This morning I found myself in a cemetery with my almost 7 year old daughter. We weren’t there for anything but taking pictures in the wonderful winter weather. She had her camera and I had mine. And we started to carelessly read the headstones. Some of the people there have been dead over a hundred years and that along with the situation of the cemetery put us in a certain mood.
It’s a “country” cemetery – the village around it is so small that I doubt much more than 50 people live there, maybe 100 and a apart from a view over the beautiful cemetery there is a great view over a field that glimmered in the winter frost and was set in a shimmer of fog as the sun was rising, thawing everything.
We read the headstones and the dates and the more we read the gloomier we felt, of course. After a while she said, “Mom, I don’t want to die,” and I answered her the only way I knew how, “Me neither”.
I remember being young and discovering this heinous thing, really discovering that I would die one day. I told her that she was young and that she had a lot of years a head of her because I remember that being the only thought that helped back then.
That thought becomes less helpful as the years pass.
I lost my grandmother this year. She was an old woman but the world got a lot emptier without her in it, as is always the case when you experience death no matter how old that person is. My grandmother was 91 years old when she died.
I remember a few years after I lost my grandfather and she lost her husband (he died 1995) she told me something that scared me a little. She said that she was content with dying now. That she had made peace with it. She had her believes and she spoke as if she was kind of looking forward to what would happen to her after the fact.
I was bewildered and appalled.
Ageing does strange things to a person. And the older I get the more sense my grandmother’s words make. Not that I’m in anyway there yet, nor am I trying to express any form of depression. I still get the 3 AM death blues, but I’m getting to an age where the idea of being tired of all this shit actually starts to make a tiny hint of sense.
So apart from telling my daughter that she still had a lot of years a head of her I also told her that she shouldn’t worry about this now because things change and the things you worry about are never the way you picture them. The heavy loads life pushes on you are rarely the things you stay awake at night worrying about. That goes for me too – someone who may have a few more of those nights than most people (and still a lot less than some).
2016 has been a strange year. David Bowie died. I still can’t believe I live in a world where there is no David Bowie. Now George Michael has followed suite. I wasn’t old when I spent a lot of time playing Monty Mole on the Sinclair Spectrum listening to WHAM. I remember listening to the album FAITH later on, thinking this was a new style for him. He always felt larger than life. They both did.
When Patrick Swayze died I realised that this was just the beginning, that my old idols would start to fall now, but 2016 took that sensation and rammed it down my throat. And it leaves me with that feeling I remember from being young – that sense in the body that one day I won’t be here anymore. It’s not just a thought but a sensation that can be felt in the entire body, transcending other fear.
My grandmother was a wise woman. She believed in things coming back, said she saw proof of it in nature, the trees that get new leaves every spring and the flowers that bloom every summer.
And though I may not necessarily share her optimism for a life after death I do share her wonder for what is to come and I hope that I get to be as wise as she was when I get older still. Because her words that appalled me so at the time were in no way meant to be pessimistic or gloomy. It was just a matter of fact for her. A wisdom of sort that life had given her, and a sense of contentment with what she’d been given and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get close to that wisdom of hers.
We walked out of the cemetery, my daughter and I, this morning and left the subject of death behind us. I know the thoughts will come to her again, but her joyous laughter a few moments later accompanied by the beauty of the world in the morning sun as it tried to thaw up the night frost gave me a certain sense of hope I’m not sure you can have at other times than right before the year is ending, when the hope for the new year is great, and the fear of what it might bring is perhaps even greater.
It’s a beautiful world, no matter what 2017 will bring us and I do hope you have a wonderful time my friend, whoever or wherever you are and if nothing else I hope it brings you wisdom that gives you the kind of peace I believe my grandmother had. It was a joyous peace.