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.)