Because I could not stop for death

There has been a gap in transmission.

It’s because everything I tried to write in the past fortnight was awful. The reason is that after the death of a woman I knew, I tried to write something reflective, but failed miserably. As it turns out, all I’ve been capable of writing about is my own anxieties.

*

I’ve been to two funerals in the last 7 days. In both cases, death was not unexpected, but I suppose death always arrives suddenly in the end, even when it is expected. Even when you think you are prepared for a loved one to die, the irrevocability of death after that last breath falters and fades away must take one by surprise, or so I imagine.

It’s always a sombre occasion when someone’s life ends, but if we actually measured and compared levels of sadness, then one of the deaths last week was immensely sadder than the other. My elderly aunt passed away, and the mother of my daughter’s friend died of cancer. The death of my aunt was not a shock. She was put into a high dependency unit about 4 years ago, after a very sudden and rapid decline into dementia that seemed to occur almost overnight. Her health had been steadily worsening since then. I heard that in the last few weeks of her life she was either asleep or totally zonked on morphine, and I think for her daughters, my cousins, there was relief mixed with their sadness. I don’t mean relief from a burden, but relief for their mother, because her suffering is over.

The other funeral was also for a mother, but in this case, her daughter is a teenage girl who has just started Year 10 at high school. That death created a lot of sadness around the local community and was constantly on my mind for the week between hearing about it and attending her funeral.

Now I know it seems as if we always speak well of the dead – but it’s true that this woman was a vibrant, joyous person with a warm, friendly manner, always ready for fun. We were not close friends, but when I did chat with her I felt as though we had a good rapport. I guess a lot of people felt like that around her, as she had a knack of making you feel as though whatever you said would be interesting and amusing.

That leads me to why I couldn’t write last week. It’s because writing revealed that my reasons for being sad about this woman’s death were not all selfless. I felt awfully sad about her death, and yet, when I tried to write about her death, it seemed as if my thoughts continually took a path that ended up at a very self-absorbed destination that was largely about myself.

I got sick of hearing myself feel sorry for myself when someone else had just died. I didn’t like where my writing led me, which was, repeatedly, to more thoughts about me, me, me. After a few days of this, it felt necessary to clear away those self-absorbed thoughts, and complete silence on the writing front seemed a necessary measure.

After all, to write, one needs to think. What a vicious circle it is.

Trees with moon and star from window

Pic: © Blathering About Nothing

Because it’s true. When I thought about this woman’s death, some of my sadness was for myself. In the course of the week I learned that mutual friends knew a lot more than I had, about her illness and how serious it was, and that confirmed what I already suspected: that I ended up on the outer peripheries of the adult friendships that were made through the time that my daughter was at primary school. That one friendship I will never have the chance to develop highlighted that I missed a lot of opportunities to make new friends while my daughter was at primary school, and those opportunities are gone now.

7 years – it’s a long time. When you are a kid, it’s enough time to make life-long friends. Lots of kids do that in primary school, and again in high school. But I don’t maintain regular contact with any friends from primary school or high school, unless you count being friends on Facebook. (I don’t).

This is how I am in friendships it seems: when the other person doesn’t make an effort, I do take it personally. So friendships from school days, including those I thought were lifelong friendships, dropped off along the way, usually when I realised I was the one keeping it going and decided to leave it to the other person to call me next time – and they just simply never did.

I’m always able to read a lack of follow-up as outright rejection.

Being thrown into some intense experience together – ie, school, university, work – is the ideal circumstance for making new friends. As a parent, you get another go at this when your child starts school, because – assuming you don’t move houses or change schools – you are about to have 7 years of regular contact with the same group of other adults. That’s 7 years of attending information nights, waiting outside classrooms, facilitating play-dates and attending kids birthday parties together. It’s only natural to hope and expect to make some new friends along the way – isn’t it?

I certainly hoped to make some new friends when my daughter started school, but as it happened, for a large part of my daughter’s primary school years, my work life, and new friendships formed in a new job, took up a lot of my attention. As a result, it seems as though I made it through 7 years of being a primary-school parent, and emerged with only one person in the local community that I contact frequently enough to consider a friend, in the real-life, non-Facebook sense of the word.

And now I feel a sense of sadness about that. After the death of this woman, I feel very aware of lost opportunities, because there were other parents who I really liked but never developed a friendship with. Invariably, I feel that it must be due to some lack on my part – either a lack of effort, or a lack of any quality that would interest someone else enough to make an effort.

Perhaps it was circumstance – I’d meet parents I liked and then our kids were never again in the same class, or schedules changed and we never crossed paths doing drop-offs and pick ups, or our kids stopped hanging around together, or their kids were boys, and my daughter stopped playing with those particular creatures from about grade 2 onwards so opportunities to get together with their parents dried up. As a parent, you are at the mercy of all these variables, over which you have no control.

But I’m left feel slightly depressed, fearing that maybe I can’t blame circumstances. I worry that it indicates there is something deeply unlikeable about me. All those conversations outside school rooms, at school concerts, at parent information nights, while walking kids to the car after school, at birthday parties, at various houses when picking my daughter up – but no roots put down; nothing to show for it all after 7 years.

*

I thought all of this before and after the funeral of the younger woman. At the funeral itself I just felt heart-broken for the loss of this woman, for her family and most of all for the weeping 15 year old girl following the coffin out of the service.

