I didn’t know Janice, nor her son Gary junior, nor her daughter Linzi, or grandson Jack, so it can seem a bit silly that I attended her funeral. But I do know her husband Gary. I shook his hand in O’Donnell’s pub afterwards and offered the usual platitude, ‘that at least there’d been a lot of folk there’. The kind of no consolation, but a consolation prize of a gazoo. I was there because I like Gary and always have. I got to know him quite well, when he was player/manager of DCR and changed his style of play to become more of a no-nonsense defender, rather than the midfielder he thought he was, by growing a moustache. I guess he was one of those lucky guys because he lived directly above the Horse and Barge we went back to after our Saturday-morning stroll. Probably the last time I saw him before the funeral was about a year ago in Chandler’s watching the Celtic game. Celtic is our common religion.
Father Martin did mention at Janice’s Requiem Mass that if there was a purgatory that she’s already done her time. There was a collection for Alzheimer’s after the mass. That’s the disease my mum had and it’s a bit like being visited by a twenty-foot crocodile, it’s not going to end well and is going to leave scarring. Writing doesn’t help. Drinking does but I’m sure as Gary will find out only one of these is bad for your liver and grief must find a voice. Janice was, of course, a lot younger than my mum. And she has one of these rare variants of the disease that she also suffered from Parkinson’s. That’s another crocodile in the room. There’s over a million people in the UK acting as unpaid carers. Gary was one of the few and one of the heroic many. But if you are going to talk about God and love you’ve got to talk about the burden he carried. When my mum died I was relieved and delighted that the crocodile that dragged her under had finally let go. Perhaps Gary will feel the same.
I didn’t know any of this until a few weeks ago. Gary had posted on Facebook about Janice saying that ‘she loved him’ and she had corticobasal degeneration. I googled the latter and got in touch with my brother Bod and asked him, what’s this about Gary’s wife Janice? Then I spoke to Rab and Mags Wylie. They knew them back in the days when wearing the right kind of tartan in your Bay City Roller jumper was the height of fashion and the Saturday night disco in St Stephen’s church hall was the place to be. The Hub disco was OK and at pinch the Tenants Hall could make do, but it’s like fitba, Catholics are just better at that kind of thing. Gary and Janice were children when they met. Gary junior, made us laugh with his speech from the pulpit, made out his dad was some kind of stalker, with garish headlines of ‘you stole my burd’ from his best friend, when his dad got together with Janice for the first time. Then you realise they were thirteen. And when you get older you realise they were children when they married aged twenty. They were children when they had their son Gary and children when they had their daughter Linzi. Time gets quicker as you get older and we all become suddenly old, but not wiser.
Thirty years later Janice starts to show the symptoms that will stalk and kill her. Gary, husband and father, also becomes her carer. Thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. They did it the old-fashioned way. Together in health and sickness. When you talk about love, look at your neighbour, look to the way Gary and Janice McLaren did it. Death catches us too soon and unaware, but you know what they say about love. RIP.