adored wife in 1997. But he had a great life. A sometimes sad, often funny, rewarding and interesting life.
In the words of Candy Chang, “Thinking about death clarifies your life.” It gets you thinking about what would be in your own eulogy. Obviously, I hope my family will feel about me the way that I feel about my dad. I love my kids and my husband, my family and friends with all of my heart and I am always there for them. But if someone was to recount the story of my life, what tale would it tell? What were my adventures? What unrequited dreams will I think back on as I exit this life?
Candy Chang is a Taiwanese American artist who created the Before I Die Participatory Art Project http://beforeidie.cc/site/
“After losing someone she loved and experiencing deep depression, artist Candy Chang created an interactive wall on an abandoned house in her neighbourhood to create an anonymous place to help restore perspective and share intimately with neighbours while remaining an introvert. After receiving permission, she painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighbourhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stencilled it with the grid of a sentence, ‘Before I die I want t0____________’ Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in a public space.” (quote from the Before I Die site)
Candy had no idea what would happen and what did was out of this world. By the next day the wall had loads of responses and it just kept on growing. There are now multiple interactive walls across the world in over 70 countries, in over 35 languages. It is a thought that unites everyone, everywhere. The responses are wide ranging from ‘hold her one more time’ to ‘straddle the international date line’ to ‘abandon all insecurities’.
I shared a Facebook post about this last year but it was only whilst reflecting on dad’s eulogy that I started thinking about it again. I don’t have an abandoned building covered in chalkboard paint but I do have my blog page and my Facebook wall. I would honestly love to know how you would complete the sentence. But of course I couldn’t ask you to answer if I don’t…so here goes!
Before I die I want to LEARN TO PLAY THE CELLO Before I die I want to TRAVEL TO ITALY AND EMBRACE ALL THINGS ITALIAN Before I die I want to WRITE MY NOVEL (sorry…there’s just too many things I want to do!!)