DEALING with death was something I only learned about in mature adulthood - I was blessed in that regard and grateful too for knowing nothing about loss for so very long. But of course with age comes experience and the life-changing event that is death inevitably walks into life.
So now, as a so-called 'mature' adult, I can say I have lived through death – both expected and unexpected. I have grappled with the initial shock each one brings because whatever the circumstances, to my mind, death is always a. shock. And a finality.
Initially we only had one cemetery to visit every Christmas but with the passage of time, this has extended to two. I resented it hugely. Not the visit itself because it was where I wanted and needed to be, but the fact that death and its incumbent rituals now had a home in my life. My younger self would never have been able to fathom it particularly at Christmastime. Back then, Christmas was just a big chunk of festivity, joviality and triviality. Standing in a graveyard at the happiest time of the year would have been a far off notion, if a notion at all.
But standing in the graveyard this Christmas Day brought something new. As I looked around at the throngs of people each doing the same as us, I felt enormous pride. I was proud of being part of a people who refuse to let the dead die. Everyone was there because they had loved and if they had not loved, they had cared and if they had not cared, they had respected. For whatever reasons, the people milling through the cemeteries this Christmas, every Christmas and indeed right throughout the year, were there because those who had died had at one time lived – a fact that even death in all its ugliness can never take away.
I met people this year that I had not met on previous occasions – death cast a shadow on the doorstep of many for the first time in 2012. On meeting in this the most unlikeliest of places, there were hugs and kisses, tears and laughter but there was a joy too. Stories spontaneously spilled out and anecdotes chuckled through as a warmth replaced the coldness and relief overtook restraint at being able to speak so freely about those who were lost to us.
Then it dawned on me. For the first, time this Christmas the dead were not lost to us. Though they might not live on, the life of them does. And although the pain of not touching them still hurts like a knife, I left the cemetery this Christmas Day grateful for having being able to touch them in life and having them touch me. And even in death and even from this new distance, they still touch my life. Knowing this has become my consolation and at last has managed to take the finality away.
May 2013 be kind to us all.