"We talk about sex and love far more than we ever talk about death". This was pointed out to me a while ago by a friend of a friend. Her words rang true for me. From the moment we are born we are headed along one trajectory. There is but one end and good, bad or indifferent we will all have the same full-stop on this Earth. How we get to that point is the big question and what we will leave behind is the great unknown.
When someone dies we are often shocked. Even if that person is ill and therefore their passing is expected to be imminent, I am still yet to lose a loved one to an illness and not be a bit surprised. I am taken aback, maybe slightly affronted. It is as though there was a bit of my brain that still maintained that it couldn't and wouldn't really happen. I experience a fleeting moment where like my six year-old self, fingers are metaphorically plunged into ears, feet stamped and, 'Na na na na na' is blared out as I strop about it not being fair.
However, in a sense it is. Death is the great meritocracy, it is the great equaliser. The unfairness is often, to use the title of the beautiful poem by Linda Ellis, 'The Dash' in between. The dash referred to in this piece is the squiggle on the gravestone between the birth date and date of death that represents the life that you have lived. The dash, fleeting as it is, is the summation of all that you have said, done and achieved in however long you graced Earth. As we are born in to an unfair world, so too must we live in it and the very best of us make the best of it and make it better by our time here.
At a recent funeral, for the husband of a dearly-loved friend, his dash was explored and explained and it was in turn, heart-breaking, heart-warming and thought-provoking. The eulogy from his sister, captured a man of cheeky charm, warmth, kindness, strength with a love of family and nature and above all, life itself. It was fitting and whilst I had never met his sister prior to that sad day, she captured his essence, an essence that the packed congregation, smiled and cried and nodded along to approvingly.
It made me think about others that I love and what I would say about them and then, as we are inherently a little selfish, I mused on what would be said about me. Do I have someone that knows me so very well that they could speak and represent me in my entirety to a mixed group of friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances? Do I have anyone that loves me enough, to whom I have revealed all of my sides, who could stand and share those myriad aspects so that a mixed group would recognise something of the Alison they know?
I make the assumption that we all hope to have a partner, a person who is lover, friend and confidante, a person unflinchingly on our side to whom we can reveal every facet, every good, bad and indifferent bit of ourselves. The desire must be that on the day when our dash is being summarised, it is a full and true portrait of us.
And this returns us neatly to our opening gambit. Death is the only certainty from the moment we are conceived. Sex and certainly not love are not. Maybe that is why we don't talk about death, it's happening so chitty chat won't change that. Maybe we talk about sex and love because it can be so nebulous, so transient, so very ethereal and uncertain. But maybe it's because we care more about that dash, about filling it with love and yes, sex too and because we recognise the need in all of us to have at least one special person to whom we can reveal all. A person who can stand in front of how ever many or few congregate for us and say to our little corner of the world, this person left a legacy, they lived, they loved and they were loved and that etch in stone represents so very much more that we could've been had we lived a life alone.