I lost an uncle over Christmas, and as I write this post, an aunt lies in a hospital somewhere in the UK in a medically life-changing situation. Both events have been a sharp reminder that the wheels of time stop for no-one.
In words that echo the theme tune of Love Actually – sort of – it is a sad fact that death is all around us, and no matter how much less wine we drink or how much time we spend in the gym, it will get us all in the end.
And although death still terrifies me – because anyone who has been exposed to the death of a close loved one at a young age will know that it has a habit of fucking you over like that – I have also been hardened to it, emotionally. When you’ve had the biggest disappointment in your life, nothing else comes close.
That means that I don’t react appropriately to the news of a passing – you see, my heart has closed itself to the pain and my head has forced itself into a defensive, practical space. It’s what happens to all of us, my head reminds me; it’s par for the course. And something you learn the closer you get to doomsday is that the best way to spit at that sucker in the face is to make the most of living because not one of us has the power to change the rules.
I’ve had many discussions with people over the years about the best way to go. I’ve watched people go slowly, through debilitating illnesses that have nevertheless given them time to say goodbye, and I’ve experienced first-hand someone go just like that – Whoosh! – in a puff of smoke. As in, when you wake up that morning with your life on one axis and your biggest issues are looking cool at school and making sure there’s no sweet corn stuck in your teeth, and by that afternoon, you’re on another.
Optimists and religious people tell us that we grieve for ourselves, for our own loss, rather than the person that has died – and I believe that to be true. Unless, someone is taken in the appallingly unnatural circumstances of the Falkholt family, for instance, I try to remain optimistic about the day I meet my maker and comfort myself with the knowledge that although ultimately my body will pass, my legacy can never be taken away from me.
My name will always be on that family tree as a fully paid-up member, and although I might not see them often, my extended family is always in my heart – as they are this week. The hope is that my successors will keep my memory alive – I imagine through silly, embarrassing anecdotes and stories, rather than a pompous list of achievements that I used to deem important – there is, however, still time.
Remember that time that Lou or Auntie Lou, or Grandma or Mum … they’ll say…and I’ll be remembered, in all likelihood for that time I made a complete ass of myself by falling off my bike in Bali, straight into a rice paddy.
My uncle will be remembered for being a good man, who used to take us cousins swimming together on the weekends with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. He was also one of the archetypal dad-jokers before the phenomenon was formally recognized, and he will continue to be as loved in death as he was in life. Which is all any of us can hope for.