I lost an uncle over Christmas. And as I write this post, an aunt lies in a hospital bed 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 we cut down on wine or how much time we spend in the gym, it gets all of us in the end.
Death doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to. 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, yet it can also harden you to its inevitability. When you’ve experienced such a huge disappointment at the start of your life, nothing else comes close.
But that experience can mean that I don’t react appropriately to the news of a passing. I don’t grieve for long. With a heart half-closed and a head that has forced itself into defense-mode, instead, I focus on the practical; on how best to utilize the time I have left. There is a satisfaction in spitting at that sucker in the face, the closer you get to doomsday. After all, none of us has the power to change the rules.
I’ve shared lengthy discussions with people over the years about the best way to go. I’ve seen 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, with no warning. Whoosh! – in a puff of smoke.
Optimists and religious people tell us that we grieve for our own loss, rather than for the person that has died. And I believe that to be true when death is provoked by natural causes, although not if someone is taken in the appalling circumstances of murder, for instance. I try to remain optimistic about the day I will finally meet my maker. I comfort myself with the knowledge that although my body will pass, no one can take my legacy away from me.
My name will remain on my family tree as a fully paid-up member, and although I might not see them often, the branches of my extended family remain close to my heart – as they have been this week. The hope is that my successors will keep my memory alive – through silly and embarrassing anecdotes and stories, I imagine, rather than a pompous list of achievements that I deemed important at one time.
‘Remember that time that Lou (or Auntie Lou or Grandma or Mum) ‘… they’ll say…and for a moment I’ll be remembered – in all likelihood for that time I made a complete ass of myself when I fell off my bike into a rice paddy in Bali.
My uncle will be remembered for being a good man, who took 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.