I’m a great proponent of birthdays – I believe they should be made special because they belong to just you. But today, I deferred mine because I attended the funeral of a beautiful soul who passed away suddenly and left so many people completely bereft.
Both birthdays and funerals are always times of reflection – what you’ve done with your life so far. As you sit listening to eulogies or softly praying, you can’t help but wonder if that many people will be at your funeral – and what will they say? What will the overarching message be about who you were and what you did with your life?
This friend left a legacy most people would be hard pressed to even dream of leaving. His love, of his family, his friends, of life was so apparent, so infused into his being that it was impossible not to admire him, to love him and to want to be near him. Every positive characteristic you could think of was said about him – generous, loyal, loving, inspired, energetic, and so it went. The thing is, we are all great about saying good things about a person when they’re gone, but with this man, all those things were actually true.
Just about everyone who knows me, knows I hate funerals. I find the whole reaction to death a wholly contrived scene. We make food, we congregate and look at each other mournfully. We try to tell happy stories and think of good things. We say they’re in a better place, and probably they are. But surely the reaction to death should be great wailing, tearing of clothes, screaming at the insanity of it. Raw and ugly. That’s what grief is – it’s not pretty. It’s not about everyone dressing up in hardly-worn suits and walking slowly towards a hole in the ground, and then sharing finger food and weak tea afterwards. Granted, every culture has its traditions and some are better than others.
The loss of someone you love creates a huge gap that simply can’t be filled. Certainly not with bunches of flowers and crowds of well wishers. I guess though, those things distract you for long enough so you can breathe again.
I just don’t know what the right way to do it is. I’d like to set up a paper chase to take the people who love me on an adventure, landing up in an old movie theatre watching my favourite movie. Or some such thing. A celebration of the things I loved.
But we mourn our loss. The person we mourn is gone. Never coming back. That complete absence of a person is hard to comprehend, hard to bear. My brother died 24 years ago and I still mourn him. Silly really.
And so, on my birthday, I’m doubly contemplating who I am and what I am doing with my life. Is it enough? Am I satisfied? Have I done what I wanted to do and have I done it with passion, forgiveness, grace, love?
We should contemplate these things every day. We can never really be sure what the next day will bring or when time is up. We all know this – as we trundle to work or moan about silly things – but we don’t ever seem to do it until something triggers the introspection.
So perhaps today you can join me in considering what’s important and what’s not. And while you do that, raise a glass of really good red wine to an incredible man who left this earth too soon and whose family need all the strength they can muster to move on without him.