Apologies for the lugubrious title to this blog post but it’s kinda what it’s going to be about. I could have tried something maudlin, such as “Intimations of Mortality”, or gone for a literary angle like “Shuffling off this mortal coil” or even attempted to inject some forced jollity along the lines of “Popping ones clogs”. However, there seems to be much death around and I had might as well say it as it is.
Until only a few years ago, I hadn’t really had much to do with death. My father died when he was just sixty and I was twenty one and that was the death that defined my life. His was the only dead body that I had seen until I saw Mum. I have, of course, lost grandparents and uncles but at the time it had felt like it was their time to go. The thing is though, as it gets closer, I believe it never actually feels like it is your time. Mum certainly didn’t feel it was her time. Maggie, the last friend to see her alive, said that she didn’t think Mum thought she was going to die. Mum wouldn’t have considered it her time until she had gone past her own mother’s ninety seven years – she fell eleven short.
But recently there really has been a lot of death about for me. I have lost two dear friends, Toby and Donald, and my cousin Angus, all about the same age as me, so tragically young from my point of view. Then obviously Mum will leave the biggest hole imaginable.
Today was another grim death day. We decided that we had to put down the beautiful Corrie (horse… FYI) today. Mum had bred her from her talented mare Dragsie but other than beauty, poor Corrie really didn’t have very much going for her. She was chronically allergic to grass – which is unfortunate if you are a horse and suffered massively from spring to autumn even when wearing her burka to protect from flies. She then developed ME – yuppie flu… in a horse!! – which made her listless with no enjoyment of life. Then finally she got a syndrome that degenerates a bone in the hoof (navicular for the equine types out there). We tried everything but even just walking on grass was obviously massively painful. So we did that thing that we can with animals. Luckily a few months ago Mum had agreed that she should be put down but Fo couldn’t and turned round on the way to the vets, so we didn’t have the feeling that we were doing this behind Mum’s back as it were but it was a very hard decision to take. Vic, who had ridden Dragise and trained Corrie, came over to say goodbye, cry a bit and support Fo. Even though it is “for the best”, it feels like we are losing one of the family. AJ calls all horses Corrie because they have grown up together.
The “man” came over this morning just as I was driving away. Corrie was by the hedge where her mum had been put down next to Mum’s daffodils. And I was driving away to my Mum’s cousin, Topher’s funeral.
Topher was not a young man but he was the youngest of Mum’s generation of cousins. He had been suffering from increasingly severe Parkinson’s for years but was still full of life. “Before his time”? I’d say so, but then I’m fifty next year. He was a Concorde pilot and that was always pretty cool, he was also a sparkly, kind person that the world will miss.
We gathered for Topher’s funeral at the old family pile, where my mother and Topher spent their Christmases. The house has passed through a number of owners since the last Orlebar, another cousin of my mother’s, had to sell up. The current Indian owner kindly let us take tea after the funeral to say farewell to Topher in the house that had meant so much to him. I saw cousins who I rarely see but who I had sadly just seen at Mum’s thanksgiving.
And now that I have been to a number of these sendings off – funerals, thanksgivings, memorials – I am beginning to understand their role as a key ritual in our lives. They are a recognition of death, the one constant in our lives. We bid farewell to the departed and gather round them to remember them, by being there, still alive, able to carry them with us, in our memories. It is good to recognise death, however horrible it is, we won’t escape it so we might as well face up to it.
So that was my death for today.
Death is also in the air on a more global scale. The slaughterhouse that is Syria will stain us for a generation. I certainly do not have any answers to what should, could or should have been done a number of years ago. But the bombings this past weekend seemed a particularly pointless affair. Bombing to stop bombing feels like a particularly vicious circle of twisted logic. For Teresa May to have signed up for this without a parliamentary debate to the click of Donald Trump’s teeny fingers seems especially unwise. Laying aside that he is categorically the worst President in history, there seemed to be a whole lot of angles that needed to be looked at before getting involved. Though the bombing that did actually take place seems to have had the sole objective of the west being able to say “We did something,” without having done anything at all. Thankfully really, if we had actually done anything meaningful all hell could have been set loose (*whispers* “and it still can…”)
I think I have been a few blog posts without banging the Brexit drum so I had better insert a convoluted connection at this point. Wasn’t Brexit meant to be all about sovereignty? Haven’t we just committed an act of war on the say-so of the President of a foreign power? Whatever modicum of sovereignty we will have regained from Brexit – we are still haemorrhaging it through the transnational corporations that refuse to pay taxes on the money they make in this country, through being marched to war on the orders of a foreign state without the consultation of parliament, through existing and future trade deals that put the interests of companies above the interests of citizens. If we can’t levy taxes, wage war and protect our citizens, will we really be this sovereign nation that everyone gets so excited about?
A note on the pics. I thought that Corrie had been put down by the hedge, so I added some pics from me and Vic of her there and one with a nostalgic sort of filter to it to make the hedge look like it it’s from one of our old family photos. Then Fo told me she was actually put down by the lake, so I took the picture of the weeping willow, which felt apt. The willow will also soon be joining Corrrie and Mum and Dad, who planted it, as it has wept too much and is falling into the lake. The big house is Hinwick House and then there’s Hinwick House being photobombed by Georgie, James, Mary and me – some of the less illustrious scions of the family!!