An old acquaintance's funeral was held today and although I promised the person who told me of the death that I would present myself punctually at 2pm at St George’s I failed miserably to keep my promise. At 96 the friend was old indeed, his wife died several years ago and he had been in a nursing home for some time. I have yet to formulate a reasonably valid excuse; suffice it to say that it’s been a cold and miserably wet day, with snow and rain, the church itself is bitterly cold, there are always people in the congregation who are nursing winter chills and flu, apt to pass them on, funerals rarely do the deceased justice, and they are no longer on my list of must-attend occasions, particularly the formulaic Church dos, except in the case of people who matter to me. Call me what you like, weak-kneed, lazy, mean, selfish, all of those could apply.
Nowadays I find it hard to force myself to do things I don’t want to do. Perhaps I don’t try very hard? And I really, truly, definitely, do not mind if nobody comes to my funeral, which is going to be a very basic, simple and quiet affair.
In Victorian times things were very different; they shrouded grief in elaborate and complex rituals.
“The depth of the band on a man’s hat and the width of a black border on a piece of writing paper indicated to the world the precise stage that mourning had reached. Whether this made sorrow any easier to bear is debatable. Perhaps all that can be said of these fashions in mourning is that their intricacy kept people occupied when they most needed to be and provided an elaborate facade behind which to conceal their sorrow.” (Debrett’s Etiquette)
Lately I have started to think of the future. It’s still very hazy and rather than making plans for what I might want to do, I have clearer ideas on what I certainly don’t want to happen: having lost the most important person in my life I do not want to replace him; there will never be an unconditionally welcoming space within friendly arms again, all I can hope for is a companionable hug from a male or female friend to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. There are advantages to living on one’s own, i.e. without a co-habitee, house sharer or lodger. We cannot know what the future holds but I prefer not to have my space invaded, I prefer to be without a dependent being, or someone who tries to look into my mind and soul. I do not want to be disturbed or disarranged, and I do not want to be a caregiver again. I have brought up two children, taken care of my parents in their final years in different ways and looked after and cared for Beloved’s every need in his last year. I tell myself that I would love to be able to take care of him still, but I am not sure how keen I would be as his illness and confusion progressed into total disability. As it would have done had he lived. I miss him dreadfully, but maybe ten months later I see him more as the man he was before he fell ill.
Today I can make up my mind about what I want to do and when and how and why I want to do it. I don’t need to make compromises, I can arrange every day as I want it. Not an unalloyed pleasure, of course, it is a privilege which could easily bring loneliness and boredom and a descent into self-absorption. One can have too much of a good thing, as they say. I expect with time will come a way of finding activities that will fill the empty space.
I am not done with mourning. Strangely, grieving for Beloved has stirred up the pain of old losses. I find myself missing my parents all over again, thinking of them and their way of departing this world; I am even mourning the loss of my home country, something I have only ever done in the shape of temporary Heimweh. (Home sickness is not entirely the same) I also mourn the loss of my daughter who is alive and well, but lost to me all the same. I mourn my callow youth, the loss of friends here and in the old country and I mourn opportunities I missed and roads I have not taken.
Perhaps, with grief not as deadening and all-encompassing as it was, with finally accepting Beloved’s death and learning to come to terms with it, a period of calm reflection will bring relief and renewed hope for a bearable future. Darkest winter must turn to spring eventually.