To Be Loved In Death As In Life Is All Any Of Us Can Really Hope For

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.

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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.

 

 

The Value Of Celebrity In Our Lives

I can’t remember when I finally grew up and began to like mushrooms. Oh, that’s right… I didn’t grow up, I just began to like mushrooms and a few more of those foodstuffs that I never trusted when I was little because they were fugly.mushrooms-756406_1280

 

One of the biggest pieces of wisdom you acquire when you get older is the knowledge about not judging books by their covers.

 

People, like mushrooms and olives and maybe even tripe, often camouflage their true flavors, so now, whenever I meet new people, (and in my job I meet a lot of wealthy people, who seemingly ‘have it all’), I am very conscious of the falsity of that assumption.

 

There is an analogy between the fugliness of mushrooms and what the recent spate of celebrity deaths has signified to each of us. One thing to come out of it is the sad fact that we often we only get to hear about the real side of people after they die. For a celebrity cynicist like myself, it’s reassuring to know that their value to society was not wholly tied up in their need for attention.

 

I think that the sudden flurry of these public deaths has made all of us more sensitive to the impact of loss and our place on earth. While generally I do have a healthy disdain for the whole ‘celebrity’ factory – (unless I feel the individuals have earned their public acknowledgement, which doesn’t include reality tv stars, stars of sex videos, those who have made it by their looks alone or by selling their souls) – I think these did. Especially now, in the aftermath, since the sensationalist, media-fuelled post-mortems have died down and their behind-the-scenes stories have come to light.

 

I have to agree with Carrie Fisher, when she said that, ‘Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.’

 

So in this instance, I’m glad I didn’t judge these particular celebrities by their “cover” because as much as I can be cynical about the fame game, I also have a healthy admiration for those with the ability and drive to harness their talents. I understand that to reach a status of public acclaim takes more than a good voice or sound writing skills, that you have to be tough, work hard and need passion, commitment and self-belief – a perfect cocktail of qualities that most of us don’t possess.

 

But do those public talents determine their value? Is the musician’s musicianship more important than the fact that he visited homeless shelters in his free time? I imagine that different people will have a different response.

 

The problem with worshipping at the feet of celebrity – and the recent outpouring of grief is proof – is that it can undermine our own sense of worth and contribution. After all, is a singer’s contribution more important than what the Human Rights lawyer or the person who sets up homes for victims of domestic violence does?

 

It suggests that the majority of us – normal people – and what we give to society, isn’t as valuable.

 

It’s common knowledge, and I realized when I washed my bra by hand this morning (Yes, I washed my bra!), that because everything is so much easier and instant for us in the modern world, we expect our thrills to come quicker and the more shocking they are, the better – it’s that “instant gratification” problem that we bunch together with millennials – something I’ve witnessed as an emerging writer trying to get published (at the age of 51) – because unless you are happy to sell out your family or provide details about your sex life, it can be hard to be heard.

 

As sad as 2016 is now being depicted, I can’t help feeling that this ridiculous fascination with these celebrity deaths devalues our own relevance and importance. Is the fact that Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart more important than the number of women killed at the hands of domestic abuse this year, for example?

 

I have always believed that we are put on this earth for a reason and like most people, I imagine, through several periods of self-absorption I have questioned my own existence. As a young woman, I had no obvious talents, no real sense of purpose, (other than my own survival), and I realize now that I pinned my personal value on being a parent, so when the wheels fell off that as well, I felt worthless.

 

Sadly, the reasons for our existence may not be evident until we pass, which is something that needs to change. Think of the writers who only achieved recognition posthumously, the heroes who died in action, the doctors, the nurses and police that save people on a daily basis or the millions that die in war. The point is that we all make an impact. No matter how minimal our contribution to society may seem or how short our existence is, we make a difference to the lives of others just by being there, and we don’t to be on tv to prove it.

 

Most will argue that Bowie, Prince and Michael will be remembered for their music legacy, while others will remember them for helping clear pathways for the LGBT community; Carrie Fisher will be remembered for Star Wars by many, but it is her honesty (rather than her hair buns) about her personal struggles with mental illness that will have inspired others; for George Michael, it may not be Wham and those shorts, but his private acts of generosity.

 

We all have something to give and we will all leave a legacy, that may not be as obvious as those left by the likes of Alan Rickman or Victoria Woods, but which are just as great a contribution, nevertheless. In my opinion, the majority of talent is not manifested in public, on the stage or in writing; true talent comes from the heart, and is a much more powerful currency, with a much brighter star.