Death and all his Friends

“Those who are dead, are not dead. They’re just living in my head”. Coldplay

Death's Head Tombstone from Plymouth cemetery, Massachusetts

I was the first in to work a couple of  Wednesdays ago. I crossed the library parking lot and let myself in. A few minutes later my circulation supervisor was in and asked if I saw the car parked in the lot. I told her I didn’t notice anything and was there something wrong. She said there was someone sleeping in the front seat. I asked if she was sure he was sleeping. Maybe he was DEAD. “Oh God, I never thought of that!” she said. “So now sleeping doesn’t seem so bad” I said. As I made that flippant comment, I couldn’t know that I would be visited by death two more times before the day would be done.

Mid-morning I had a call from my children’s programmer who told me that her father died.

In Amritsar, India.

Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

I told her how sorry I was. I didn’t ask any details, although I don’t think he was in poor health or anything. Understandably she wanted to go back for the funeral. Sounded to me like she wanted to go for about 3 weeks. I guess you wouldn’t want to go for less than that if you were going so far. Where I work, you’re granted 4 days bereavement leave for immediate family. She also has five vacation days that she can borrow from next year. The rest of the time would have to be covered by a Leave of Absence, pending approval. As I was trying to figure out the paperwork for her, and realizing that I would need to cover her four weekly children’s programs that were starting the following week, I received an email.

More sad news.

Alanna, who had worked with my wife at another library in the city, and who had been battling cancer on three separate occasions over the last 8 years, finally lost her brave fight Sunday night. I called my wife immediately when I heard this. She had no idea. She hadn’t worked with her since before our daughter was born, two years ago, but my wife had always talked about how great she was, and even though she only knew her for a short time, she instantly liked her. After getting this upsetting news, my wife phoned a few of her former co-workers to see about the funeral, etc. One of her co-workers told my wife “Just put on 92 Citi FM”. She was too upset to say any more.

For the first time in about 3 years, my wife turned the dial away from CBC FM to 92 and she discovered a wonderful thing. Alanna’s husband is a local DJ in town. He has been on the airwaves for probably close to 20 years, and his station was dedicating 24 hours to “Songs for Alanna”. This is how it worked: You make a minimum $50 donation to  CancerCare Manitoba, and you get to request a song. Any song. 92, normally a classic/hard rock format, for 24 hours would play anything you want in honour of Alanna’s memory. In the course of an hour, I heard U2, CCR, Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, AC/DC. Most of the people knew Alanna in some way and each song held a special meaning for either Alanna or to the person requesting. Some people didn’t know Alanna at all, but were making donations in memory of other loved ones. You could also buy a t-shirt in memory of Alanna at the radio-station or at any Mark’s Work Wearhouse in the city. “Eff you, Cancer” was the slogan on the front. My wife made a donation and requested “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. She chose this one, because it was the first concert that we went to after our daughter was born. We actually had tickets to the show before we knew we had been selected for adoption. While most couples have about 9 months to get their heads around decorating the baby room and figuring out finances, not to mention all the emotional issues and stress, we had about 3 and a half weeks!

It was a special concert for other reasons too. Coldplay had originally planned to come through Western Canada the year before, but scheduling conflicts meant they had to drop about 4 cities, including ours. At the time they promised they would be back, but how often can you believe something like that? Well, Coldplay was good to their word, and there they were for the first time in Winnipeg, with the excellent support of Snow Patrol. The full name of  Coldplay’s most recent album was “Viva la Vida, or Death and all his friends”. Alanna was also at this concert. Her cancer was in remission at this time, and was a big fan of the band.

Chris Martin of Coldplay with Butterflies during "Lovers in Japan"

For us, we were celebrating the wonderfully improbable fact that we were new parents. Alanna was celebrating the fact that she was well enough to really enjoy a night out with her husband and friends. The next day, my Mom called to say that Alanna had something for us. (My Mom also works in the library. Don’t get me started.) She came by with a cute little bib for our daughter. It was in the Coldplay colours and simply said “Viva”. “I couldn’t pass it up when I saw it,” she said. “I was thinking of your sweet daughter”. Although Alanna never did have any children of her own, I know she was a wonderful and fun aunt and brought joy to many people. The fact that she thought of my wife and daughter too just shows what kind of person she was.

Viva la Vida. Long live life.

http://www.cancercare.mb.ca/

New life.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Death and all his Friends

  1. Joanna

    My good friend Samantha told me a very heartwarming story about Coldplay (and gwenyth) that I always like to share. Sam’s family friend had a child with an incredibly rare disease. He died when still a baby, just over one year old, I believe. The baby, Porter, was hospitalized for most of his life, and his mom would sing him a coldplay song to help him sleep. Porter’s mom wrote to coldplay to let them know how much their music meant to her, and gwenyth wrote back. They exchanged several emails talking about Porter. Months later when coldplay was in Winnipeg, they dedicated a song to Porter, the song his mom would sing him to sleep.
    As much as I may not care for the band, I love sharing that beautiful story. It warms my cold heart! 🙂

    • That’s a great story! The concert for me was just a beautiful, joy-filled couple of hours. The crowd was really responsive and the band seemed to be having a good time too. We had great seats too, which always helps.

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