We’ve made a breakthrough in the UK. We can finally express our emotions, thank you Twitter!
Whether you had a bad day at work, split up with your partner or run out of milk in the middle of a brew, you’re probably likely to hashtag ‘life sucks’ or ring your mate, ranting until the night draws in and your phone has left an abstract imprint on your face.
But what about when it comes to mourning? I’ve seen the occasional ‘RIP’ status, but that’s hardly an hour on the chaise lounge, snot dribbling every which way whilst in the presence of a wide-eyed, weary-eared psychiatrist. Nope. When it comes to mourning, we’re still as British as we ever were, cowering away from the pain whilst telling helpless loved ones that we’re “just fine, thanks.” But why do we find it so difficult to mourn? And when we do, why does it have to be so ‘woe be me’ instead of ‘thank the gods that I had the gift of this person in my life’?
For me, mourning has so far been full of anomalies. I couldn’t say there has been a point when I have thought “Oh wow. It’s finally over.” Darting the ‘rollercoaster’ cliché, I’d have to compare it to the Focus song, Hocus Pocus. It’s just this odd feeling inside that cultivates every so often. And it’s familiar, but not the nice kind of familiarity. A bit like Thijs van Leer’s yodelling, I guess.
I’m not proud of the way I have repeatedly reacted to death, but it’s ingrained in me, this denial of emotion. You see, there’s something I find disturbingly selfish about mourning and I’m constantly thinking: “How can I feel so miserable and helpless and alone when I didn’t know them for as long as X or X?”
When my best friend Gosia died I told my manager and then got ready for work. I cried in the shower to disguise the tears and busied myself in the bar, serving occasional salty pints and avoiding any sympathetic eyes. One by one, colleagues and friends came up to me, half crying, half screaming: “Why didn’t you tell me??” but i didn’t know what to say. I was dying inside. Hearing the muffled exchange of “Gosia is dead” ache through my ears killed her that little bit more every time someone new heard the news. I felt suffocated and just wanted to be away from everyone and everything that reminded me of her. After work I met a friend who didn’t know Gosia and I got so drunk I fell face first on the floor, picking myself up to take a pill with a stranger in the toilets. But at least I’d managed to put off mourning for another few hours. After that I generally split my time between getting annihilated and writing a diary to Gosia.
When Dad died I was already enough of a mess. He was in a coma for some time before I went to visit him. When I went to visit his body (I’m not sure of how much, if any, of dad was left) I read Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory. There’s this amazing part of the book in which Woody teaches an ex-convict how to paint. I got a little carried away with the narrative and dad started twitching and my sister urged me to calm down. The others eventually left me alone with him. We hadn’t been alone together since I was a child and I found the situation daunting. I had a fragmented relationship with my father and I distinctly remember thinking: “What if he wakes up? What do I say? I have nothing to say to him” and actually hoping he would stay ‘sleeping’ for that moment, so that we could be in peace together, if only for a minute or so. I’d remembered that my brother told me dad had reacted to Bob Dylan’s Hurricane, but he was afraid it might mess with his brain or something. I played the song. I didn’t want dad to leave me in place for his casket and so I played the song and sure enough his hand started jerking. It was unnerving but rather calming at the same time, yet I still feel guilt that I did that. It’s funny what sadness does to you. Rather a puppet than a china-doll, perhaps.
I didn’t actually find out he had died straight away. I was busy downing rum and snorting whatever it is that’s sold on the streets these days. It was a 15 hour binge that I walked away from only to make my way to work again. I was wandering around Brixton, staring at the clouds and blue skies, completely separated from where I was going and what I was doing. When I was sent away from work a couple of hours later for being drunk (self-awareness was a stranger to me) I promptly skipped next door and had some more drinks. I then left the bar and all I remember is staring at a pitch black sky whilst a couple of paramedics lifted me out of a bush and into an ambulance, becoming that person that I despise so much, that wastes NHS time and money. I left the hospital at 6am the next morning and walked five hours back to my flat, where I charged my phone and listened to my brother tell me our father’s brain had died.
Grandma died a couple of months before dad. I was swimming in this distorted reality of alcohol, drugs and washing powder, unfazed by my own emotions or even the emotions of others. I remember that my friend Dylan was at my flat. He hated that he would get drunk and cry about his life and I would get drunk and my face would freeze up. “You never cry in front of me!” Dylan moaned. I left the room to take a call and heard that grandma had left us. I walked back into the kitchen, told Dylan and gave him his longed for tears. I spent the next eight hours perched at the front of a Megabus, waiting for my imminent death as the driver re-enacted Need for Speed on the M1.
By the time Granddad died I realised I’d had such a lovely time rebuilding our relationship (that is so often lost in teenage years) that I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Instead of my self-pitying drinking binges, I spent the time writing him poetry and helping my mum and Aunty with his funeral. In all honesty, I was happy that Granddad was with Grandma again, even if I humiliated myself by welling up mid-speech and crying for approximately two straight minutes to tired and disintegrating spectators.
I’m still not good at coping with death. Sometimes I’ll hear a certain song and cry over Gosia. Another time I’ll hear the exact same song and laugh with her, thinking of how silly she would think I’m being for crying over her death. Sometimes I’ll see a girl with a blonde bob and squint my eyes so that she looks like Gosia, fooling myself that she’s just on vacation.
In Mexico they have a tradition called Day of the Dead which holds the belief that the heavens are opened for dead loved ones to visit on November 1 and 2. Even more obscure to us, in the Satiyaa community in Rajasthan, India, people celebrate death- viewing it as the happiest life event to take place. Whilst I’m not sure the latter would bode well in most cultures, I think that this deep-seated fear of death that the West instils in us is unhealthy. Of course I’m not happy that my loved ones have died, but shouldn’t I be celebrating the beauty that they brought to my life, not the sadness that their absence has welcomed?