Monday, 21 August 2017
Afterwards - Part 1
Everything is afterwards now.
There was an old lady's funeral in Valley’s End today; I had planned to go, was determined to go; she had been a friend of sorts and I thought I should pay my respects to her and her husband and family. Also, it would have meant joining a throng of villagers for the funeral tea afterwards, chatting, mingling, getting back into village life, rather than clinging for succour to the few friends I have. So, all things considered, surely a good plan?
I didn’t go. Sitting over my solitary lunch - the funeral was at 2.30 in the afternoon - I felt bad. I knew I wasn’t going to go, no matter how urgently I pressed myself to do so. When I finally hit upon the solution I felt great relief. 'I’ll say, I just couldn’t face it’, I told myself, ‘it’s too soon after Beloved’s death’. ‘I shall break down in tears’. That would do for an excuse I thought. ‘Nobody can expect me to attend.’ That’s what I came up with, and all that after I had promised myself that, from now on, I would never feel obliged to lie again for appearances’ sake. Without Beloved’s polite good manners to rein me in I can say what I feel. Not giving offence, hopefully, but not giving much of a damn either. As my good friend Andrew says: ‘It’s brilliant to mature beyond giving a damn’. "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go . . . .” Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning' may only seem to concern itself with outward appearance but look a little deeper and she’s telling you to take yourself and your disapproval on a running jump from a short plank.
It’s frequently like that: I have every intention of coming out of my cave, blinking in the sudden light of day, joining others, accepting that life goes on. The other day I bought an expensive concert ticket. Some friends were going to take me and it would have been a pleasant evening. I let the ticket go using a dicky tummy for an excuse. True, I had had some rumblings and frequent loo visits during the day but I was feeling much better come evening. “Such a pity you had to miss the concert,” my friends said afterwards, “you missed a real treat.” Of course life goes on, I am here, am I not? At first I didn’t care to survive, alone, friendless, lacking family, lacking purpose. (There’s some self pity in there. ) Now I do. In fact I have made a decision: I want to survive for years yet, becoming a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued old woman. When I told a couple of friends on separate occasions, both said “Well, you shouldn’t find that difficult, you haven’t far to go to reach your goal.” How lucky I am to have friends who feel able to make that sort of comment, don’t you agree?
The wretched problem is that the recently bereaved become vulnerable, naked; being visible draws attention to that state of insecurity. It’s almost as if you have to take baby steps before you can walk out into the world again with any kind of self assurance. And the lack of focus on something other than grief, the lack of purpose that can fill the mostly empty days make survival questionable. I can’t even say that Beloved died too soon or unexpectedly, although the end did come rather suddenly. He was old and very ill and his mind had begun to wander. But grief does not depend on justification, it just sits there, like the elephant in the room, taking up all your breathing space.
Although Simone de Beauvoir was not speaking about grief when she wrote in her study on the ageing process: "the paradox of our time is that the aged enjoy better health than they used to and that they remain “young” longer. This makes their idleness all the harder to bear. Those who live on must be given some reason for living: mere survival is worse than death.” The survivor had better rediscover that life is for living.