October 13th 2012…
In a cobwebbed corner of the loft, there is a suitcase. I know it is there, I am subtly conscious of it though I seldom open it any more. It is stuffed full of letters, notes, the tangible evidence of a decade of love. Most of them are silly things… a few scribbled words on a scrap of paper… found in the most incongruous places, where they had been left with love to bring a smile and a glow throughout the hours the day kept us apart. Some are funny, meant for laughter, some romantic, some speak of the deepest joys and fears we shared.
The last, the very last, he had left for me to find in his papers, knowing I would need them to register his death. Thinking of the moment he reached forward in time to write that for me I can no longer see the keyboard for the tears. Even now. Knowing he would have to go, knowing the grief that would take me, still he reminded me of shared laughter in that letter, held me gently with his words, sending his love and pride in me and our boys into a future that held only his memory.
It would have been his birthday this week and I smiled for him, playing the Elvis that was ‘my’ song, he said. I am the same age now as he was when he died. I have nothing tangible left of him apart from the letters, life has stripped everything back over the past thirteen years and each small loss has held a sadness. Last to go was the ring he gave me and that hurt. The touchable things do matter to the heart and their loss is an echo of the greater grief.
Yet the lasting legacy of courage and strength with which he faced life has shaped the way my sons have grown, becoming young men of whom any parent would be proud, helping them face and conquer the most horrific events. His faith in me held my hand as I walked forward alone. The intangible and indelible trace of his life is woven through ours.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking we had some kind of idyllic life together. It was short and we argued terribly about his Victorian methods of raising the boys. He was stubborn, exasperating, sometimes harsh… but love underpinned all he was and tried to achieve.
I am now of an age where loss becomes inevitable, already a dozen years older than my father when he died, closer now to my grandmother’s age when she passed than to his. I watched my own son hover at the doors of death for weeks without end. And watched, helplessly, as friends face the long journey through grief, knowing intimately how much pain it holds and how little anyone can do to ease it. It is particularly harrowing when the journey is mapped out heartbreakingly before them and they walk it knowing the end of the story. It matters not one bit how much one believes in the survival of the soul, the natural progression of life and death, the perfection of Creation’s grand design… the human heart just hurts anyway. As a beloved friend said, it’s a bugger.
I was asked how anyone could face any kind of life together in such fear. In my own experience, I found that once accepted, each day became precious and was lived in utter awareness. From the moment of waking when your hand creeps out to feel for their warmth beside you, to the consciousness of their breathing as you fall asleep. The focus of one’s days becomes each other, priorities shift and the petty worries of day to day fade into the background. There is an urgency and immediacy in that intimate understanding of finite time that makes life and love very vivid.
It is the difference between walking into an unknown lake gingerly and with caution as common sense would dictate, and finding a high place and diving in with eyes wide open. At such times there is a call to Live in the Now, to embrace the moment and deal with the consequences with the same passion. It makes living an acute experience.
This awareness does not fade unless we let it. Once found one becomes acutely aware of life and the lives that touch our own. I have known some who, unable to handle their grief, build their futures upon its back, wrapping themselves in it and using it as a justification for their fear of embracing life. But for most it is an opening to a fuller appreciation of life on all levels and in all its glory. How we choose to embrace a death can, in many ways, define how we perceive and experience life from that point onwards.
My son, for whom death seemed inevitable, has discovered the beauty in life. There is a joy in touch and taste, in colour and laughter, in embracing the intensity of Now.
Every birth holds the seed of its own death within it. Every form is finite and empowered by its very fragility. Life is dynamic and urgent, meant to be experienced to the full and with reverence for its beauty and the complexity of its dance. It should be lived with passion and an awareness of the Moment. Not in fear of possible pain or loss… but simply because we are alive and we can.