Thursday, December 22, 2011

The long and the short of it: on death and dying.

Death and dying, better a written reflection at the end of 2011 but paving the way for 2012 and moving on.  I returned home to Lebanon just before Christmas to attend the memorial for my friend John Redwine who at 32 has died a short, instant death in a climbing accident on Mt. Sannine. This immediately followed a visit to my Dad who at 87 (this month) is suffering a long, lingering, undignified process of decay due to Alzheimer's disease and all its sorrowful trappings.  Where's the justice in either I have been pondering and then wondering if grappling with the 'justice' issue is perhaps the futile fodder of philosophers and theologians with time to wonder what happens as death approaches. To move on I try to convince myself it is better to celebrate lives as we know/knew them. How appropriate that is in Dad's case, even before he has died I don't know but it helps.

John living large after climbing in Tannourine '10
John is dead, so yes, we mourn his passing with celebration of his life. Such a vibrant youthful friend, full of vitality, bouncing with energy, loads of enthusiasm whether it be for his climbing, his Volty motorbike, or the love of his wife and son, a caring man...and I didn't really know him that well but those impressions of mine seem to be unanimously endorsed by many, many others. Gone. Really as nice a guy as you'll meet on the streets of anywhere; to be honest as 'un-American' as they come....and I mean that in the nicest way.  John will be missed. He was a pillar of the small but growing climbing community here in Lebanon. The climbers slide nights initiated by John and Marcin (who now lives far away in Aus) were bringing all sorts of rock gymnasts out of the woodwork, a fun social moment for sharing video and snaps of climbing exploits and exploring ideas and inspiring future projects. We'll have one in John's honor later this month.

This was something John was good at. Future projects. Inspiring by example. If his past exploits were anything to judge his future by, then he was going to be a busy boy. But all those aspirations, planned trips and projects got torpedoed just before Christmas, a solo excursion, an accident on easy but a bit technical terrain, on a manky steep loose rock-band that was likely even mankier in the unseasonally high temperature, dry tooling, crampons..... all ended with the end of John Redwine. I mean aspirations live on and trips and projects gel in other ways and we should all be inspired by our connection to and closeness with Johnny vin rouge. John we vow to continue with our exploits, keep adventuring ever safely, build a stronger safer climbing community in Lebanon, raise awareness about climbing and its greatnees and as a rock climber's belayer says once ready, we'll....'climb on'. Climb on too John. Climb on.

So thats the short of it. A life swiftly and fully lived now ended. Now the long. My Dad....he is not dead. How appropriate is it to celebrate his life when it isn't over yet? Well, the proud and dignified life of David Rosslyn Powell Pugh is in its waning days. Alzheimers is claiming another soul and Dad's life is steadily degrading and degenerating into a man even to his own family can't recognize. Lucky me, I have been able to spend time with Dad twice this year, in July and once just before Christmas. This last time he has notably declined in his mental condition but still accepted that I belonged and was there to be with him as family. I describe his state this way: he is still there in the back ground and in calmer moments, usually when he is out of the residence lock-down floor where he lives (for his own safety), he comes to the fore but these moments of lucidity are fewer and further between.
Me and Dad, December 2011, Edmonton
What has become more the norm than the exception, at the fore, is a befuddled, frustrated, angrily confused man, a shadow of his former self. He is losing the ability to dress himself, cannot figure out the day of the week, time of the day, which meal is which. He cannot bathe himself and for a man who showered nearly daily for 86 years now he needs bathing and that only happens 1X/week, he shaved daily and now that only happens when his morning isn't so confused as to allow a residence helper to shave him. He hates being unshaven. For a man who is highly educated and has always been careful with both written and spoken word he blathers on tangentially nonsensical words replacing verbs and nouns and pronouns used in incoherent sentence; in July he expressed how much this was distressing for him, he realized it quite consciously and hates it. He is convinced a fellow-resident is his sister in Wales and calls her by that name but refers to her as his daughter despite the fact that our Auntie telephones him daily from Wales. He is convinced, perhaps because he has no money in his pocket or perhaps because he has lost all sense of quantity, that he is being robbed, that the crooks are everywhere and must be watched....and that no one cares. I tried to explain to him (as have my sisters) how secure were his finances and he just dismissed me saying 'oh're one of them'.  Dad is not yet at the stage where we can mourn his passing, but that is coming, I can feel it with a heaviness of heart and I guess what we can do is begin to grieve for the loss of what once was: a gentle, kind and generous man, father of 6 adopted children, a loving husband who never recovered from death-by-cancer of our mother, popular teacher and professor, extraordinarily giving humanitarian and yes, like John, as nice a guy as walks the streets of anywhere.

There is no justice in the rude and sudden ending of John's short life nor in the cruel and excruciating process in the approaching end of my Dad's long life. Not to my mind, not at this moment. With this blog and as we move into 2012 and I try to move on from a sombre December 2011 to help out where I can with the new reality for John's wife and infant son and continue to provide what support I can to my Dad by supporting my sisters from far.

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