Well, this isn’t morbid at all

My grandmother died when I was 17. They asked in the hospital if I wanted to see the body, and I said no. I preferred to remember her as she always had been, sitting in her chair in her front room with her fluffy halo of white curls and the remote control, watching the snooker.

I’m 41 and that’s still the closest I’ve come to seeing a dead person.

Isn’t that a little odd? I mean, yes, it’s also wonderfully lucky, and I’m blessed, but isn’t it a little unnatural? I think it’s indicative of how much we try to hold the brass-tacks realities of life at arm’s length in the modern world: I’ve been involved in precisely two births – those of my own children – and zero deaths. Even when our family cat died, I had already moved out of the house and the first I knew of her demise was when my mother rang me at work to say she’d taken Mitzi to the vet that morning.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m reality-proofed at all. I think when something happens – as it must, because no matter how much we pretend life doesn’t end in death, it always does – I won’t have any precedent. I know intellectually that death happens, but I suspect being faced with the physical reality, especially when it’s someone you know and love, takes more than book learning. I’ve met grief, when my much loved mother-in-law died very suddenly; but it was my husband’s family’s grief; it didn’t belong to me.

Maybe it’s just autumn, these thoughts I have. One red leaf and I’m all moribund.

I do have this feeling that, having hit 40, I’m into the second half. I’m maybe on the downward slope. I’m freewheeling, but the destination isn’t really somewhere I’m in a hurry to get to. That’s probably why it’s going faster now; but I’m putting more thought into the process.

Having had one or two brushes with discomfort, I appreciate better the simple ability to move my body around without difficulty or pain; for my parents right now that’s not so easy. I have more pressing reasons to try to make my body strong or fit: I need to work on my core muscles not just because of the frankly pie-in-the-sky notion of a flat stomach but also because it helps my back not hurt. I have a newfound urge to create, to leave behind, to do worthwhile things because I won’t always be here.

(Don’t worry, I’m planning on being here for at least another 40. And my parents, while somewhat decrepit, are not yet knocking on death’s door. But it’s good to think about these things when they’re not pressing, you know.)

single red leaf on the pavement

7 thoughts on “Well, this isn’t morbid at all

  1. Nearly Irish

    I’ve had the same thoughts as well…I’ve never really experienced the death of someone very close ( which is a good thing, right?). Both sets of grandparents died either before I was born or when I was very young. My cousin died accidentally and my uncle passed away when he was 87 years old. These are the only 2 deaths that were close enough. The thing is, being in another country, I didn’t see them and didn’t attend the funerals. It’s weird but I felt a bit detached, as if it wasn’t real or it didn’t have the same importance as if I was there, with them ( I don’t know if that makes sense…)

  2. Sheila

    I’ve seen a handful of dead older relatives due to the love of open coffin wakes or services in Ireland. Both my grandparents and some aunts and uncles. I guess it does give a sense of closure, but I actually found that the body I saw was missing so much of the person I knew that it didn’t seem real anyway. Like seeing a not particularly good wax dummy of someone. I remember them from when they were at their best, full of life. I suspect it’d be different to see someone close who had passed away when they were much younger though.

    1. Maud Post author

      Maybe it’s not that I think it’s so unusual but more that modern life seals many of us off from death, and that maybe it’s not healthy.

  3. a

    I don’t think it’s that unusual to have avoided deaths (for the most part) – lucky, yes, but not THAT unusual. I wish you continued success! 🙂

    I have had a lot of family members and family members of friends die – and yet, I am still terrible at wakes. I always say the wrong thing. At any rate, during my grandmother’s wake, we all though she looked strange, not quite right. It took a while before someone figured out that we were not used to seeing her silent and with her mouth closed, not in a big smile showing her teeth. Better to stick with memories…

  4. torthúil

    Here from the round up on Stirrup Queens. For some reason in the past few years I’ve become much more interested in mortality. Like you, I’ve never had someone REALLY close to me die, but I’ve seen others deal with grief, and when we were diagnosed with infertility, it seemed much more relevant for some reason. I wonder how I will cope with death and loss because I’ve had so little exposure to it, and yet I know it’s unavoidable, as you say.

  5. office mum

    I would say it’s healthy and normal to take think about death, but I’d also guess that you’re no less prepared than anyone else – well, more to say that those who have experienced the death of someone close are probably just as ill-equipped to deal with it in the future.
    (now, I have to admit, this isn’t based on any kind of actual psychology)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *