I wanted to write a blog post at the start of the year about my new memoir writing classes. I hope you’ll come. I hope you make 2016 the year you write your life story. There are some details about the classes at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately…
There’s a little thing I observe and think about from time to time. I don’t have a name for these things. Sometimes they are coincidences, sometimes they are ironies, sometimes they resonate with poignant timing, other times they are unbearably sad. But they are none of these things so entirely that a name or description springs immediately to mind. They are connected with death and they leave me sort of lost for words but I’m going to try and describe them anyway.
Two years ago a friend of mine was arranging a long overdue trip to a much loved friend. She booked her flight. Then, before the day of departure came, another of her very dear friends died. He was young and his death was unexpected and a great loss. His funeral was to take place on the day she was due to fly to the other friend, so naturally she postponed. It seemed perverse. She couldn’t have done anything differently – we just make plans. But I hated how she didn’t know that time was running out for the friend she would lose while happily making plans to see another.
Brian Summerfield was a dear family friend and father figure to me. I added his name to mine in 2004 as a thank you for all his kindness to me throughout my life. Brian died on Wednesday, February 26, 2014. The previous Friday he had called Mum and I to say that his doctor suggested he go to hospital and asked if we could take him, which we did. He never went home. When we went to his house after he had died we found that on the Friday morning he had been welding some glasses. He was a great one for jobs, always fixing something, so I took a little picture of the glasses and put it on the order of service for his memorial – his last job, along with his last joke. Amidst my sadness, I was struck at how, when he picked up those glasses, Bri had no idea that this would be the last thing he ever did, that he would never see his home again, that within a week he would be gone. I’ll write more about Brian and all he meant to us another time.
This whatever-it-is hit me again when we were packing the Christmas decorations last week. We had a fabulous Christmas with family – lots of laughs – and created great memories. It will be 44 weeks until I get those decorations out again and I couldn’t help wondering what will happen in between now and then. I know the next 11 months will be full of positive experiences and good times, as well as the usually smattering of life’s not so good stuff. But when I get those decorations out will I be saying to my husband, “Oh my god, we had no idea when we packed these away that by the time we saw them again X would have happened,” or more specifically, that we would have lost someone dear to us. I’m a positive perky person, certainly no Eeyore. It’s not that I’m maudlin. It’s just that we don’t know what’s going to happen, and when, to whom, and I am very aware of this.
I heard of two deaths over the Christmas break. One was a local man, Richard Stainton, who was very involved in our local community. He was extremely kind and compassionate. I last saw him at the end of November at a charity event I had organised. He was in the middle of doing so many positive things he enjoyed. He’d done so much but he was not old and he was absolutely not finished. There might be more elegant ways to put this, but I hate that his life was interrupted by death. Richard wasn’t big into hate so I’ll end this mention of him with loving thoughts and gratitude for his small presence in my life.
The second death was an extremely close family member of an author I am working with. The memoir, dedicated to the person who died, was finished awaiting printing. I felt desperately sad that this person had died because they were young and enjoying life but I felt so sad for my author. How could they have known that by the time we were finished this person would be gone? This person who loved and supported my author so much? It’s just too sad. Maybe the point I am making is that death is immeasurably sad, and so very final, but the timing can add an additional element or feeling. What that additional element or feeling is I don’t know. Maybe it’s a weight added to grief.
There was a third death of course and when I heard the news about David Bowie yesterday I was shocked like everyone else. I had only just downloaded his new album. It seems now that Bowie did know he was going to die so while his life was interrupted by death, he had– with the album whose lyrics are too poignant to be coincidence – had had a bit of a last say. Is that a comfort to his family? I hope so.
Admittedly, I am a person that thinks about death a lot more than average. I lost my two-year-old cousin in 1980 (when I was five) then my Granddad Bill, Auntie Kay and Nanny Jean died in 1986, 1990 and 1992 respectively, all from cancer. Four deaths of people I was very close to before I was 20. All those lives interrupted. What this does mean, if one is looking for a positive, is that I don’t shy away from speaking about death with my authors. Not all my authors are old, or dying, but some of them are, and I think it’s a privilege to go there with them – to have that very intimate conversation.
I’m still no closer to naming this thing that happens when life is interrupted. If you can think of a way to describe it, let me know.
My memoir writing classes are taking place Jan 25, Feb 8 and 22, March 14 and 21 (so far) at the Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable. Monday evenings at 7pm until 8.30. Each session costs £8. Feel free to call me on 07710 721389 or email email@example.com for more information or to let me know you are coming.