Life goes on

Tuesday morning, another in a string of lovely days. It seems serene out. The door to the garden is open through which I can hear birds gently tweet. The sunlight today seems to have a glow to it. A clock ticks.

I’ve been out and back this morning. I deposited some cheques to mum’s account and inquired about closing it, but need the death certificate. At my bank I had a bank cheque made out to pay for the funeral catering. Popping into the supermarket for a couple of things I bumped into one of mum’s friends from Probus who had come to the funeral last week. Back here I rang the funeral directors to query an account, then received a call from someone seeking news on the fucking will. I’ve paid bills and cancelled accounts and slowly bringing things into order.

I’ve felt quite aimless the last few days. I’ve tried to impose some semblance of order on my life hoping that would help. Through all the ructions moving home and dealing with mum’s illness and death many of my small routines fell by the wayside. I ate erratically, sometimes much, sometimes little, often more unhealthily than I am accustomed to these days, and at odd times. I’ve probably lost more weight than I’ve gained, but it’s probably yo-yo’d 3-4 kgs in the space of a few weeks.

On top of that I normally exercise each day, but that has been a rare occurrence in recent weeks. It probably wasn’t a big deal when I was shifting house – I was too bone tired to exercise – but I feel unhealthy and uncomfortable without it, and in recent times sluggish – thanks no doubt to the erratic diet, and the cortisone I’m on.

These are a couple of obvious things, but in reality just about every aspect of my lifestyle has been disrupted and turned upside down. Much of what I miss now I must do without for months. There’s little I can do about that for now. What I can control is my diet and exercise, and so I’ve attempted to re-assert those routines, exercising much as I did before, and looking to eat more healthily and regularly. That’s tougher in an unfamiliar kitchen and with everything going on, but it will come.

While that sounds sensible the fact is it’s a very little thing. A couple of feeble routines don’t a life make. And in reality much of what I am going through is independent of anything I can do. I struggle against it of course by getting busy, but there’s a part of you that is perfectly aware that you’re whistling to keep the ghosts at bay.

On Saturday I woke up and wondered what I should be doing. Back at ‘home’ that was never a question – there was always more to do than time available. Here, alone, rattling around in mum’s big, empty house I had to create something. That afternoon I tagged along with my sister to Doncaster Shoppingtown. That was an experience. As malls go Doncaster is at the premium end, all marble and high end shops (amid the $2 shops) and grand piano’s. It’s the mall I would go to most often when I was  a kid, but nothing remains of that version.

I spent 5 hours wandering around without seeing daylight. The world may have ceased exist outside and I wouldn’t have known it. It killed time for me though. I bought a couple of little things, browsed the lovely gourmet shops, and poked around in some of the more boutquey places. I watched the crowd too, well to do in general, though very suburban to my inner-city eyes.

That night I went to my sister’s to lounge in her big bathtub before sharing a lovely meal of roast beef with her and the kids. Returning here I watched a great game of footy. Next morning I went out to have a cooked breakfast, looking to recreate part of my life. The day after degenerated into playing Civilisation V on the Mac for a good 8 hours straight. It’s the intellectual equivalent of smoking dope, and I felt quite guilty afterwards.

Yesterday was the flattest of my days here. I woke and didn’t know what I should do. For the most part I didn’t feel bad, just dulled. I’m slowly recovering my strength after a very fatiguing month, but this was something different. I was not tired, rather I felt as if I had been unplugged and left to run down. My emotions hovered around the midpoint with barely anything registering above it, but a number of sudden troughs appearing. I’m not sure why it embarasses me, but a few times tears came to my eyes, and once I cried.

I cry for mum, but mostly the tears are for myself – what I am reminded of, what I miss and know I will have to do without, what I have lost, and what I don’t know. Doubtless there is a good mix of self-pity in there too. I’m sure it’s quite normal to be this way, especially in my extreme situation – probably more than normal. Still I struggle against it, struggle to assert that self image that has me strong and forever in control. I am those things, I feel strong, I remain in control, my ability to cope is undiminished – but I am frail too in aspects. I understand it and excuse it, but remain resistant. Silly though, like being ashamed of getting wet in a  rainstorm.

Today I am better. I grind on. Each day I’ll shift up to another cog. There are things to do, and I do them. Though my mind is not in it I’ve set myself to return to the studies I put aside 7 weeks ago. That will feel strange, but necessary. I am out tonight and tomorrow, and probably Thursday too. Sunday night I fly out.

