Finding the Joy

2018 was a cruel year. My general optimism took a battering. I almost keeled from the weight of events having been pummelled by the waves. Add anxiety attacks, manifested in uncontrolled physical convulsions, and you get at least a small fragment of the cracked rear-view mirror through which I bid 2018 goodbye.

 

We had two deaths in the family this last year. My wife’s mother Angela passed away in October after 18 months of a slow, tortuous descent. Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia, was her killer. Angela is a beautiful person. A giver. Her life revolved around her family. Cooking and caring and being wherever, whenever she was needed. Selfless in a way that our generation can barely comprehend. Her life did not include medals or societal achievements or climbing the corporate ladder. She came to Australia from Greece in the `50s migration boom, following the overwhelming disruption to Europe due to WW2. With her husband Arthur they forged a home and family from nothing but hard gruelling work in factories and a belief that nothing mattered more than their family’s safety and future. A roof overhead, food on the table and love as life’s blanket.

 

Angela’s life was a triumph. Every deed, every conversation, every hug was imbued with love, as Leonard Cohen would describe it, a thousand kisses deep. And this damned world in which there is no rhyme or reason for why one person lucks in and another lucks out gave one of God’s most ardent believers the worst possible final act.

 

After 18 months suffering a cruel demeaning incurable disease her passing came as a blessed relief. For her beautiful soul. For her husband of 60 years. For her daughters and all of us. The person who approached the last weeks of her life was hardly the Angela, Kiki and Yia Yia of a family of three generations. Angela is in our hearts and in every little act of kindness her six grandchildren deliver through their lives.

 

Lewy Body Disease took a sledge hammer to Angela’s dignity. That is not to say that Vicki and the family didn’t share beautiful moments with Angela. We shared many a moment. Loving, tender, intimate moments. And there were many fun and funny moments. Dementia brings with it a dropping of the guard. Through her life Angela was modest and deferential. Now, we got to hear Angela’s sharpened wit. If she was unsatisfied with something or someone, she let rip and we fell about. But those little moments were outweighed 100 to 1 by the daily damning of this wonderful woman’s dignity, hopes and memory. This was a death in which the grieving was in motion many months before Angela took her last breath. The sun scarcely pushed through the clouds for the longest time.

 

Angela passed away in late October in the palliative care ward at the Austin hospital with Vicki, her other daughter Maria and our daughter Madeline by her side.

 

Earlier in the year my sister Jo, committed suicide. She was 51. I’ve not been close to suicide before my sister’s tragic death. I never want to be this close again. Not if I’m reincarnated 100 times.

 

Devastated cannot begin to describe how you feel. There are no reference points. Our family is close-knit. From the moment that we learned of this shocking tragedy we bonded. There was no judgement. No shame, no blame, as the saying goes. No deep soul searching for why such a beautiful person would make such a blunt and final decision. Well, some. Well, a lot actually. But not in a judgemental way. There are more things in a person’s heart that even their most intimate friend could know.

 

I accept that Jo believed death held less pain than living; that it was better for her to “end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. But still the gaping hole left by her departure remains. I can almost make sense of it through an intellectual lens but I am still lost. Hopelessly lost.

 

Through the years our family has been confronted with death more than once or twice. Finding the joy after a family member has passed helps me get through; remembering a life well lived and having been a part of their life. On every occasion I have found the joy very soon after their passing. Like within hours. This has been my keepsake, containing the indescribable sadness of knowing they will no longer be a living part of family milestones and parties and our future. I have still not found the joy following Jo’s passing. I was haunted by this for months. Why can’t I find Jo’s joy? The question and lack of an answer dripped like water torture in my mind’s eye.

 

I am in counselling and it is a constructive support. It has helped me appreciate that the joy will come, eventually, whether in the next week or the next year. I don’t have to will it to happen or damn myself with guilt. The gaping, maddening hole is still there but I don’t dread it. I live with it.

 

Music gets me through. Call it a Linus blanket. Call it a search for the sliver of light in the deep dark night of the soul. Billy Bragg was on an episode of Q&A in December. The usual cut and thrust of political quarrel ensued until they got on to the power of music. For one brief moment the panel agreed. On our primordial relationship to chords and rhythms, to beats and melodies. In music we find structure and stories and something beyond our petty ways. Something numinous.

