11 June 2016

A Rob McDonald size hole in my heart.

This is a copy of the eulogy that I didn’t end up reading out at Rob McDonald’s service. His death affected me a lot more than I thought it would. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t affect me in the way it did. 

On the day all my attempts at denial were sinking in and the true reality of the loss I faced came bubbling right up from the moment I opened my eyes that morning.  I was really upset and couldn’t even talk to people as I was so choked up all the time. Why him, I, we all asked? Strange that isn’t it? 

I knew Rob well and had done for a number of years and the main thing I wanted to do after he died, that morning of his service after I woke up, alive, with him dead, was read a eulogy at his service. I had been working on it on and off all week at work. Would type a sentence and end up crying and having to stop. Then rejecting what I'd written, then restarting. Nothing seemed adequate.

A few days before his death I’d visited him in hospital and he was making a real effort to engage. We both knew the end was near but we never discussed or touched on that. I wonder why we did that, in retrospect, but death is a subject us British find difficult to discuss let alone comprehend or accept. It is as if by ignoring it we can delay it. By not talking about it we avoid the pain of confrontation. We avoid the fear, not of death itself but of the loss it leaves behind; we both see in each other’s eyes the preciousness and fragility of the life we all hold onto so desperately, a life we so need and cannot, will not give up. By not talking about it it does not happen and we can stay in the same place, with the same loves we have and share that with each other and never ever leave that feeling behind. I love this man for every tiny moment I ever spent in his company and I could not give it up. Couldn’t. And like all good friends when we see each other we pick up immediately from where we left off last time. Regardless of whatever has and will happen. I think, in retrospect I was grateful for Rob as that is what he did. And I did the same in return. Death needs no discussion.

He was more interested in what I had been up to; whether I had got the job I’d applied for and how the interview process went. We were talking about a future, a future of him coming home, a future of chemotherapy and a recovery and a planned holiday I knew he would not see and it tore a Rob McDonald size hole in my heart.

 I was still feeling the repercussions of that moment and reliving it on a loop in my head as I sat there in St Mary’s Hall listening to Simon Well’s beautiful, touching words about everyday life with Rob and what a, you know, great, funny, intelligent bloke he was.  We all knew that anyway but Simon was so eloquent. He later told me he’d practiced repeating it aloud to whichever member of his family would listen. It was a good idea. I wish I’d done that. All I had was an A4 piece of paper scrunched up in pocket with the words I knew were inadequate.  I couldn’t face the prospect of speaking to a crammed room filled with colleagues and friends of Rob even though I knew I’d be letting myself, Mikal and all his friends down. Grief is such a private, internal process.

So, anyway, at the hospital something happened. His stitches came loose or something and he had to call a nurse. We were quickly ushered away but 10 minutes later we were allowed back to say our goodbyes. He was apologising for the fuss he’d caused. I was thinking stop it Rob. Stop being so brave, so accepting so aware of our feelings. It was hard for everyone but Rob being Rob his thoughts were, as always, for the comfort of those he loved. But he fought.  For he was a fighter. And he fought. We exchanged some words, I remember not what they were exactly but they were words of comfort from him to me, and I was overwhelmed by our mutual loss of his life, hard fought victories and quiet successes. I briefly touched his hand with my fingertips and said “goodbye, my friend”. He said “Goodbye Paul”. It was the closest I’d ever been to death in all my 55 years of life and it scared the fucking shite out me. A deep scare that rolled around my brain as I sat listening to the beautiful eulogies that celebrated our wonderful man’s life. How he’d touched lives and left little Rob shadows on all our souls.

I played some of Rob’s favourite tunes later knowing I would never be able to pick up on our friendship where we had left off. Knowing I would never share a dancefloor with him. That is the most hurtful thing; that our experiences are now finite and can never be added to. Each tune, to a crowd fully appreciating our shared love in house music was the last and kindest thing we could ever share with each other.

Anyway, here it is...

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Rob was a good friend to me. And many others. He was a tough old boy and wouldn’t stand for any nonsense off anybody, but we who knew him respected him for that. His toughness and flexibly were built from the real feelings and the events he experienced. He was a kind of a beacon on a rock that you could rely on. And we did.

What I particular loved about him, and what really inspired me to be a better person was his grit, his determination. He had a work ethic I would have loved to have cultivated but would never have the guts to. He was hard working. He worked hard on everything in his life. His love, his friendships, his business. 100% effort was the minimum requirement. Always. And he expected that of his friends and employees to. And life. But, you know, it didn’t matter if you couldn’t match him, very few could. Besides, he’d always put down what he was working on and help you. Use his strength, his superpower, for good. He was like that. He might take the piss out of you a little bit, always with that toothy self-referential laugh of his letting you know he was teasing you. But it was always from a good place.

“You know what Paul”, he used to like starting his sentences with that one, grinning, and I always knew one of his gems of wisdom was coming. Gems born of a life of experience unknown to me but I knew that if he was going out of his way to tell me this that I should, and always did, listen carefully and take note. “You know what Paul, this tvc thing that I’m now a part of, I see what you’re doing, and I love it. I’m so glad I’m a part of it. If I can do anything, anytime, let me know”. That cracked me up; his generosity of spirit. I was so pleased he saw something good in me that my heart was his for all eternity.

I used to argue with him about violence. Poppy day was a particular thorn for me as I saw it as yet another way the mainstream glamorised and celebrated violence in our culture. The way it legitimised celebrating death. High jacked it even. Rob put me right. Oh, did he put me right. He told me of his time in the Falkland’s, a horrid, terrible time for him to see friends die and to endure the tortures of war at such a young age. Working class soldiers doing the political bidding of their paymasters. He told me that the poppy is not for them people. It is for the soldiers who died. I saw his pain and understood the reasons he, in particular, ‘did the poppy thing’. I buy a poppy. Now. Every year. I buy a poppy for Rob and the other soldiers who fought and died in our countries name for whatever reasons. The soldiers.

To Rob…

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