26 July 2011

On death and life

Death as the cliché goes is part of life. You can pay an accountant to avoid taxes but even those rich enough to be able to buy into cryogenics cannot avoid death. As a child I was shielded from the deaths of elderly aunties and uncles by never being part of the conversation. There were no funerals to attend, children weren’t part of that, people just ceased to be there. Now and then when someone who had been well loved died I saw my Grandfather shed tears but never my Mother or Grandmother. It was all about not showing the children how upsetting death was and so I grew up not knowing anything about real grief.

Of course as the child of a God fearing family I became acquainted with the afterlife in the forms of a floaty, high above the clouds heaven, where everyone was happy and smiling and contented and of the stark alternative of the fire and brimstone with added torturous pain forever through eternity, of hell, through regular attendance at Sunday School but these were abstract concepts to the child and never really spoken about except when I had been a particularly naughty child (and I was frequently) and was told that if I carried on as I had been doing then I would end up in hell. So what I thought, I'm going to live forever.

My first real encounter with the finality of death was the demise of the family pet guinea pig, who one day whilst eating his weetabix at the table suddenly fell sideways and ended up on the floor doing a little guinea pig fit. He was taken to the vets and never came home and so death and death by special drugs only available to animals entered my life experience. I cried and missed little Titch for a while.

When my Grandfather died when I was 15 his death hit me like a pole-axe. I could not imagine a world where he wasn't there, could not countenance a life where he wasn't around giving me hugs, supporting me, encouraging me and loving me. His funeral was the first I ever attended and in retrospect I can see that it was a good funeral to attend for a first. Lots of people there, a Vicar who said some pretty astonishing things that have stayed with me to this day even though he had never met my wonderful Grandfather. Grief was not hidden this time. I saw how his death affected my family and relations; their tears and tantrums; nothing was hidden. I stayed with my Grandmother for over a week after his death and we grew close. She talked about her childhood and about her life with my Grandfather and I learned. It was those days with her that I treasure and that set me on a life long hunt for my pesky ancestors, some of whom prove most elusive after 30 odd years.

A few days after Granddad died, Elvis was discovered on his lavatory no longer of this planet and I was annoyed by what I thought was a so-called faux grief displayed by fans. I remember thinking that these people on my TV screen obviously had no idea what it was to lose through death a magnificent and wonderful man like my Grandfather, who was real and known whereas Elvis, well he was just a bloated, self obsessed, self indulgent has been as far as I was concerned.

Life did go one despite what my feelings were on the day my Grandfather died and in continuing I attended many more funerals including peers who died far too young and children who died in cruel ways. I witnessed grief in many forms and not just caused through death but from the breakdown of precious relationships. Death is not the only form of loss.

Since 21st March I have discovered new levels of grieving. It is a myriad of emotions and a roller coaster ride endured because I'm not sure where or when I get off if indeed ending the rise is an option. It’s not just that you miss someone, it is the realisation that although you always meant to, you never did get around to telling your loved one just how much they meant to you on a day to day basis. We all do it. We love our family and friends even worship the ground they walk upon but we let every day life get in the way, small insignificant things cloud the one true and most important reality of how much we do care and so we forget to let them know. Then comes the guilt, it is a heavy burden even if in more lucid moments we acknowledge that guilt is not an appropriate feeling because there should be none; we did our best and the person whom you loved knew that even if they didn't acknowledge it during life.

There has been laughter as well as the tears, remembering the good times, the ways in which my Mother made me laugh, cared for me, the little things she did that made the world a much better place, the way she loved me and all of her family. Oh but I miss her so. I go down to see Dad most days and his grief has been rather more intensive than my own because they were together for nearly 54 years and I have my children to look after whilst he now has nothing. Little has been moved or changed since Mom died because that is the way he wants it but I find this crippling. Every day I have to face her coats hanging in the hall, still with traces of her perfume lingering upon them. Her shoes, her bag, her paperwork, her toiletries, her perfumes and make up, her clothes; everything as it was the day she died, awaiting her return, a return that will never happen. I would love to talk with Dad about Mom, memories shared but he’s not ready to do that and so I cannot move on with my own grief.

I'm not ready to philosophise on all of this but I do know that when someone dies we don’t talk about them enough. It seems that people go to great lengths to avoid talking about the person no longer there. Why does this happen? If we talked more and shared memories wouldn't that help us all deal with a loss that is all encompassing and so very difficult to deal with?

I don’t share my Mother’s deep Christian faith but as it meant so much to her I like to think of her, in her own room in God’s house, surrounded by all the things she enjoyed and loved so much in life, laughing and enjoying and being free from pain.


  1. I hear you Linda. I moved in with my Dad when Mom was first ill, stayed when she was more ill and died, dipped home for a few nights here and there, then stayed permanently when Dad became ill. Mom had been his metronome for so long, I couldn't upset the timing, melody, whatever you want to call it, that had called Dad in over the years. I just carried on as she had, knowing the routine would calm and soothe him.

    And when I nagged him about his medicines or whatever, he'd shake his head and growl "you're just like your bloody Mother". It was a compliment and we both knew it.

    Dad accepted some of Mom's stuff going to charity, so that's what I did, just took it at his pace. It would have battered him if I'd tried for more though. He was comforted by still having her stuff around, and who was I to take that away from him?

    Let him grieve in his own way and own time Linda. He trumps you in the grief stakes. Let him keep her tatty old bag of hair rollers in the cabinet in the bathroom, or her hairbrush and hairspray tucked in a cupboard downstairs near a mirror, or whatever he needs to have around to still feel he has a bit of her.

    After Dad died, and still now, some people I know ask stuff like "have you sold your Dad's house yet?". No. NO we haven't. We have had an offer on MOM and Dad's house though. Having some of Mom's stuff around wasn't just a comfort to Dad, but was cathartic, maybe, to me too.

    Just cut two paras, lol. Oh I could go on and on!

    To conclude, I can only suggest mentioning your Mom when relevant like you would if she were still around;it's normal. I don't go for the religious stuff particularly either. I'll go for saying that part of the person is still with us while we remember and speak of them.

  2. I am glad you can finally write this Lindi. I had to write my father's eulogy; no easy task the day after he died.

  3. Hi there Martin. I wrote and delivered Mom's eulogy too. It's here: http://ramblingsofamadoldbaggage.blogspot.com/2011/04/for-my-mother.html

    Kate, I do let him grieve in his own way. I've not touched or moved a thing and will not do so until he says that I can. It's still early days for all of us but most of all for him. I don't want to erase Mom, move everything out or even give away her things; I just would like a little space too. Writing this blog made me realise that I cannot move on with my grieving until Dad has moved on with his. Until then I will have to settle at his pace and take it one day at a time. Thanks :-)