Let me tell you about Greg. He was my father-in-law and I met him for the first time in 2005 when my now-wife invited me over for a barbecue. In 2006 I started dating Lauren and in 2007 Greg walked her down the aisle and entrusted her to me – not because she needed protecting, and not because she was weak – because he wanted her to be with someone who could learn to love her the way she deserved.
In 2009 we joyfully announced the impending arrival of our first son (pictured in the album artwork), who shares a second name with Greg. When he arrived Greg welcomed him with a joyful heart and open arms – proudly watching him grow and looking forward to a future of being Grandad to our son and his cousins.
Life was busy and, as is the case for most musicians, work and income ebbed and flowed, but we were happy in our relatively care-free little world. But soon there began an almost imperceptible but ever-increasing shift in Greg’s health. It was towards the end of 2010 and at the time we didn’t think too much of it – surely it was just all part of the inevitable process of ageing? A couple of months later everything changed forever.
First it was a phone call. “It’s nothing to worry about, but we’re not going on our trip to Italy tomorrow. The doctor thinks I should stay here for some tests.” Tests? Well that’s concerning but people have tests all the time right? Italy will still be there in a couple of months when you’re better.
But then came the knock at the door a few days later. An unexpected visit from my wife’s parents bearing life-changing news that needed to be delivered in person. The words hit like a freight train. Pancreatic cancer. But they can fix cancer a lot better now than they used to, can’t they? Yes. And no. Not so much with this one – it has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers. It didn’t look good.
About a month later, we found out our second child was on the way, and at the time we didn’t know if Greg would live to meet him. But by the grace of God and the determination of Greg to live, sure enough – he was right there visiting him just a few hours after he was born.
Greg and his wife Kerrie were fully immersed in an unwanted but inescapable new normal – appointments, chemo, tests, medicine, waiting for good news, processing bad news. And through it all the family watched as Greg’s health continued to fade.
The amazing thing is that, through all this time, Greg was still at our house mowing the lawn and helping out. He was still playing with his grandkids, visiting friends, playing golf and just being... well, Greg.
He wasn’t well and he didn’t feel very good most of the time, but I never once heard Greg complain. He never asked “why me?” – he just got on with making sure that, after he died, his wife and family would be as unburdened as possible. Even when his days were so physically challenged he was still engaged in life, giving us advice, taking care of our needs and generally being the patriarch of the family.
My wife says some mornings she would wake up and it would take her a moment to remember why she felt a black cloud hanging over us. Then it would hit her – dad is dying. Followed closely by the next thought – but not today, today he is living.
Until October 1, 2013. Only 5 days beforehand Greg had been planning for the future. He was very ill, to be sure, but there was no hint of what the next week would bring. He was moved to palliative care and suddenly the end was upon us. Greg’s wife and 3 children were at the hospital, having been warned by staff who know death too intimately that it was only a matter of hours. They joked, told stories, remembered and waited, until suddenly everyone knew the time had come. Through tears and thankfulness for the man he was, they farewelled their beloved husband and father, who had loved them with everything that he had. He died the way he lived – with honour, dignity and the faith that this world was just the foreshadowing of things to come.
The next few days are were a bit of a blur, and the day after his funeral was over, we were back to teaching for the term. Life went on around us but there was a new ache that we felt deep in our hearts.
I don’t think you ever get used to someone not being here. At first you wrestle with those clumsy aspects of grief. You get too many plates out for dinner, you stumble over the tense “Greg is - I mean, Greg was...” or you think you see him in the street and then remember all over again and realise that no, it couldn’t be him.
As time goes on the awkwardness fades but the gap is never filled. Some days the gap feels so deep and wide and oppressive that you don’t know how you can ever reach the other side. But on other days the gap is made smaller as we fill our thoughts with memories, love and the inspiration to be better. Now I have seen better and I realise the impact I can have on other people by choosing this path, the path that was shown me by Greg.
Our third son arrived about 13 months after he died. It grieves me that he didn’t get to meet him that day, but I’m comforted by the fact that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would have been just as excited to welcome this 7th grandchild as he was to welcome the first 6. I know he would have loved him, protected him, cheered him on and mentored him throughout childhood and beyond.
For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, this song touches people deeply. I think it invites everyone to pause and remember – to consider the legacy left behind by people who history may not recall, but have nonetheless distinctly shaped and influenced their little corner of the planet. Their legacy stretches beyond their life and touches those who come after them, even though they may never meet on earth.
Greg’s wife, Kerrie, joked at his funeral that Greg probably would have liked a parade to commemorate his passing. Well Greg, here’s your parade. Thank you, for everything.
You can hear the song on iTunes, Spotify and other music services - www.smarturl.it/TheKindOfMan.