Loss and Bereavement

I had some news this evening. The brother of one of my oldest friends has died. Hardly in his 70s; taken by bone cancer, an insidious, and barely understood disease.
This got me thinking; about loss, death, and bereavement.

In my youth, I was taught a lot about education, opportunity, and behaviour. What was expected of me, and how best to deal with these aspects of life. I was never taught about the end of life; death, loss, the finality. My earliest experience was the death of my maternal grandfather, who died when I was almost thirteen. There was a quiet, almost a hush. Little or nothing was said about his life. But the details of his death were freely discussed, for all to hear. To me, it was as if his sixty-five years as a sentient, living being, were of no consequence. Everybody talked about his death from a heart attack, in a holiday caravan, and his impending funeral.

It was a long time after this, that I started to lose my own contemporaries. I was thirty-five years old, in 1987, when one of my closest friends died, aged only forty. It came as a great shock. Attending his funeral, I kept expecting to see him turn up, and order a drink from the bar. All these years later, and I still have a problem believing he is dead. And I have seen his headstone, as I stood beside his grave. In the ensuing years since, losing some more friends, and a great deal of my family, it has never once got easier. Despite terminal illness, accident, or old age, the moment of their passing has still come as a shock. It wasn’t until my Mum died after a long illness, in 2012, that I could honestly say that someone was better off dead. I also thought that I could deal with it easier in this way, though later events proved me completely wrong.

I conclude that we in the West need better education. From a reasonably early age, say twelve, we should be prepared for these losses, by the system that educates us. We should be more aware of illness, age, and infirmity, and what outcome to expect as a result. There should be more celebration of life, rather than mourning of death. A lot less negatives, contrasted by a lot more positives. It should become an accepted fact of life that we will die, and that the time of our death is a variable. It is as valuable a knowledge as any other, and needs to be treated as such, not shied away from.

Perhaps, if this ever happens, people will value what life they have to a much greater degree, and do more with it. Who knows? it has to be worth a try though. Don’t you agree?

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23 thoughts on “Loss and Bereavement

  1. Pete: Sorry for the delayed response; three days in Guy’s having an unwanted double colonoscopy. There are so many things that make sense here, in your blog itself and in the comments of your readers. I have always felt that we should follow the Irish and have a wake – after all it is inevitable, none are immune, why not embrace death? Also, as the Irish are predominantly Roman Catholic, most of think they are going “upwards” to a better place. I am writing my own funeral instructions at the moment (with no afterlife on the agenda): no grey or black clothes, in their stead, colourful garments of many hues. No soft drinks allowed? Attendees will be by invitation only and will hear hear the Sounds of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s “Key To The Highway” when entering the chapel. My ceremony will be a Humanist one as it is intended to be celebratory and honest – not so long ago I attended one such ceremony for my nephew, who was by no means a ‘good boy’. However, the celebrant did a very good job indeed, she did not conceal his wrongdoings but rather highlighted his strengths and triumphs in the short life that he had. Having talked the talk, i.e. ’embrace death’ I know full well that although Gerald enjoyed a good life, on the day, I shall be shedding just as many tears, if not more, as the next man or woman at that funeral. Brian

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    1. No problem Brian, no response was necessary. I am sorry to hear about that uncomfortable medical treatment, I hope that it does some good.
      I would expect nothing less than for you to shed tears at your brother’s funeral. I hope that the day goes well. Our condolences to the whole family, along with our love too.

      I too had a well-defined funeral plan, involving an (illegal) event on Tower Bridge. I may have to re-write my arrangements for Norfolk now, but I have sorted my music!
      https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/significant-songs-4142/

      Pete and Julie. X

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  2. Pete,

    I am sorry to hear about your brother’s friend. And, again, your thoughts are expressed so very well.

    Recently I have noticed that some have begun to call memorial services a “Celebration of Life.” Now, for some that’s just another name for a funeral. For others, like my friend Dave, it represents how he lived his life – 750 people showed up one afternoon in a park wearing aloha shirts, drinking beer. laughing at stories, and admiring the way he lived his life. The lesson for young ones is to live life fully for while someone is gone from the living, they are never truly gone as long as they are remembered.

    Now, I realize that wasn’t exactly your point, but ultimately how one lives life becomes the real issue. And, when it comes to either living life, or understanding death, I would never want such important lessons left up to any education system. These, at least for me, are lessons that come from home and are taught not only by words, but by example.

    All my best,

    Phil

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    1. That sounds like a good celebration of Dave’s passing Phil. To have 750 attending is a testament to how popular he must have been.

      When I said ‘the system that educates us’, I didn’t mean solely the Educational System. Rather the whole system involved in education and development; family, school, example, experience, and entertainment.

