(I wrote this on Thursday 13th November, scribbled on the programme for my mother-in-law’s cousin Jenny’s memorial service, while we waited for the official proceedings to begin)
Each funeral, memorial or cremation now evokes for me vivid memories of previous such occasions, as well as recollections of those now dead whose formal commemorative events I was unable to attend. The first clear memory I have of a memorial was as a young teenager in an overflowing Church in Pietermaritzburg, where I shed tears alongside many others for a handsome, vibrant young man killed at sweet sixteen on the motorbike he so loved. I remembered the first time we had kissed, when we walked along a road in the moonlight and he recited a poem about the stars as if he had just composed it, although his best friend later told me it was one he had memorised to impress impressionable young ladies such as myself. I recalled our final kiss with even greater clarity, only months before his death, when his family immigrated to New Zealand. I can summon up the image of standing in that Church so vividly, yet I don’t remember what my reflections on death were at that time, eighteen years ago.
I remember how, after days of being focused on practicalities, I broke down and sobbed when I saw a photograph of my mother at her cremation (“I will send a full report on mom’s cremation as soon as possible. For now, let it suffice to say that it was as positive an event as is possible in the circumstances. Beautiful words, beautiful wild flowers picked by Andi, the kids, Brian and Vusi and woven into a wreath by Anna, lovely music, and many, many a tear. It was such a relief to sob and sob and sob until I could barely breathe.”).
Today, each time I look up at the photo of Jenny with her family at the front of the Church, I feel the tears spring up again. These images of those we love, so full of life, just as we remember them, brings the reality of what we have lost to our emotional awareness in a unique way. There she is, so real, so ALIVE – how can we even begin to grasp the absence of that in our lives, not as the memories we will always carry with us, but as some solid and present in each moment from here forward?