5 days later, I attended the funeral of my aunt. Her funeral was in the middle of the week and was very small, with probably only about 50 people in attendance, mostly in-laws, nephews and nieces and their children. Her husband, and most of her siblings have passed away; friends are too frail to travel. One of her three children passed away about 15 years earlier. (when he was about 30, in a tragic house fire.)

My aunt’s funeral seemed to highlight what I’d been thinking that week about losing friends and failing to make new ones. It’s the first time I realised that my own family and close friends could die before me, and I could be left with very few people to care about whether I’m around in my eighties or not. As one of my own younger brothers has already tragically died in his 30s, I know too well that you can’t just expect everyone else will be around when I die. I realise that actually, it’s likely that at least some (more) of my siblings will die before I expect them to, and leave me behind to grieve for them.

Thinking about this, and comparing these two funerals, I realise that the one compensation for those left behind when someone dies young is that, although their early death causes so much more pain and grief, at least that outpouring of grief from a large network of family, friends and workmates is a huge comfort to witness.

Wouldn’t we all like to think that our own funeral service would be packed to the rafters, as this woman’s was, and that the wake would take the entire afternoon because people felt so emotionally bonded to one another by their sadness that they didn’t want to leave, but preferred to mill around the very crowded band room, having another drink and listening to family and friends perform live music and reminisce about the departed, in a party-like atmosphere. We were at her wake for about 4 hours, leaving at 5pm, and it was still going strong.

As opposed to the quiet funeral and wake for my aunt, where, by the time I left after about an hour, at 1pm, there were about 25 people left.

*

So I’ve thought a lot, in a pathetic manner, about myself, but I have also thought a lot about a mother who 13 months ago received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. I’ve thought about her partner and child. I tried to imagine being in her place, and how I would approach the remaining time I had left; what I’d say to my daughter if I knew I’d be leaving her forever in about a year. I tried to work out who I felt more sadness for – the young daughter facing the prospect of losing her mum, or the mother who knew she would leave her daughter motherless way too soon.

I thought that perhaps the leave-taking is saddest for the adult, because the adult has a better chance of understanding that death is real and final. I can’t imagine how a 15 year old could comprehend how it will be when her mother dies.

But then, of course, I think of afterwards, and wonder how a 15 year old copes with the death of her mum after it has occurred. The only heartbreaking death I’ve had to deal with so far was unexpected and therefore shocking, but even with 12 months to prepare I’m not sure that anything could prepare you for that sudden and complete absence when someone is gone. That immense gap, when you see everyone else weeping, and them not there to be part of that sadness. How utterly final it is. How, despite all logic, it repeatedly comes as a shock that you can’t even tell the person that you miss them.

And I think it must be very hard to prepare for the fact that this person you love so much is no longer a presence in the world. Even if their death was expected.

*

 

‘I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual’ – Virginia Woolf’s diary, 17 Feb 1922

Advertisements
Leave a comment

7 Comments

  1. I think it is okay for your thoughts to turn to yourself. Death is such an immense, incomprehensible thing that makes us question so much in our lives. I only know you through this blog, but you come across as someone who thinks and feels very deeply, and who honours friendship. I am not really sure what to say, but I thank you for this very though provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • Thanks Anne. In the end I just didn’t seem able to cut all the self-obsessed anxieties out of that post so it just had to be the way it was. Perhaps I’m now at an age where death makes me think a bit more about ageing and my own death. Death had not affected me that way before. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad if you found it thought provoking.

      Like

      Reply
      • I hope you are feeling more okay now. Yes, some deaths do stop you in your tracks more. A young woman I taught with, many years ago, was killed while crossing the road. Her death had a strong impact on me, probably because it was so sudden. We left school and she was alive, we returned the next morning to the news of her death. It was also my first funeral with an open casket ~ that was pretty confronting too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. it is always a shock, no matter how prepared or unprepared we are. and yes, death has an impact on our lives for various reasons, no shame in that. you were just honest about it, where many people are not able to be. I’m sorry for your losses.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. When a person we know dies, we naturally and inevitably focus on our own sense of loss. This is not selfish but a natural consequence of being social animals. The people I know form part my life’s experience which, in turn, forms my perception of myself. When a friend or relative dies, then part of me dies with him. I am thereby diminished and I cannot but feel sorry for myself. If you replace “sorry for myself” with “grief”, it sounds much more acceptable but the fact is that both terms mean the same thing.

    With regard to the making and maintaining of friendships, I wonder whether the problem is that you don’t need friends as much as you think you “ought” to and therefore unconsciously but wisely refrain from making friendships when the effort of maintaining them will exceed the benefit of doing so. I long ago learnt this about myself and stopped worrying about the fact that I spent much of my time, perfectly contentedly, on my own. Then again, I am something of a misanthrope 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Thanks for those thoughts SilverTiger. Maybe you are right about grief, I’m not sure because when my brother died I knew I was grieving, with this death I didn’t feel close enough to this woman to expect to be thinking about her as much as I did.

      Regarding friends, you might be right, only sometimes I have moments of feeling depressed when I realise I only have about 3 friends I’d really describe as “close” friends. Writing a blog has made me more antisocial as I actively try to get time alone a lot more than I did previously, sometimes admittedly even avoiding social events in order to indulge in my hobby!

      Like

      Reply

Blather away!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: