I had intended to write about something light-hearted and fluffy today. But this week somebody died. Somebody who had absolutely no business dying yet.
I’ve talked before about how awkward I feel when someone reports a death on social media, about not knowing how to respond without looking like I’m just jumping on a bandwagon. But this isn’t a sympathy post, it doesn’t demand a response. Also, this isn’t about me. There’s a family somewhere whose lives will never be the same again, whose whole future will now have to be re-imagined and I feel a bit helpless, I can’t make things better for anyone, but I can write about 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 and stop stressing about the little things that don’t really 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. Real life takes over again. Also, often, those little things do matter, it’s all relative, it’s not a points system.
I’d 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 other people relying on us, but we can still make changes.
We don’t have to stay in an 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 (I hate this phrase) bucket list. Write the book, learn to play the cello, start wearing hats, tell that person you love them. 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 actually 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). We seem to feel the need to soften the blow. It’s almost as though the person who is left behind 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. We are rubbish at this, really rubbish.
Of course, birth is the start of life and death is the end and that’s not something we can be happy about, especially if that person is younger and hasn’t even got going yet. Yet while it’s terribly sad that the person isn’t around any more, it almost feels 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. But 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.
So talk to that person who’s just lost someone, it’s much better to say the wrong thing than not talk to them at all. Or give them a hug, listen to them, let them talk. There’s a huge gap in their lives that you can never fill so don’t even try, but you can fill some of it up with love and memories.
P.S. I tried really hard to make sure this wasn’t a sympathy post and I think my friend would be shaking his head at me and laughing and calling me an idiot (basically 80% of my memories of him) because it took me the best part of a day to try to avoid saying it wrong.