Friday, 21 September 2007


My best friend's mother died very suddenly last week. A few days earlier the family had held a fiftieth wedding anniversary party for her and her husband. She died just a day before the actual anniversary, leaving Janet and her father greeting the many friends who turned up at the house with the sad and unexpected news.
"In the midst of life we are but a hair's breadth from death" goes a line I seem to remember from a funeral liturgy (can't find a link to it though so probably my mind is playing tricks on me). Life is so very fragile and can end without warning at any moment.
Grieving is so exhausting and all consuming too. We try to prepare ourselves for the death of our loved ones yet when that dreadful time comes it leaves us somehow both stronger and more vulnerable than we had ever expected. Stronger because despite everything we manage to cope, get through and manage. More vulnerable, because even years and years later when we mention the loved one's name our voice may still break or our eyes mist over in a way we cannot quite control. Somehow grief is always recent.
For me it has been a privilege over the years to be with and accompany people at this very raw time in their lives; walking to the cemetry, finding words that begin to express loss, celebrating what was unique about the person grieved for. It also helped me with my own grief, when my father died or close friends, but in the end nothing prepares you for you own grief. Olivier Abel - a French Protestant philospher and theologian - has said that it is sometimes easier to share pain or grief rather than happiness. There is often a wave of sympathy expressed when someone dies, we have all experienced something of the tragedy of loss in our lives, the grief others are going through reminds us of our own grief and even rekindles it. It's quite a profound bond between human beings.
Professor Robert Winston began one of the brilliant series he did on the BBC about the human body, sitting on a small boat in the middle of the river Thames in London hauling buckets of water on board. It didn't seem to have a great deal to do with the subject of the documentary. Then surrounded by many buckets in the bottom of the boat, he said "These buckets represent the amount of tears each of us will cry in an average human lifetime."
The message was simple, tears are what makes us human...