Today was a difficult day, a day that everyone dreads.
Funerals are never easy. I’m sure many mourners find themselves lamenting that missed opportunity to say ‘goodbye’ properly. I’ve never had that chance to share that opportunity with any of those I’ve lost. A final farewell as the coffin is committed is the closest I’ve ever come. And that’s the moment when it becomes real; the moment you fully, truly realise you’ll never see that person again.
Walking into a packed church in front of rows of mourners patiently waiting for our arrival, pacing behind the coffin-bearers carrying the wooden box containing the earthly remains of our dearly departed, it became clear that my nan’s life amounted to far more than my experience and estimation of her. It became clear that she was loved, and would be missed, by many.
Comfort is found in others
My loss was keenly felt, yet I have still to experience the loss of a first-degree relation. My father and my aunt had lost their mother of almost 91 years. I still can’t conceive the regret they must feel.
It is truly a struggle to comfort a person who has lost their mother. No words are suitable, yet the greatest urge is to find a way to somehow ease their suffering. Defeat is found in the acceptance that no such method exists; suffering is an essential part of the healing process. It is through the full realisation of our loss that we finally come to terms with it.
At the end of the day, as I drove home with my brother we once again went past the church at which the ceremony was held. The early evening September sun held the edifice in its full resplendent glory. The 15th Century church sits detached from the village it serves and stands proud of its surroundings, a testament to the power of the belief of those who built it and worshipped within it.
It was heartening to think of my nan — once again united with her late husband more than 24 years after his passing — spending the rest of eternity in such beautiful surroundings. The village where she was born, the village where she lived, and the village where she was finally laid to rest.
She was no adventurer, but she was committed to the things she loved, and she lived a peaceful and well-intentioned life. She will be sorely missed by many, and that is the measure of her life. This is what we must all strive for.
Silent or not, the tree falls
As a humanist it doesn’t occur to me to share the in beliefs of Christianity surrounding life and death. However the value of life is no less felt in me than any other.
Much to my own personal sadness, my son has reached the age where he realises that death is an inevitable consequence of life. During his most fearful moments he relates his deepest concerns to me about what will happen to him once I am gone.
In his beautiful childhood naïvety he overlooks the probability that by the time this has happened he will be a grown man capable of caring for himself, but the point he raises is still pertinent: one day he will have to live without me.
My response is plain and simple: having known me, he will never be without me. I will always be there, in the only way I ever could ever be with him: in his thoughts and memories and his feelings. I haven’t yet tried to explain to him that his experience of me is the only thing that is truly real.
Whether I have a physical presence or not is irrelevant, so long as a psychological manifestation of me exists within his own mind. That is the only thing that we can be sure is real after all: our experience of others is nothing more than the impulses our senses provide us with.
The period for which we continue to live in the minds of others is the truest measure of our lives. A tree that falls outside of earshot may as well have not fallen at all.
Long live star dust
As the late, great Carl Sagan once said: “we’re all made of star stuff”. We are each a manifestation of the universe experiencing itself subjectively. We have always existed, and always will. You could grind my bones to dust and I would be no less a part of the universe than I am now. That simple truth is the physical equivalent of eternal life.
All things must pass, and most events are beyond our control. The only control we can reliably exercise is over our responses to the rich tapestry of events that so characterise our lives.
Practice gratitude every day, and you will soon learn that what you have now is far greater than what you could ever stand to lose.