Friday, March 21, 2014

Goodbye To a Gentle Giant - Reminiscing (Part 1)

This is a series (probably just two parts, but it may end up as more) I'm writing solely to try to give myself a sense of closure over losing one of my favourite singers and a person I considered a friend.

George Donaldson - a gentle giant, Scottish singer, father, brother, and son - passed away March 12th. This post is me reminiscing about how I came to know of Celtic Thunder, and, through them, George. You don't have to read it, but I'm putting it up anyway for the few people I know would want to read it.


I first came across Celtic Thunder (and consequently, George Donaldson) in either late 2011 or early 2012. Up to date, 2012 was the hardest year of my life. I was looking for some Irish music in the CDs at the library, and I happened across a CD called, "Celtic Thunder: Act II". I looked at the front and saw several men on a stage, wearing kilts. I thought it looked interesting, so I took it home.

I was immediately hooked. The wide array of music captured my heart; all sorts of genres of music were meshed together. As I listened to more and more of the Celtic Thunder CDs, I found more and more genres - hymns were sang, original songs written by the singers, rock 'n' roll, pop, old ballads, country music, and, of course, traditional Irish music. And best of all, most - if not all - of the songs were clean.

In 2012, I had turned away from God. As a result, the only things keeping me from giving up on life were my friends... and Celtic Thunder.

Yes, I had other music, but it was full of depressing things, some of the songs had cursing in them... basically, most of what I listened to was horrid. But not Celtic Thunder. They sang songs that taught me determination ("Ireland's Call"), taught me about history ("Christmas 1915"), taught me about the love of fathers and children ("The Old Man" and "My Boy")... taught me a lot of things. And it kept me going.

Okay, skip ahead. In 2013, I met my mentor (though he wasn't my mentor right off, obviously) and new friends that were godly Christians, and I found my way back to God through them. But Celtic Thunder remained and remains a huge part of my life.

I love all of the members, past and present, for different reasons. When I first found the band, I probably talked more about the younger men of the group, obviously... I was a silly teenage girl with her priorities in a mess.

But George Donaldson always had a special place in my heart. He was the kindhearted one... the wise one... the fatherly one.

I don't have a good relationship with my own dad. So I tried to fill the dad-shaped space in my heart with other people; George was one of them. Listening to his interviews and watching him sing made me feel like he'd be a wonderful dad.

As I said, though, in 2013 I met several older, godly men, my mentor included. Now that I had father figures to look up to in my life, I no longer needed to cling to my daydreams of what it would be like to have George as my dad. But I still looked up to him; his generosity and kindness was inspiring.

In November of 2013, I was blessed enough to go on the Celtic Thunder Cruise. I never expected to get to know any of the band members... but to my joy, I met George not once, but three times. I talked to him a little more each time.

When I asked him for a photograph with me, he readily agreed. I was shaking; I had had a rough night before, and was homesick and anxious. George noticed. He has his arm around my shoulder in a side-hug, and when he felt me trembling, he tightened his hug reassuringly, smiling that smile of his - a warmhearted, sunshiney smile.

I thanked him, and left. I met him again later on, outside of a lounge. I said hello, and he started a conversation. We were headed the same way, and instead of trying to get away from me, a random fan, George walked with me and continued talking for a short while before we had to part ways.

Finding out about his death felt like a physical punch in the gut, and I'm still kind of in denial about it. The funeral services were held today, about a week after George passed away. I had gotten to know him through social networking and on the Cruise, and I felt like I had just had a friend taken away from me.

In a way, I have. He was one of the people who kept me going in 2012, and he was the one I looked up to as a father figure for so long. He was the one who helped me relax on the Cruise and feel less homesick.

I miss him so much more than words can say; I'm heartbroken, and I know that not many can understand why. You don't have to; just understand that I am.

This blog is actually sort of named after him - once, he was talking about something called 'Of Songs and Stories'. I loved the phrase, and used it as the name of my blog; 'of songs and stories' in Irish Gaelic.

George was a man with a huge heart, and that showed in everything he did and said. He is known among the Celtic Thunder fans as 'the gentle giant'; a big man who would have been intimidating, if not for his warm smile and gentle nature. He invested time in all of his fans, and when he was with his family, he spent every moment with them. His daughter Sarah was 'the light of his life'.

From my experiences, and from stories I've heard from others who have met and known George, he was a caring man. He was always smiling, and never passed up the chance to give people a hug and chat with them. And as he comforted me when he noticed I was shaking, there are several others who have had the same experience - they've been anxious or panicky about something, and George would comfort them until they were calmer, no matter what was going on or where he was. He was always gentle, humble, and considerate.

I hope someday to see him again. Until then, I won't ever forget him. And if you're reading this... remember to spend time with your loved ones and let them know you love them. You never know when God will take them Home... you never know whether you'll have the chance to say goodbye.

"He was with his family one night...
Times of love and laughter and light.
Heaven needed a new angel that day,
God called the gentle giant Home, and now he's gone away.

His heart was full of love
And no more could it hold
His heart took the wings of a dove
And flew Home to the streets of gold...

God bless, all.

~ Theodora 

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