Isaac died two years ago today. In normal terms two years would seem like a long time but under these circumstances it doesn't feel like very long at all. Part of me still thinks he might come in through the front door at some point, dropped off by his college bus after a week away. I can recall the last few days at home and then in Wythenshawe hospital so clearly and vividly that it could have happened yesterday and it doesn't take much for me to be back in the room in the hospital with him, those days and hours that led up to him leaving us, at 1.45pm on Tuesday 30th November 2023. Or standing in the car park on the phone to my parents. Or the walk I took behind the trolley with the two porters through the hospital corridors to leave him at the mortuary. Or arriving back at home in the dark without him, the three of us suddenly in a new world we didn't ask for. I don't think about these things that often but I have done this week in those moments where I haven't been distracted by something else, driving to and from work especially. I'll be glad when today is over I think, another anniversary navigated and survived. The anniversary of his death and his birthday exactly a week earlier are paired in away which is really difficult. Last week we took him some goodies for his birthday. Today we'll go to the cemetery and take him some flowers and try to remember him as he was.
Nick Cave writes about grief a lot. At his Red Hand Files he encourages people to write in to him and he'll reply, unfiltered. A lot of people write to him about their own grief or his and he replies eloquently and with experience and wisdom. A lot of it rings true with me. On Carnage, the album he made with Warren Ellis in 2021, an album I bought while in a record shop in Manchester in the hazy, unimaginable weeks after Isaac died, there's a song called Lavender Fields. Carnage has many great, explosive, funny, horrific and image laden songs, songs about white elephants, Black Lives Matter, Botticelli Venuses with penises and the hand of God. Lavender Fields is none of these things.
On Lavender Fields Nick sings of being 'appallingly alone on a singular road', walking through the lavender fields and how the flowers stain his skin. He describes the world as furious and how he is over it (the world). The line, 'Sometimes I hear my name, oh where did you go?', I assume is about his son Arthur, who died in 2015 (and the whole song is I think, although Nick said at Red Hand Files that the song is about change, about 'moving from one state to another'). Warren Ellis' music is simple and stately, rising and falling organ/ synth/ strings, church music. It becomes elegiac and choral, the backing vocals swelling as the synths ascend and then fades out slowly.
'Sometimes I see a pale bird wheeling/ In the sky/ But that is just a feeling/ A feeling when you die'.
Nick then shifts up again, emotionally and spiritually, the song transporting him (and us- well me anyway)...
'We don't ask who/ And we don't ask why/ There is a kingdom in the sky'
At Red Hand Files recently he was asked about writing about grief through music. This is a part of his reply...
When I started to write Ghosteen, my intention wasn’t to write a record about the death of my son, but as I scribbled away, Arthur inserted himself into the process. He became the ruling force, perched there at the end of every song to exert his sovereignty. He showed me how to write the record and I simply had no choice in the matter.
Nowadays, when I sit down and begin to write, I feel the dead, all the dead, ferrying the words forward. They are not necessarily the subject of the songs, rather they are the spiritual energy that runs through them. The dead are always with us, holding us in their sway. We, the living, are the exuberant and temporary anima of their departure. As songwriters we scratch away, writing ourselves into existence in order to enliven the spirits of those who have passed on.
I can't articulate or explain exactly what Nick means here but I get it. It reminds me of the poem we had read at the graveside, The Dead by Billy Collins.