I had intended to write about something light hearted and fluffy today. But this week somebody died. Somebody my age. Somebody who had no business dying yet.
I’ve moaned before about people who talk about somebody’s death on social media, about how it makes me feel awkward as I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond, so then I don’t and end up feeling bad. But a blog post is different to a status update or tweet, it’s less immediate, it doesn’t demand an instant response. I’m not writing it for sympathy; most people reading this don’t actually know me so should save their sympathy for a real person who needs it. Also, this isn’t about me. There’s a family somewhere whose lives will never be the same again. But it did make me think about death and how we deal with it.
Death is a funny old thing. We don’t seem to be able to talk about it properly. It’s riddled with clichés. People start talking about how short and fragile life is, about how we should live for today. We hear other people complaining about how their washing machine has broken, or how they’ve just missed their train and we inwardly shake our heads at them. We silently accuse them of shallowness, almost feeling superior. If only they had any idea about what’s really going on in the world. We think that we’ll stop stressing about the little things, we’ll let the little things go and from now on we’ll concentrate on the things that matter.
It’s not that easy though. We fully intend to do these things, we talk about it and make plans to start just as soon as the bad stuff that made us think like that is over. Then we never do. It’s like that gym membership or The Diet or the plan to de-clutter the cupboard under the stairs. Real life takes over again. I like to think though that every time someone close to us dies we will think a little bit more about how we live. Living life ‘to the max’ isn’t always possible when we have bills to pay and jobs to do and every day to get through, but we can still make changes. We don’t have to stay in that unhappy relationship for the kids because one day, those kids wont be kids and we wont be here and what was all that unhappiness for anyway? Do the things you want to do, don’t put them aside for that (hate this phrase) bucket list. Write the book, buy those shoes, dye your hair, start wearing hats, just do it.
We talk about birth all the time. We celebrate it and make tv programmes about it. There’s a whole industry of magazines and gifts and blogs out there, all concentrating on the start of life. Women sit in dusty church halls while their toddlers play and tell strangers the minute details of when they gave birth. Pregnant women and new mothers are drawn towards each other like iron filings. Yet when it comes to death we hide away. People cross the road to avoid having to talk to someone who’s just lost someone.
Lost someone. There’s a phrase. It sounds like you left somebody outside the shop while you went in for a paper and then just walked straight home without thinking, the kind of thing that used to happen in the ‘70s with babies in big-wheeled, old fashioned prams outside the greengrocer’s shop. But ‘lost someone’ is better than ‘they passed’ or ‘they went over to the other side’ (a phrase that always reminds me of Star Wars). It’s almost as though the person who is left behind is somehow to blame and has a duty to make everyone else feel better by not mentioning ‘death/died/dead’, they are supposed to dilute it somehow. If they don’t say death we can almost pretend it didn’t happen and everyone can carry on with their day without having to do or say anything too uncomfortable.
Of course, birth is the start of life and death is the end and that’s not something we can be happy about. Yet while it’s terribly sad that the person isn’t around any more, it feels almost selfish to be upset. It’s not about us, the ones left behind. We still have our lives and, depending on what your beliefs are, the dead person has either gone to a better place or has no awareness of what’s happened. And the very fact that people are upset about it means that they affected our lives in some way, they made a difference, and I think that is something to be celebrated.
(I tried really hard to make sure this wasn’t a sympathy post and I think my friend would be laughing his head off at the fact that it took me the best part of a day to try to avoid saying it wrong).