Wednesday 3 April 2013

A4: S3 - Death, confronted

"I don't think I can... I'm just not strong enough. I'm sorry."

Even as I said these words and heard my Mother telling me it was okay, that everyone would understand, I felt the guilt weigh heavy and damp on my heart.

Because it wasn't okay. I knew it wasn't okay.

As soon as the conversation over I thought about what I could do to make up for my absence. I'd write a letter, yes, I'm good with words,  I could fill a few A4 sides with some heartfelt words and it'd be fine.

I bit my nails, because it wasn't fine. I knew it wasn't fine.

I tried to think of a way I could reassure my mind - perhaps I could write a blog post about why it is okay, why people don't have to feel bad about doing it. But I couldn't in all honesty do that, because how was anyone else meant to believe me, when I could not even convince myself?

It was only when I spoke with Oscar, that I realised that there simply was no way I could actually justify it to myself.

If you are able to go, it's simply unavoidably, inexcusably not okay to miss someone's funeral.


I guess it's a combination of things, really.

Firstly, hell, nobody likes funerals.

Although they're supposed to be a celebration of a life, they are often a potent cocktail of an inescapably morbid reminder of our own mortality, painstaking regret at the things you could've said/done and now never can, mixed with a haunting sudden realisation that you'll never see that person again.  Not exactly something worth looking forward to.

Secondly, my experience of funerals hasn't exactly been... reassuring.

My first funeral was my great-grandmothers when I was about six years old, and the only thing I remember is wearing an itchy black and silver dress, not really knowing what the hell was going on and cowering in horror as I discovered exactly just what happened at a crematorium.

The only other one I've ever been to was when I was about nine when my other Uncle died. And all I remember from that is absolutely bawling my eyes out, simply unable to emotionally process what was happening, and my strictly Roman Catholic cousins just glaring at me and saying to their Mother "Mummy, what is wrong with her?"

Also, death always has been, and will forever remain to be one of my greatest curiosities and moreover, fears. It has something which has boggled and perplexed me for as long as I have been able to evade it, and that incomprehension has caused it to be one of my greatest fears. The thought that at just any point the very essence of your life could just disappear from your body... I just cannot fathom that. It leaves me with an unbearable amount of questions that it genuinely terrifies me. But I think overall my greatest fear is dying and leaving nothing behind to be remembered by. The fleetingness, temporariness and singularity of lie is possibly the most terrifying aspect of the whole thing.

Another wonderful trait I've carried forward from childhood is the unparallelled skill of avoiding negativity at all costs - not even because I'm an optimist. I think perhaps it is a skill I have inherited from my father, the complete inability, or more accurately, refusal to accept that everything has gone to shit. I've always been a hypocritical advocate of 'ignorance is bliss', and become an absolute master of running away from bad news. I guess you can't really do that at a funeral.

I suppose the last piece of the puzzle is actually my original excuse - mental stability. After coming from such a dark place, I still do not know the exact fragility of my soul, and I don't really want to put that to the test.

But it wasn't until I spoke to Oscar on the phone and he said just one thing to me, that I suddenly realised the overbearing truth.

"But Katie... It's not about you."

...It hit me like a physical slap in the face.

I'd told him about the funeral and that I wasn't going to go because I couldn't bare to, and firstly he said to me. "...I think it would be wise for you to give the decision some thought, Katie."

My first interior reaction was 'Who do you think you are? Don't tell me what to do. You don't understand.' Then, I laughed at myself for being such a brat. Then what he said just made things so clear to me, not just about this, but about everything in life.

"...But Katie... It's not about you. You say you can't do it, that you're not 'mentally strong enough'. And this is you. How do you think this is for everyone else? If it's 'too much' for you, how must this all be for Jan? (My newly widowed-Aunt.) You get to run away and pretend this isn't happening. Does everyone else? Sometimes in life you have to realise that you're not actually the victim here. You're the support. You should go. If not to honour Matt's life, then do it for her."

I was filled with such sudden realisation and such self-loathing. How could I possibly have been so disrespectful, so selfish? He was right.

What he said seemed to resonate broader too.

It's not about you anymore.

I guess that is what 'growing up' actually means, huh.

The realisation that life is not just about you anymore. It's about doing things that you don't like, for the sake of other people. It's about swallowing your own pride and overcoming your own barriers to reach out to help someone in need. It is about coming to terms with the fact that you might be the most important person to yourself, but you aren't everyone else's priority. I knew it wasn't because I was being selfish, in essence, it was because I was scared, but that just was not a good enough reason to let down those who had far more of a reason to be afraid than me.

I shall be attending the funeral on Friday.

I don't care if it is the most heart-breakingly agonising experience of my life, if there are people broken down and falling apart before my eyes and I have never felt emotional strain like it, I will not falter. I will not break. I shall be stoic. I shall be the support.

If there is one thing I have realised recently, is that family are everything. And I refuse to ever compromise my family or let anyone I care about suffer unduly, without doing everything I can to make things the best for them that I can.

'Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them...' and I suppose sometimes that means you have to sacrifice a part of yourself, to save a part of someone else.