I was only four years old when I encountered death for the first time. My lovely great-grandmother had passed away during the night. My mother held my hands and explained that Nanna Mary had died because she was too poorly to get better. The angels had taken her soul to Heaven and if we blew kisses up to the sky, she would catch them. She loved me but I would never see her again because she had gone now and I had to be brave and not cry. So that was it. No more feeding the chickens in the back garden, no more cuddles in the big chair by the fire while we shared an orange, no more throaty laughter, no more Nanna Mary.
When I was born I had my parents, two sets of grand-parents, my great-grandmother, three great-aunts and a few uncles, aunts and a cousin. The angels took my family one by one, usually without warning and by the time I reached the age of thirty everyone had passed away except a couple of aunts, an uncle, a few distant cousins and my younger sister. For years I had the desolate feeling of emptiness associated with grief as I had to accept the changes and carry on like every bereaved person does. Even now I can feel the overwhelming sadness at the memory of someone I’ve lost, yet at the same time feel blessed to have known them as part of my family. My childhood was filled with love and joy.
Some time ago, when I was being treated for a serious illness, I had a recurring dream. Dreams don’t bother me generally but this one did.
In the dream I was entering a room full of people. The main source of light came from the blazing fire in a stone hearth that everyone was sitting round. Happy and smiling, they turned to greet me, saying my name. I felt more welcome than ever before, anywhere. These lovely, warm people were my family. Some of them I’d never known because they had lived and died before I was born. My mother was elated, reaching out to me. At that point, and always then, I would realise my father was not there and I would wake up.
The dream disturbed and upset me. Perhaps it was the medication or the condition of my illness. It’s the only time I’ve considered my own mortality. I haven’t had the dream since I recovered. I decided that my father was missing because he wasn’t going to let me die. It made me wonder what death is like. Will my departed family be waiting to welcome my soul? Will anyone blow kisses up to the sky for me to catch?
Most of my dear departed are at rest in Southern Cemetery, Manchester or Brooklands Cemetery, Sale. These are my own photos.
This is my favourite sonnet from Christina Rossetti.
Remember me when I am gone away,Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Thanks for reading, Pam xx