Hammer Down

Oh, bugger it all:

Fox News star Charles Krauthammer reveals he has weeks to live

It’s cancer, that vile illness.

And on a personal note:  I just learned this very morning that my closest childhood friend Mark Pennels is also in the final stages of cancer, with maybe a week or two left.  I spoke to him in December when I was in South Africa, and he was cancer-free then, so this latest episode has been a total bastard.

And you all know about Connie, taken from me just last year by the same ailment.

I think I’ll just go to my room and pull the covers up over my head for the rest of the day…

365 Days

One year ago last night, my wife Connie died of ovarian cancer.

In many cultures, there’s almost a mandatory mourning period of a full year after the death of a loved one, and I now know why. It has to do with anniversaries: “Oh, last year this time we were celebrating something together. This year… I’m doing it alone.” Those add up, and they take a toll on you as that horrible year drags on. But with the merciful passage of time — and it’s true: time does heal the worst of wounds — those little aches, those pangs of shared memories, fade and lose their sting. This year, I’ll remember an occasion from last year and this time, it will involve just me. Not as painful.

I have spoken many times about how my friends all over the world rallied around me and helped me get away from this most personal tragedy, so I’m not going to repeat any of it other than to say that they collectively gave me a reason to carry on living: not that I was going to do something foolish like cap myself, of course, but they got me to do things that helped dull the pain of memory, kept me busy, and above all made me realize that I still have so many things to live for. The alternative was for me to sit in a one-room garret and stare at the walls — which my friends, as they told me in no uncertain terms, were not going to allow me to do. Instead, once I’d taken care of the soul-destroying minutiae of death, I sold the house, traveled, and did the sorts of things which reminded me of the things I hadn’t been able to do before, but could now do. I did those things, and I will do again.

It’s called living. Life goes on after death and now, one year after that most profound tragedy from which I thought I’d never recover, I’ve come out from my period of mourning with renewed purpose, renewed hope for the future, and a renewed determination to live my life to its absolute fullest. That feeling, that intention, is not something that happened suddenly, or just this morning; it’s been a gradual process which began at some point (I have no idea when) and grew stronger and stronger as the year went on.

Now it’s been three hundred and sixty-five days since Connie died, and if you’d told me then that I’d be feeling the way I do today, I’d not have believed you.

Now, at last, I think I’m healed (although of course there may well be the occasional twinge of pain — I’ve felt a few just writing this post). All I needed was to get through the horrible anniversary to put the seal on it, and thanks to the boundless support from my friends, my family and my Readers, I made it.

Now it’s time for adventure, time to live again.

And if you’ll all indulge me, I’m going to continue to chronicle some of those adventures on these very pages. That is the real reason why I started blogging again — there’s no point in having an adventure when you can’t share it with anyone — and it’s only when I wrote this post that I realized it. (And by the way: a huge round of applause for Tech Support BobbyK, without whom I’d be snarled in incomprehensible Gordian techno-knot,  and you wouldn’t be reading any of this.)

So stick around: I’m going to drink deeply of Life in the years to come, and you’re going to share it with me. Enjoy the journey, because I most certainly plan to.


In Memoriam:

Constance Mary (Carlton) du Toit
14 May 1958 – 3 February 2017

Solitude

My friend Doc Russia is a very intelligent man. When we got the final diagnosis of The Mrs.’s cancer — that it would be a question of months or even weeks, not years — Doc told me that he was not going to let me stay by myself “in some little apartment, looking at four walls” (his words).

So, true to his word, when the end finally came, he moved me into his guest room where I’ve been ever since — except for when I’ve been living with Mr. Free Market’s family and The Englishman’s family, that is.

Until now.

Now, of course, I’m staying in Cornwall in a lovely cottage owned by The Englishman, and for the first time since February this year, I’m completely on my own.

So how does it feel, this living by yourself thing?