 

I flew to Perth to be close to family after my sister’s death. My brother’s wife Suzie kindly loaned me her car. In the confines of that car I played the hell out of the new John Prine record. One song in particular, ‘Summer’s End’. Please, have a listen. Brace for the chorus (“just come on home, you don’t have to be alone”). Tell me you’re not wiping back a tear. I picked up my daughter Mercedes from the airport and we spent the day driving across town. She had to endure me playing the song on repeat, crying while singing while driving while dadsplaining the song. To her credit she let me have my moment. We cried and sang along together.

 

Jo is about 5 years younger than me but from an early age we bonded over our love of rock’n’roll. In our 30s we had a run in with the law. The police came to the house to tell us to turn the music down. It was 3am. We were playing ‘To Her Door’. The irony was not lost on the constabulary that they were asking us to turn Paul Kelly down. My last text message to Jo was a critical review of a new song she had discovered. Music was her love and Joan Jett was her absolute, number one best and favourite artist. Daylight came second.

 

In November Jo’s partner Dicko and my family scattered our sister’s ashes on a bend in the Blackwood River near Nannup in the South West of WA. This is where the rest of the family’s ashes reside. Back in Melbourne, on the back veranda of our place in West Preston, Vicki and I readied ourselves for the moment. We had sat a picture of Jo, alongside her favourite beer on a chair. At the proposed time of the scattering of ashes I was ready to play ‘Bad Reputation’ a song by Joan Jett.

 

When ‘Bad Reputation’ played I was transfixed. It was my sister’s song to be sure. But there was something much, much more going on. The song was alive with possibilities and it spoke to me, to my core. My hands trembled, my eyes danced. We played it again. Again, I had the same visceral reaction. I was gobsmacked. And in the same instance, humbled and embarrassed. I felt an intense love for Jo. Not the obvious filial love, not the sweet sad beautiful love for one so treasured departed too soon. This intense love I felt was for Jo as music enthusiast and pioneer and it filled my heart to bursting. It was as if I had heard ‘Bad Reputation’ for the first time. As it directly related to my sister. As it stands as a song. And it is, my friends, a ripper.

 

Overcome with a desire to spread the word I immediately texted a number of close friends with the following text: “We are raising a glass to my sister and playing ‘Bad Reputation’. I said to Vicki, I can’t believe it took Jo to die for me to hear how great a song it is. And it’s Jo”.

 

One friend, who was literally at a bottle shop buying a six pack came straight over and joined us in our celebration of my sister. A friend in Perth replied, “Taylor Swift used it as her concert introduction song and I thought exactly the same thing”. In an instance, a song connected friends and family to what Jo stood for.

 

To Jo, I dips me lid and raise my glass. ‘Bad Reputation’ is a quintessential rock song. It has a 50s wrapped in 60s wrapped in 70s sound and brashness to it. On its release in 1980 esteemed music critic Robert Christgau in his review of the album said Joan Jett comes on “tuffer than any gurl in history”. That is what my sister Jo heard all those years ago. That I finally heard. That is what Jo strived to be. In the end she ran out of juice but to her last days she believed, with all her heart that, “A girl can do what she wants to do/And that’s what I’m gonna do/An’ I don’t give a damn ‘ bout my bad reputation”. Indeed.

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. Thanks for this Trucker. Brave and honest stuff. Condolences. Music is a powerful healer. The peace comes when we keep our hearts open.
    The Avenging Eagle’s wonderful Croatian father George (anglicised Juroslav) died 6 years ago from Lewy Body Dementia. Cruel stuff. One story always sticks with me that makes me wonder about the deep rivers beneath. He spoke beautiful English, but as the disease progressed he reverted to his native language exclusively. I hadn’t heard an English word for over 6 months. Part of the disease is gripping things tightly and not letting go. Curtains are vulnerable. We were at the table waiting for Sunday lunch and he was tightly gripping the tablecloth and I feared disaster.
    To lighten the occasion I said “you need something to do with your hands George – I’ll get you some rosary beads”. Knowing he was a life long atheist and socialist whose family suffered under the Ustasha in WW2. He looked me in the eye and said “I don’t think so”. The last English words he ever spoke.

  2. DBalassone says:

    Beautiful words Rick, just beautiful. You have a great melodious spirit mate. I applaud your ability to find joy. Inspiring. A great tribute to Angela and Jo. Peace and love to you and your family.

