Friday, March 27, 2009

Owed to Marilyn

Monday March 23, 12.42pm, I get an urgent phone call from Ant’s mum, Joan. She is looking for Ant. Marilyn has just been taken to hospital in an ambulance – seven minutes ago Joan tells me. I find Ant. He’s stoic. He’s on his way.

Later that day, at 6.12pm, I call Marilyn’s mobile phone. No answer. I leave no message. I call their home number. I feel awkward leaving a message, but I ask them – yes, ‘them’ – to call me back with an update when they have a chance.

Later that night, Ant calls me back. Marilyn died at 6.30pm.

Why all these detailed times? I don’t know. They have just stuck with me. Maybe because like the Superbowl this year, time is suddenly so much more valuable, so much more precious, so much more salient just near the end.

Ant and I continue our stereotypically, male telephone conversation.

“How you doing?” I ask.

“I’ve had better days.”

He has phone calls to make. He has family to support him. He seems ok.

I hang up.

And I cry.

The phantom which had given Marilyn breath, returned and sucked it away. That spark we call life was snuffed out.

I just felt hollow.

Thoughts of Marilyn flood my mind.

Marilyn always struck me as having the best of the American traits and none of the bad. For example, Marilyn was incapable of saying anything bad about anyone. Marilyn told me that one of my girlfriends was a ‘keeper’. As said girlfriend is now an ex, I think I can safely say Marilyn wasn’t always right. However, Marilyn’s falsely positive judgment did encourage me and X to produce a son, Zac – and he is a keeper.

The fourth Thursday of each November, Marilyn would invite all the American refugees to Thanksgiving dinner. The Seppos would bring enough food to remind us Aussies lucky enough to be invited that an entrée in American means all the food you can fit ‘on a tray.’

On a journey with Marilyn on the TGV across France one time, she talked to me about her family. Marilyn was an only-child. Her family were extremely long-lived. At the time, her mother was still alive. I remember remarking to Marilyn that she was in for a long life. I was clearly and sadly wrong.

While in France, Marilyn and I saw a proverb written on the walls of St Etienne Cathedral in Toulouse : “Fais ce que tu vouldrois avoir fait quand tu mourras.” Do now what you’d like to have done when you die.

On July 23, 2008, Marilyn called me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. I was overseas at the time. I didn’t know what to say. Later that day, I wrote to Marilyn: “I feel pretty helpless about your situation, and yep, I realise that what I feel is probably only a tiny little bit of what you feel. My thoughts are with you...” They still are.

Remembering the French proverb and our cross-cultural experiences, I chose to honour Marilyn while she lived with some token gifts – my treats, my choices.

I had always wanted to try the dégustation menu at the three-star French restaurant, Absynthe in Q1. I invited Marilyn and we went there on December 9 for a spectacular meal a few days after her most recent birthday.

I don’t know which birthday. Marilyn proved that women can keep a secret about some things. Nonetheless, I can say unequivocally that Marilyn had too few birthdays.

Some years ago, Marilyn and I had talked about trying a Grange Hermitage, the famed pinnacle of Australian wine. On February 19 this year, Marilyn and I and some others drank a Grange Hermitage. And yes, it was Grange ‘Hermitage,’ not simply Grange. Penfolds agreed to drop the word ‘Hermitage’ from their label in 1990 out of deference to the French gripe that Hermitage is not a grape, but rather a region in France. We drank Grange Hermitage. 1987. Made not long after Marilyn was born by my estimate.

My son, Zac is 6 years old, and knows Marilyn and Ant well. Ant even changed his nappy – once – kind of!

When I told Zac that Marilyn had died, he asked me, “Why?”

Is anyone surprised? A young child asks the question ‘why’ approximately 426 times a day.

The real question is this - are any of us listening?


Yes, why?

Douglas Adams, writer of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has something to say on the question, ‘why?’ : “When you hear the word ‘why?,’ you know you’ve got one of the biggest unanswerables on your hands, such as ‘why are we born?’ or ‘why do we die?’ and ‘why do we spend so much of the intervening time receiving junk mail?’”

So what’s my answer to my son’s question ‘why?’

Life is a gift. And a gift that is frequently, and sadly overlooked.

Death is someone else’s gift to we the living. In letting go of life, Marilyn reminds us of the gift that we so often take for granted.

Of course, my son Zac doesn’t really understand these words. He does however understand the extra hugs and kisses that I’ve showered on him in the days since Marilyn’s death. Her gift is already working its magic. Even if my demonstrative affection leads Zac to ask me another inevitable ‘why?’ question : “Papa, you’re hugging and kissing me all the time, why?”

Just because!

And just 425 more ‘why’s’ to go today.

I want to thank Marilyn for her gifts to me. Both her own life which was a direct gift to me. And through her death which reminds me that the present is a gift.

I like to imagine I can hear Marilyn speaking some words written by Isabel Allende:

“There is no death…
People die only when we forget them…
If you can remember me,
I will be with you always.”

Thanks Marilyn for your wonderful gifts.

I owe you.


Lisa Watson said...

It was a pleasure and honour to share in the wine tasting on February 19th, having the opportunity to spend some time with Marilyn in the company of friends before the end that I knew but hadn't truly accepted would come.

I'm sorry that I'm not there to mourn her loss with those who knew what a truly inspiring woman she was.

Malcolm Mc Donald said...

Hi Stephen,
This comment is probably posted a long time after your blog about your friend Marilyn, however I feel I have to respond. Yours was an amazingly sensitive blog, about a young friend who passed away.
I feel I met and knew Marilyn... just through your blog.
You did a fine thing, mate.
On on,