I love fiction – making up stories – reading stories – from The Beano to Shakespeare – from a very early age we’re taught that our stories must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Ok, there are some stories that have cliffhangers on their last page – to encourage us to buy the next Harry Potter.
There was a girl in my class when I was about 10. Linda was not a notorious story teller – but on this particular day in Miss Adams class, in Studfall Junior School, she had come of age.
She stood in front of the class, reading from her English composition book, weaving the most marvellous story about a young girl who’d vanished into a tree and reappeared in a world where animals could speak.
I remember settling into my chair, leaning forward with great interest as her characters came alive in my young mind.
Just as the story was reaching its middle she said (it’s likely I’m paraphrasing, it was a 100 years ago) , “…and then the girl woke up in her bed at home – it had just been a dream….”
Linda obviously couldn’t be arsed to write any more for her homework and had gone out to play – pulling all the threads neatly together using the now famous Bobby Ewing wakes up in the shower trick (80s soap ‘Dallas’ – ask your parents)
My memory tells me that we managed to stop short of putting her in the stocks and pelting her with rotten fruit, but the riots that ensued…
We’re hard wired for stories – for events – for lives to have clear beginnings, middles and ends.
And that’s why the passing of my beautiful nephew Graham, on the 12th of January this year, is so hard to fathom.
He was 41 – sure he’d had a number of health problems through his life – but he was just 41.
So many people at his funeral – so many people shocked – what do we do? How do we help those around us? How do we make sense of this?
I guess – I don’t know – but we remember – we share love with the folk who loved him, we give others what we had of him and receive what they have to give.
It was clear he was so loved from so many different directions…
Here’s my little bit of graham…
He joined me on my journey by regularly phoning and texting me as I went on my way. I shared my trials and tribulations as I went – he shared his – we were both on our shared and separate journeys.
“I always feel great after I’ve spoken to you, uncle Christopher !”
The stress on the ‘uncle Christopher ’ a gentle piss-take marking the fact that I was 5 years his senior.
The fact that he always felt great after speaking with me – what greater accolade could he have given? He was, like me, at times, a chameleon. He could be what you, me, anyone needed him to be.
Which could be a little frustrating at times. When he was in need, he was less likely to be in touch. He wanted to give – not to take.
Gradually, over the months, he became more and more able to speak with me when he felt a bit shitty. Now that was the biggest complement he could pay me.
I have little bits of Graham’s life throughout mine – but, for me, this is where I go when I need him….
It had been a long day – beautifully sunny – on the fife coastal path. I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere – adding 4 miles onto that day’s particular journey.
Graham had been sending me quotes – my task was to work out who’d said what. He gave me 3 guesses – often with a little extra clue if I was way off.
I was sitting under a tree on a boardwalk over a beautiful marshland – the gentle wind through the leaves and the sound of the skylark overhead completed the image.
Graham phoned – we chatted – I think I guessed Oscar Wilde having said something smart arsish – I laughed – he laughed. It was a perfect moment. A moment that I’ve gently placed in a little black box, nestling in tissue paper, for use whenever I need it.
It sounds fragile when I put it like that – the thing is, it’s indestructible, the gentle wrapping is there because it’s so precious to me.
I have others – so many others that dance their way through my life…so many.
We were robbed. We got his beginning and his middle – but the end? It feels so senseless.
I have a Graham shaped hole in my life –
A hole, however, that’s already being filled – filled by the love of my brothers, their partners, and friends,my nieces and their partners and the love of Graham’s family and friends in Cornwall.
At his funeral his widow, Marlene, gave me what is now one of my sacred possessions – a book of quotes “original wit” by Des MacHale. On the first page, surrounded in hand written asterisks, Graham had written, “Quotes to send uncle chris”. He’s marked quotes throughout – reading these it’s so easy to be transported to his ready smile, his laugh and his oh so generous spirit.
I’ll finish on this – if there’s one thing poets are good at, it’s death – these are my two favourite poems on the subject –
Stop all the clocks
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
W. H. Auden
Death is nothing at all
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away
into the next room.
I am I,
and you are you;
whatever we were to each other,
that, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way
which you always used,
put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air
of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we shared together.
Let my name ever be
the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all
that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
Henry Scott Holland
Graham Patrick Young (Jim)
5th July 1970 – 12th January 2012
My nephew – bloody hell I miss him
Walk a mile