It’s Such An Unpleasant Word, Isn’t It?
“Goodbye,” Mort said, and was surprised to find a lump in his throat. “It’s such an unpleasant word, isn’t it?”
QUITE SO. Death grinned because, as has so often been remarked, he didn’t have much option. But possibly he meant it, this time.I PREFER AU REVOIR, he said.
—MORT BY TERRY PRATCHETT
Au Revoir, Mr. Pratchett.
Today, like so many others, I learned that Terry Pratchett passed away.
It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you know and love. Though I didn’t know him personally (beyond one small moment in Dublin) I’m finding it hard to say farewell to this particular author. I could talk about what remarkable achievements he’s done, but why do that when the internet can do it for me? I don’t know him as a person, as I said (but many did and have written about him. You should definitely read Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on his friend) but I did have the pleasure of seeing him in person, once.
I’m of a firm belief that to focus on the grief of losing someone is to do them a disservice. To me, the best way you can remember someone is to talk about them. Tell stories about them and how they impacted you. I think that’s a particularly fitting way to pay tribute to a story teller like Terry Pratchett.
The first time I fell in love with a Terry Pratchett story, I had no idea who he was or what the Discworld series was. It was Christmas Eve, sometime in the late 90’s. Not sure when. TVO was airing Soul Music and the moment I saw it, I was hooked. Sadly, I never got to see how it ended because “I want to see what happens to Death and Susan!” was apparently not a valid excuse for staying home from Midnight Mass. I was furious and I can remember it as the first time a story gripped me enough to be heartbroken and angry when I was prevented from getting to the end of it.
I wouldn’t discover Discworld again until university, when we were made to read Wee Free Men for a Children’s Lit Class. I fell in love with that story, too. It would later become my favourite of the Discworld series, if only because it’s the one that brought me back to a world I didn’t know I was missing out on.
In 2012, I had the benefit of seeing Terry Prachett in person. My romantic interest at the time, a bigger Discworld fan than I was, got us tickets to see Terry Prachett and the co-authors of the Science of Discworld series. It was great to hear them talk about the science or not-science of things and answer questions, but what I remember most was watching Terry himself. He didn’t talk a lot and at the time, I wasn’t sure if that was his personality or if it was the dementia I knew he was combating, but when he did speak- it was with purpose. Nothing he said that night was a throw-away line, everything said was cleverly considered and delivered with perfection.
After the talk, we wandered up to the front. In part because if he would sign our books, that would be great, but in part because I’d done a couple small drawings I wanted to give him. Knowing ahead of time that I’d be going to this and trying to get myself to be a little more creative, I had drawn a couple small cartoons. I’m not an overly skilled artist but I wanted to give something to the author of the stories that had given me so much joy. I just wanted to give some token that said “I have invested time into this simply because I want to convey how much your work means to me.”
In a thin paper bag leftover from some cards I’d bought to send home, I handed the drawings to Mr. Prachett and said:
“I just wanted to give you something to say ‘Thank You’ for all the stories you’ve given us. I love them and…just, Thank You.”
He took the paper bag and looked at it briefly before looking at me with a raised brow:
“Thank you,” he said “Is it cannabis?”
I stuttered out “Not this time,” and explained quickly that I had attempted to sketch him and, because I knew he loved Orangutans, I had drawn one reading to a large carnivorous plant. Next thing I knew he was hustled away, off to I didn’t know where.
I have no idea if he ever looked at those drawings. Doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that in a moment when I was trying to thank him for giving so much, he gave me a joke.
At least I think it was a joke.
His sense of humour was so dry and I was so nervous at the time, I’ll never know for sure. I think that maybe, in some small way, he’d be amused by that. Maybe that was his intention all along.
In any case, I’m glad I got a chance to say Thank You.
I’m sorry that I now have to say Goodbye.
See you in another life, Mr. Pratchett.
Next time, I’ll bring the cannabis.