The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Beauty Of Sorrow …
March 6, 2015, 6:30 am
Filed under: Comment, Death, Empathy, Love

This is a post about Clive James.

I’ve never met him, but he has been a constant presence throughout my life.

You see Clive is an Australian author, broadcaster and journalist who appeared in countless shows as I was growing up.

The reason he made such an impression was because of his wit and warmth of personality.

Regardless who he interviewed or what subject he was covering, he was always able to communicate his razor sharp insight in a way that made it easy to understand and interesting to hear.

Part of that was down to the fact he always delivered his opinion with a twinkle in his eye so you felt he was talking to you not at you … and in 1970’s television land, that was a revelation.

In some ways, Clive James was the original – but less pretty – version of George Clooney.

Funny. Sharp. Insightful. Generous. Self-depreciating. Confident.

But sadly Clive is dying.

He has been suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia for a number of years and the prognosis is not good.

As much as I have written about how important it is to talk of death, I cannot comprehend how it must feel if you are the person likely to pass.

I know one day I will know, but right now it is almost impossible to comprehend.

Maybe it is easy.

Maybe if you have been given the time to settle your affairs, it allows you to move on with a sense of peace and dignity.

I don’t know, but maybe that is the nicest way to pass, even though it may also be the most drawn out.

I imagine it’s as much down to your attitude as it is your health.

Whatever the reality, it appears Clive has come to peace with the prospect of him dying as he has released a series of poems that seem to talk about his final chapters of life.

Reading them revealed a different side to the Clive James I thought I knew … a more emotional, introspective side.

I don’t mind telling you I cried when I read one of them.

Maybe it’s because I drew parallel’s with my Father’s final days.

Maybe it’s because I am worried about my Mothers impending operation.

Maybe it’s because it reminded me of a poem I found my Mum had written about my Dad dying.

A poem that was so hauntingly beautiful that it took me several readings before I realised it was written by my Mum.

It was – like with Clive James’ poems – a side of her I had never seen before.

And yet there it was – in black and white – her emotions laid raw in front of me.

At first I was moved because it spoke with such gentleness, love and sorrow.

But then I registered who had written it and who it was about and my emotions overflowed.

This was a story I had lived through.

A terribly sad story.

And yet I was seeing it from another perspective.

A perspective of someone who I love with all my heart.

To be honest, as I read each line … it was like that day on Jan 16th 1999 was happening all over again.

But in some ways with double the pain.

You see not only was I feeling the hurt of losing my Dad, I was feeling the pain my Mum was going through.

Of course I knew at the time she was terribly, terribly sad, but this was the first time I really understood what she had gone through.

When she saw her husband of 35 years leave her.

How she woke up each morning thinking he was there only to discover he had gone.

And how that would prod her pain once again.

Until one day she woke up and knew he would not be by her side.

Which made the sadness become even stronger and deeper.

The way she described her pain was gut wrenching, made worse by the fact it was something I couldn’t remove or make better.

And yet it was also a testament to love.

A celebration of how marriage can make people stronger together.

I wish my Dad could have read it because then he’d know how much he meant to his family.

I’m know he knew, but reading those beautifully painful words shone a light on things that tend to be hidden in the shadows.

I wish I could let you all see it. But I can’t.

It’s not just that it’s too private, it’s still too raw.

Even 16 years later.

And while Clive James has done something different to my Mum by writing about his departing rather than someone else’s, I hope in time, it helps his family find peace once he has gone.

That they feel some comfort that he was ready to go and that he loved his family and will always be around even when he’s not around.

All thanks to a poem about a little maple tree.

For what may well be one of his last poems, I found it beautiful and sad and uplifting all at the same time … which as final messages go, seems a pretty nice way to be remembered.

So thank you Mr James for everything. Godspeed.

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.


Originally – when I wrote this post – it would have ended there.

However stuff has happened that means I need to add a bit of a postscript.

You see I am now off to the UK to be with my Mum.

She has a huge operation on Monday – a huge operation – so even though many of you don’t know her, please spare her a thought.

She is an amazing woman and makes the World better for being in it.

I will be there for almost 5 weeks helping her recover so this blog will be even more inconsistent than it usually is, but with all going well, there will be a bunch of stuff posted between now and when I return in early April.

