Our lives are as temporary
As the dayflowers-
To know otherwise,
Saying we’ll meet again later.
(from the Man’yo Shu, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, an
anthology of Japanese poetry compiled in the eighth century)
It took a long time to decide what to write this week; I usually sit in front of the computer on a Friday morning and write whatever comes into my head. That strategy isn’t good enough for today, the second anniversary of Russell’s death. Many of you reading this will have known Russell very well; some of you may never have met him, but hopefully you will have some idea of what kind of person he was after reading this.
I play the events of that day two years ago over and over in my mind; just hours after we heard the worst news a parent can possibly hear, it became apparent that it was not just us whose lives had been shattered. Friends, both ours and Russell’s, appeared on our doorstep, in tears, wanting to share their grief with us. We knew Russell was special, but until that day we didn’t realise just how special he was to so many people other than us. It was the friends that kept us going in those first few days. The friends with their stories, their tears, their company, their memories; the flowers and food parcels left at our door, the cards and messages of sympathy and hope. Without you we wouldn’t have got this far; you helped us look forward in a positive way, you helped us make sure that Russell would not be forgotten.
Over the last couple of years, many of you have described what being friends with Russell meant to you. “Pleasure to have known you” “Legend” “Some of my favourite memories from the last few years include you” “…one of a kind, no one will ever fill the empty space..” “Every time I saw you, you made me laugh..” “I hope I can live just a few days as you lived every one of yours “ Yes, Russell was all these things, but those of you who knew him very well will know that there was also a more serious, caring side to him as well as that quick wit that could sometimes get him into trouble.
You may have heard this story before, but it is just one of the many examples of Russell’s quick wit. It was maybe 10 to 12 years ago, Russell must have been late teenage at the time and we were in some random DIY outlet in HW, buying paint to re-decorate his bedroom. This was a welcome opportunity to get the house back to normal after the “I-don’t-care-what-colour-it-is-as-long-as-it’s-black-or-navy-blue” phase of home improvements. As we went into the shop there were all the usual large posters advertising the special offers on products that no normal person would ever want to buy, along with another one advertising 10% pensioners’ discount every Tuesday. We bought the paint and other bits and pieces including an all in one bunny-suit like the ones they wear on every CSI program these days (and incidentally, just like the one I wore on a regular basis when cutting the salivary glands out of pigs at Brynmawr Abattoir many years ago; but that’s another story).
So, we got to the till, where there was a very bored-looking teenage girl waiting to serve us. Russell caught her eye and her expression instantly changed; I could tell that he was going to say or do something to throw her off guard, and waited to see what he had in mind. He started by complementing her on her hairstyle, gave her one of his winning smiles and then casually asked if he could have the pensioners’ discount! Not what I expected at all.
It was at this point that we both realised the “bored expression” was probably not really boredom but her version of enthusiasm for having such an intellectually challenging career. She thought carefully for a moment, then looked into his eyes and said “Nah…… Pensioners’ discount is on Tuesdays, today’s a Wednesday!”
This can probably go down in history as the one and only time Russell failed to get a discount!
It’s things like this that I miss; the totally unexpected random things he used to say and do, that would leave me falling about laughing, wishing I had thought of it first!
Russell valued his friends more than anything, and I am so pleased that he made such good choices; you are all still there for him, as always, helping us keep his memory alive. Reading the Red Book still makes me laugh through the tears, knowing that you all had so much fun. For those of you that never had the good fortune to meet him, here are just a few of the ways that all Russell’s friends are keeping his memory alive. Last summer we had the first Russell Fest, the next one is scheduled for this weekend. We have left postcards in random places to remember him, planted a tree, bought drinks for strangers in his memory and donated money to charity. This is the 50th post we have written; the blog has been read in 40 countries around the world, and if just one person, going through what we have been through has been helped by it, that’s good enough for me.
As well as friends, another of Russell’s great loves was music. Looking back in history, June 18th 1967 was the final day of the Monterey International Pop Festival in California. This is a date that Russell would have been proud to share, as some of the bands he enjoyed listening to were performing at this festival: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Grateful Dead all played on that day. Many of you will know of Russell’s perseverance at learning the guitar and how much he would have liked to have been able to play as well as the bands he loved.
So, where do we go from here?
I still refuse to let Russell disappear from view, I still talk about him as if he was still here, I still expect him to turn up on the doorstep; maybe I’m stupid, but he is still so alive in my memory. As we enter the third year without him, celebrate his life at the second Russell Fest, leave more postcards in his memory, and continue to laugh and cry at the many memories we cherish, he will be here with us.
I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but the words we had engraved on his stone, now mean so much more that the title of a favourite song. While we continue to remember him and talk about him, he will LIVE FOREVER.
And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
But I don’t know how
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You’re my wonderwall
Wonderwall, Oasis, 1995