On the Death of a Friend

sayarsan's picture

His death was something we both knew was coming and from where if not so clearly as to when. I knew of his diagnosis by mid 2009 and he had been told not to make any plans past Christmas but as it turned out Keir managed to live until late February 2012 when he passed away peacefully in hospital, a lovely room with family and good friends about. It was cancer in his thyroid that was treated with radiation therapy and surgery and in its early stages didn't seem noticeable to me except for the obvious effects of the surgery. He rang my mobile when I was in a terrible state showing an uncanny sense of timing which was a trademark of his and invited me to stay for a few days which I stretched out to a week but the only thing that kept our friendship from souring over the decades was the distance kept between us and so we settled to a routine which lasted up to his death.

A few ounces of pot grown in the bush and as good as any I have smoked anywhere, I would take it back to my place and send him the money as it accumulated. This amounted to a wonderful opportunity to settle into a steady routine supplying the neighbours in my housing complex but with no transport, nowhere to keep it and few outlets I couldn't see any way to make a viable business out of it. I wonder if he was disappointed? He was probably surprised that I didn't finish up in debt to him. For a while at first he was fit enough to come down to Brisbane when he needed to whether it was for a visit to his specialist or to pick up a part he had ordered to continue the restoration of an exotic motorcycle but I much preferred to have the excuse to go and stay at his place for a night or two. We shared an intense dislike of the town we grew up in and he resented spending any more time in the place than was absolutely necessary so the prospect of catching a bus to visit him was much less than daunting.

Initially after his diagnosis he carried on as usual with his life in the country, not a farmer as such but a primary producer for sure and he declared that finally being allowed to obtain cheap morphine as needed allowed him to indulge in what he truly wanted to do with his time. It also freed up his finances so he made the most of his time by working on a few Italian motorcycles which to my untrained eye were something quite exotic. A Ducati GT 750, a Gilera 600, a Laverda 750, and an Aermacchi frame with a Harley Davidson 350 single Sprint motor made a fine stable of two-wheeled machinery. He overcame his aversion to computers enough to use e-bay in search of components and despite pitfalls managed to build up a valuable small collection in which he indulged.
The house which he had constructed on his parents land, with help from a few friends could take as much work as he wanted to put into it given his perfectionism. Simple, comfortable, and well appointed he finished it off as handsomely as any place one could dream of while the land it stands on near the one inhabited by his father and not far from the cabin built for his mother as a retreat always needs some work doing. Such is the way when there is a driveway, irrigation and drainage not to mention a bushfire which nearly took the cabin and his life. These are the sorts of things which comprise a well adjusted and productive life and it suited him well.

As time went on he was left to tie up loose ends I suppose. Not just his property, the house and motorcycles but also his friends. In the end what else is there. what more would anyone expect? I can't imagine him having any concerns about how well he would be greeted at the Pearly Gates but he was far from delinquent at this point and I got the impression on a number of occasions that he was making a thoughtful effort towards seeing the lives of those about him, at least those he felt some concern for, finding a better direction or made somewhat easier. In this he seemed to steer clear of interfering inappropriately. His instincts were always good and he was far from delusional. I am indebted for whatever he may have done for me on top of the magnificent spectacle frames he had picked up somewhere and kept for years until there was a need for them. I went to stay with him for a week when I was in a poor state of health and between the refuge afforded by his home and his father Tom's cooking I had a good start to regain my health by the time of his demise.

Detractors could put this behaviour down to the guilt he felt after spending most of his life on indulgence. I never witnessed any episodes of pure bad behaviour but a few people of unimpeachable credentials did and from an early age. Given the convoluted nature of our long friendship with long gaps there is little value in trying to dig such episodes up at this point. Perhaps this is the advantage of being something of a clown a lot of the time but I was never the brunt of this behaviour, I only witnessed the prickly side of his nature and from such a young age that I was virtually immune by the time we were adults. If things do work that way he can pay for it in the next life.

It was on one of the trips that I noticed a decline in his health and general condition. His skin had become thin and papery, quick to tear and slow to repair, such a good indicator of one's vitality. His endless reserves of energy were no longer endless and as I suspected at the time they heralded a more rapid decline in his health until just as we were planning to go and visit he called me in a worried state and that was when I knew that he was going. He had told me of problems with mobility and a fall which had left him in bed and unable to get about much but there was that recognition of his mortality that made his demise seem rather imminent. I worried would I see him again and felt an infectious panic that was a reflection of what he was facing. He said I would hear from him when he was better or from Tom his father to notify me of his funeral. I had managed to put his dying out of mind but could do so no longer. In the past this might have signalled a head on rush to oblivion on my part but by now I have acquired more adaptive responses and friends who make so much difference under these circumstances.

Three of us drove up to the hospital he was in at Stanthorpe no more than a few minutes drive from where he lived and went into the room where his father Tom, sister Rosey, her husband Andrew, close friend Mel and others were gathered around. He was terribly weak and was in the process of coughing up some fluid, a process that seemed to be taking a while so he was at least conscious and after saying a few words clearly appeared lucid. He tired so easily and as he tired he lost the ability to follow what we said and the ability to respond, on this he waxed and waned and it seemed he would likely die in a day or two. I am glad I was able to spend some time sitting quietly, holding his hand while he rested I would have liked to have stayed for the duration but given the sure supply of good friends and family my presence would have been somewhat superfluous and as things went I would have been an imposition on his family. He continued to live for nearly a week, long enough for his father to go to Brisbane for a coronary bypass operation and return for the funeral.