  3. Powerful read Trucker. Powerful and emotional. As we go about our daily activities we are usually blissfully unaware of the travails of others. I have little doubt that you saw 2018 off with a heavy heart.

    Death is so final. So completely final. Or is it? Who knows?

    Find the joy in your music, a book or a glorious glass of wine. Find the joy in a beer with a few mates. Is there a greater joy?

    Great tribute to Angela and Jo. More power to you.

    With best wishes. And I mean that.

  4. E.regnans says:

    Hi Trucker.
    Boy.
    You’ve got to carry that weight.
    Carry that weight.
    A long time.

    Trucker – Thank you for your sharing. For your exploring, your path, your blind alleys and your wide horizons.
    Thank you for possibility.
    I hope your path shapes well. I hope the next bend reveals itself. And the next. And the next.

    So many weights.
    And so many possibilities.
    Go well.

  5. Chris Daley says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Trucker, many thanks for allowing me to read this personal, intimate story.
    As the Cat Empire say: “Music is the language of us all”

    My best wishes to Vicki, yourself and your family.

  7. Rick Kane says:

    Hi

    I appreciate your comments and expressions of goodwill. The Almanacery is one of the places that I feel most at home. It has a warmth of trust and caring and good humour.

    PB, thanks for sharing re your father-in-law’s Lewy Body disease. The Avenging Eagle, you and the family know how cruel it is. Poor Angela was diagnosed quite late into its impact. She literally went from the GP to the hospital to a nursing home in the space of a few weeks. And yes, she reverted from that moment to mostly speaking Greek. I loved your Juroslav story, I did laugh.

    Thanks DB, though I must say, without making a deal about it, I still haven’t found the joy re Jo. But I’m okay with that. It’ll come.

    Dips, appreciate your words and look forward to our next beer! Crazy thing, a week after Jo passed a Joan Jett tour was announced. So on 20 Jan we will be at the Mornington Racecourse to see Joan Jett (alongside Jimmy Barnes, The Living End and Richard Clapton) and I can’t wait. There’ll be some joy flowing that day.

    Thanks ER, yep, there are so many possibilities and I’m always interested in what’s coming up around the bend!

    Thanks CD

    Smokie, that is a quote I will remember.

    Cheers

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Brave and beautiful Rick.

  9. Thanks very much for this Rick. It’s a piece of beauty and gentle instruction on how to approach our lives. I’m going to reread it often. I wish you and your family well and hope to see you during 2019.

  10. Hi Rick
    Beautiful story. Many thanks. I so understand all you’ve said, having had family suicides and depression, (including my own so-called attempts and very down periods over the years), and now dementia for my beloved Marshall. However, all I can do is adjust to how I deal with it (and have dealt with it), do my best, be kind and compassionate, and try and forgive myself – I understand your sentiments in that respect so, so well! Guilt is a killer. We should never feel guilty.

    So, go well, take good care, and have a very joyful and safe 2019! And thank you again.
    All the best
    Jan

  11. Luke Reynolds says:

    Beautiful words Rick. Wonderful tribute.
    Listened to “Summers End” as I re-read this. Very touching song. Accompanied your words perfectly.
    All the best to you, Vicki and your entire families.

  12. Veronica Clarke says:

    Awww Rick I’ve attempted to read this several times today and was overcome with emotion each time so set it aside for ‘later’ I’ve finally read it all the way through. You articulate feelings I relate to at such a raw, deep level its hard to seperate myself. It’s like you’ve reached inside my soul…… I too don’t know when I’ll experience Jo’s joy….. I’m simply & mostly overwhelmed by sadness when I think about our beautiful sister. Angela too….. what a beautiful tribute to a wonderfully grounded & giving human being.
    Thank you for writing this Rick & thank you for sharing it so broadly. ….. I’m so very proud to be your sister, your deep sensitivity and generous spirit, your ability to really ‘get’ people, get me, and get those I love is such a gift…. thank you for being you x x x

  13. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Rick,
    Thank you for sharing this deeply moving tribute to Angela and Jo. Sounds like the spirit of Joan Jett touched them both.
    Music helps keep me sane. One song can change your energy and shift stuff that has lingered on too long. Leonard Cohen , Johnny Cash and the Weddos do it for me often.
    Keep talking and expressing mate. Always here for a chat, even though I’m no longer a Prestonite. Go well.

