Observations and thoughts …….
Just how do we say goodbye to a loved one? It’s a challenge facing us all, and often more than twice in our lives. It doesn’t matter whether they have reached the full expected span of their life with accumulated wisdom and maturity or if only an infant – it’s the same pain, the same distress, the same anguished cry of “Why?” ……… and often the follow-up guilt in the “If only ….”! Buzzing around my head is this:
“Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as his corpse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot, o’er the grave where our hero we buried.”
Just simple, expressive, oozing with sadness and loss. The first verse of a poem concerning the burial of Sir John Moore after the battle of Corunna in the Peninsular War (1807–1814)
We all know we should listen to our bodies, but there is a tendency to hide a suspicion about this or that, a hope, maybe a belief, it will go away; must have been an aberration!! ….. then it becomes an issue and it’s often too late.
Worried family and colleagues gather in hushed muted groups to share information and the latest prognosis, all the while hoping against hope for the best. The end comes quietly and peacefully. The grieving grieve. In the hospital basement, in a small windowless room masquerading as a chapel, the body is clothed by nurses, delicately and with sympathy; just another job that needs doing.
Every one of you will have experienced the death of a loved one, or even an unloved relative, whose life on earth deserves recognition. Unless you’re of Muslim, Jewish or Hindu faith, where custom dictates the funeral is conducted on the same day as the death, in northern Europe it’s normal for the funeral to take place some days, even a couple of weeks, after the demise. So I had to get used to the idea that Carlos Eduardo Guile da Rocha Miranda’s body would be cremated less than two days after his soul departed. Whilst I understood from a practical point of view how this custom developed in hot countries, my mind was shocked by the undue haste; and still is.
Christians used to expect to be buried ….. ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’ ….. the intonation rang out across the graveyard at past funerals; the coffin lowered into the cold ground. But there’s pressure on the physical space and cremations are becoming more normal.
The crematorium is surrounded by the graves of the departed – above ground for the Jews and below for the Christians. Some huge edifices have been erected …. the artist obviously having been given free reign …… winged angels stand guard ….. women lie draped in distress across the cold stone bust …. mausoleums large and frankly ridiculous dot the landscape. Is this glorifying death …… or life? Not sure! Maybe just highlights our awkwardness about what to do and how to do it??
The open coffin, the recently departed pale and lifeless, lies in the small crowded chapel, with only a figure of Christ on the Cross on the wall to suggest religious significance. The extended family, friends and academic colleagues gather to recollect, to pay their respects, to share in a life’s contributions. A priest conducts a simple, short service; the family are invited to say a few words. Eventually the orderlies come to put the top on the casket and wheel it away. Later the ashes will be collected and a decision made about what to do with them. My mother sat on my mantelpiece for a year or two before I scattered hers where my stepfather lay! Aunt Cynthia was placed under a rose brush outside her favourite church. Tom our loved Labrador was scattered on Hove beach at low tide. We all find the right place eventually.
The memorial service is in this case a mass. After the service, the line to meet and greet, to offer heartfelt condolences, snakes across the church. There is no haste, rightly so, each person wanting to express their memory of the man.
In the UK, about 1600 people died on the same day. Some quietly, some violently, some bravely, all just a number in the statistical record but as an individual so special and so loved. Some chums have written to say of similar end-of-life situations before this Christmas and others of the lingering for years in the twilight; one wishes we had a better way of ending the suffering.
I think Carlos would have liked to have recited this little poem, looking at his beloved Cecilia whilst he did so:
“If I should die and leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore and undone, who keep long vigils
By the silent dust and weep;
For my sake, turn again to life and smile,
The man I grieve in this piece was an enormously loved, talented individual who used his intellect to further our understanding of our brains and how they function. He was a simple man of faith or maybe a man of simple, deeply held faith, and if anyone was prepared for what might follow this earthy life, he was.
Richard – 20th January 2016 – firstname.lastname@example.org