Many people talk of how when they finally come to live on their own, whether after death of a spouse or divorce, that there’s a wonderful sense of relief — that being on one’s own means that all your time is your own, that you have freedom to do whatever you want, even that you find things exactly where you left them, and so on. Last night, for example, I felt a little tired so I went to bed at about 9pm instead of my usual midnight-ish bedtime. Big mistake. As I’ve got older, I’ve come to need less sleep — or, to be more precise, a measured amount of sleep: about six to seven hours — so going to bed at 9 meant waking up at, yes, you guessed it, 4am with absolutely no chance of going back to sleep. Shit.

After a while, though, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t need to go back to sleep. I had nowhere to go in the morning, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention. It’s called retirement, and I’m retired. Furthermore, if I were to feel tired later in the day because of my early awakening, I could just take a damn nap because I had nowhere to go, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention.

Having established all that, there was only one thing to do, of course: I fell asleep in seconds and woke up just after 9am.

Then I walked downstairs after doing my Morning Things (meds, etc.) and walking into the kitchen, to find everything exactly as I’d left it the evening before: tidy (I’m a tidy person by nature) but with stuff lying on the counter that I would need to make breakfast. I still needed a few things so I walked up to the little grocery store and bought them, and when I got back to the cottage I put everything away and made myself breakfast. Which is when yet another realization came to me: this will be the pattern of the rest of your life.

I also don’t have a car, which means I can’t spend my days driving around the countryside like a dervish, being too busy to think. Now I have to take my time, literally, and in that time, all I really have are my thoughts for company.

Let me get one thing absolutely clear, at this point: I don’t mind being by myself — or at least, I’ve never minded being by myself before. The problem is that when you’ve lived as close to someone as I lived with The Mrs. for over twenty years, you get used to being not alone; and when you love your companion, that constant companionship is not a burden, it’s addictive.

For the first time in my life I feel alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

This won’t last, of course. At some point I’ll either get used to being on my own, or else a miracle will occur and I won’t be on my own anymore.

This post, by the way, is not a cry for help, nor is it a gloomy one. In ten days’s time, I’ll be driving along the Midi with one of my oldest friends, and after that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year in London with an even older one. My time in Cornwall is therefore just an interlude, but it may well prove to be the most important part of this sabbatical.

But Doc sure called this one right. At this point, having spent so much time in other people’s homes and having been so busy doing things like hunting, carousing, watching cricket and football and driving all over the place, the shock of February has pretty much worn off. Had I moved into an apartment back then and spent my days looking at the walls with a future that was going to be just that, I’m not sure I could have coped. No, let me tell the truth here; I would have fallen apart.

Instead, my friends, my wonderful, caring friends have given me the chance to recover, a time to heal and a time during which I could put my mind at rest.

Now I’m ready to move on, to face what the rest of my life may bring me, and I promise you all, I intend to live it to the full.

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, “In Flanders Field”

…and to update the sentiment:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
— Robert Laurence Binyon,  from “For The Fallen”

Not Myself

I’m not normally a melancholy person, and apart from the obvious reason, I really have no idea why I feel that way now: the house sale closes on Monday, Daughter got a new job (yay!), the other kids are doing fine, and I have two trips, one local and one international to look forward to in June.

Yet there it is: today feels like an “empty” day, I feel crappy and unmotivated, and I shouldn’t be.

It doesn’t help that Doc Russia is away for the next week or so, slaughtering dangerous game in his annual African safari (see below); this means that I’m denied my usual “beer, scantily-clad women, loud music and friendly company” remedy for whatever is bringing me down. I’d love to have a few cocktails, but I can’t and never could drink by myself. This is a new thing for me; in the past, I was perfectly happy to be all by myself, and was seldom if ever depressed. Now, I hate being without companionship, and I feel lonely without it. Fuck.

I think I’ll head down to the DFW range for most of the day, and give several of my guns a workout, followed by a thorough cleaning.

Normal blogging service should resume tomorrow. Sorry about that, but I don’t think I’m quite done dealing with this bloody bereavement thing yet.