It’s the time of year when the poppies and parades remind me of the war time losses, 100 years ago right up to now and inevitably ongoing. Death in battle is a wrenching loss, people pulled from their lives and families, suddenly leaving a space in the world that can’t be filled. History and now the media inform us of the circumstances of their death and I am left with a feeling of huge sadness, underpinned with respect and gratitude that they gave their lives in such a way. I can connect with them if told enough about them. But as I write this, news is coming in of the earthquake on the Iran/Iraq border, where the latest figures are expected to 328 dead.
328 people to whom I have no connection, no longer alive and I find myself noting how awful that is in an abstract way. But these people are a number to me, I find it hard to conceive of them as individuals with lives and families. Did they have hopes or dreams, where they happy, what were they expecting from the week ahead before their future was eradicated?
Death hits us hardest when it happens to someone we love; then we get right up against it and face the inevitability of loss, of life without. Grief is personal, yet also shared; it pays no attention to time, it goes on and on, or sometimes it has barely started years later. Grief for me is like the sea on the shore, sometimes a huge wave crashes in and knocks you over, other times it gently laps, subtle, but always there.
Something about death reinforces for me the need to live. But I know that for some, the living is hard, and the thought of death the relief. “Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes” as the TV series MASH told us. It can be hard for us to understand this, primed as we are for survival, but ignoring someone who is suicidal or jollying them along misses their point, and adds to their sense of otherness and isolation. Sometimes we can only hold the hope for them and be there until they remember why they want to live.
Death is inevitable, and so part of the struggle of life.