This post has been moved from my book-blog and edited.
This has been a summer and autumn of death. Four people I cared about have died and their ages have been from nine to eighty-five. These past couple of days there have been three attacks: Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. Every year about 55 million people die per year. Yet very few of these deaths are deaths I care or worry about because I do not know anything about the people behind these numbers. But some people’s deaths do affect me.
In Norway, when a person dies, no matter how that death occurred, those who are left behind are expected to deal with the death stoically. Nary a tear is to be shed publicly and if you do shed one it is to be discreetly. Perhaps this has something to do with the distance we have created between ourselves and dead people here in the West. Or maybe not.
The first death I remember was father’s father. I was around seven years old. Back then children were not allowed to attend funerals. The reasoning behind this was to protect us children (I think). Personally, I thought my grand-father was wonderful. He played the harmonica, smoked a pipe and loved his grand-children to bits. I knew he did. But I cannot remember if I missed him.
My next death came with the death of a friend’s father. The only reason I remember that death is because I used my friend’s grief in a fit of anger. My mom made me apologize, something I salute her for.
Some time passed and then a grand-aunt (something I have myself become) died. For some strange reason she loved me a whole lot. I thought she was really nice to let me practice on her piano. Other than that, she was my grandmother’s old sister. But I still felt a bit odd about her disappearing from my life.
Harder to deal with was when a friend in high school died. He was a really nice kid who happened to contract leukemia. We weren’t close at all but I was still weirded out about a person my own age dying. It just did not seem possible that a person that young should die.
I had a spontaneous abortion (one that I knew about). This was to be our first child, but that was not to be. The loss of that expectation hit me hard. My husband was not having fun either.
When an ex-uncle and the rest of my grand-parents died I felt conflicted. When it came to some of them my main feeling was relief and almost joy along with a bit of guilt. With the others there was more a sense of “this was how life was supposed to be” along with some sadness. But my family had moved around a lot and I struggle with social relationships so grief as I see others go through it wasn’t really what I felt.
Then came my cousin. He had not yet turned 40. One day he just died unexpectedly. Both lungs had a clot and that was that. I had really loved that cousin. As a child I had been infatuated with him. Once again I was weirded out, confused even. Life became unpredictable.
Suicides also became part of my death experiences. For some reason society (that diffuse unknowable entity) frowns upon self-killing. At least we, here in Europe, do. My personal feeling is that this only places an additional burden upon shoulders that are already bowed down by grief. To me, the suicides made sense. With what these people had to bear emotionally I could understand their need to stop that emotional pain. I was still sad to see them die, but I could understand their choice.
A friend of mine died. She was about my age (49) and it was not expected. She and her husband had recently had a baby. Behind were left children (one a recent baby) and a husband who missed that friend dreadfully.
At some point I realized that people were dying by the millions every year through war and hunger. Millions and millions and millions. Even divided into days the numbers are staggering. Then we add various forms of killing – be it through oneself or others – disease and age to that number and we are looking at .
Death fascinates me. Yes, there is grief when I know the person or the person who loved them. Along with the grief I have an interest in how we treat death and the dead. I enjoy talking about death, but most people seem to hate talking about the most normal thing we humans do. Only birth equals it. Inside my head it only seems logical that we talk about such an important event more. Trying to understand the taboos surrounding natural subjects is challenging to the point of impossibility.