      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  3. My condolences Pete. Agree with your views. I know we don’t seem to want to talk about death, do we? I read the other day that the Victorians were obsessed with death and wouldn’t talk about sex. Our era has seen a reversal of course…

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  4. Sorry to hear of the loss of your friends brother.

    A friend of mine had her service yesterday. She was only 44. Our paths took different routes but have crossed many many times since we were fifteen/seventeen years old. I’m not into religion and there being a better place or a place were we are punished if we have not been good people. However I do believe that this life is part of a journey and that we will see loved ones and friends again.

    As for preparing kids, I’m under the impression family pets are a good way of introducing youngsters to bereavement.

    My Condolences Pete.

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    1. Thanks Jimmy. Pets are indeed a great way to teach youngsters about the fact that everything dies. I hadn’t thought of that one.
      Sorry to hear about your friend; 44 is no age at all.
      Regards as always, Pete.

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  5. It seems they don’t want to talk about what they’ll miss the most. You see it in obituaries too: A list of relatives and friends a mile long and then ___by the way he was a war veteran and member of this, that or something else – period. I begin to wonder – whose obit is this, theirs or his?

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  6. After the miserable service at my brother’s funeral a couple of years ago I decided there and then that I do not want a funeral at all. I shall be disposed of, probably by cremation, but it is totally unnecessary for anyone to be there. Instead I would like my family (and any friends who are still around) to get together and have a party where they can exchange memories of me during my life and play the music I enjoy whilst having a few glasses of champagne and canapes. I want a celebration of my life not a dirge! I shall even leave money to pay for the champagne!!

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    1. There are some nice alternatives to a conventional funeral these days. A ‘woodland’ burial is very peaceful. You can have your ashes placed in a numbered plot, then nature is allowed to take over, so that you become a part of the landscape. I quite fancy that. x

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        1. You don’t have to have any service. Just buy a small plot, have a basic (I call it ‘Everyday Value’) cremation, then someone buries your loose ashes in the ground. Grass and trees grow over the spot,which remains marked, for anyone who cares to visit. I thinks it’s a good idea. x

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  7. sorry to learn about your friend’s brother’s passing on. learning to accept life and how it ends – we are taught even at an early age that our lives here on earth is temporary and that there is a greater place where we eventually go, to be with our maker forever.

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    1. Thanks for reminding me about the religious teaching of the idea that we move on to a better place. I hadn’t even considered that structure withing the various religions. If people have that belief Arlene, I am sure that it makes acceptance easier. It is just that many of us do not, and it would be nice to see something along the same lines, for non-religious people.
      Best wishes from England, Pete.

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  8. I agree; I think that we should be prepared at an earlier age and with the physical as well as the emotional facts.

    Celebrating a person’s life (including the death of that person because death is a natural part of life) is the option I choose.

    My condolences to you in the loss of your friend’s brother. May your celebration of his life be ultimately joyful.

    A very in-depth subject….

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  9. I’ve lost some cherished relatives over the years, and always had a hard time coping with it. I don’t know that it’s something with which I can ever truly get comfortable. I am constantly reminded of mortality when I read a book by a famous author who lived centuries ago, or when watching a classic film whose actors have all been dead and buried for years. When I read a writer’s thoughts, it’s as if he’s alive and talking to me. It saddens me immensely that a brilliant mind has not been allowed to continue its enlightening work. When I watch a film, the actors are so brimming with the energy of life that I cannot bear the thought that their bodies are now slowly rotting in their grave, or perhaps already reduced to bone.

    Throughout history, religion has offered solace and hope when it comes to coping with death. However, there is no guarantee of an afterlife, and, in fact, it seems quite unlikely. In the absence of belief in the hereafter, there really is no cure for the impact that death has on one’s psyche. On the other hand, if death is indeed absolute annihilation, then it renders life itself more precious. It seems mankind has never had much respect for the living, and that is, to my mind, one of the most tragic flaws in our social character.

    Now and then, I watch “Death Becomes Her.” The film is a black comedy, but it does have something to say about mortality and the quality of life. As for the philosophy of existing, one can always read “L’Existentialisme est un humanisme” by J.-P. Sartre.

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    1. Thanks for your considered reply David. I did read the J.P. Sartre book, but I was only 16 at the time,and struggled with it. (It was in French…)
      We are good at celebrating death, less so at celebrating life. Let’s hope that changes, before too long.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. So sorry about your friend’s brother. I totally agree with you on living a more positive life, in spite of illness or infirmity. Our attitude determines how we respond and think. Not bearing grudges, putting the past to rest and getting on with the here and now as best we can, is a good way to celebrate the time we have left, however long that may be.

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