And with that I leave you with one request.

Call up the people you care about and tell them that you love them.

Better yet, go see them and give them a hug.

That’s all.

Thank you and see you soon.

64 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Best wishes to your Mum. Make sure you take care of yourself too. Will Otis be going with you? He is sure to bring smiles to your Mum’s face. Love from all of us.

Comment by Mary Bryant

They’re coming over in a few weeks so Mum can be rested before [1] she gets disturbed in the middle of the night with “hunger screams” and [2] she can be energised by the little fellas smiles.

Comment by Rob

I am confident all will go well Robert. Best wishes to you and your mother and I look forward to hearing positive news soon. Safe travels.

Comment by Lee Hill

I still find the way you can express your emotions so openly is amazing. This is a post I will bookmark and revisit. All the best to Mrs C, I know all will work out. I am going to call my parents now.

Comment by Pete

Me too.

Comment by Bazza

Be well, Rob. Best of hopes for you and your mum

Comment by judyt54


Comment by Jemma King

you beautiful soppy bastard. mrs c will be fine, if she raised you she is tougher than superman.

Comment by andy@cynic

clive james is a fucking legend. when i read that poem, my eye started letting out droplets of water. must have been some dust in the air.

Comment by andy@cynic

How will your mom and england cope with you being back for so long? I hope everything goes well.

Comment by Bazza

Thanks folks. Fingers crossed all is good … I’ll let you know how it goes sometime next week. On the positive, it means you have over a month without a daily blog post. There might be the odd one or two, but it’s going to be on vastly reduced terms. Consider it my gift to you all.

Comment by Rob

Beautifully written. Deeply felt. Best wishes for Mum and for you.

Comment by Mike Langton

She will get better with you there. Thinking of you all.

Comment by Katerina

Sending good wishes towards Nottingham.

Comment by Wayne Green

Very best wishes to you and your mum

Comment by northern

Thanks for that, Rob. I’ll be thinking of you and your Mum over the next few weeks. Your family’s presence will surely speed up the recovery.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

Good luck with tomorrow Robert. We are all thinking of you and your Mum.

Comment by George

Robert’s mother died today due to complications with her operation. He was with her and she died peacefully. He’s as OK as you can be. Thought you should know.

Comment by George

Oh no.

Comment by Bazza

Comment by judyt54

I have just heard the news. My deepest condolences go out to you Robert. If there is anything I can do to help, you must not hesitate to ask. I hope you are surrounded by people who love you and who you love.

Comment by Lee Hill

My deepest condolences, Rob.

Comment by niko

So sorry Rob. That’s tragic news.

Comment by DH

what a fucking loss. mrs c i am so sad and so sorry. your son will be inconsolable but we will do what we can to help. you are already missed.

Comment by andy@cynic

I am so sorry Robert. Your post is beautiful and we are sending you love.

Comment by Mary Bryant

Your mother and father would be proud of what you’ve written.
I’m so sorry

Comment by northern

I am so sorry about your Mum Rob. She was so proud of you.

Comment by Pete

Tomorrow is a commercial conceit – please remember that and the fact that you made every day Mother’s Day for Mrs C.

Comment by John

Well said John.

Comment by George

I’ve just read what you’re going to do with your parents house. Forget how proud your parents would be, I’m bursting with admiration for you. Keep strong my friend, what you’re doing and how you are handling yourself is an inspiration to me and so many more.

Comment by George

Brilliant idea Rob. Hope you’re taking care of yourself.

Comment by DH

There’s a bright star in the top left of the photo that shows the view from your house. It’s the only star in the whole sky. Just so you know.

Comment by DH

For such a tragic week, you are writing such beautiful words Robert. Your mother would be incredibly proud of you. I know lots of other people are as well. Big hugs from all of us.

Comment by Mary Bryant

your little man looks fucking grand. your mum would be so proud of him. and you. youre writing stuff that is fucking beautiful but make sure youre looking after yourself. my heart is breaking for you and your fantastic mum. still cant believe it. dont want to.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thank you all for the lovely words on this blog and the calls, emails and SMS’s. I’m hugely grateful and even though I’m still feeling in despair, I would be worse without all of your compassion and support. It means more to me than you’d ever know – even though we all know my Mum was so special, it’s the least she would deserve.
Thank you again. Thank you so much.

