When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Death at Christmas

I'm told that the suicide rate goes up over Christmas, as people who are already depressed imagine that everyone else is having a wonderful time. Then there are car accidents and drink-related deaths. There will have been more of the former this holiday, because of the bad weather. But most deaths over the holiday period will probably have been older people who died in their beds, either at home or in hospital. As Shakespeare wrote, in Hamlet,
If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
But how many are ready? Especially at Christmas? Sometimes, people seem to feel cheated because a close relative or friend has died at, or just before, Christmas, so that he or she wasn't able to share the festivities. It's not supposed to happen, they seem to think.

My mum died on Christmas Eve, twenty years ago, a few minutes after she'd demonstrated how to do the can-can to some children at my sister's party. She was very proud of the fact that she could still kick her own height in her seventies, something that I couldn't do in my forties. I apologise if you've heard this story before, but it's a good story. It was a cerebral haemorrhage, they said, all over in minutes. I remember the egg-shaped bruise on her forehead, from where she fell, and thinking that I was glad she couldn't feel it, or it would be sore. We sat on either side of her, in A & E, my son and I, waiting for the police to turn up, as they do when there's a sudden death, and it seemed very quiet. It probably got rowdier later, when the pubs shut. One of the policemen was a special constable who fought back tears when he heard our story because, he said, his mum had died in similar circumstances just a few years earlier. I felt like comforting him.

We came home via Mum's house, to collect her dog, and went to bed. Christmas was a bit of a quiet anti-climax after that, spent with some friends. I thought about it last week after I'd spent three hours with a newly bereaved woman in her eighties, whose husband had died suddenly. She didn't know what to do with herself, and insisted on making me a cheese sandwich, in case I was hungry. Later, on the phone, she apologised for not cooking me a meal. She had to be doing something. It was too quiet. There have been several like her that I've befriended and then did their funerals, within a year. Those sort of friendships don't last long.

Hope I haven't put a dampener on your New Year. The moral of these stories is that death can come at any time, whether it's Christmas or not, so make the most of life.
Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes! Even while we speak, envious time has passed: pluck the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!


gloriamundi said...

Not a dampener at all, Margaret, but a lovely, thought-provoking post. I've just visited a family struck by a Christmas Eve death that may or may not have been of the sort you describe.

Good old Horace - I'd forgotten the bit about pruning back far-reaching hopes - not a bad motto for a cold January. Gives you a stronger plant, better growth in the spring.

Margaret said...

Thank you, and Happy New Year!