Monty Python, Jackie and Me

So today should have been a good day, perhaps a great day for me on a personal basis, as the scan showed that my heart is up to the treatment which the doctor seemingly wants to prescribe, unfortunately the rest of the day didn’t go that way, and despite that good news and the humorous sight of Floridians wandering around in thick jackets, fleeces, woolly hats and mittens (I actually saw one lady walk into CVS wearing flip-flops and emerge with fleecy boots in a bag which she then put on her feet) in temperatures which are in the 40s Farenheit, the day has been pretty dark for me due to an external stressor, which, due to my self-imposed rule of not naming anyone in this blog, cannot be explained any further. The stressor led to my taking a walk of a couple of hours in the aforementioned “freezing” temperatures and I found myself wondering just what it would take to get me to decide not to accept treatment for the cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not thinking of refusing any treatment but there must come a point at which the gains aren’t worth the pains so to speak. I remember for instance my dad asking for the tubes which were keeping him alive to be turned off because he’d had enough of vomiting all the time when there was no hope of recovery, effectively he would have been kept alive in order to feel the pain. I think I learned a lot from my dad about how to live my life (I didn’t always get it right but then neither did he!) but I think in those last few days he also taught me a lot about how to die. I imagine he learned a lot about dying during the second world war and clearly that’s an experience I couldn’t have shared and really wouldn’t have wanted to. These thoughts also put me in mind of an uncle of my wife who also had things turned off when he’d decided that life was no longer worth the living (I didn’t discuss it with him and have only got second hand accounts which don’t necessarily agree with my conclusion, but that’s my thinking).

As always, once my mind starts roaming of its own volition, all sorts of connections come together, I’m not sure whether Edward de Bono would have agreed that my thoughts were lateral or not, but if they weren’t lateral then perhaps they were sufficiently disconnected to count as a source for disconnected jottings. Anyway, back to the point, I began thinking of friends who had already died and of their attitude to life and death and so my thoughts naturally turned to the lady who had been my friend since we were first put in the playpen together back in Stairfoot either in late 1953 or early 1954. (If you can handle a digression and the local accent you might like to checkout this song about Stairfoot’s most notorious feature). Anyway, Jackie suffered from some problem with her kidney which sadly ended her life in, I think, 1997 or possibly 1998. Jackie and her husband had time to plan Jackie’s funeral and ended it with the famous Python song (actually it was written by Eric Idle rather than the Pythons but…) “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” the words of which must be out of copyright by now so I’ve pasted them below:

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble give a whistle
This will help things turn out for the best

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life

If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps, don’t be silly, chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing

So, always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life’s a counterfeit and when you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s the joke, it’s true
You see, it’s all a show, keep them laughing as you go
Just remember the last laugh is on you

Always look on the bright side of life
And always look on the right side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
And always look on the right side of life

I remember my mum being scandalised by this song at a funeral though it struck me as particularly appropriate for Jackie’s approach to life and death throughout the time I knew her, and tonight I found the words coming back to me, some with more power than others. “Always look on the bright side of life.” Yes, definitely, only yesterday I was saying to one of our neighbours how I wanted to use the cancer experience (now there’s an idea for a theme park if ever I heard one!) to emerge as someone who experienced and appreciated life more fully, so, yes, very definitely, I should always look on the bright side of life and I will try to do so.

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad” What frightfully British stiff upper lip understatement there is here eh? Yes, some things are like that and I think probably cancer is one of them, it’s certainly more significant than those things which can make you swear and curse!

Always look on the right side of life” An interesting proposition. Is there a left side of life, or a wrong side of life? Oh the joys I could have posing that question to a class of young philosophy students! Clearly there is a right side of life, the way in which life should be approached and lived. It sounds easy put like that doesn’t it, but if it’s so easy why do we have governments waging war on each other to protect petrol prices etc instead of spending the money on improving life and living conditions for those in need, so that they are able to live on the right side of life instead of having to exist in the shadows? Could we even agree on what the right side of life is? Would cultural, religous and age differences (to name but three) make it impossible? Give it a try, talk to three people about what living on the right side of life actually means and let me know how you get on. No, cheating though, no letting people off easily by saying things like “Well it means not killing and stealing doesn’t it.”

