This is a post about Clive James.
I’ve never met him, but he has been a constant presence throughout my life.
You see Clive is an Australian author, broadcaster and journalist who appeared in countless shows as I was growing up.
The reason he made such an impression was because of his wit and warmth of personality.
Regardless who he interviewed or what subject he was covering, he was always able to communicate his razor sharp insight in a way that made it easy to understand and interesting to hear.
Part of that was down to the fact he always delivered his opinion with a twinkle in his eye so you felt he was talking to you not at you … and in 1970’s television land, that was a revelation.
In some ways, Clive James was the original – but less pretty – version of George Clooney.
Funny. Sharp. Insightful. Generous. Self-depreciating. Confident.
But sadly Clive is dying.
He has been suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia for a number of years and the prognosis is not good.
As much as I have written about how important it is to talk of death, I cannot comprehend how it must feel if you are the person likely to pass.
I know one day I will know, but right now it is almost impossible to comprehend.
Maybe it is easy.
Maybe if you have been given the time to settle your affairs, it allows you to move on with a sense of peace and dignity.
I don’t know, but maybe that is the nicest way to pass, even though it may also be the most drawn out.
I imagine it’s as much down to your attitude as it is your health.
Whatever the reality, it appears Clive has come to peace with the prospect of him dying as he has released a series of poems that seem to talk about his final chapters of life.
Reading them revealed a different side to the Clive James I thought I knew … a more emotional, introspective side.
I don’t mind telling you I cried when I read one of them.
Maybe it’s because I drew parallel’s with my Father’s final days.
Maybe it’s because I am worried about my Mothers impending operation.
Maybe it’s because it reminded me of a poem I found my Mum had written about my Dad dying.
A poem that was so hauntingly beautiful that it took me several readings before I realised it was written by my Mum.
It was – like with Clive James’ poems – a side of her I had never seen before.
And yet there it was – in black and white – her emotions laid raw in front of me.
At first I was moved because it spoke with such gentleness, love and sorrow.
But then I registered who had written it and who it was about and my emotions overflowed.
This was a story I had lived through.
A terribly sad story.
And yet I was seeing it from another perspective.
A perspective of someone who I love with all my heart.
To be honest, as I read each line … it was like that day on Jan 16th 1999 was happening all over again.
But in some ways with double the pain.
You see not only was I feeling the hurt of losing my Dad, I was feeling the pain my Mum was going through.
Of course I knew at the time she was terribly, terribly sad, but this was the first time I really understood what she had gone through.
When she saw her husband of 35 years leave her.
How she woke up each morning thinking he was there only to discover he had gone.
And how that would prod her pain once again.
Until one day she woke up and knew he would not be by her side.
Which made the sadness become even stronger and deeper.
The way she described her pain was gut wrenching, made worse by the fact it was something I couldn’t remove or make better.
And yet it was also a testament to love.
A celebration of how marriage can make people stronger together.
I wish my Dad could have read it because then he’d know how much he meant to his family.
I’m know he knew, but reading those beautifully painful words shone a light on things that tend to be hidden in the shadows.
I wish I could let you all see it. But I can’t.
It’s not just that it’s too private, it’s still too raw.
Even 16 years later.
And while Clive James has done something different to my Mum by writing about his departing rather than someone else’s, I hope in time, it helps his family find peace once he has gone.
That they feel some comfort that he was ready to go and that he loved his family and will always be around even when he’s not around.
All thanks to a poem about a little maple tree.
For what may well be one of his last poems, I found it beautiful and sad and uplifting all at the same time … which as final messages go, seems a pretty nice way to be remembered.
So thank you Mr James for everything. Godspeed.
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
Originally – when I wrote this post – it would have ended there.
However stuff has happened that means I need to add a bit of a postscript.
You see I am now off to the UK to be with my Mum.
She has a huge operation on Monday – a huge operation – so even though many of you don’t know her, please spare her a thought.
She is an amazing woman and makes the World better for being in it.
I will be there for almost 5 weeks helping her recover so this blog will be even more inconsistent than it usually is, but with all going well, there will be a bunch of stuff posted between now and when I return in early April.
And with that I leave you with one request.
Call up the people you care about and tell them that you love them.
Better yet, go see them and give them a hug.
Thank you and see you soon.
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