Comment by Rob

Andrew summed up how we are all feeling right now and we are all here to help and support you.

Comment by George

Anything I can do Rob just let me know.

Comment by northern

I’m truly sorry, Rob.
Your parents are proud to have a son that write such beautiful words of sorrow and hope.
Hope you’re taking care of yourself and your family.

Comment by Miguel

I’m crying Robbie. Big hugs to all of you.

Jemma x x x

Comment by Jemma King

Thinking of you all Robert. Look after yourself and we’re here if you need anything.

Comment by George

Your mother would be incredibly proud at how you are handling yourself during this awful time. Not many people could do that. I know I couldn’t. Be good to yourself Robert, you are very important to a great deal of us.

Comment by Lee Hill

Rob, I got your message in the answering machine. I am so sorry. Your mother, Silvana , myself and Pippi (who later became my wife) had a great team in London in the early 60’s-
We were so young and life lolokke promising.
Ugo Sparla

Comment by Ugo Sparla

I am shocked but happy to hear from on here. Amazing. I’m so sorry I had to break the news to you that way but I’m glad you know how much my Mum regarded you and your wife as friends. I would like to think one day we can meet. I would love to hear more about your time together as youngsters. Thank you again.

Comment by Rob

Hope you are doing OK Rob. Or as well as you can be doing. Take care.

Comment by DH

Thank you for all the comments, calls and messages – it means a lot. I’m doing OK – a lot to preoccupy me – but the sadness is always near the surface and with the funeral on Friday, I am expecting that will open the wound right open again. Knowing I have all your support means more to me than I could ever tell you so thank you. My mum would be so grateful to you all for caring and looking after me too.

Comment by Rob

you fucking cry as much as you want to. i did when i read your dads card to your mum. you were lucky to have such fucking great parents and they were lucky to have such a fucking great son. guess well find out if otis feels lucky to look so much like his old man.

Comment by andy@cynic

A warm and touching post Robert. I will be thinking of you all on Friday.

Comment by Lee Hill

What you’ve written over the past couple of weeks has been brilliant. Terribly sad but brilliant. She would be even more proud of you, if that is even possible. I’ll be toasting Mrs C and you on friday.

Comment by DH

Thank you for all the flowers, calls and messages. Mum’s funeral was today and as funerals go, it was wonderful … topped off by a beautiful day.

Comment by Rob

That is a beautiful eulogy for your Mum. She would be incredibly proud at how you have conducted yourself in these trying times. I am too. I’m also in awe. Thinking of you guys today.

Comment by George

Well said George. I fully agree.

Comment by Lee Hill

A beautiful eulogy for a beautiful woman. A big hug to you Robert.

Comment by Mary Bryant

I have just read your post about your family home now being empty. You may think you are not handling the loss of your delightful mother and home very well. I would say you are handling it with a level of integrity and decency that is inspiring.

Comment by Lee Hill

Total agreement.

Comment by George

I hope you are doing OK Rob. Thinking of all of you.

Comment by Bazza

How you have handled this sad time has been an inspiration to me and I’m sure countless others. Safe travels.

Comment by Lee Hill

Total agreement.
Safe journey Robert.

Comment by George

I have just read your latest post (4.20) and I admire your openness and honesty. I do think you are being too hard on yourself and I am sure your mum would feel the same way too. You have handled yourself with great credit and no one doubts the love you had and have for your mum or the sadness you feel for her loss, wherever you may be living. I look forward to more regular posts from you but don’t feel you can’t express your pain through your posts any more. I for one found them moving and yet inspirational.

Comment by Pete

i never fucking thought id ever say this. but i agree with pete. every fucking word. i feel fucking ill.

Comment by andy@cynic

You have done better than most Robert. Don’t doubt that. And the feelings you are going through are normal, so don’t be hard on yourself.

Comment by George

I don’t know how I feel about you going back to writing your old rubbish Rob. I don’t like you might be hiding your emotions behind planning crap. The posts you have written about your mum have been powerful and if it has helped you then you shouldn’t feel you can’t keep writing them. 6 weeks is no time, don’t feel it is.

Comment by DH

[…] – as I have written about many times – is an incredibly complex issue but it is one, in the right circumstances, I wholeheartedly […]

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