Life is too short

Aubrey Reginald Whent

7 August 1925 – 27th October 2012

The last month or so hasn’t been easy for me – but it’s funny how fate manages to use the difficult times to give you a kick up the backside and to remind you that life is too short for dithering. It’s happened to me a couple of times.

The first time was in 2007. Cate and I were agonising over a house move. We lived in a lovely house in the middle of our Hampshire village but a property came up for sale on the edge of the village with some land. It was just what we wanted except that the tiny bungalow on the property was too small for a family. We would have to rebuild it which was going to be financially risky for us.

In the middle of 2007 we received the devastating news that Cate’s sister Jo had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly our worries seemed trivial and thoughts of our move were put to one side as the family rallied round Jo.

Jo is a single mother and so we decided that after her gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, she should come and stay with us so that she had some support. It was on one of those visits that our lives changed.

I was woken one night by a commotion in the house – it was 3.00am. Jo had reacted very badly to the latest treatment and was being violently sick. We were so worried that we called the doctor out in the middle of the night. Thankfully he was able to give Jo some drugs that stabilised her.

I went out the next morning to walk our dog with thoughts of the previous night’s events in my mind. I couldn’t get the image out of my head of Jo standing alone in a strange house in the middle of the night, uncontrollably ill, looking at herself in the bedroom mirror, wondering if she would still be alive this time next year to watch her young children grow up. Even writing those words four years later I still get emotional.

The image shook me and still does. In that moment I was reminded that life is too short to dither and in that moment I decided that we should follow our dream and make the move – take the risk. Cate agreed wholeheartedly.

The story has a happy ending. Jo’s treatment was successful and four years later she is in remission. We made the move in 2008 and in June of this year we finally moved into our new house. We are surrounded by hens, sheep, horses, pigs and another dog – the move has changed our lives.

So what has this got to do with triathlon? Well indirectly quite a lot, but only after I experienced another watershed moment in my life recently.

Fast forward to 27th October 2012. I am standing at the foot of a bed in a nursing home – it’s my Father, Aubrey’s bed and standing with me is my Mother. My 87-year old Father has been suffering from senile dementia for several years. His condition had worsened earlier in the week after he suffered another stroke. Today, in the early hours of the morning my Mother had received a call telling her that the situation was now acute and she should come immediately.

As we sat there keeping a vigil we exchanged stories about my Father. How positive he always was, how his wonderful sense of humour brightened people’s lives and how generous he was. As we watched him he looked completely at peace.

My Father died at 11.39am on that Saturday morning, surrounded by his family.

The death of your Father is a defining moment in your life. It’s naturally a time to reflect and like it or not it is a sharp reminder of your own mortality. The message once again was clear – life’s too short to dither.

I was privileged to be able to deliver the eulogy at my Father’s Memorial Service. It was one of easiest speeches to write and the hardest to deliver. The church was packed – standing room only with all of his grandchildren sitting on the floor at the front. Telling this full house about my wonderful father was hugely emotional. But recounting his long, happy and fulfilled life just reinforced to me that life only gets lived if you get on and live it.

Besides many of the weightier issues in my life that I have reflected on since my Father died, I have also managed to gain some perspective and put some focus on a challenge that has been on my mind. I have been agonising for about a year over doing an ironman triathlon. I am now 53 and although I think I am in reasonable shape, I have genuine concerns about my ability to complete a full ironman. A 2.1 mile swim, 112 mile bike-ride and a marathon run one after the other is a tall order by anyone’s standards. But for some reason I am drawn to it.

My Father was an incredibly positive man. He was also a great supporter of the underdog. He was a great believer that it didn’t matter if you failed as long as you failed trying. The worst sin was not to have tried at all.

So I am going to give it a try. I am going to take on The Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 in October 2013 – a half ironman and a stepping stone which will give me a clear indication if a full ironman is possible. And I know that my Father will be there on my shoulder every step of the way spurring me on as he has done all of my life.

But I remain realistic, the ironman 70.3 may not be possible – I may fail –  but at least I won’t fail because I didn’t try. I may register a “Did not Finish” on the day. But as long as I am my Father’s son, I won’t register a “Did not Start”

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4 responses to “Life is too short

  1. This was such a wonderful post. Congratulations on deciding to do an Ironman in 2013. I recently had a running friend pass away and it had a similar effect of opening my eyes to my own mortality. Life is suddenly flying by at an accelerated pace, and I still have so much I want to do! In a way, though, these deaths are gifts to us in that they clear away some of the clouds and force us to see what is important in life, and what isn’t.

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    • I am sorry to hear about your friend Angela. You have hit the nail on the head in your reply. Sometimes we just need something to give us some perspective and to help us see what is really important. My Father did that when he was alive so it is fitting that his death should help me in that way.

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  2. You’ll do it no probs do the distance near enough in a day just to test this is the best advice I’ve been given good luck see you there!

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