Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sometimes I fall apart inside

I am a positive person by nature and an eternal optimist. I see the good in people. I see the good in situations. When something isn’t quite right I try to see the bright side, there is always a bright side. Except when there isn’t.

My step-father passed away from cancer 2 years ago, on Father's Day would you believe it. I got a call first thing in the morning not long after I had woken up to say my lovely friend Spuke (that’s my nickname for him) had lost his battle. I should not have been surprised since he had been unwell for way too long. I can’t even tell you how many years as somehow I had managed to pretend he wasn’t unwell. I am guessing maybe four or five or six years. But I am guessing.

I first met my step-dad in my late teens. He was a charmer. He was kind and polite, intelligent, worldly, street smart. This guy could entertain a crowd like no other. He loved to wine and dine. Right up until he passed away we dined out together every few months. I guess he is the reason I started to enjoy dining out and enjoying a good meal with great company. He opened up the world of good food and dining out to me. We could sit at the table enjoying a meal for hours and hours, just talking about anything. He was also a keen punter so we wound up in the casino until the wee hours many a night. One night we were sitting at a blackjack table (he was winning; he was so tinny – another nickname for him over the years was ‘Win’) and a pit boss that I knew (I had worked in the casino industry for 10 years) came up and asked if we would like a tour of the Pearl Room, the newly refurbished VIP room at Burswood Casino. I turned to Spuke to ask him and his little face was lit up like a kid at Christmas. He couldn’t have moved off his chair any faster. During our very extensive tour of the Pearl Room the look on his face was priceless. People I used to work with, and even punters, were waving at me and saying hello, and he told me later that he ‘felt like he was famous’ with all the attention and the guided tour. After we left and I drove home I cried. I always cried when I left him. But I was rapt inside that he was happy about feeling famous. He was lovely like that; the smallest things could make him smile.

When I was in my 20s and I lived at home on and off in between travelling, Spuke and I got along famously. We never, ever argued or disagreed on anything. My memory of him is of a man who enjoyed life to the full and his relationships with those around him were jovial. I never heard him speak a bad word about anyone and he wasn’t judgmental in any way. Looking back I don’t think I was ever annoyed or bothered by him during those years. He was an absolute treat to be around.

The years after I no longer lived at home our friendship continued with our regular dinners. He never missed a birthday and he always kept in touch with a text or a phone call to say hi. After he was first diagnosed he invited me out to dinner and told me the news. Naturally I was devastated but he was so confident and upbeat I didn’t doubt he would beat the cancer. He did. He went through surgery and rigorous chemotherapy but he got through it. Then it re-appeared, he rid of it, it re-appeared, and by then I lost count and I honestly could not tell you if it was 3 or 4 or 5 times that the dreaded cancer returned. I am sure if I thought hard enough I could count, but I don’t want to. I just recall when he would tell me he was in the clear I could feel my insides jump for joy. The pain when he would break the inevitable news at other times was palpable.

The last time we went out for a meal I noticed he was starting to lose his independence. He was walking slightly behind me and would grab my arm through the crowd. His former self would be front and centre, standing tall, confidently. Now he had lost some of his vision due to the removal of a brain tumor and clearly he was having trouble seeing too far ahead of him. I think the crowd disorientated him. That night is clearly etched in my memory, that was the very moment I realised I was losing Spuke.

Not long after our last dinner he wound up in hospital after a bad fall that had left him with two broken legs. I went to see him. I really wanted to let him know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. This former shadow of an outgoing, sociable man was not the Spuke I knew. He was terribly sad that he would be bedridden for weeks while his legs healed and he barely spoke or even looked at me. I sat there silent, wishing for a miracle to carry him back to kicking his heels up, wine glass in hand, smile spread across his face. For an active man who worked up until his last few months and was fiercely independent, bedridden was not ideal. I left his room and cried in the lift, in my car, in bed.

