I recently finished reading a really beautiful book about death. I feel a bit morbid writing about especially as this blog is usually light-hearted and easy-breezy. It got me thinking an awful lot about the effect of death on the living. If you're worried this will be depressing (it may be) you are very welcome to read one of my other posts I won't be at all offended.
My first experience of the death of a loved one was when I was thirteen. I had a very close friend in England-a slightly distant relative with whom I exchanged letters. For as long as I'd known him he had had a brain tumour The first time I had met him, aged about 11 or 12, I was told about his condition and when I was leaving I told him, with the honesty of a child, I hope you don't die before I see you again. He had been due for an operation to attempt to remove part of the tumour which, while benign was causing him considerable difficulties. I guess he was just pleased I didn't tiptoe around him like he was sick because we wrote me a letter as soon as he returned to England. The day my mum told me he died was one of the hardest of my life. The day beforehand I'd had a big evening for a young enterprise competition and had won a prestigious award. MY mum hadn't wanted to upset me on such a big day so she told me the next morning. He'd passed away in hospital surrounded by friends and family. I don't know how long I cried for before going to school and I remember arriving home that day with no real recollection of having gone to class or spoken to anyone. For weeks after I would suddenly find myself crying for no reason at all in the middle of a science class or walking home from the dart.
I have been fortunate not to have encountered much death among those closest to me (touch wood). The most recent time was perhaps the most difficult of all, especially as it was my first funeral. (OK i did attend the funeral of my ex boyfriends dad but I hadn't known him and went only to support my friend and, in part, to make peace with my memories of James whose funeral I never got to attend.) I had a best friend from the age of four and we went to the same primary and secondary school. When we were 17 she moved back to Brazil leaving me bitterly heartbroken. Her father however still lived in Ireland-just around the corner from me and seeing him always brought a smile to my face. He was like an eccentric old uncle always giving me strange recommendations for how to improve my health and well being like drinking buttermilk or eating seaweed or hanging upside down. One of my favourite memories was a day when He picked my friend and I up from some school thing in the RDS. We'd been on our feet all day but he insisted we see this statue nearby. Then he insisted we take his picture with it...then he insisted my friend have her picture taken with it...(My other friend thought she'd be extra 'helpful' and offered to take one of the two of them-this nearly got her murdered by my grouchy pal). When we had sufficiently documented the sculpture he proceeded to give is the Dermot Carey tour of Donnybrook-a place we all knew more than well enough. I tended to go along with what he was saying while his daughter bemoaned his embarrassingness and told him repeatedly that I wasn't actually interested I was just to polite to tell him to shut-up (not entirely untrue!). He was just such a character, a real free spirit and he just loved life-he was really interested in everything and always had an opinion that he desperately wanted to share (and often I was the only one who would humour him).
The summer after my friend returned to Brazil Dermot died of leukaemia I'd actually known he was sick before my friend did because he'd told my mum. He hadn't told his daughter because he wanted her to visit for her own reasons not just because he was sick.
The memorial service and the funeral took place in my local church. My friend missed it because she was in Brazil with her mother. Her older brothers and sisters all thanked me for attending thinking it was kind of on my friends behalf but it wasn't. It was for me. The man had been in my life for nearly 15 years and was like a second grandfather. When they talked about how well known and loved he was and all his eccentricities I just couldn't reconcile myself with the fact that he wouldn't be doing these things anymore. He wouldn't be lolloping along with the dog, he wouldn't be swimming in the sea every day, he wouldn't give me his sermon on the virtues of buttermilk-and no one else would either. Looking at the nondescript yellowy coffin up by the altar I couldn't believe that such a tall man, such a colossal personality and such a big part of my little world could fit into one shitty meaningless box. That's what really broke my heart. There weren't photos of him at the funeral-just a wreath with white flowers and that fucking box. I couldn't reconcile my views of whether there was an afterlife or a meaning about death when I was just thinking the whole time that he was a real person with a life and hobbies and people who loved him and thought he was annoying and remembered his face and now everything he was was in this perfectly ordinary box.
I just hope that that's not what death is. Nothing but a body in a box and a priest saying a few words. I don't believe it can be (even though in the complete pain of that moment it seemed to be). I still think of him every time I pass the house where he used to live, the front garden full of weeds and the hedges far too tall and straggly (just how he liked them). Every time I see old men down at the seaside drying their pale wrinkly bodies. Every time my friend is online on Facebook. I think death is just impossible for the living to comprehend because we don't experience-only the after effects of loss.