This is going to sound awful, but keep reading as I unravel, with total honesty, the emotions which ripple through me this sunny morning. I know from your comments, a few will feel anger, some will empathise, others will write saying they will make no comment, but that’s OK. I’m not writing these open blogs to please anyone daft enough to open this page.
An email this morning announced the death of an old friend. My wife had to pass her phone over to me because she was unable to read the text, so profuse were her tears. I too found it difficult, but was able to continue. They do not want anyone but close family to attend the funeral and we discussed this for some minutes.
My wife’s brother’s funeral filled Oxford crematorium’s largest chapel and it was only then that any of us realised how many friends this intensely private man had made in his exceptional, but short life. It was an extraordinary event. We and the one hundred odd people there laughed as the order of service Matthew had written himself, compared by the daughter of a famous actor, unfolded. Should my wife pass away before me, I would feel comforted by the presence of those who loved and enjoyed her company. My mother’s crowded funeral warmed my heart. When I go, I hope at least one friend turns up to sooth my wife’s shattered heart.
Death lurks round the corner for us all. It is inevitable. After watching all night my mother fade, when the February sun rose to illuminate the hospital, I realised our little scene was being repeated in countless places, right then. Eight long, long hours later, stunned with grief, unsure what to do with ourselves, we left her last bed and stepped through the emergency ward she’d been stuck in due to over-crowding, aware of the eyes of those who had heard our private litany behind thin hospital curtains. The ward sister, whose bright green eyes filled with tears, smiled warmly, suggested we might need the comfort and quiet of the chapel.
As we moved like drunken zombies down the long corridor, we came across the woman who sent this morning’s email. She, a nurse, cheerfully asked what was up. Her rapid response was, “Oh well, life goes on! I must go home, I’m tired. It’s been a difficult shift.” Her jovial, detached manner, her disinterest, struck deep at that moment of utter fragility. I’ve said nothing all these years and only write it today of all days because my wife, returning from her morning walk, reminded me of it. And today, in our friend’s time of total despair, I wish I could hug her, even though she was cool and unsupportive during the ensuing months, for I know how deeply death cuts into those who remain.
In the hospital chapel book, I wrote, “Death, in its finallity, is safe.” It is the one certainty. To let its multiple process rip through us is cathartic. It is a moment when life’s superficial veil is torn aside and we see, however briefly, what life really is about. Sharing our emotions in times like this opens us to the wonders of the fleeting moment. That bird’s bright chirping. The light falling on that bush. The clarity in a voice which conveys an untainted character.
Upon our death beds, and I know this from my own harrowing experiences, we will not recall the superficial, but the love, the warmth, the joy of relationship. That is the greatest treasure we have. Devoting time to those we like and love, finding ways to step aside from our egotistical stance, letting their light flood through us, revelling in the magic that happens when two beings share without the restrictions of structured behaviour. How lucky those of us who can do this.
And our friend who has just passed away, who had perfect health and financial security until a few months ago, dispensed this in bucket loads to his wife who responded in equal measure. His life, though cut early, was richer than most. His suffering, thankfully, was short. And because of their love, her memory will be long and warm.