  14. Earl O'Neill says:

    Beautiful words, Rick, I wish you my deepest condolences.
    Here’s to Jo
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LvoV2Lfk7Qg

  15. Deepest condolences Rick. You express your loss and grief in a very nuanced, human manner .

    Having been a health worker throughout the bulk of my working life death has never been a distant entity. None the less i never gave it a great deal of thought accepting death as something that happens to you, giving a finality. When my mother died in 2016, i spent a bit of time looking at, reading up, trying to understand death. The person making the most sense tome is Alain Badiou, the French philosopher.

    Without going through his perception of death, how it happens to you, there are 3 pivotal points Badiou articulates so well.

    Death provides an identity. It defines who you were as a person, it is how you will always be identified as. My mother was a Catholic, daughter, sister, cousin, wife,widow,aunty, grand mother,midwife, Footscray supporter, ALP supporter,wine drinker,and anything else that occured during her life.

    Death is about repetition. It makes every individual substitutable for any other. You are no longer a worker or a whatever, as it is an equaliser that is always there.

    Death is the necessity being the only certainty in any living creatures life.

    Re the sad loss of your sister , something that can help a person working through their troubles is Mental Health First Aid, (MHFA). I was a MHFA instructor for a few years,but i’ve changed my current health worker role,so not doing much mental health work. None the less i recommend people get access to some MHFA training,as it can be a handy skill in helping some one close to you,actually anyone,who’s doing it hard, maybe being at risk can be helped by support from some one who is MHFA trained.

    Take care of yourself Rick. Memories are important, they help provide a segue to the past. Clearly musical memories hold a special place here, enjoy them if they give you strength.

    Glen!

  16. Trucker absolutely superb and just so close to the mark my mums dementia is getting worse and yes terrible to live thru and observe.I have 1 male member of my wedding party left suicide is also just so close to the bone while it is 13 years since Peter Russo left the world I still and always think of him constantly.
    Bob was alcoholism at the age of forty so in reality another way of suicide,Neil another mate also
    to say your piece resonated is a massive understatement and yes I am crying thank you and all the best big time !

  17. Rick Kane says:

    I am really taken with the kind words and sentiments expressed in fellow Almanacer comments.

    Thanks Swish

    MR, def will see you, either in the M town or when I’m in Paul Kelly’s fave city

    Jan, to you and Marshall as well, take care and rock on

    LR, hopefully I’ll plan our drive through Colac on the way to Port Fairy, the day after the John Prine concert, to at least have a cuppa with you

    Vron, you know the deal and we’ll make it through

    PD, it would be good to catch up. You may not be a Prestonite but you work down the road. As Tom Waits would say, come on up to the house.

    Earl, how good is that Vid? Can’t wait until 20 Jan and see her live.

    Glen, thank you for the reference, I will be on to that tonight. I know the MHFA very well as I work in disability employment and we promote it. Great call. My counselling is through EAP and it has been a godsend.

    Rulebook, I really appreciate your thoughts and the kind word on FB as well. As we say in the Kane family, you can’t talk about things enough. If you are into music check out the John Prine album. It’s called Tree of Forgiveness. Not a dud track. There’s a song called God Only Knows. The second verse goes to the heart of so much of our problems – not talking.

    Love to all

  18. Enormous.

    My heart goes out to you and your family Rick.

    All of your writing/conversation/comment screams belief that PEOPLE MATTER.

    Respect.

  19. Well done on being able to express that which have done here.
    Thoughts with you on facing that which follows such an unexpected loss.
    May 2019 uncover some of the joys lost.

  20. Colin Ritchie says:

    What a wonderful world we have here at the Almanac. To be able to share sorrows, even the horrors of life that one ihas been confronted by, to know fellow Almanackers have had similar heartbreak and devastating life experiences, we can all share that grief with respect and love to offer one another support in such an emphatic manner is truly outstanding. Go well Rick, take care, and keep on truckin’!

  21. Thea Alla says:

    I feel your pain.
    My Grandmother Edie had Alzheimer’s at the end her life, and she was not the lovely, talented lady I knew as we grew up.

    My mother had cancer and several of her family and young friends were overseas. She waited for all five of us to come home and see her and let her say Goodbye and quietly slipped away..
    It took a long time to stop feeling so emotional when thinking of my mum. I did get there and can now speak to her and of her with much less emotion 15 years on

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