If someday I die

RisveglioImage by windfr1 via Flickr

It is only at other people's funerals that I have ever really considered my own, and even then it has generally been about the music I would like to represent me at my death. I've never sat down and given it any serious consideration beyond that, if only because I couldn't believe I might die one day. Funerals are different though I guess, these thoughts come naturally to mind, if only as an idle fancy.

My mind was turned to this subject most recently at the funeral of my step-mother. I know it's customary and a perfectly natural thing to say, but I don't like funerals. It's hard to compare one from another, but on this occasion it seemed more difficult than previous times.

I sat on the polished wood of the chapel bench and listened as the celebrant intoned the words she had been given to comment on my step-mothers life. At some point the music played, which is often when people will get most emotional. Though I knew it was coming I felt surprise when Frank Sinatra started in on My Way. It's a great song, and apt in many ways for such an occasion, but I had heard to at the last funeral I had attended, and had often thought I would have it play at my own – but no more.

What would I play then?

Though it's never been formally set in stone I've always thought there should be a classical piece during the service, perhaps as background when people enter. St Matthew's Passion might be a bit over the top unless someone gives me a state funeral, and it's probably too spiritual for one such as me. I'm tempted to say Gould playing the Aria Da Cappo because I love it so much, but I suspect it might be lost in the moment. They're both Bach, and while there is a temptation to go for something brighter, happier, my ultimate choice must be Beethoven.

Of all the great composers it is  Beethoven whose music is most human. Bach is divine, Mozart is perfect, the Russians in general more romantic and vibrant, and so on, but Beethoven's music has blood and bone in it, it pulses with the life that fills us. It may be grand sometimes, and occasionally thunderous, but it contains the light and dark that every life has. A lot of composers have written funeral music, but Beethoven's Funeral March is both solemnly beautiful and real. So, that's it, in theory anyway.

The other piece of music is more difficult, so much so that I'm not even going to attempt a nomination. In any case it doesn't really matter. As I sat there during the funeral service for my step-mother I realised I wanted none of this. It was not for me.

Funerals today have been set in a kind of sentimental aspic. Solemn funeral directors glad hand the family and arrange everything. Music is played as the mourners file in, and again to celebrate the life of the departed. The mood is solemn, the atmosphere somewhat sterile in the pretty blonde wood chapel dedicated to death. The celebrant or minister or whoever it is conducting the service stands up front and solemnly recites the highlights and great qualities of the deceased, as told to them by family and friends. Often a slide-show of photo's from the life and times of the deceased will play in the background, bringing smiles and occasionally laughter to people as good times are recalled, and frequently tears as the realisation hits that those times are now gone forever. Afterwards teary eyed mourners will register their grief and good wishes with the family, occasionally recounting their own happy memory of the person just passed. Most often a few of the mourners will later adjourn back to someone's home for a coffee or a drink, sandwiches and party pies.

This is a ritual I guess, and probably a necessary one in the grieving process – yet it is a formula too, stale and cliched and somehow less for being so rote. I sat in the front row of my step-mothers funeral and dutifully listened to the service while my own memories went through my head. The mood was gloomy, sad, almost claustrophobic. It was a sad occasion, tragic in many ways, but the gloom was less a product of the occasion and more about the solemn surroundings and the weight of the ceremony. I felt it weigh upon me, and it didn't seem fitting. I thought then as I sat there that this is not what I want. This is not how it should be.

If I am to die some day then I want my life to be celebrated in ways fitting to how I lived. I've barely been in a church my whole life, and of course have only visited funeral chapels for the sole reason they exist. It is hypocrisy at least, and terribly boring on top of that, should my death be formalised in such a place.

I favour the Irish wake – perhaps it is the Irish in me. I don't know what's to happen between now and then, but thus far my life has been adventurous, enquiring and social. That's what should be remembered, that's how it should be celebrated. I understand an open casket might be a bit much for some people, and though I'd rather be there to enjoy it I understand if that's not the case. I will be in spirit.

I want lots of good food and fine wine, I want laughter and stories spontaneously told, remember when H did that, I remember one time we…and so on. I don't want any formal arrangement, any timetable or schedule. People come and go as they choose, they eat, they drink, they enjoy good memories and fellowship of friends. Like going to the pub on a Sunday afternoon. I want for it to be an occasion memorable for the fun of it, an occasion fitting for my end. 

Of course this is all predicated on the probability that I'm mortal. One thing for sure, that's something I'll be working on in the years to come. Short of peddling my soul to whoever wants it I'll be striving to become one of the immortals – so much to see, so much to do, death just gets in the way.

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