Snap out of it boy.
I shall try. I promise.
My guitar sits in the corner collecting mountains of dust, which makes me feel very neglectful. I’ve got a million ideas swirling around in my head, but I can’t focus on a single one of them long enough make it worth anyone’s while. It’s like trying to grab a fistful of water.
Loss is not good for creativity, nor is lack of creativity good when dealing with loss. I speak only for myself of course. If I’m not creating something I feel like a giant sloth, as opposed to only feeling like a tiny sloth when I’m waist deep in new words or melodies. It’s not like digging ditches all day after all….although come to think of it, based on previous record sales at least, that might be too close a metaphor for comfort.
So why not just merge things….and write about him?
Now there’s an idea. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Surely he’s worthy of a song or ten. As long as I don’t come across sounding like Dan fucking Fogelberg, putting the “mawk” in mawkish. Pop’s life. His loves. And his struggle with Alzheimer’s. Surely this is toe-tapping stuff right? Well, maybe not that last bit, but stranger things have happened with a boy and his guitar, especially this boy and that guitar. Sadness is only part of all this for me. Rage is right up there….along with incomprehension and a peculiar lack of what others call faith. I witnessed an astonishing fight against no odds whatsoever….and nobody can tell me he didn’t decide to move on when he was good and ready. So yea, there’s some truly inspiring stuff there too…..the kind of thing you witness with your mouth wide open and your eyes bugging out of your head. And of course all the people, places, and things that are left behind, which includes me.
“The healing has begun”. So said Van Morrison one time….which is easy for him to say with pipes like that. Van may just be the most miserable git on the planet, but he knows that music is sometimes all there is when the blues overtakes you and drags you to the ground. Sure it can disappoint. All you need to do is listen to Van’s last dozen or so records to feel that sting. But I can always turn to “Sweet Thing” or “Gloria” or “Caravan” for a steroidian lift. How many things can you say that about that aren’t…you know….steroids? Or otherwise illegal? It’s impossible to listen to those songs and not feel something good. To not feel lifted in some way. Spiritual. Or just plain hornier than usual. I spoke of odds back yonder. How ’bout a sure thing? You tell me what compares to a great song? Sex maybe, but sometimes mre mortals manage to muck that up too. You can’t muck up “Gloria”, although countless bar bands (and the Doors) have tried.
So there ’tis. A bit of a pep talk. For me-self.
In a bit…
‘Tis a tricky thing, this healing business. Sometimes memories are not enough, and you long for things more tangible. A voice. A touch. A whisper in the ear. Or just being able to ask….”what should I do?” Even if, to my detriment, I’ve never taken his advice as much as I should have.
Time heals they say….which is a crock of shit. It does no such thing of course. It may act as a shoe over a just-broken foot…but the foot is still broken. When an irreplaceable part of you is taken away, by definition that hole can never be filled. All you can do is get used to the wind as it blows a little colder. Perhaps one day you can treat it as Hershey, PA residents treat the smell of chocolate….or Homer Simpson treats the always iminent threat of irradiation (with the help of Moe’s tavern. Just thinking of that. Mmm. I could use a belt right now.)
But no….self-medication is not the answer….although I am sorely tempted to hear somebody ask the question at times. No angel am I….but remaining dry seems the best course of action right now.
Through this ordeal I’ve been left speechless by both generosity and indifference. I’ve hit things it’s not a good idea to hit, and spent much of my time alone, trying to gather thoughts and feelings and laughter and tears…most of the time with Ipod ear-buds inserted. Irish music has been a great comfort. The Bothy Band. Matt Molloy. Tommy Peoples. I’ve worn my Ireland pin everyday, along with my green converse sneakers and my celtic cross on a 50 cent rope that my daughter pulled out of some gumball machine. I find a certain refuge in my heritage….as if being Irish itself gives me a leg up in the grieving process (bastard brits starving us out and all). Maybe it does. I’m proud of my green blood in any event, so I like to think I wear it well.
Christ….this happens to people every second of every day. What the hell makes this so different?
Because it happened to me, that’s why. And us. And him. Intellectually we know the rules apply to all, but that doesn’t stop us from sauntering to and fro pretending otherwise. We’re inherently selfish when it comes to our own. Don’t you realize that? If you don’t, you will. Dying sucks, and Alzheimer’s is worse ’cause it kills you twice.
I find it hard to focus on one thing anymore. The mind wanders….races….or acts like it just touched a hot stove. Maybe this is my way of raging against Alzheimer’s. Don’t look back, ’cause someone or something is likely gaining on you. So said the great Satchel Paige, who coincidently never let anybody know how old he was. That’s one way to avoid aging.
Jigs. Reels. Airs. They’ll be with me as I drift off to sleep again tonight, my way of warding off seeing things in the dark that aren’t there in the light. I don’t much like dreams, ’cause one way or another they always leave you disappointed.
In a bit…
(Eulogy delivered for my Father on April 5th, 2010 at Saint Mary’s of Mount Carmel Church, Dunmore PA)
Whenever Pop gave a speech my mother used to get worried that he’d go on too long. We’re Irish after all. The most apt thing the Irish have ever been called….and we’ve been called plenty….is “word hungry”. I like that.
