Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Happy International Women's Day!

So it is that time of year again! That one day, where everyone pays attention (including main stream news media) to the issues, concerns and welfare of women worldwide. I urge everyone to take the time today to read something written by a woman, to listen to a woman speak, to show a woman respect and to encourage and support the women around them. Stand up for the rights of women, treat them as equal and then remember that if we did this every day all over the world, we would not need a day devoted to one half of the human race.

'As a woman I have no country,
As a woman my country is the whole world'

Virginia Woolf

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Inexperience of Attending Funerals.

It has been a long time since I have written. Several months in fact. Why? Well 'Life' has a way of becoming busy and intruding on any possible writing time. I have, however, come to the conclusion that I am happier when I write, even if it is only 5 or 6 lines a day. So here I am, back at the whole blogging thing, sending my words out into the cyber stratosphere. It is a chilly Sunday morning in London, the sun is shining through the big glass windows in my living room, I have a cup of rooibus tea and a toasted hot-cross-bun and I am playing some folk music on Spotify. My neighbor has just got up (late, as is his usual habit) and is banging about in the flat downstairs.The sky outside is blue, but large pale grey clouds are threatening to move in off the horizon and I suspect that we will have some rain before the day is finished. My husband is off elsewhere visiting his father and I have, unusually, the whole flat to myself. Peace and quiet with my own thoughts. There are a million and one things I could do, should do. But if I never make time for writing. If I never prioritise it, then it will never happen.

The last week has been a bit tumultuous. I am in a rather uncertain position at work. I may be promoted, but it is all still up in the air and I must wait a little while to see where I stand and what will become of my role. As with most things: 'good things come to those who wait.' I think I used to be a patient person, but over the last few years, my ability to wait for things to happen seems to have been eroded. I like to 'make' things happen now. So when I can do nothing to further the course of a particular path, I often feel frustrated. However, I have decided to be patient with my job and to wait it out, live with uncertainty for a while and see what happens.Once you decide to accept that some things may always remain uncertain in life, you actually feel a lot freer.

Apart from the uncertainty surrounding my career, there was also the uncomfortable and sad occasion of a funeral. An old work colleague and friend of my husband died suddenly two weeks ago and we attended his funeral on Friday.  I have been very fortunate not to lose too many people in my life so far and so I have not attended many funerals. My mother assures me that when I reach her stage of life, I will be attending one every month. Any funerals I have attended have almost always been in the UK. Except of course for my grandfather's memorial service which took place in America and was very small and only attended by my family. Funerals are odd events, especially in the UK. People often seem very stoical and reserved. They may show emotion, but they seem to keep a lid on any outpouring of grief. I suppose it must differ depending on the bereaved family and on the cultural background of the community, but I have never yet seen such outward displays of grief in England as I have seen in other countries, such as funerals on the news or in documentaries. This intrigues me, as I wonder if people grieve more in private after or before a funeral and then put on a brave face of others. I wonder, if when the occasion arises, it would be healthier for myself to just simply bawl my eyes out, even if I am doing so, very publicly. Perhaps the wailing and crying done in other parts of the world is actually cathartic. I suspect I am too English now, after growing up in the UK, as the idea of big public displays of emotion (especially crying) fills me with embarrassment.

I am often unsure how to feel, how to act and what to say at a funeral. I did not know my husband's friend at all, I went to the service to support my husband, but I could see how the deceased was much loved and how many people turned up. As usual, my husband and I got lost in the car on the way to the crematorium, ended up at the wrong end of the cemetery and we had to run to the service like two characters from Four Weddings and a Funeral. We almost always get lost on the way to a big occasion: weddings, funerals, birthdays, Christmas gatherings etc. We only just made it into a pew seconds before the casket was brought in and carried down the aisle. A rather unprepared priest said some prayers and random things that I thought were a little strange and inappropriate (including commenting on the choice of casket, which was a wicker basket and referencing Fifty Shades of Grey). My husband assured me that his friend would have probably thought the whole scene was hilarious. We sang a few hymns, a poem was read and two wonderful speeches were given by the brother of the deceased and his boss. The deceased was partially-sighted so his guide dog was brought to the ceremony too and everyone attended a wake in the local pub afterwards. People wept quietly, talked about their absent friend and work colleague, exchanged pleasantries and offered each other cups of tea and mini sandwiches from a nearby buffet. It was very civilised.

My husband later remarked that it did not feel real. That he could not believe his friend was truly gone. I wondered if this is how we process death now. Clinical, private, quiet and removed. As if the person you knew just walked away one day and disappeared. My husband described it as feeling like the deceased could just pop into the pub unexpectedly and have a drink with you. I don't think the average person in the UK experiences death regularly. Unless of course your job is somehow related to death and the dying, you are very removed from what people must have had experienced knowledge of in the past, when death was more regular and seeing dead bodies was more common. I've never seen a dead person. My husband saw is grandparents' bodies after they died and he describes it as a very disconcerting experience but that it was also helpful in saying goodbye to them. He felt that they had truly gone and not in some sort of theoretical sense, but in a very real and organic way. They had physically died and although it was very upsetting, it allowed him to grieve and to understand that this was a natural cycle and nothing to be frightened of. It gave him closure. In a way, it helped him to move beyond the event of their deaths and to remember their lives as well. When I think of my grandfathers, I cannot remember even the last time I saw them alive. I can't remember what my last words to them were. They simply existed and then they didn't. It is like they floated away off into some other reality. There was no finality in their passing. I heard of it like I heard the news on TV of some famous person dying, albeit more upsetting of course. I was across an expansive ocean in a different country when both my grandfathers died and somehow that makes me sadder than the idea of witnessing either of their deaths.

Everyone is different and what feels right to one person or one culture, will feel wrong to another, But personally for me, hiding away death, makes it more frightening and mythical. I don't want to be frightened or embarrassed or even reserved. If an idea is difficult or disturbing I want to look it in the face and confront it directly. I may be young and in good health and lucky because those around me are alive and prospering, but someday I will have to face the prospect of the death of someone close to me. I just hope that I can meet such an occasion with less awkwardness and allow myself to grieve any way that I feel is natural.