Sunday, March 18, 2012

Alister Richmond Macdonald, R.I.P. (Dec 22 1932 - Mar 13 2012)

This week has been an extra dose of shitty for me.  Besides Dean's weird illness/situation, I lost a dear and close friend.  Alister wasn't a super healthy guy these past few weeks, so it wasn't a shock, however, to lose someone of that stature in my life.

He was my idol and mentor.

A true figure of what I hoped to aspire to.

This is going to undo an entire week of grieving for me by writing this, but here's hoping it's therapeutic.

On Tuesday at work, during the staff meeting I heard my phone ring.  I had my tablet with me so I sent a chat to Mandy asking if it was her, she said it was and it was nothing important.  When I got back to my office I saw the waiting voicemail on my cell and ignored it, believing it to be my wife.

I then noticed the voicemail on my work line and I check it and it's Mandy.  A coworker starts up a conversation asking about my son and I express my concerns, etc... and then I pick up my cellphone to see who the voicemail could be.

It's from Alister Macdonald the caller ID says... I had just talked to him Saturday night, before we took Dean to the hospital Sunday, where we saw Peter and Carol.  Hopefully he had the surgery then and was home... but already?  As that thought registers is when the other end of the phone and it's Peter saying that they lost Al late last night.

It is like a literal blow to my body as I drop my phone and immediately start being overcome with anxiety/despair/depression... something.  The coworker comes back in and starts to talk and then realizes that I am not alright. She tries to console me, and asks what's the matter and I can't even speak.  I can't get the words out ... she leaves my office, closing my door and I just weep.

I call Mandy and let her know, and she asks if I'm coming home ... I wanted to.  But I can just picture him and his work ethic and thinking that would be right silly of me.

Less than 3 hours later I cave and head home.  Worse, I have a performance to play for and picking up the pipes is harder than ever.  They feel heavy.

My week is not going well, and I have difficulty concentrating at work and being as good a father/husband as I should be.  I try to not let it affect me, but it's hard.  Every little thing I see or hear reminds me in some way of him, and the realization that I can't just call him up to stop by for a visit hits home.  I'll never get to perform for his 'adjudication preparedness' lessons in the basement ever again.

Thursday was surprisingly not as rough as I would have thought.  Everyone just continues on and practices, just as Al would have had us do.  We go through the routine for the Saturday funeral, and the real-ness of it all hits me, and I wonder if I'll do him right by being able to perform to standard, or will grief rock me once again during that rite?

Friday I miss most of the day due to Dean's appointment and get into work for the afternoon.  I soon get a call from Peter saying that they had interred Al's ashes that day and are at the house tipping a drambuie and reminiscing, asking if I would like to join.  I know I have been in the office not even an hour, but I gladly accept.  It was good to see Muriel finally (I had only talked to Pete on occasion up until now).  The talk is light and a few jokes are made, but otherwise it was as though Al was just in the other room, and not really gone.  I'm unable to tell whether that is good for me, or not, but for the family I handle it.

Saturday... I have been dreading this.  Unbelievably so.  I can't say good bye.  Even though he is already 'put away', this is where we say our goodbyes and deliver our respect.  So final, so impossible to fathom.

My role in this will be to lead the band (albeit from behind) as we will march to the front of the church and be visible.  Rory plays Dark Island, and just hearing it was rough.  I know it was hard for him as well.  As he sits down I go to shake his hand and he refuses.  I don't know why, but I'm not offended.

The eulogy was perfect... delivered by Don and Greg which is full of laughs and stories.  When Greg looks back and makes the comment that "as he looks to his son (Rory) and his piping friends he knows that a piece of Al will continue on."  That, albeit poetic, just hurts.  He's really gone.

Eric gives a great poem, and he nearly doesn't make it through... I really would like to find it for you... it was beautiful.  About a piper who loves to play, and eventually closes the box, but passes them on to younger blood etc... just ... I'm not doing it justice.  It's amazing.

Then it's Peter's turn, and you can tell he's nervous.  Not just because he despises public speaking, but you can tell that this has affected him greatly.

He recalls 3 lessons from his dad:  Don't play poker (if you want to keep your money); If you can't have a laugh, you're doing something wrong; and to always give credit where credit is due and give thanks... at whic point he thanks everyone for coming, and the individuals involved and then breaks up as he thanks Al for being a great dad.  Absolutely touching.

The hardest part is now at hand, as Rory and I go to the front and play for the band to form an honour guard for the family.  Sadly we play "Big Don Macdonald", which was written by Al.  We play out the church and continue on with Frank Thompason and Glasgow Week as our band members file out for the honour guard on either side.  Now we play as the family walks past and we have a tough time keeping time or remembering parts, but it wasn't too noticeable.

The odd person here and there in the crowd sparks a memory of Al, or remembering what we heard inside causes another wracking of grief to hit me and we almost stumble.  In fact there is one part that we both screw up so badly that Rory stops and I just fumble to a point and play.  Again, hopefully nobody noticed.  But we know Al did... I think he'd understand.

Now he's at rest.  My mom said to me before I went to the funeral that what we were doing was giving him our last gift, and we do it proudly ... and I don't know if that helped.  That whole finality of it.  But it's done, and I'm trying to put the whole thing behind me; the grief that is.  I need to come to terms with it, and know that he wouldn't want me blubbering about it after it's over.

Thanks to all of you who have helped support me and tolerated my behaviour over the past week.  I can imagine to those of you who stumble onto this site at some point ... don't know who you would be, because I don't think anybody reads this... please excuse the rambling-ness of it all.  We all know I'm not a writer; but this has helped somewhat to overcome my own depression of Al's passing, and in that vein I just wrote without real thought or laid out plan.  Hopefully it's not too unreadable.

My final thoughts... in life, we get the great opportunity to love many people, and hopefully be loved back. Often these connections are bred in the bone and we have no choice on who that connection is with.  Your parents, siblings, other relatives.  You have to love them.  That's not an option (often).  By simple chance you are bound to that person and as such love them.  Then there are the people like Al.  Who I wonder if I'll ever get the chance to meet another like him.  Influential in every sense.  I loved him as I would a father, and more; because he truly earned it.  May whatever I gleaned from him in that time stay with me, and grow and hopefully have the same ability to pass on to others as he did to me... and not just in terms of piping, but of dignity, and respect; responsibility and loyalty.  We are truly lessened with the loss of him.

Obituary from the Chronicle Journal:  March 16, 2012
Alister Richmond Macdonald, R.I.P. (Dec 22 1932 - Mar 13 2012)

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