I’m word hungry. So was Pop.
But do not fear. My Mom always gave my father the ‘wrap it up’ sign when he got long winded, and I’ve got a perfect view of her from here. However, I can’t see the bishop very well from my location, so if somebody could alert me if he’s giving me the signal, I’d be grateful.
We’ve all been places where one person starts to yawn and it starts a chain reaction. Tears are like that too, so let’s dry them now, for my sake at least. Pop is at peace, and that’s surely something worth smiling over.
Laughter would be even better. You want some?
I’ll tell you things you may not know.
His belting out endless versions of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” to wake us up each day for school, a moment that made us forever grateful that he chose journalism as a career.
His staggering ability to get lost every year on our vacation trips, even though every year we went to the same place. Got so bad we actually started recognizing the places that told us we were lost.
“Dad, isn’t that the same restaurant we stopped in last year to ask directions and the guy said we were ‘way off’”?
He once dropped us off in front of the FBI building and went to find a place to park. While we enjoyed a chance meeting with Ted Kennedy and his wife, Pop ended up in Virginia. There’s getting lost, and then there’s finding yourself in the wrong state. How the man ever found the stories he covered is a mystery.
He charmed everyone. From the thief in Camden New Jersey who gave him perfect directions back to the expressway (yes, lost again) before stealing my mother’s necklace, to the big wigs at Disney World, who were so charmed by one of his columns that they gave him what I like to think was their first “fast pass”. He’d flash this thing at every ride and to the front we’d go, like royalty.
No waiting, as was the case when he drifted off in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Into the arms of his beloved parents, and his brothers, and met by the slobber of the world’s most beautifully ugly dog…Candy. That breeze you feel right now is powered by her tail wagging.
And of course, Pop’s best friend. Joe Smith is there, anxious to pass along the answer to the perplexing question asked at many of their council meetings.
Yes, there is vermouth in heaven.
And best of all for a couple of Irishmen who could pinch nickels with the best of them…it’s on the house.
Old school. That’s what he was. Found something that worked and he stuck with it. He never changed for change’s sake. Worked the same hairstyle for 82 years. Over the last few days Brylcreem stock has plummeted. The same Royal manual typewriter that sounded like sleet hitting the roof of a tin shed. Electric typewriters frustrated him, and computers made him speak in tongues. He never quite grasped the “save file” concept, and “lost” as many columns as he “wrote” on the computer. But he adored deadlines. Once told me they were his favorite part of the business, so I half expected he was doing it on purpose just to have a bit of fun with the editors.
But the ultimate old school?
His first kiss? My mom. His last kiss? My mom. Every kiss in between? My mom. For over 60 years he was a teenager in love. Theirs was a love story increasingly rare in a world grown cynical. Today, career changes and divorces are as common as rising gas prices. But my father loved every day as a newsman…..a love only surpassed by who was waiting for him when he got home.
And always…without a paper. The man worked at a newspaper and came home and bought one everyday. So, if the Lynott’s are here, know that you got an even bigger bargain than you know. Those nickels and dimes and quarters would have added up. If you’d like to reimburse him, a check made out to the National Alzheimer’s Association would certainly suffice.
He found large stories in small, quiet places, and he was always on the side of the angels. From his genuine love of a special needs kid named Bobby Walsh to his willingness to inform his readers of the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of a scared Jessup kid in Viet Nam…at a time when such frankness wasn’t always welcomed….or even tolerated. Pop’s moral courage was exceeded only by his inherent decency.
And for every good deed he did publicly through his writings, there were 100 that nobody knew about. Even this week my family got calls and letters from people we never knew, thanking us for things Pop did for them that we never knew about. We surely took him for granted. To us, he was just “Dad”….the guy who’d let us sit on his lap and “drive” the car up the driveway.
I am one of 6. Flannery and Loftus blood. An interesting combination to say the least. At times, we can try the patience of a roomful of stoned saints. We put the “function” in “dysfunction”. Our vices require a calculator to keep track of. Yet Pop never once gave up on any of us. He’s given us so much more than we’ve ever given him. Instead of this reflecting badly on us, I prefer to think it illuminates his own grace. Gets us off the hook too. Useful, that.
Pat, Maureen, Erin, Timmy, Beeny…and Mom. It’s been a rough road. We’ve bent, sometimes at right angles to each other, but we’ve never broken. I love you all.
My father never accepted injustice. In his quiet way he railed against it his entire life. Alzheimer’s Disease is the ultimate injustice, and he raged against that too for 5 long years. He never gave up. He never gave in. He simply ran out of time. So now it’s up to us to shake our fist at this dreaded disease. The way he did. Sometimes, quite literally. It would have awed you too.
There is no stigma attached to Alzheimer’s Disease. There is no shame. Me and my family want it front and center. It took away Pop away from us. It has become our enemy. Our fight has not ended with my Dad’s passing. It merely continues. We ask for your help.
A final thought. The night Pop died we all gathered at my Mother’s. We stayed with her. It was still dark when we went to bed, but just barely. I heard the birds chirping. Certainly not the first time I’d stumbled to bed to that soundtrack, but this one time I knew exactly who they were singing for.