Archive for September 24th, 2007

Suddenly I realised he’s dying

We have a friend who’s terminally ill. Nothing new there; we’ve known about his diagnosis pretty much since he got it, so we’ve had plenty of time to get used to it. But last night when I talked to him it suddenly struck me; these phone calls are about to come to an end. And as soon as I was off the phone I burst into tears.

When I first met him I was completely in awe of him. Apart from a long and mottled acting career, he had (still does) this beautiful actor’s voice – you know, the sonorous, rich voice and diction that only properly trained actors have – which was a joy to listen to. He had a lifetime of experiences of all kinds, a huge intellectual and cultural knowledge and he had opinions about all sorts of stuff which he stated with loud conviction whenever opportunity bid. With us that was usually in the pub, and I was absolutely mortified the first time he blew his top at me during a discussion and walked out. It’s the kind of thing I do, and here was this guy doing it to me – in the most dramatic fashion. The next day he rang and apologised profusely for, well, for just about everything he could think of, real and imagined.

That was actually the thing; he didn’t take shit from anybody. If I said something he didn’t agree with or thought was stupid, he let me know. Over the years I came to appreciate that. And as annoying as he could be to discuss and argue with (because I’m not annoying at all – ever) his honesty called for equal honesty in me and we could have some pretty feisty exchanges forcing those present to take cover to avoid being hit by flying objects or screaming arguments. Every heated debate would be followed by a call the next day to apologise for something he’d said or done, or thought he’d said or done. I even came to anticipate his follow-up calls with joyful expectation as we always laughed a lot during those and finished by vowing eternal love and friendship. And I found myself smiling the rest of the day.

When Kevin and I moved to Vienna we moved in two stages. Kevin went first while I finished my notice-period at work. I had the privilege of staying with him for a few weeks then as we’d had to pack up our flat and move out while Kevin was still around to help with all that. I think that was when I realised that I had a friend who knew my every thought, who could tell just how I felt just from looking at me and who would never question those thoughts and feelings but simply accept them – and then give me a hard time over a glass of wine when I was ready. And that was actually OK. Because it was him. My annoying friend who would stomp out in the middle of a heated discussion in the pub if he thought I was an idiot, but who took me in and eased the loneliness before I could join Kevin in Austria.

Since he was diagnosed we’ve pretty much taken his lead in how to deal with it. He’s been incredibly stoic about it in a ‘shit happens’-kinda way. And so we’ve not paid it much attention, though occasionally when he was in pain and he insisted on alone-time we’d give him that. Keep our distance until he felt ready for us again. I would sometimes prod him for information about how he was feeling and how things progressed, and sometimes he would volunteer the information in a pretty matter-of-fact way, briefly letting me know the state of affairs. And it was all pretty neutral. Nothing special, almost. And our phone calls have continued in the same vein as before though with the stomping-option removed.

But last night, for the first time, I heard the sadness in his voice, a new note of melancholy I’ve not heard before. And for the first time I really and truly regretted not being there for him. He’s been there for me, for years. It’s not that I want to ‘return the favour’, it’s simply that I miss him. I don’t want him to die for the most selfish reason imaginable – I will miss him even more than I do now and pox on him for doing that to me!

C.; I love you more than I am able to say. Please let me hold your hand when you die.


Read Full Post »