In 1992, I enjoyed a gap year between A Levels and University. To fill in the time (and to keep my hand in) I went back to sixth form for six months to study A Level Religious Studies and Philosophy.
The teacher was a wonderful man called Mr Harding. Tall, lanky almost and bespectacled, with shock of dark hair and a perchance for teaching sat cross legged on top of the filing cabinet. Not only did he impart enough for me to pass the A Level, he taught me two of the greatest lessons in life:
- Always question your beliefs
- To appreciate great love, one also has to endure great pain.
To be fair, he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. A Sagittarian questions EVERYTHING. ‘Why’ has always been the most powerful thing a person can ask and Queen told me via ‘A Kind of Magic’ in 1986 that ‘Pain is so close to pleasure’. But still, I was grateful for the reminder.
Earlier this week, I was sat in the home of Grant’s Mum and Dad waiting for the carpet lady. His Mum was seriously ill in hospital and his Dad wanted to prepare the house for her return. Cleaning the carpets was the final job.
She turned up slightly late and frazzled but soon set to the task. While setting up, we were going through the usual small talk when she said to me, “I prefer to work outdoors, I’m a Virgo, an Earth sign, so I prefer working with the earth. I should have been a gardener’.
Well, to be frank with you it rather took me by surprise. Not the fact that she was an Earth sign per se. Just the strange direction the conversation went without any hint of encouragement. I considered replying “I’m a Sagittarius, a fire sign, I’m a secret pyromanic” but I hesitated and then the moment was lost.
But it did get me thinking. At times it has felt like I am a pyromanic, setting fire to things to see what happened.
Figuratively of course.
I mean, you just have to look at my recent history to see that. I considered if it was a consequence of the constant questioning. Those dratted words why and what (if)? But once the questions have been asked and the answers have been drawn, then is the time for action.
Later that day Grant’s Mum was transferred to a Hospice and was given 24 to 48 hours to live. The pain and shock was tangible. The sadness of small things. She would never get to see the effort Brian had taken to get his wife home and in comfortable surrounds. The sadness of big things, she would never get to see her family together again.
It was almost too much to bear.
The last straw on the fucking great haystack of straws of the last couple of years.
We were joined by Grant’s brother and partner and sat with his Dad, watching over his Mum in the last few days of her life. We were joined by other friends and relatives and the gentle, benevolent care of the hospice staff. Through the sadness, came stories of fun, jinks, japes and naughtiness. The room filled with laughter and warmth and joy intermingled with the sadness.
And the only thought I could muster is that she was loved. Wholeheartedly and passionately loved and nothing else mattered in the world at that time.
On Friday I left the room to travel to Eastbourne for the funeral of another friend. The subject of the previous blog. G’s Mum was stable and my gorgeous friend Lee was speaking at his funeral (she did great). I wanted to be there for her and for Nick and be in the warmth of the triathlon family that now, after many years, know my greatest hopes and darkest secrets.
It was every bit at hard as I thought it would be and as the opening bars of Queens ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ flowed through the speakers I knew I was doomed. Tears flowed down my cheeks. The release of the pent up emotion of the last few weeks and sadness, that raw, icicle stabbing pain of loss in my heart. As I tried to stifle the sobs bursting up through my throat, my friend beside me gently slide his arm around me and gave a squeeze. It was nothing and everything.
After the funeral I headed back to the Hospice to be with G and his family. The mood was different, more somber, like we knew we were on borrowed time. At 6.25pm she took her last breath and was gone.
From death comes life. And a reminder to those of us left behind that we can choose how to live. And most of all, in the end, the only thing that matters is love.
In that year of 1992, I also learned one more lesson. In November 1991, Freddie Mercury passed away. In the following months I revisited all of my old Queen albums to remember the man and the band that had been a constant companion through my formative years. ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ was the outstanding track on the album and it felt like fate that Nicko had selected it to be his final song. And then, as now, it summed up life perfectly.
‘But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips,
And we can have forever,
And we can love forever.
Forever is our today.
Who waits forever anyway?