Last night I watched one of my favorite bands retire. It was quite an event. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation cut their coverage of the Olympics to show the concert held in Kingston Ontario. I’d say that’s a pretty big deal! Tonight we Canadians collectively came together in our Cities, Towns, and homes to watch one last show, to sing, to dance, to cry and to mourn.
When I first learned Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip was diagnosed with a terminal glioblastoma I was heart broken. I knew what was ahead for him, his family and his friends. I knew the long days at the hospital, I knew the poking and prodding, and I knew the anguish of the words terminal cancer, because I too have been there. Ironically at the very same hospital.
Seven years ago, I sat in the same chemo ward to receive my treatment, and I listened to Gord and The Hip to get me through the long days spent hooked up to an IV. I let their words and sounds wash over me and transport me to another place. To small town Ontario or a coudoroy road in central Canada, I let Gord tell me stories. I wonder, does someone do that for Gord?
I had been a fan long before The Hip got me through cancer. I loved them because they made me feel incredibly Canadian and proud to be so. I have even been fortunate to see them live. So I was crestfallen when tickets to their final shows had sold out in minutes. The truth is, I don’t think I would have lasted through a two-hour show, so my couch is the ideal place to say goodbye. I’m not very good at crying in public.
It is truly remarkable that the band are touring. It was a sight to see Gord perform a 3 hr. concert when some days I can’t even walk down the stairs. Mind you I have been doing this dance for 7 years and my feet are tired. Although more subdued than I have seen before, he was pretty on point, I don’ t know how he is doing it! I don’t know how he is holding it together. But then it happened, the scream. The scream we heard across the country, the scream every cancer patient has had, the scream where all the emotion just pours out of us.
Most of us scream in private, he did it publically very, very publically and it was beautiful and heartbreaking. I felt it through the TV and I cried. This primal expression of sheer emotion pierced my heart and I remembered that I was dying too. I have been dying for a very long time thanks to breakthroughs in research in the area of lung cancer. Those breakthroughs can’t happen without money, sadly lung cancer funding is sorely lacking, so is funding for brain cancers.
Through his diagnosis and this tour, Gord has become a one-man awareness machine and is raising a boatload of money for brain cancer research. His death will likely save many lives through the funds raised. Most individuals would focus on themselves in situations like this, I did, and many I know did. You can’t help it. Gord Downie didn’t. He did the exact opposite. He created a fund, wrote and recorded an album, and then toured across Canada to say goodbye to fans in what is the most epic living wake possible, culminating in tonight’s show.
I want to go out like him, with skill and determination and grace too.