A week or so ago we lost a friend. He was born on the last day of 1954, not quite 6 months before the G.O. The brief notice in the local newspaper closed with the words “Sadly missed by all his mates”. Mates who could only witness the inexorable claim illness made on his life. But mates who drove him to doctors appointments, visited hospitals, mowed the lawn, brought food their missuses made, delivered & chopped wood for the fire in his living room that was the only thing even before the onset of winter keeping him warm, and much more. Mates who at the end when there was no more to be done, sat by his side, at his home.
To me he was a friend. One of the first I made in the village. He was a man of interchangeable aspects: flair for life; and for self destruction. He was also private and generous. I’m not sure he shared the full details of his condition with any one person. The cruel physical manifestations of its progress were testimony enough.
He wasn’t being spared himself but elected to spare others if they wished and so faded from social life, retreating from company but not unwelcoming of it, as his corporeal presence diminished. The last time we saw him was a month and a week before he left us.
Each time we visited our friend this year, the G.O. and I prepared ourselves for it to be the last. Up until late the year before he would ask, when are you coming home for good? It was when he stopped asking I really began to worry.
Despite this, the G.O. and I hoped. We hoped what we saw with our eyes and feared in our hearts was temporary, a miracle would happen and restore our friend to his ebullient self. You cannot not hope. I believe he also hoped. Despite his battle our friend’s stoicism abided.
On the day our friend relinquished his grasp on life, a quietly devastated G.O. called me with the news that numbed me except for my eyes. They wouldn’t stop leaking. The G.O. who hadn’t had a cigarette since April, accepted one proffered in kindness from a workmate… and later recounted to me I thought I was bloody going to join him when I tried to smoke it.
For me, I’ll miss his friendship, his kind heart and his “darlin’s”. The fat bunch of garlic hanging from a rafter, dropped in on his last visit for a beer and a yarn, is now even more precious. It’s typical of the gifts he distributed among many, but would accept little in return, mostly only the time we shared.
The G.O. will miss much more. The two of them had plans… fishing, canoeing on the river, fix up the motorbike in the shed… stuff blokes enjoy in company. The G.O. lost his mate, and a future they both anticipated.