When it comes to the loss of a close one there can't be enough said for the remedial efficacy of an appropriate funeral followed by a restorative wake. My experience here is sparse and I was greatly impressed by the way Rosey, I assume it was largely left to her and husband Andrew, who organised things. The ceremony his family put together with the help of his friends made for a unique event in a setting so well suited to the occasion with acres of quiet gardens and the accompaniment of bird life. The wake in the evening and the drive to it enabled me to get acquainted with a girlfriend he had lived with when he first lived in Melbourne such a long time ago. He left a lasting impression on those he was close to and the drive from Toowoomba to Applethorpe allowed plenty of time to reminisce. The wake was an excellent opportunity to meet his various friends most of whom I barely know.

I am already missing the opportunity for drives into the country away from a place which has so little to recommend it. Calendula is an apt name for the property he shared and it is still in good hands and will be for some time. As it is with those we become close to I am not looking forward to a life without him but I will always be grateful for the friendship he showed me. He lived his life with very little compromises made to anybody or anything and I suppose such a life can appear selfish however he did things well and to me his mistakes were few. The overall, and lasting impression is of a vitality and happiness, a life lived to the full right up to the end.


felix's picture

The idea of a gallery for tributes to friends lost is one I want to pursue, and this article would be the kind of thing you would say about a friend. Whether or not they were lost to substances or were just interested in substances, I don't know if we should draw a line on who can be added...probably not. You should be able to add a picture, add pdfs of articles about them, and general text like the above.
Anyway it's an idea.

sayarsan's picture

It would be good to have a place like that on a site. It is easier than going to a grave that could be anywhere on the planet or at an unknown location. The familiar scene from the movies of graveside conversation takes on a different hue when writing in cyberspace on a cloud instead of a one-way discourse with a grave marker. Too many people are gone and in most cases I don't know where the graves are. It wasn't until the death of Kier that I ever even knew of the existence of a 'Funeral Book' which everyone signs. What this says about my part in my Mother's funeral puts me in some doubt. Mum's just down the road and I can talk with her anytime so that's okay.

After more than four months i'm relieved that Kier passed in such a peaceful way. Rosey has inherited the deep serenity of her mother. It's definitely the wrong word; an ability to add dignity, 'possessing a strong moral compass' as her old friend described her. What a relief to finally experience a death without the attendant wrenching of the spirit. Two years warning gave a different feel to the occasion but it was a beautiful view out the window from a comfortable bed not a roadside with attendant sirens and gawkers. I had been peeling off addictions in the previous year or so and noticed my mind do something in slow motion that has always been a flash. KATHUNK and when he was in hospital I was right back at the start. Perhaps circumstances conspired to point my mind but I don't see why they should. There was nothing particularly uncanny about the day. A couple of weeks, less and I attended a lovely funeral and wake.

Now I am thinking about Okham's Razor'; that given a problem, the solution is often that which is the most simple, direct, straightforward. Perhaps the one that uses least energy. I hadn't seen him for over five years when I started living with Chris and it turned out she had known him for some years which makes sense in a town this size. I presume she met his brother Robby at the Bomb Shelta where ratbags such as us gathered in the early 70's. Right next to the Red Cross in Ann St. if memory serves me well. Kier and I probably wouldn't have been as close to each other otherwise as if I earned some respect when I was with Chris. She conveyed that before we ran into Kier but I think it stuck after she was gone. Tom his father was a studio photographer and had taken a beautiful portrait of her but it is sadly lost like virtually every other scrap of sentiment from a long life and i'm only pushing 57.

I have a feeling as if I had just been told the bleeding obvious by an astute observer and realised the implications. In these cases it is impossible to tell the person. It is always better, imperative that they work it out themselves but i'm finding it so hard to understand why no-one else ever told me the bleeding obvious. Jen should have known, she picked up the wreckage and kept me looking good until I left for Sydney. My Mother seems to have figured it. The way she protected Jen from me was truly touching. When we visited Jen's place we were sprung in bed together by her Dad and I had told my Mum with some amusement. When we stayed at my parent's Mum said Jen had to sleep in her bed, an unprecedented demand on Mum's part. I had a full length cast at the time, it's coming back now and i'm a trifle surprised when I think I had lost several close friends, two of them girlfriends and had a couple of mva's resulting in fractures to my leg in a rather short span. That is terribly messy and is diagnostic of a disturbed person surely if not before then after. Apart from my Mum nobody noticed I suppose because the concoction was a person loaded with so much outrage, thoroughly wounded and in pain verging on hate which is not good but in keeping with the times. Anybody who knew me at that time couldn't have missed it. A damn good excuse for a habit indeed. In retrospect I suppose I felt as if there was nothing worse in the world except to lose a child, or someone who had cohabited for several decades.

One thing I have learned is that at times of great stress, hardship or ordeal the mind is quick to find others in similar circumstances and in their absence it seeks out distractions. This is what religions often exploit, the distractions at times of great stress is what defines western religion while the east is more concerned with coping and keeping perspective. If I was feeling like this when I met Chris I knew that she was in more pain because of the impressive set of scars on the arms. Something I didn't often speak of and probably, definitely should have. That failure became a parcel of guilt at worst and pain at best that took some dumping and after 20 odd years I hadn't found too many clues how to go about it. By definition, enlightenment wouldn't be found on these shores while I detested the church, disrespected the law and had little faith in the medical profession.