A Time to Mourn

I don’t want this to sound too depressing, but a friend of mine recently lost a close relative and is finding it hard to deal with. It is, so far as I know, the first time she has lost anyone close. I remember losing my mum’s aunty in the same way. She was the first to leave (from the close family that I grew up in) whose death actually registered with me. I was old enough to feel it. My uncle had died when I was 13 but I saw him rarely and he wasn’t as close as she was. He was only 45 when he died but even at the end of someone’s long life it is often still hard to accept. I guess, knowing she was 90 and had lived a long life, it made it a little easier to know she was gone to her rest having had a ‘good innings’ but she hadn’t done much with her life beyond caring for her aging mother. She never went anywhere, she didn’t travel. If she saw the other side of town she was doing well. She had never been abroad, never married, never had children, never even had a relationship. I think she might have been engaged at one time but had broken it to look after her mother. She was the eldest girl and that’s what you did in those days. She had been in service when she was younger, worked for Marks and Spencer when it was starting out as the Penny Bazarre. Her life had narrow horizons but if she wasn’t happy, she said nothing about it. She had been a part of my life from babyhood and I missed her terribly. When my grandparents both died within three months of each other, though, it struck me much harder. A big part of my life simply came to an end and it hurt far more.

There are expected stages to grief, categorized and observed and recorded by psychologists and scientists and accepted the world over as the way humans mourn. Known as the Kübler-Ross model, it cites five stages that we go through in order to cope and deal with the experience. However it should be noted that not everyone goes through all five and not necessarily in the same order anyway. I certainly didn’t. I remember the denial and acceptance but nothing in between. Our reactions are as unique as we are. We can experience denial (It’s not happening to me/I feel fine), anger (why me? It isn’t fair! Who is to blame?), bargaining (I’ll give anything if…), depression (I’m so sad, there’s no hope, what’s the point?), and/or acceptance (everything will be fine, it’s inevitable), but no matter how you travel through it, let no one tell you how to behave or what you ‘should’ be doing. Your way is your way, allow it to happen to you as it will. Take each day as it comes and deal with it in your own time. And never expect too much from yourself. Give yourself time.

People are more than the sum of their parts; we all are. Memories are the things we are left with and the trinkets people leave behind can be the triggers to those memories. My grandparents were a big part of my life. I was born in their house which had been in their possession almost since it was built. All their children had been born in it. It was a Council property, though, and because they had never bought it, it returned to the Council when they died. I hated that because as far as I was concerned, it was theirs, suffused with their memories and mine. They lived throughout the war in that house, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and births, mourned deaths and dug for Victory, looked after me there when mum was working, had me to stay when I wanted to, taught me to cook there, told me stories there, I laughed and cried and cheered and sang there. But at the end of the day, it was only bricks and mortar and people are not there, but are in your mind and your heart. Many bricks make a house, as they say, but many hearts make a home. That was so true of my life.

I will have to write their story one day. I am working on my family history at the moment, finding things out and piecing things together. I have gone as far back as 1745, and I am learning new things every time I do the research. All those lives, all those memories, all that lost information. I am the descendant of farmers, a ship’s captain, blacksmiths and teachers. I know nothing about them, other than what my mother can remember of those who were part of her life. I have no idea of their hopes, fears, ambitions, expectations or loves, of what kind of people they were, if they were kind or bad tempered or generous or stupid. They were people just like me, though, human beings working and existing and loving and laughing. I am their immortality.

One of the things about the human condition is our ability to experience things in our own unique way. We often rail against death, we want to live so much. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” as the line from the Dylan Thomas poem goes, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It has oft been the subject of poetry and prose. That famous line from Blade Runner, spoken by the replicant (robot) Roy Baty, comes to mind. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glittering in the darkness off the Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain… Time… to die….” No matter what we see, do or experience throughout our lives, those things are personal and seen only through our own eyes. That viewpoint is unique and not something we can share completely. And yes, it does die with us. Some things, you cannot leave behind you. Likewise, everyone is made of the way others see them. Our memories are unique to us, and our memories of the people we love are likewise unique. As we go through life we are like ripples on the water, we do things that touch others, we cause things to happen, we experience things in our own way. How we touch each other’s lives may not at once seem all that important, but can have far reaching effects. Sometimes we cannot even see what we do.  We have to understand that often, even though we don’t know it, we do great good with the simplest of actions, the smallest of ways. I am a strong believer in the Butterfly Effect, the science of the small. I might consider a smile or a small complement a tiny insignificant thing, requiring no effort on my part, but who knows what it means to the recipient? Don’t discount actions because you feel they are insignificant to you. Everybody’s viewpoint is unique.

If in my lifetime I touch a few lives in a positive way, then I’ll be happy. I have no expectations of anyone in a hundred years knowing who the hell I was or how I felt about anything, but that doesn’t matter. If I have been loved half as much as I loved my grandparents and parents, I’ll be happy.

If they gave you love and good memories, then remember your loved ones, the ones who are still here as well as those who have gone, with happiness and love in your heart. Hold all who have gone before close to you, remember their legacy and know they loved you for a reason. To them, at least, you were worth it. Take heart that you were loved and let it lift your self-esteem and don’t stop doing those small things you feel are maybe insignificant. Who knows what seeds you plant today that you may well reap tomorrow. What goes around, comes around. May you achieve your dreams and may you, through adversity, reach your stars.

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