I have had this post saved in my drafts for about a week now, and anyone who knows me will be aware that it is very rare I struggle with my words. Chatty would be the kindest way to put it, although gobby would be more accurate. However, for one of the first times in my life I have been at a loss of what to type. I have carefully worded research projects, emails, detailed literature reviews, job applications, articles and blog posts; I am no stranger to writing. I've even written about how the general public deal with celebrities passing away.
I have never written about my experience with death.
Perhaps, because death is still somewhat a taboo subject, an unpleasant topic that nobody enjoys discussing, or perhaps because I have been fortunate enough in my life to have very few brushes with death itself, death has affected me very minimally. Sadly, I learned about the passing of my late nana just under two weeks ago, a phenomenal lady who lived a phenomenal 94 years and passed away peacefully.
Although it didn't come completely unexpectedly, there is always a shock when you are given this sort of news - or so I am told. After the initial shock passed, the next day I believe, I sat down on my bed and thought to myself, what now? How does one deal with the death of a relative?
Unsurprisingly, my instinct was to Google it. If I needed to see how long it took to cook a soft boiled egg, I would Google it, and if I wasn't sure what time the River Island in town closed I would Google it. I came across a variety of articles online; wikihow.com gave me a three step solution, I read about the five stages of grief and I even saw an article on 5 things no one tells you about death. Very interesting, but they didn't tell me anything new.
I have never been to a funeral before, so I was both curious and apprehensive about what it would be like. My nana was a devout catholic, so of course she would have a catholic funeral. As someone who has never really given religion much thought, I wondered how it would affect me. I can't remember ever going to church, so I didn't know what to expect. The service went a lot quicker than I thought it would, catholic funerals tend to be quite long. Apart from that, I don't think I noticed much else, except the priest was a lot more normal than I thought he would be. I saw two nuns beforehand, another first for me. I've only ever seen nuns when watching Blues Brothers, so that was an experience.
I delivered the bidding prayer, and like I've mentioned, I am not one to struggle with my words, but it was unlike any public act of speech I've done before. Attending your first funeral is strange, almost surreal. Speaking at a funeral is even stranger, and as someone who has never practised a faith I almost felt like a fraud. Speaking the words of God, as it were, was a peculiar experience, but I'm glad I did it. The week leading up to the funeral I spent in Birmingham, while preparations were going ahead in my home town in Essex, so to have the opportunity to play my part in saying goodbye helped me, I think. It's not for everyone, but I would recommend it if you get the chance.
This, however, is not an advisory blog post, 'How to death 101', because I really have no idea, and after attending my first funeral, burial and wake earlier today, I don't think anyone does. Have a cry, talk about it, book a holiday you've always dreamed of, drink, don't drink, be vulnerable, stay strong. Everyone reacts differently, I saw family members bawl their eyes out and family members keep a stiff upper lip, and it seems there is no magic formula to successfully deal with losing someone you love. The hardest part for me was to watch the sadness of my family and carry it on my own shoulders. It seems crying, like yawning, tends to be contagious. Watching the coffin lowered into the ground is something that will stay with me forever, but the laughter, love and hours of reminiscing that went on at the wake will too.
My nana was incredibly family-orientated, and to be surrounded by all her loved ones would have meant everything. She was also a strong Italian who loved the summer, and today the sun shined brightly all day for her. Death is something that will affect everyone at some point, and today I learned there is no comfort quite like being surrounded by family and friends, albeit a cheesy thing to say. Most of my friends have attended at least one funeral, and people die every day, but this doesn't mean you aren't allowed to mourn in your own way.
So, how do you deal with death? However you like.