Monday, July 20, 2015

Deaths in the family

Ever seen a nature documentary of African elephants examining the skull of a dead elephant?  It's fascinating  because in their behaviour we see a reflection of ourselves and the way we grieve for our lost friends and relatives. Other social animals show behaviour when a pack/herd/... member dies. Depending on our relationship with them we may choose to see it as mourning or as something less like us.

I don't handle death well. Probably none of us do, but I don't handle it in the conventional way either. I tend to crack inappropriate jokes ... I let myself exhibit the emotional side of grieving later in private, it's my way of handling the situation.

In the last ten days, three people we knew died, First two cousins, one mine and one Tessa's died on following days. Their funerals were an hour apart, one in Taumaranui and the other in Whakatane ... a little under 300 km apart, and more-or less the same distance from here. The brother of Tessa's deceased cousin was at her funeral, despite his own partner being in intensive care. She has subsequently died as well.

There was no way we could go to both funerals. It was a given that Tessa would go to her cousin's, I needed to decide where I should be. I have fond memories of my cousin as a child, over 30 years ago but I had hardly seen him since. I saw Tessa's cousin more in the last three years than I'd seen my own in 30 and saw last New Year in with her and her family. In the end we drove down together to Edgecumbe  the night before the funeral. There was very bad rain on the way down reducing our speed and for the last hour and a half to two hours it was impossible to stop to have a walk around to stretch my back, or even to swap drivers. By the time we were there I had a monstrously sore back. When I got to bed I fell into a deep sleep, waking up in the wee small hours and never getting back into that deep sleep.

I'm a bit embarrassed about the service. I found the Jehovah's Witness service difficult to cope with, and did crack an inappropriate joke quietly to Tessa at one point in the service. At another point I was having great difficulty suppressing a laugh. A real low for me was they got us to sing a couple of their hymns. I was sight reading the unusual text and trying to keep up with the tune. Unfortunately I missed the end and sung the first few words of the following text.

For the first time in a couple of months I really wanted a cigarette. After the service and before the trip to the cemetery several smokers were clustered just outside the gates of the Kingdom Hall. I went over to chat to them, thinking I might bludge a cigarette. In the event I didn't try, I have no idea why but I'm glad I resisted.
After the internment, there was the traditional afternoon tea refreshments. I was weirdly dissociated from the events. Here were this woman's husband, children and grandchildren together with the people from the church and a few workmates and I had no idea what to say to anyone. To be fair I seldom do in these cases, but I was feeling a lot more sensitive about it than normal, I was being on my best behaviour again but still feeling bad about my earlier fax pas.

By the time Tessa was ready to leave, I was well and truly at that point. We were supposed to swap drivers at Mercer, but in  the end we didn't and by the time we got home, my back was on fire. Four days later it's still quite stiff.

I think I should end with a summation that reveals some point of wisdom, but I can't. I have nothing to offer.

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