Unless The Lights Are Out
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Am I fetishising Terry? Probably. But if I don't talk about who he was, who will?
A person isn't made up of their life-events dotted along a timeline. That's a CV.
A person is made of the things that keep them awake at night, the things they have been laughing about since they were a kid, the front door key they keep from their childhood home because it used to belong to their grand-dad, the things they daren't say out loud unless the lights are out.
It occurs to me that now Terry is gone, nobody will be able to write about who I was, when my time comes, even if they were inclined to. Terry would have done that. He knew where I stood on all the important and all the inconsequential things, often without needing to ask. He and I were hard-wired to approve of each-other, because, in many ways, we were looking in the mirror when we regarded each other.
These days, when I catch sight of a post on social media about a death, I notice it. It breaks my stride, even though the people involved are strangers to me. Do they have someone to bear witness to the fact that they were here and that they mattered?
When I was a regional reporter I used to volunteer to do those calls we so charmingly dubbed 'the death knock.' A child drowns in the river in the summertime, a mother dies in an RTA, or a veteran ends their life, and a reporter calls on their family in the hope of getting their story.
I was never blasé about these visits. It was important work. It was the most important work.
The families almost always invite you in, despite everything. And usually they are slow to let you leave. They want you to know about those things that made their son, mother, or brother irreplaceable. I remember most of those families. They all had the same look - as if their eyes had been burned hollow by watching a nuclear explosion.
We got our own death knock from a reporter when I was a teenager. The journalist was sent away with no story. I was up in my bedroom at the time and I remember wanting to chase after her, to tell her how silly, handsome and special my brother had been. As the weeks unfolded it became obvious to me that while our family had been toppled by Graham's loss, most other people didn't really register it. Why would they? Even our next door neighbours...did they notice there was one less boy among our brood? I don't think they did. Now, more than 30 years later, I still think of him most days. There's a silly song by Olivia Newton John (he had a crush) I can't listen to beyond the second verse. From time to time I play it, to test myself. I know for sure that the source of most of my grief for Graham is and has always been rooted in my regret that I never had an adult conversation with him. Instead, we enjoyed silly jokes and childish chatter. I wish I had known what he wanted to do with his life and what he was about. I couldn't have had those conversation with Graham. I was 14 and he was just a couple of years older when he died. We had childish conversations because I was a child.
Everybody wants to be known. Let it happen. Make it happen, while you can.