A few weeks after my hospital visit he was transferred to a hospital directly across the road from my office. His close friend called me to let me know I should go see him. It was an instruction from Spuke. I went to visit him a couple of times. I wish I went every single day. I found it terribly difficult to see him so unwell but why didn’t I go daily? Here was a man losing his battle with cancer. He was going to die, I cannot imagine the fear in his mind, and yet I could not bring myself to visit him daily. I regret that. I wish I had been out for dinner with him every weekend when he was still well. I wish I had invited him around more. I wish I had offered to help look after him when he was at home recovering. I wish I had done a lot of things. By this stage he could barely speak due to damage to his vocal chords, I think. I can’t even remember the details, there were too many wretched details. I finally summoned up the courage to let him know how much he meant to me. Sadly I bawled as I was telling him. In between hysterical sobs I said my goodbye after telling him he was like my own father to me and I had always loved him. The words seemed worthless, he could never know how much he meant to me by words. There are no words.

Not long after my hospital visit Spuke passed away. I attended his funeral and had to watch his son, who was diagnosed before Spuke so many years prior, get out of his wheelchair to say his goodbye to his Dad. Again I am thinking about his fear. It tears me up inside and I don’t even know the guy. I heard Spuke’s son didn’t make it to Christmas. No bright side.

I am grateful I had the extreme pleasure of knowing such a man. I remember once he was speaking to my Mum about his illness and she jokingly told him he wasn’t going anywhere, “only the good die young” she said. Spuke loved that. He loved that he was known and would be remembered as quite the little scoundrel. He had that boyish, cheeky charm right up until he was bedridden that last time.

One day I was driving to work and without realising I was thinking about how much I missed him. A hearse was travelling next to me on the freeway and I had to pull over to console myself. It dawns on me at the strangest moments that he is gone.

God I miss him.


  1. My heart is pounding, & I have tears in my eyes.

    I just don't understand why the best of people are picked for this cursed disease.

    One day, I hope cancer is a thing of the past that future generations can't believe it plagued ours.

    R.I.P spuke. I don't know you. But that wonderful step daughter of yours has done a marvelous job at making all of us fall in love with your beautiful spirit.

  2. Oh Peggy, I'm crying with you. You did so well to write this. And what a beautiful reflection of an incredible man.His eyes sparkle in those photographs.
    Love Teresa xo

  3. What an amazing post, Peggy. I am so sorry for you that you are without such an amazing person in your life. But honestly I'm a little jealous you had him in the first place, and for so long. I've never in my whole life had someone like this, let alone someone with a notoriously difficult position in a family's life, but making it a positive experience. Don't beat yourself up for what you didn't do while he was alive, you can't. You could only do what you were capable of, and I'll bet any money he doesn't resent you for only doing what you could. Death is rarely easy, and I hate that you still feel so much pain. I hope that by sharing your story, you'll find some peace. Much love xo

  4. you poor bastard, Spuke. My tears are blurring my typing.

    What a beautiful post for someone you loved, never to be forgotten.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to someone who was obviously a wonderful influence in your life - and is now a treasured reminder to live life to the full - with minimum regret.
    Thank you.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to old Spuke, thank you Pegs. He was a remarkable man. He had the most gorgeous laugh and beautiful smiling eyes. He was full of life and he certainly lived it to the fullest. I was just remembering the times we went to Melbourne Cup...did we have fun...many bottles of wine and lots of laughter. Bless his soul xx Memories live on for ever.

  7. Oh Peggy, I continue to be horrified by the number of wonderful people who fall victim to that cruel and useless disease. It takes too many good, honest, decent human beings. As tragic as this post is, it's also a beautiful acknowledgment of a man who obviously changed your life in many great ways. Hugs xo

  8. Big hugs - am teary now too as I remember my own father who died when I was young. I am sure he knew how much you loved him and understood that it was hard for you in the end...

    what a lovely tribute!

  9. (((HUGE HUGS))) to you lovely and I am sure Spuke is very proud of you. He sounds like he was one of lifes true gentlemen. xxx


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