I've been thinking a lot about death lately. It happens this time of year. Always around the first 3 months of a new year we lose people and as I get older I see more and more that my friends as well as myself are clobbered by loss. It's hard to lose people we love but I can't help thinking about what death does to the living especially the not related to, acquaintances of, or the folks that knew the name but never really knew the person who have died.
As the world becomes more connected and with more options to connect it gets harder to draw the lines sometimes between what is private and what isn't and death is rarely private these days. It often gets leaked or announced before the actual family is ready to have this done and then once it's out it seems to take on a life all of its own whether the family wish it or not, death is very public and everyone wants to somehow feel connected, be a part of it somehow.
One of the things I find most interesting and often a little sad is how death turns people into total hypocrites. I remember from way back a kid I knew died of sudden and unexpected causes, he wasn't well liked but once he was dead he was the most popular kid on the block. I was puzzled by this behaviour because it seemed so odd. Everyone knew who his friends were and who hated him yet after he was dead they were ALL suddenly his friends. I wanted to know why this wasn't the case in life. He was a peripheral acquaintance of mine, his real friends were my friends but his life and my life rarely intersected. I was sad to hear he had died and I attended the funeral which was open to all, it was a packed church, but only family were allowed at the grave site. After the funeral a bunch of us hung out and shared stories, well mostly I listened because I didn't have any stories to share.
I see this often, this need to suddenly be a part of the dead person's life after the fact. The need to memorialize, make larger than life, and somehow connect to the one who has gone is a puzzle for me. Why do we do it? Especially if the person in question wasn't well liked or well known? And if the latter why did the people who are suddenly mourning the terrible loss not do more for the person when they were alive?
I have known death my whole life, mostly as a peripheral thing, people died in car accidents, parents of friends, grandparents overseas, uncles and aunts never met but occasionally it touched home as well. School mates I liked and played with. there one day, gone the next, brain cancer, bone cancer, accidental drowning, you name it I've heard it. Pets also died, beloved dogs, grumpy bad tempered cats. Things die. This is how it goes so why the fuss after the person is dead?
I often wonder what the immediate family must think of all the extra notice and fuss, all the memorials and sudden need to be a part of it. Did they want this all made public as well? Do they want all the tributes and the fuss, the constant reminders that their loved one is gone. I remember when my father died, he was 54 and I was in my late 20's. It was a bad time for us because I wanted to be free of parental bonds and he wanted to protect, we hadn't talked a lot and when we did it was tense. He died before we could resolve this, before we moved out of this phase onto the next so it was hard. And weird. He wasn't there anymore. I was lucky in some respects because I had to return to school very shortly after he died and only came home for the memorial service, the church was packed. My dad had a lot of friends and knew a lot of people who really liked and respected him.
I remember one young man coming up to me at the reception afterwards, he was a member of the CLB band and told me my dad would be missed and it was a terrible loss. I think I shrugged. I told him he was dead but as long as we remembered and told stories of him he was not gone, not really. It was in that moment I understood, when it comes to death, I'm pretty pragmatic. This doesn't mean I don't grieve or mourn or miss him like crazy I did and still do but this is life and the world never stops turning. I am however grateful that facebook and web blogs and twitter didn't exist at the time because I think it would have driven me crazy. It's a personal thing, the loss of a loved one and now a days it seems to be more about what the masses think and feel in a very public sometimes very ugly way. Someone once told me that death makes great liars out of people. This truth is oddly ironic since death is about as true as it gets. I understand the Irish and their wakes. Get plastered, tell stories and remember.
It seems to me that we would far better serve people by being kind to them while they are alive rather than waxing poetic after the fact. The dead don't care and as for the living, well I'd be inclined to ask the immediate family and closest friends how best to serve the memory of the departed before anything else.