Death and dying

Memento Mori

With over one hundred thousand people having died in the last 12 months in the UK from Coronavirus, my thoughts were drawn today to the vast number of people who are mourning someone who has died. The fact that they may be prevented from attending a funeral – or from holding a funeral at all – is very difficult for people to bear. The rituals we have for saying goodbye to our loved ones have been disrupted, and our outlets for grief have also been changed, as we cannot hug or comfort each other in the way we would normally have done.

I have been wondering how I could help, and it occurred to me that providing suggestions for ways in which to memorialise a loved one lost, might be a help.

It’s hard to give generalised advice, because some people may have their loved one’s funeral delayed by weeks and months, and other people won’t.  Although many families will now have video or film of their relative available, I’d suggest that this isn’t used for a memorial (unless the family particularly want it) as it can make it too emotional for close family to look at.  In the weeks and even months following a death, while family members are still processing what has happened, and coming to terms with their loss, it may be too painful to see moving pictures and sound.  Still pictures are much better.

A simple slide show of pictures is easy to compile, using powerpoint or similar.  If you don’t have that programme, there is a very similar one packaged with the open source Open Office.  You can export the slideshow as a video, add music or a voice over if required, or leave it as a simple flow of photographs. It can be shared on Zoom, through the screen share facility.

I have attempted a biography for several family members, compiling pictures and information about their lives, organized chronologically, and researching other material to add in to it.  For those not grieving a loved one, this is a reminder to talk to your elderly relatives and find out about their lives before they are no longer available to tell you.  My father-in-law, Frank Berry, compiled a simple list of his life’s events, adding a single line entry to the list each time something worthy of note happened.  Thus I have a list which fits on to one single page, of all the notable events in his life – moving house, marrying, having children, promotions.  It would be a great thing to have for anyone.

In these days of Zoom and skype, and especially if you are unable to attend a funeral, you could arrange an online memorial event, which can be recorded.  As in a funeral, you could share anecdotes of the person who has died, and poetry, writing and music which was either dear to the person, or expresses something of the feelings that you have about their loss.

I will compile a list of writing I have found helpful and music I have found helpful, in a page on this website, which I will link from this page, and try to keep updated as I find other things.

There’s nothing anyone can say to make things better when you lose someone you love.  The pain has to be lived through, and it does gradually ease.  It isn’t that you love the person any less, or don’t miss them, it’s just that you do gradually adjust to the idea that they aren’t there any more.  It gets to the point where it isn’t a shock any more, and the longing for connection to them which is so overwhelming at first, gradually subsides as you make peace with the idea that they have gone.  I believe that we will all meet again, but I didn’t find that helped me with the significant losses I have experienced recently.  I still feel the dreadful loss of people from my life, my inability to ring them up and share things that have happened, the loss of their perspective on the world.  Knowing they are somewhere and I will see them in the future, isn’t much help in the here and now.

A lot of people are postponing their memorials and funeral services until the family can get back together, but this ignores the psychological benefit which having an opportunity to say goodbye does afford the grieving person.  There is a reason that we have developed these services for our dead, and the reason is that it forms part of the grieving process and allows us to say goodbye.  For that reason alone, I think an online memorial or funeral is worth doing.  It helps us to process what has happened.  I feel so sad for the thousands of families hit by the virus.  I hope this is helpful.

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