If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing” Fake it till you make it is one of my wife’s sayings, but I’m sure I read somewhere that acting happy actually released “happy chemicals” into your bloodstream so that you actually do begin to feel happier. I remember more than a decade ago my life really was at a low ebb (I thought at the time it couldn’t get lower, but then I didn’t have cancer at that time!) and I was advised to keep a journal so that I could track my feelings. Well I tried that and it seemed to work for ever such a long time until I discovered that, even if I’d had a good day, by the time I’d read the previous day’s entry I had begun to feel down and so wrote something not very cheerful. Once I’d realised that I stopped keeping it and began to feel better. Maybe if I’d written down happy lies I’d have felt better much sooner! So each day I need to look on the bright side of life, the right side of life and make sure that I laugh, smile dance and, perhaps not sing as I think that would be unfair on the neighbours!

So, always look on the bright side of death” . So if there’s a right side of life, and I think there is, is there a bright side of death? Wow, let me at that philosophy class now, I’d love to read their answers to that one! Actually I think there probably is a bright side to death. I’m a Buddhist, perhaps not such a good one as I should be, but I do try, so I tend to think of death as simply the continuation of an existence in a different form – a bit like the caterpillar and the butterfly – no I can’t answer what comes after the butterfly lol – and a man whose thinking, ideas and eloquence I, and many others, respect and admire, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book about interbeing in which he said something along the lines of “after I am dead, if you walk across a field and see a flower, smile at it and I will be happy”. Having just written that I’m sure I’m badly misquoting him but the essence is there. So, perhaps I might look on the bright side of death, to view it as a continuation in another way, a “change-day” as one friend called it rather than a “death day”, so that death does not become something to be either feared or longed for, as my mother longed for it when dementia began clawing at her and she didn’t want to live long enough to become “demented and have people laugh at me”. No-one laughed at her and she’s now living a life in which her ability to manipulate reality allows her to join up seemingly disparate and unconnected facts.

Life’s a laugh and death’s the joke, it’s true” Is life a laugh? I don’t really know. Bill Shankly is quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Naturally Shanks got a big laugh from that statement but perhaps, tongue in cheek though it undoubtedly was when he spoke, perhaps there is something of truth in it. Some people do find some things to be more important than life and we’ve surely all laughed at the supporter who says “I’d die for this club”, but maybe the song simply suggests keeping a balance, or perhaps not. I can see that it might be literally true but can’t for the life of me work out how to take that dim idea and turn it into something which will come out of my fingertips and pop up on screen.

And keep them laughing as you go” This, perhaps more than anything else has been a bone of contention between my wife and myself as she thinks my laughter and jokes “I’m fine, nothing wrong with me apart from cancer”, or “Yes, I’m doing fine, I’ll live ’till I die”, somehow indicate that I’m not taking the cancer and my potentially imminent death at all seriously. I am though, I understand the power of cancer, but I also want to fight it and humour has generally been my strongest weapon. It seems to have served me pretty well over the years as I don’t recall having a fight since I was around seven or eight years old. If I were still in touch with Alan he’d possibly remember, but, although we pretended to cut our palms and mix our blood to become blood brothers at a tender age, we’ve each gone our own seperate ways and not met for something over 40 years now.

So there you have it, Python, Jackie and Me with one or two other people thrown in for good measure. This thing I have could kill me, has the power to dominate the lives of people I love and who love me for years to come and yet, somehow, I have to find a way of treating it with respectful light-heartedness so that it doesn’t come to dominate whatever period of life I have left.

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1 Comment

Filed under Cancer, Monty Python

One response to “Monty Python, Jackie and Me

  1. Pingback: Two out three ain’t bad, but three out of three is better! | exiledtyke

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