“To absent friends.” How many times have we raised our glasses to that? Sometimes, in close company, we’re all thinking of the same person. More often, if the toast is at a wedding or another big gathering, we all hold different people close in our minds, thinking of our own dear lost ones.
Over the course of my life I have loved and lost many people. I’m thirty seven now; it would be strange if I hadn’t attended at least one funeral, known one loved one pass away. We all have them; those that we have known and loved and said goodbye to; or those with whom we’ve had an incredibly complicated relationship with issues that can never now be resolved. Sometimes the wound inflicted by death is small, our connection to the person a tiny thread in the web of our family and acquaintances. Sometimes it is close and cruel, a deep and lasting wound. Over time, they all heal over, but they leave silvery scars criss-crossed like lacework over our skin, visible only to ourselves. Part of us now.
As with so many things, the spectre of death looms large over us when we become parents. We worry about it all the time, but rarely speak of it for superstitious fear. What will happen if we die? What would we do if one of us went, leaving the other to care for the child? What if (heaven forbid, and I can barely write this for fear) our child were to die? And this brings all of our past losses closer to the surface. Those scars start to throb again, as though the weather is changing, which of course it is. We wish, oh how we wish, that our loved ones hadn’t gone, that they were here, that they could meet our child, be part of their life. We think of things they would particularly enjoy about our child, skills they have that would be appreciated, the silly, sweet things kids say that our lost ones will never hear. The sense of loss is back and we grieve anew.
I think of my lost ones often. My grandad, who would have loved my son. I know the look of pride he would have had over his great-grandchildren, I hear his laugh at their antics. The way my son says “yes” (more like “yirrs”) is so akin to the way Grandad said it that I often smile at the memory. My aunt, who would have loved to have the three little cousins at her pantry door, and would have filled their pockets with treats, snuck them their first taste of alcohol, and accidentally taught them outrageous swear words. My dearest friend, who would have been my son’s godmother, who would have shared in my delight that my son can sing in tune when he joins in with the ends of phrases. She would have pronounced him a musical genius, I feel sure of it. One day soon I will show my outrageous miracle of a son their pictures, tell him about them, about how they are three of the people who shaped his mother. For now, he knows them anyway, because they make up part of the fabric of me; in the way I speak, garden, laugh, drink gin, play music.
I have learnt to embrace these dear ones again, to welcome them back into my life without too much of the old sadness. It’s been an adjustment, but I can see them now without too much pain. Just know that if you feel this way too, you are not alone. Not even the stiffest British upper lip can block out memories, and sharing them with someone who understands is the best way to honour our lost ones. We don’t keep death at bay by being scared and silent.