I’m just waiting for Mark to get out of the shower, so that we can go to a Halloween party, and can tell you that the theme for today has been death and loss.
Earlier, mum asked me to go to my sister’s grave over in Sussex and light candles on it. She didn’t have to ask me, because she’s requested it before, but I recorded that thoroughly with my smart phone and sent her the pictures.
You see, the very protestant Sweden has a very Catholic tradition that mum has adopted – that of All Saints Day. On this day, the Swede goes to the cemeteries to remember their dead. They light candles in the dark, so that a grave yard becomes a beacon of light in the Arctic dark.
It is quite a beautiful sight, actually, and while it’s not the same here in England, mum has carried on this, for her, strange custom. And when she can’t do it herself, she asks me to go.
In a way, it’s a bit ironic that my mum – the great atheist and scientist who would be more inclined to do a parental intervention if I started to read the bible than if I drank away the weekends and my savings – is so keen on keeping touch with this grave.
It is her Achilles heel, the great contradiction, where she treats Ellie’s grave as if Ellie is still here, somewhere. It’s as if not treating her grave right would somehow hurt Ellie. If my mum doesn’t believe in an afterlife, why does she ask me to come here?
The memories are in her head, in her heart, and not entombed in this plot with the simple headstone that has her name and her birth and death dates.
I always go because she asks me, and because it doesn’t cost me anything, and because mum is happier, in a perverse kind of way, when I do. How can I deny her that when going to the grave means just half an hour’s or forty minutes drive, after which we can do more pleasant things?
Armed with a smart phone with a camera and an internet connection I become an avatar for her so that regardless of where she is, she can inspect the grave for herself. She can make sure that it’s not been over-burdened with grass or leaves or detritus.
Also, going there, puts me in an odd mood where I can think about how it would be if Ellie and I were in traded places. Would she do what I do? Would she go to my grave? Would mum wistfully sigh in memory of a distant me? Would she be happier if it was Ellie that lived, instead of me? Would she be closer to Ellie, than to me? Would dad be?
And what about the spaces between us, did her death cause that? Did it make my parents afraid of bonding with me? Is our distance something that was born back in 2001 when she left us?
Remembering the dead is more about indulging the living, than to care for the dead. It seems like a pointless exercise to go to a plot of land and make sure that it is clean, as if the remains below would care for such a thing.
The dead are gone, recycled back to the soil so that new life strengthen at the beginning of the wheel of life. It feeds worms, that feed shrews, that feed birds, that feed others. At the end of the cycle the dead turn up on our plates.
Then one day it’s our turn and they shovel us into the hole to do the same; feed the germs that feed the worms that feed the birds that feed… well, you get it. The cycle of life, which is red in tooth and claw.
But the text that comes back, saying thank you, when the photos arrive at my mum sort of make it worth it, except that I wish I could chase away the shadow of sadness that lie over her life. In the end, doesn’t this going to the grave just mean you rip off the scab to make the wound fresh again?
Wouldn’t it be worth it for her not to spend half a day, or a full day, wistfully considering the what-might-have-been if so and so had not happened, and if this and that had been done, and if such and such had been pursued?