There is, it would seem, no right way to experience bereavement, the neither here nor there between earth and heaven. Which of itself is a comforting thought. I recently wrote that I had lost two people close to me – yesterday I added a third. To say “lost” of course is absurd, they were not mislaid like a bunch of keys which could be rediscovered at some later time, neither did they disappear on the magician’s stage to be spectacularly reincarnated with a drum roll and a tinselled twirl from his assistant, but “gone for ever”.
I suppose some people derive comfort from visiting a funeral home and “viewing” the deceased, as if they were a work of art, which in one sense, they have become – a statuesque representation of what they once looked like – if you want to drop twenty or more years all you have to do is die and the undertakers make you look really good. I hope people find closure in so doing; I do not.
But, they have departed, which is a much more meaningful term. Looking at a dead body, serenely presented in its little box, brings the stark realisation that, in the words of the famous meme ‘Elvis has left the building’. It is as if they have left behind a breath of half-familiar perfume, a wisp of blue cigarette smoke, easily dissipated and so very ephemeral. Whoever they were has begun the journey and there in the funeral home it’s clear that they’re a long way away now and the carapace left behind is merely a representation of who they once were.
It was, of course, my mother, old and grey, full of sleep and memory, who slipped away like a tiny ship casting off in the fog, almost unnoticed in her sleep, five years short of a century. She was born on a Wednesday, on a spring day as England was just beginning to stand unsteadily on her feet in the aftermath of the Great War and the world shifted a little on its axis. She lived through Hitler, the Sixties rebellion, mass immigration, the birth of the Internet and a million other cultural shifts and nuances, much of which rolled off her mind like dew off a cabbage leaf. And, what is left? As people age, their belongings dwindle. She had, it seemed, a few scraps of clothing, trinkets and gewgaws each holding some shred of sentiment for her, perhaps, otherwise, nothing. What little there was will be collected and stored until someone picks them up or leaves instructions what must be done with them. The room in the nursing home will be cleared for another occupant today, a metaphor for the fact that life grinds mechanically along and another aged individual will sit in the same chair and wait for the reaper’s visitation.
Everything has been taken care of. Lawyers and undertakers are processing without emotion, which is probably for the best. I am the detached bystander, waiting to exhale.