My brother-in-law died.
We knew it would happen we just didn’t know the how and when of it. He had battled with bi-polar for more than thirty years and then, about five years ago, they discovered that he had early dementia too. Two devastating diagnoses, but add to that the discovery that there was also COPD and osteoporosis to contend with and you see the odds stacked against him. FYI; knowing it will happen does not make it any easier, I already knew this from when I had watched helplessly as my brother died from heart disease some twenty-odd years earlier. As it turns out, the COPD and dementia didn’t get him directly, but the osteoporosis was the catalyst that drew his life to a premature end. You see, he had a fall that resulted in two fractured vertebrae that lead to sepsis, other infections, an aggravation of the COPD, dementia and bi-polar and ultimately the realisation that he could no longer fight off the effects of the combined illnesses. Not that I’m saying he went without a fight, because that is not true; he battled valiantly until he succumbed.
I hadn’t been able to visit him in those last days. I was full of stinking, filthy cold germs – the common cold prevented me from saying goodbye and seeing him for that one last time. I learned of his passing by way of a text message from my sister. My heart broke the moment I read it. It broke for him, my sister and my two darling nieces and then, rather selfishly, it broke for me. This was the passing of a person who had been a major figure in my life for more years than my brother and for more years than both of my parents; I had known him since I was about five or six years old and here I was at nearly fifty coming to terms with the fact that he was gone. My mind flooded with memories of him from across the years; predominantly the good, hilarious and ridiculous memories rather than the times when his bi-polar made him someone else for a while. The memories entwined and became an accidental eulogy. This eulogy will remain unspoken, but I needed to express it, so here it is – therapy for me and perhaps a grain of an idea that may spur a reader into action ‘at this time of the rolling year’ as Mr Dickens so eloquently put it.
If I had to sum Tim up with one word, that word would be spectacular. He could be spectacularly impulsive, obsessive, infuriating, and down-right annoying, but in an instant be spectacularly funny, outrageous and hilarious. He could be spectacularly outraged about something, but in the next moment be laughing spectacularly and already moving on to his next spectacular adventure, venture, caper etc. And boy did he have a spectacular laugh! I remember one Christmas when I was a child getting a radio/cassette player off my parents and Tim of course helped me make some hilarious recordings that involved mainly puerile humour such as ridiculous voices, flatulence noises, burping and the uttering of rude words that would leave us laughing spectacularly and gasping for air. He was spectacular in most things that he did, even if it wasn’t obvious at the time and he could even make something like the heating of a can of cream of tomato soup spectacular. I have so many memories of his spectacular nature and behaviour, but I am aware that I cannot share them all or this blog would become a thing of epic proportions, so I will cherry pick just a few precious nuggets.
There was the time he decided it would be a good idea for him to take me out for ice cream; sounds fine and pretty ordinary, but I was not a great traveller and I could get carsick just walking near a stationary vehicle – we’re not talking about a little vom here that could be easily captured in a bag or other suitable receptacle, we are talking vast amounts of projectile vomit that any possessed person would be proud of. My mother dressed me in my best dress, gave Tim strict instruction as to what and what not to do or allow me to do and packed me off with a supply of toilet tissue and plastic bags. I can’t actually remember where we ended up; I just remember feeling very, very ill. After a short while out of the car when it was deemed the vom threat had subsided, Tim thought it would be great if we had some ice cream and then a game of Frisbee near some fountains. Cutting to the chase, I ate my body weight in ice cream, ran all over playing Frisbee and inevitably ended up in the fountain in my best dress. The journey home is a complete blank for me, I just remember arriving home in a dishevelled state and standing drenched next to Tim as my mother tore us both new bottom holes. Then Tim started laughing that spectacular laugh, and suddenly the mood lifted my mother realised her scolding was pointless and life went on.
I recall Tim getting a boat at some point; he had a unique connection with the sea and everything to do with it, (Tim, along with three good friends, were responsible for bringing surfing to the north east coast of dear old Blighty and there were countless times when he would call at my parents’ house to take me to the beach to check the surf) and he decided it was vital that he had a boat – this became an obsession. So he got a boat and started to lovingly ‘do it up’. The painting began and as it was approaching the end of its paint make-over Tim stepped back to admire the work and launched a mug of coffee all over the fresh, wet paint… The language he used to express his feelings at this disaster was spectacular, but then after a few moments when the hilarity of the situation hit him, he laughed his spectacular laugh and smiled his spectacular smile and life went on.
Tim also had a spectacular way of letting it be known what he thought of the latest offerings from music artists. Tim loved to listen to music; spectacularly loud music. This often had his neighbours asking him to turn it down a little, particularly when he lived in a block of flats overlooking his beloved sea, the walls were like paper and I swear that dropping a pin could sound like rolling thunder. I recall on more than one occasion when he had waited patiently for a new album to be released and eagerly collected it from the little tobacconists at the top of the Square in the town – The Token Shop where one went for just about anything, but it was always known as a tobacconists. Upon getting the album home it would be placed on the turntable, the volume would be cranked up and it would get its first airing. This was fine in the majority of instances, but if the musical offering did not meet Tim’s exacting standards it didn’t matter who you were in the music industry and it didn’t matter how many awards and accolades you had received, that album was subjected to one of Tim’s spectacular expletive-laden, faux music critic rants and then spectacularly launched Frisbee-esque from the balcony of his flat out over the road and down the cliff side into oblivion, and life went on.
Tim often had good ideas. Unfortunately they were good ideas that had flaws. Like the time he took me to the beach to teach me to surf. I was a kid and he was like a giant so imagine how ridiculous I looked in his spare wet suit with the arms and legs rolled up. Of course it didn’t fit and would never fit; Tim was tall and willowy and I was a short, skinny kid, but it was fine because at least I had a wet suit on. He duly dragged me out into the surf and fastened the Velcro of the board leash around my ankle, and then we laughed for a while because the leash came straight off over my foot as it was far too big for me. Undeterred he gave me my first surfing lesson and oddly I felt completely safe because what could go wrong? Sure I couldn’t swim, but that didn’t matter because Tim was there and Tim would always keep me safe, no matter what. So my first and only, lesson drew to an end when we both felt too cold and the surf had become too much for a novice, in an ill-fitting wet suit on an over-sized board with no swimming abilities whatsoever. So we went home, got dried and warm, listened to loud music, and life went on.
One last memory I want to share to further illustrate how spectacular Tim was relates to a time when I was older. I worked with him for a while in his family business delivering milk to customers doorsteps in all weathers and at ungodly hours of the night and day. Most of the time we would go about our work in good humour, but sometimes we would fall out and there would be an argument. There were some pretty spectacular arguments as I recall, but they happened and then they were over and life went on. On one particular occasion we had completed most of our delivery round calls and Tim had suggested that we go down to the beach to have a coffee and check out the surf. So we headed to the bottom prom, parked up the van looking out over the beach to the sea and cracked open the coffee thermos. After we’d had our coffee Tim decided to re-stack some of the crates on the back of the van so that we could head off to the final calls for the day then drop everything off at the dairy quickly so that he could hit the surf. I’m not sure if the thought of hitting the surf later put him ‘off his game’ but as we ascended the steep, tightly winding hill back up to the town, the crates shifted, lurched, wobbled and finally spewed violently all over the road. Traffic coming up behind us ground to a halt, as did the traffic coming down. As all of this was unfolding things seemed to happen in slo-mo. There was nothing we could do to prevent or minimise it, it happened. The glass was everywhere. Tim leapt from the van, waving frantically to oncoming traffic to stop and then he launched into me, in the middle of the road in spectacular fashion. Well I wasn’t having any of it and so I retaliated using my full arsenal of swears along with some insults that I made up in the heat of the argument. Then we both silently seethed as we swept glass off the road with borrowed brushes. We still weren’t talking when we finished the task and re-entered the van to move on and complete our deliveries. The silence didn’t last for long though as Tim yelled out a spectacular string of expletives and then started laughing his spectacular laugh until he had to pull over as he was laughing so hard he couldn’t see. We regained our composure, swore and laughed at each other again and life went on.
So Tim was quite simply, spectacular; in every single way. He loved adventure and laughter and life and mischief and he loved my sister and his two daughters spectacularly. To draw my ramble of random memories to a conclusion I would say this:
A certain major mobile ‘phone service provider has had an advertising campaign that centred around the life transformations experienced by a cat who decided to ‘be more dog’. Well I would say this: Be more Tim. Grasp chances, laugh, love and live as spectacularly as Tim did.
And to end this unspoken eulogy? Not a passage from the Bible or a fusty old prayer; but a paraphrased excerpt from a movie script. When I read these words in my head I hear Tim’s voice and not that of the brilliant actor – Robin Williams – who first delivered these lines. I hear Tim because they are so relevant and apt to him:
I don’t have very much time these days so I’ll make it quick. Like my life.
Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.
And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.
Yes Tim, you were spectacular, and although I feel sorrow that I didn’t get to say that one last goodbye, I feel more sorrow for those folks that didn’t get a chance to know you. Wonderful, spectacular you!