As Told By John (also known as Woodsy)

Mum died just over ten years ago. Dad died just last year.  This was written after dad’s funeral, trying to express something about two very different relationships…

– John (also known as Woodsy)
The Gentle Place
Not writing this for closure… or self justification.  Not even sure I should be writing it at all.
But it is what I do.
The week of my dad’s funeral – what can I say about this?
As those close to me will know, my relationship with dad was an emotionally difficult one and a source of deep angst.
Most who have spoken to me since his death have spoken of the storyteller, the genial host, the joker.  It’s been a weird time, with much to process.
I am realising, however, that it was something of a privilege to have seen some of the darkness in him.  It came from a difficult life, marked by a couple of early tragedies from which his soul struggled to recover.
I guess we all carry our share of darkness on the way, and we all seek out places of hope to hold us together when it appears.
Dad found the Scottish mountains… photography… the companionship of dogs…  the love of my mother, which he held on to for over 60 years of marriage.
In these difficult times, when the world feels harsh and scary and distant to so many, I reckon there is a real value in being able to stand with people in their darkness.
Maybe there’s a precious measure of a redemption in that. I’m hoping so.
Redemption comes in odd ways.  As close as I was to my mother, as deeply as I needed her soul around mine, there were times when the sheer unfiltered depth of our connection looked nothing like love.
I remember the argument we had not long before she died.  I was home caring for her, the situation in the house was fraught with frustrations and difficult dynamics,  and one day I just lost it.
A while afterwards,  I remember saying how desperately sorry I was.   She knew my situation was frustrating –
and she often said as much –
but the way I had spoken to her went so far beyond frustration.  I’d been mean and spiteful… and not for the first time.
“I think,” I said, “I am becoming a very nasty person.”
I knew she would try to disillusion me of this.  I knew she’d be kind.  But I didn’t expect her to reply how she did.
She looked at me for a moment, took in the thought, and simply said:  “You are one of the gentlest men on the planet.”
Nah. No way. Not me.  I was way too jagged inside. I couldn’t see the person she saw. There are still plenty of times when I find it difficult, to say the least.
Within about a week of saying these words, mum had a stroke, and she was in hospital for a month before she died.  The visits were incredibly dispiriting.  Watching the nursing staff on the stroke ward clean around her, accustomed as they were to dealing with people who’d lost the ability to talk… to eat…
well, hell…
I wanted somehow to let them know who this woman really was, to give them a glimpse of the person I saw.  So I brought in a piece I had written about her and left it by her bedside:
I saw a miracle tonight,
shining out through tired eyes
and a smile
that could still discover distant stars.
I saw a miracle tonight,
spellbound by own her fragile magic
into a world
that starts and ends in an armchair.
Every now and then,
she’d squeeze my fingers,
just to remind me
that holding my hand
would always be the fastest way to freedom.
I watched waves
and stars
and thunderclouds
roll in
across her shoreline…
but the miracles always land on her fingertips.
When I went to my first open mic night, six months after she died, this was the piece I performed, and it remains a favourite.  It’s evolved a little on the journey, but not much – and though I love the extra resonances in the new version, it’s still the original that I know by heart.
Now, ten years after mum, it’s dad’s turn.
There are so many things I could say, little stories I could tell, to explain things I did or did not do, to explain why things with dad went so differently.  But none of those stories would explain anything.  They’d just be the echoes of symptoms of things that I can’t just sweep into a dustpan and tidy up.
They’d be the echoes of things that simply are what they are.  I owe no explanations for my jagged places – certainly not to people who have just found a self-righteous homily on social media, or who think they can see my situation from the other side of the abyss.
What I owe, right now, is a walk.  I owe it to the person standing at the end of this story to walk myself back to that place I lost in myself.
I guess I owe that to dad, too, however fudged and incomplete it feels.  Most of our rituals are – just like our lives.
This piece, written for me to read graveside at the funeral, was one of the many surprises I encountered in the weeks after dad’s passing:
I remember you,
teaching me how to take pictures.
I remember you,
teaching me how to fake confidence.
I remember you,
made in a world that seemed so far away,
trying to find much the same things to say –
and I remember the mountains,
mottled and rainswept,
holding us free on the edge of the sky.
I remember the things
we chatted about –
I remember the things I struggled to see,
back when such things
were all new to me,
and you were the hands who had climbed there before –
and I remember the mountains,
mottled and rainswept,
holding us free on the edge of the sky.
I remember the times when you stood like a giant.
I remember the songs where you curled up and cried.
I remember you showing me ruins and waterfalls,
building the lakes out of rainfall and aperture,
focus, exposure
and other such words
framing the world in the rule of thirds –
and I remember the mountains,
mottled and rainswept,
holding us free on the edge of the sky.
I remember you now.
I remember you there –
out on your mountains,
stood in a picture that shifts in the rain,
holding us free on the edge of the sky.
Safe journey, dad.  I’m sorry for so many things.  Once upon a time, I’d have fought my corner, hit back with all my reasons for having to pull away.
But mum was right.  Sooner or later, I have to find my way back to that gentle place.  It’s scary and it’s  vulnerable and it can die a billion times between each victory…
but if I find myself standing there when the victories come, then it’s worth it.
Or so I tell myself.
Thank you so much John, for offering us so much vulnerability. Your words are haunting and so spectacular.
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Photo by Evee

