The red balloon bobs and twinkles in the sunlight, incongruous at the roadside amid the fading flowers, distracting the attention of other drivers and sending the recognition of mortality shivering down spines. She wasn’t even twenty… a village girl and her family grieves. Most who pass will know nothing more than that a life was lost untimely, the pile of flowers a recognition and a tribute from loved ones.
We do not pile flowers where great auntie dies, only lay them on her coffin perhaps. Nor are they strewn on battlefields where our young are sent to live or die by order and chance. Only where lives are taken, lost, against what we see as ‘normal circumstances’. Then are flowers strewn.
Two miles further down this road I drive every day is another sign… fatal accident… and another life gone, another table with an empty place, another family grieving. This one I do not know… father, mother, partner or child. The death is anonymous. There are no flowers here yet. That tells its own tale perhaps.
We do not deal very well with death or dying in our culture, particularly with our adherence to the stiff upper lip. There is no keening cry, no cutting of locks nor rending of clothes. We are a reserved society and death itself is kept locked in the closet with the skeletons as a rule, taken out and polished when absolutely necessary, but never asked to tea, so to speak. Granny’s ashes are no longer buried beneath the hearthfire at the heart of the home, we do not maintain the living bond with the ancestors that the old ones kept. Where possible dying is sanitised, made impersonal as if by doing so we can escape the grieving which is also a natural part of life and loss. Why should we not grieve for those we love and will see no more… even when that grief is an expression of our loss as much, perhaps, as for the manner of a passing. But wherever we meet it, death always raises the spectre of our own inescapable future.
Yet it comes to us all… an inevitability of birth, regardless of the manner of its arrival. We choose not to consider it… and if we do, we are seen as morbid or indulging in something distasteful. For most of us, it is a sombre, unmentionable shadow lurking at the end of a corridor dark with fear.
Many of us fear death… some fear only the manner in which the scythe will strike, and that is perhaps a fear most can admit to sharing. Those who see death as merely a transition from one state of being to another may not fear the accompanying loss of self, the annihilation of the person we see in the mirror or the unknown nature of the state to come, but there is still the fear of how and when the reaper will cut the cord and whether we will have done what we had to do.
Driving down that road that has claimed two lives in a few days I could not help but think about these things. Am I ready to die? Hell, no! I have too much living, loving and laughing yet to do… too much world yet to see… too much work I want to do. Yet I am not indispensable… anything of value I could contribute will be made by another when the Powers That Be decide that my hourglass is empty; the baton will be passed whether I have run a good race with it or not.
Do I fear death? No, just the manner of it. There have even been moments I would have welcomed it as a friend, an end to pain and heartache… not as an escape, for I do not believe we can escape the lessons we need to learn, in this life or any other. I firmly believe that to seek to walk away is to find yourself back on the carousel for another round, with the same horses’ backside staring you in the face and waiting to be dealt with. We can choose blindness, avoiding the learning, but I believe the current guides us where we need to go, if not always where we want, and those often painful lessons may be opportunities to learn, to create change, to face the demons, large and small, that lie in wait amongst the dust-mice under our respective beds.