Death is such a natural thing and will happen to us all, but we never talk about it.
It’s not discussed in schools, we aren’t prepared for it happening to us or to love ones.
However I don’t believe that any amount of discussion can prepare us for death, the feelings, the emotions, the grief, the what next.
Grief is something we all experience in life and it doesn’t have to be just death that causes it. A divorce, moving home, losing a job, change of identity all cause grief in one form or another.
We teach lifeskills, we teach about growing up and the only part of old age we discuss is our pensions and preparing for retirement. Companies offer courses on retirement, primary schools ask about family and their experiences of historical events for show and tell in class.
The only part of discussing death we ever start to prepare our children for is the loss of a hamster or a goldfish. But even that doesn’t prepare us for how as parents we support our children through their first experience of death.
As an adult I know we had cats that died while I was young and a dog when I was a teen, but the only memory of that was hearing from my mother over the phone that the dog had been put down, so matter of fact, no emotion, but as an adult now with an aging cat and dog I understand my mother had done her grieving, had been prepared for the vets news and the assumption that as the dog was 13 and I’d left home that the grief would be minimal, that it wouldn’t have an effect on me as a young adult.
The family goldfish was an inconvenience, cleaning the tank, remembering to feed it, the kids weren’t interested, but one morning it was no longer there and it did cause upset, because a familiar part of the children's life had gone, something that was always there was no more and it caused upset.
The 2 hamsters, both bought in haste, knowing they only had a 2 year life span, should’ve rung warning bells, but we again owned pets that we knew would die and would upset the children. One came quickly, the other we knew was dying and the youngest child made a coffin, dug a hole in the garden and was almost waiting for the event to happen, then on the day after the funeral in the garden they wouldn’t leave the grave and I stood outside with an umbrella over Childs head with what felt like forever until he was able to come inside.
There were chickens and a rooster that ‘ran away’ then various birds and insects we tended after they’d been brought into the family, injured by the cat and dog.
During my school years there were 3 students I knew of who were killed on the roads, friends parents died young. Announcements were made in assemblies and representatives of the school chosen to attend funerals, but still we didn’t talk about death outside of the event and the discussions were about how individuals were feeling at the time, not the grieving process, not how we can prepare ourselves for others and eventually our own death.
Every death has had an impact on me, whether it’s supporting friends with the death of a loved one from cooking a meal, helping them clear out their parents home, sitting with them as they grieve just being there, listening to them talk, sharing memories, attending the funeral. From old age through cancer or life limiting disabilities, I’ve experienced them all through some form or another either with a family member, a friend or through the children. But again, every time it’s been a shock, it’s happened suddenly and we’ve not been prepared, but in reality we have been prepared, we know it’s coming but we don’t discuss it and why?
We don’t discuss it because we don’t want to upset anyone, we don’t want to dwell on it, the negativity or even wait for it to happen even when it is inevitable.
My Gran died aged 92, the grieving process was horrendous, I cried for days, I could no longer could speak to her, there were so many questions left unanswered, but nothing to resolve. Every time I said goodbye in the hospital I knew it could be the last time. She knew that too and in the end a week before she died, she asked me not to come anymore, it distressed her to see me so sad as she herself knew she was dying and it wouldn’t be long. Cause of death……old age.
My fathers death was similar, he had type 2 diabetes, he’d already had a heart attack, they couldn’t stent him, he had stage 3 kidney failure ( we found that out later ) he’d been having TIA’s (I’d suspected this due to his mobility change and new pains ) he’d discussed his death with me, told me where everything was, prepared his own eulogy, chosen his music. Then I sat with him the night he died, holding his hand until the paramedics arrived. My last thoughts were something I told him I would say to him on his death bed ‘I’m calling house clearance’ I refrained from saying it as he lay dying but I was thinking it and the reality was that within a short period of time most of his life, everything he had collected over the years that identified him were gone.
But as with life and experiences we’ve had such as holidays, where we take photos and buy souvenir magnets for the fridge, for birthdays and anniversaries we celebrate and Christmas’s we share and the gifts we buy, death doesn’t go away, death doesn’t disappear and unfortunately but too often as we get older death comes around on a regular basis just like birthdays, Christmas and holidays.
Would it be wrong to celebrate death? We do in one form or another with holding onto ashes, turning loved ones into pieces of jewellery and even tattoos, remembering birthdays and the anniversary of their death and over time whilst the grief is still there, the layers around it grow and the raw memory of their death becomes memories of fondness. And the good times. My mother always buys herself flowers on the anniversary of her mothers death, a woman I met recently, buys her grandmothers favourite sweets on the anniversary. But those times become something that is personal, no longer a family event, but an individual thought that comes from dates such as birthdays or just random items on the news or seeing something in a shop or a visit somewhere you went with them.
We don’t teach people how to manage this process, we hear people say ‘it will get easier’ and whilst at the time their words are unwelcome, they are in time true.
My father lives with me every single day. I don’t need a date to remember him by. An item on the news will hear my father in my head ‘going on about it’ my husband putting ups. Mirror will have me hearing in my head ‘why does no one listen to me, you’re doing it all wrong’ any sporting event I attend I remember how I would phone my mum to tell my dad where we were sitting so he could keep an eye out on the TV and I’d bring the program back. I’d buy anything sport related I’d see in reference to any event, World Cup key rings, golf hat, water bottle and he’d keep every piece on a shelf, unused, but looked at and loved that I’d bought it for him, it held a little bit of me for him, but now all those items have gone.
The physical presence disappears when a person dies, but the memories of their life and how it interacted with yours goes on, a bit of what made you, you no longer exists without them to share it with you, but you continue to grow and accept that they are no longer there, but you never forget.
Taken 2 days before his death. he doesn't look like someone who is going to drop dead in 48 hours, but looking back at the photo and witnessing his decline, I shouldn't have been surprised that he did die the day he did. 11th July 2017.