20 thoughts on “As Told By John (also known as Woodsy)

  1. Tears are streaming down my face from these beautiful words from John (Woodsy). It expresses many feelings that I didn’t know how to put in words; so thank you. ❤

    1. I’ll be honest, I have looked t it couple of times nd wondered whether I was really just telling myself sonething I wanted or needed to hear.
      The doubt can run deep, especially with the world the way it is right now.

      But funnily enough, that’s where a kind of family comes in. Family, for me, is the people who stand by me when I didn’t think anyone would, and often surprise me with what they see in me.

      Thee are the priceless touches we live for.

      Thank you for your comments… for sharing your thoughts from a raw place.

      1. Yes, I totally agree.
        Family can be chosen or born into, but the type of love is the same.
        Cannot thank you enough for sharing this with us. It means the world to us that you trusted us with your words 🤍 sending you a lot of love.

      2. You’re welcome. I love your thoughtful response. I understand what you are saying. Family is often, indeed, those that stick by no matter what. Bless you!

  2. My thoughts, it always seems so difficult to watch the positions change. When the one who had always been strong and take care of us, is the one needing care. When personalities clash and crash but then the loss is still so very real and so very painful. This is an incredibly beautiful piece, that I hope brings peace.

  3. Moving and deep.. i loved this.. the complexity that confronts us when a difficult parent dies is enormous.. I grieved my living parent.. my Mum for many years before she actually passed in 2017.. there was anger when I confronted my childhood neglect during breast cancer surgery and treatment in 2016… so I understand the host of difficult and complex feelings..Its so important to have forums like this were the words can pour out the feelings.thank you for providing that for all of us who grieve.. <3.

  4. Much love to you and a big warm hug to you John .I can relate to you on so many levels though the stories of loss are different .Losing both parents is a strange feeling .

  5. I feel you. Reminds me of my mother’s passing. I had such ragged edges inside because of our complicated relationship. At her eulogy all I wanted to do was spill my truth, yet when I looked closer there was so much there besides pain.

  6. What a powerful piece about the relationships between mothers and son and fathers and sons and their vast differences. My Dad went first…twenty years ago now. As I care for my mom in her twilight I am finding such a difference between these two relationships. It’s not all father-son/ mother-son stuff some of it is young me facing death for really the first time and middle-aged me bracing to face it again with my remaining parent me.

  7. The emotions behind your words were so strong that they left me overwhelmed. Your pain makes me think of how small instances make me cry and you are handling so much more than me. Thankyou for sharing your distress. I hope sharing your thoughts and feelings helped you.

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