More than one kind of hero
I sat down this morning with the intention of writing about my dad. It’s what I've done on or around this day every year ever since he died on the 25th of October 1993. It’s usually a cathartic thing, but staring at the blank page this morning I felt a bit stuck. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to say.
So, instead, I spent some time looking back over all the other pieces I’ve scribbled or recorded about him over the years, some of which were posted publicly on my blogs, but many of which were more private and stayed hidden away in the depths of my documents folder.
The journey of words starts with a screaming of shock and pain, a strong sense of injustice, fear, sorrow and a desperate longing to have him back. But it progresses over the years, slowly, on to a calmer, much more accepting, still sad but not as painful, place. What was striking though, was that from the beginning I’ve kind of idolised, or glorified, my dad. In my missing him, I’ve remembered and highlighted all the great and good things about him. He was my hero when he was alive, and he morphed into a Super Hero in death!
Dad wasn’t perfect. Let’s face it, nobody is. He definitely had his faults. But in only ever highlighting the great and the good things since his death, it makes me wonder if I put him up on too high a pedestal! And I wonder if I’ve sacrificed anything in doing that?
It also got me thinking about why, generally, we ‘don’t speak ill of the dead?’
According to Wikipedia (so it must be true…), the notion was first introduced in 'The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers', written around 300 AD, where Chilon of Sparta - an ancient Greek philosopher and all round wise old geezer - is quoted as saying ‘τὸν τεθνηκóτα μὴ κακολογεῖν’. Or, for those of us who skipped Ancient Greek at school, ‘don’t bad mouth a dead man’.
The sentiment seems to have stuck and, no matter our cultural or religious differences, the idiom ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum’ (the souped up Latin version of Chilon’s original) is something that we still seem to abide by the world over today.
Of course, there are many different reasons why - depending on said culture or religion - but the jist of it is that it’s wrong to speak badly about someone when they’re no longer here and able to defend themselves.
I guess there’s a difference between speaking badly, and bigging up though. There’s nothing really ‘bad’ about my dad that I’m holding back, just because it’s culturally correct to do so. He really was an all round good guy - but he did have his faults too!
It’s understandable that we mostly remember all the great stuff about the people we’ve loved and lost. And, of course, it’s absolutely right that we do whatever we personally have to do to help us cope with our present and future without the person we’ve loved and lost. But in doing that, I guess it’s just as important that we don’t lose perspective or sight of the ‘greatness’ in the people we love and haven’t lost.
So, on this anniversary of my dad’s death, I’m remembering him with love but I’m also taking this opportunity to pay tribute to my, very much alive, wee mum, who’ll be 80 next week. She’s the perfect Gran, a great mum and her family love her dearly.
I remember suggesting, a few years after Dad died, that she might find a new partner, “Don’t be so ridiculous! I couldn’t possibly be with anyone other than your dad!’ And, when mum makes her mind up about something…!
She was left, when she was just a bit older than I am now, having to take on new challenges and face many struggles without her soul mate. But she knuckled down and with her characteristic strength, courage and resilience got on with it and is still doing her best to make the most of it to this day, even though she's not quite as able as she used to be.
I guess what occurred to me, reading over my scribbles from years gone by, is that by emphasising how perfect a person dad was, I might have made mum feel, at times, that she came up short. She may well be only 5 foot nothing, but she hasn't, definitely hasn't, come up short.
So, thank you Mum. For being you, for being there and for never once saying 'what about me?' when I've lamented about losing my hero. There are a fair few heroes still in my life, and you're one of the super ones, right up there amongst them.