(Note: this blog talks about the passing of loved ones. Some readers may find it too sensitive and may want to skip it.)
Yesterday my son asked me ‘when are you going to die Daddy?’
Leo is 6-years old, so it wasn’t meant in an ‘I wish you would get on with it’ kind of way, like a rebellious teenager. But with an innocent mix of curiosity and concern.
Ever since my mother died, he’s been interested in death and talks freely about it. At his age, there’s no emotional discomfort in breaching the subject. I found this quite disarming at the beginning, but as I got used to it I found talking about it helped prevent my own emotions bottling up. I recommend adding a 6-year old to any grieving therapy session to help break the ice.
Leo also assumes I know the answer as to when I’m going to die – in the same way as I know the answer to why the sun is hot? Or do crabs have eyebrows?
I should have said I don’t know, but I didn’t.
I told him I’m going to live to 100.
He seemed satisfied and went back to his drawing.
I like the feeling of living to 100. It means I’ve got a lot more living to do. Besides, at 51, it means I’m barely middle-aged.
As I hit 50 I made a decision to move towards a ‘body preservation’ phase of my life. Probably a result of a half-century of enjoying a ‘checking out the limits’ phase.
And becoming a dad.
This decision may also have also been brought on by an 18-months bout of tennis elbow. Despite never playing tennis, I am now an expert in epicondylitis, so contact me if you’re suffering. There is a remarkably fast cure.
Like most of us, I had a few minor brushes with death in my 20’s that only now make me shudder. They were reckless, clouded in alcohol and laughed off without leaving as much as a dent in the armour of youthful invincibility. The grim reaper may have been grinning in the shadows sharpening his scythe, but I wasn’t looking. Today, would be a different story.
A near-miss is nothing like a life-threatening illness, where the doctor gives your marching orders. I can only attempt to imagine the immense anger felt with becoming ill followed by the bargaining with destiny and the divinity to prolong your existence. Here you have time to appreciate your own mortality and test it.
Losing a family member or close friend is also impossible to imagine.
When my mother died it was particularly impactful as I had little experience in the emotional tsunami that accompanied it.
We all put up our best shield against grief.
We banish it through disbelief, we hide it in the inability to admit they’ve gone, and we bury it in the need to be strong for everyone else. There’s plenty of ways to keep the lid on the box. I tried them all.
Little by little you weaken. Hairline fractures of sadness and splinters of sorrow start to penetrate your defenses. The pressure builds until suddenly your shield shatters and the grief consumes you.
For everyone this moment is unique. It happened at a different time for my wife, my brothers, my father and my children. There were not hours or days but weeks between us.
For me, it was on the way to the funeral.
I had seen my mother’s life turned off at the hospital. I had also seen the wicker casket that contained her body in the hearse.
But it wasn’t until the journey to the funeral, whilst driving the little blue Morris Minor that she loved, that I suddenly felt the crushing loss. It came at me like a jackboot to the guts.
I now realise that by letting the grief in, you’re able to start healing. You’re also able to appreciate the full beauty of that person’s life, how they impacted yours and how they will be missed.
Between my father and my two brothers and the whole of the village where mum was a playgroup teacher for 60 years, we gave her a fitting and fun send-off she would have loved. Indeed, I felt she seemed to enjoy it from afar so much that she hung around for quite some time after her death.
I should explain.
The evening after the cremation the family gathered at home. The mood was sombre as everyone tried their best to cope and put on a brave face.
Then all the lights went out.
It wasn’t the fuse box, so Dad called the electrician. After an hour of searching, the electrician couldn’t locate the fault but said he’d have another look in the morning.
We had supper by candlelight which the kids loved and they spent the rest of the evening charging around the house with torches. The atmosphere went from sad reflection to the kind of joy that only kids can bring to the room. Mum would have loved it.
I started to wonder if she had a hand in it.
The electrician returned in the morning only to find the fault had resolved itself. He retired shortly afterwards, still confused by what had happened.
That day we went to plant some flowers on the roadside where mum fell from her horse. As we drove past the accident spot the car alarm went off. If this wasn’t strange enough, my father explained that the alarm hadn’t sounded for 3 years because he disconnected it from the battery.
My father found these unexplainable events annoying like it was another thing that had gone inconceivably wrong on top of the death of his lifelong partner.
Personally, I embraced them. It was comforting to know that she was still close and up to her usual playful self. In Buddhism, they believe it takes 49 days to travel to the other side before you are reborn.
I realised that between the speeches, the stories and the gatherings that the opportunity to celebrate a person’s life is all part of a grieving process that cannot be skipped.
Speaking at a funeral is hard. This is why people joke that they would prefer to be in the coffin than read the epitaph. Also, not everyone can attend a funeral or wake and say how they feel – never more so than during the pandemic that we are currently living. Thousands of loved-ones have not been given the send-off they deserve, making the grieving process for those families that much harder.
We created The Memorial Video Tribute to give everyone the opportunity to express themselves and say what that person meant to them. Together these messages create a beautiful and lasting keepsake to honour their memory.
On the surface, it seems strange for a company that’s all about unique personalised gifts and celebrating life, to add memorials to the list of occasions. But, we’re also all about bringing people closer. The Memorial Video Tribute does this.
We’re all gone for a whole lot longer than we’re around. Creating a beautiful and lasting reminder not only helps you grieve but it’s something that can be cherished by generations to come.
That’s a beautiful thing.