As a teenager I knew death intimately, circumstances left me trying to comprehend the end of life instead of living it, having experienced three deaths in my family before I turned twenty. The impact of each individual passing was unnerving…so as a kid I dreamt about death. It was hard not to dream those dreams and I never shook off my fear of dying until I started writing regularly.
Reading early stories of mine recently I found death a common thread with grief and humour inseparable partners. While death is an inevitable phenomenon of life, most people struggle to accept it.
But, what if in the near future death took a holiday…and ceased to exist on earth? People are already living longer now, but what would happen if we just kept living on with no end in sight? And if we did live on (in one form or another?) what stage of the cycle of life would you like to stop dying at? And live on from?
I thought this morning on the tram that as an adult I’ve spent years trapped at the childhood stage of life, relying on my imagination to pull me out of life’s little ups and big downs. While a great creative place to work from, if death took a holiday for real, and I was caught in the childhood stage for eternity, before puberty…then let’s be honest, it would kill my sex life…dead.
And if death did take a holiday what would happen to all those unfortunate people suffering from a terrible illness? Would they live on forever in agony?
What if death’s idea of a holiday was as simple as taking a vacation somewhere else…to the seaside resort or a neighbour’s backyard?
Well, my granddad took a holiday somewhere else I remember. When we moved from city to the suburbs, he would often sit outside our house crouched under a large tree in the backyard. Granddad was dead of course. He’d died some years back.
“Son, Granddad is outside today” mum would announce every now and then in the kitchen of our new home.
I would rush to the back door to look see. Sure enough there he was larger than life crouched under the big tree in the backyard looking up at our house.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“Making sure things are okay” mum answered.
It was strange granddad sitting under the tree every other night, we were the only people in the street that had a dead relative in their backyard. Then one day he wasn’t there anymore. He stopped watching us, he stopped caring I thought.
“Where did he go? Granddad?” I enquired.
“He’s gone on holidays” mum said. “Even ghosts need R & R.”
“What’s that? R & R?” I questioned.
“Rest and relaxation” mum answered. “Now tie your school shoes.”
“But, what does it mean though? Granddad disappearing like that?”
“It means we are safe here…for a few years” mum smiled dipping a dirty breakfast plate in soapy water.
Maybe he’s just gone to another yard I thought, but said nothing…a yard in another suburb?
Not long after granddad’s disappearance my father died. They both vanished from my life around the same time. Death took a holiday to somewhere else…and life continued on as normal without granddad and my dad…But, death didn’t leave us alone for very long. A few years later he came back to visit us…tap-tap-tapping on our glass front door wanting to be let in…
But I reckon that’s another story. Eventually mum cut down that big tree that granddad sat under. But, when I close my eyes at night I can still see it.
In my 20’s whenever I was invited to a backyard BBQ I would think of granddad and that tree. I’d wonder whose backyard he was crouching in now? And, what suburb? Newtown? Bondi? Or maybe yours?
Mum believed granddad crouched under the backyard tree to keep us safe…over time I stopped believing her. I think granddad sat crouched waiting to take my father away, he knew dad’s time was almost up so he made himself comfortable and waited. He wanted to lead dad to a happier place…a resting place, a silent place…and he didn’t want him getting lost along the way.
Death Takes A Holiday by Noel Anderson is part of the True Life Series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Noel Anderson has directed many theatrical productions, written well into the night when in pain, worked with a helluva lot of people and had the odd breakdown or two. Noel’s written work includes Germ Warfare, The Carer, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes Of Fame and the new Australian musical Audrey Hepburn And I Consider Our Assets which premiered at the Melba Spiegeltent on 29th October 2015. You can also follow Noel on Twitter: @Randyandy42