(Before I begin I should make it clear that I am not trying to trivialise dying, I’m not saying the moment when someone does die isn’t painful, merely that death is more than a moment when life ends.)
I’ve only suffered four significant deaths in my twenty seven years (one of which was a pet). I’m lucky. I didn’t lose a friend in school, or a parent as a teenager, or a baby as an adult. I am luckier still in that I had all four grandparents until the age of twenty one (and still have two left at twenty seven).
The two grandparents I did lose weren’t young. They were both ill and death was, and still is, the best way out of their suffering.
The final Christmas with my mum’s mum was hard. We visited her on Christmas day and she sat in a chair asking God to take her. It was her time. It was beyond her time. Her death was not sad, it wasn’t soon enough. The saddest part of her dying for me was watching her wilt away over a number of years. Seeing my mum and aunts look after her, watching her beg for her last breath. The saddest thing was not being able to remember before; before she got ill. I have very few memories of the woman she was because they were all taken by that woman sat in a chair ready to go.
My dad’s dad died just before Christmas and like my grandma his death was more of a relief than sad. Naturally there was sadness, as there was when my grandma died, as there is with any death. He suffered from dementia. So, like my grandma, I watched him disappear into himself until he was a fraction of the man he once was. Again, I barely remember him before.
The saddest things for me are the fact my cousins didn’t know him before, they were too young. It’s the fact he died days before Christmas making an otherwise happy family occasion feel that much harder. The memories I don’t have because they were squashed down by a suffering man.
The third death was my uncle. I barely knew him but he died suddenly of a heart attack. I still have what little memories I have of him. The saddest thing about his death is the family he left behind, the granddaughters who weren’t biologically related to him but whom he doted on, the youngest of which suffered the pain of being there when he died.
Lynda Bellingham died of cancer and like many celebrities before her, she spent much of her life in the spotlight. She chose to give up fighting, to die with dignity. Her loss is not personal to me, but her death is no different to any other. She wanted one last Christmas with her family and she didn’t get it. She was a talented woman who didn’t get to perform her last shows because she needed to recover, she never went back. Those are the saddest parts of her death.
Babies, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly. When we die, whether old or young, we leave behind memories – or a lack of them. The saddest thing is that we don’t get to make memories, we don’t get to watch children become adults, we don’t get to have our parents at our wedding, we don’t have another Christmas with the people we love. Talented people don’t get to carry on being talented. Children don’t get to reach their potential or live their dreams. Parents and grandparents never get to meet their unborn relatives. The grief, the suffering, the having to say goodbye.
That’s where the true sadness lies.