It’s been a sad week for anyone who is a fan of Lemmy from Motorhead, David Bowie or the actor Alan Rickman. Social media has been awash with tributes, stories and memories of three remarkable men who have left their mark on our world in varying ways. There have been many comments along the lines that they were ‘taken too early’, and indeed, they certainly can not be said to have lived long lives.
I saw a very interesting post on Facebook from someone who was shocked by the death of Alan Rickman so soon after the death of David Bowie. The contributor was understandably a fan of the work of both men and his response was despairing. Two greats of our age ‘taken’ at such a (relatively) young age so soon after one another gave one the feeling that someone ‘up there’ was ganging up on us.
Taking the great and the good when they still had so much more to offer. But there was an added dimension to my friend’s post. He railed against the heavens, which to be honest I don’t think he really believes in anyway, why not ……………instead? For decencies sake, I won’t mention the person he felt should have been in the frame in the place of David or Alan. But his argument was obvious. Why take these great and talented men, who have contributed so much, when there are some very old guys, of dubious merit around, and one in particular, in my friends estimation, who should have been nearer the front of the queue?
What this made me realise is that many people see death in purely negative terms. Almost as though it’s a punishment. Rarely do we seem to embrace the idea that they have moved onto somewhere ‘better.’ When we hear that someone has died, despite what we might believe about life after death, reincarnation, Heaven etc. etc., we tend to respond with ‘that’s very sad.’ But is it?
Of course it will be sad, even devastating, for the friends and family who no longer have the person in their lives in the way they once did. It may make us sad as fans of their work, but is it sad for the person who has died? We will all have our own individual beliefs about what happens to us after death, but if we believe that the soul continues in some way, then isn’t death just taking another road on our long journey to enlightenment?
When a family member died over a decade ago I remember saying to him, a committed and practising Catholic, ‘good luck on your next big adventure.’ Surely that is what it is. If it isn’t then we don’t need to worry anyway. But if we have some belief that informs us that our soul continues after death, that we maybe take up residence in ‘Heaven’ or after some review, rest and recuperation we prepare for another go at life, then surely the whole process is nothing more than a great adventure? For the person moving on from this body, we have numerous reports that give us the comfort that they are able to continue to witness the unfoldment of the lives of their loved ones left behind. So they may not be missing out on seeing their children grow or watching how life develops without them. For me, the person dying isn’t the one that needs our sadness. Mike Dooley tells us in his book, ‘the top ten things dead people want to tell you,’ with chapters entitled ‘We’re not dead,’ ‘There’s no such thing as a devil or hell,’ ‘We were ready,’ and probably most importantly, ‘You’re not ready,’ that death, for the person experiencing it, isn’t a bad thing.
However, I don’t think we should underestimate how affecting the process of losing a loved one is for the people left behind. All this
‘Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.’
that Henry Scott Holland’s poem would have us believe doesn’t help the bereaved on a lonely winter evening. You don’t want your loved in the ‘next room’ you want them there by the fire with you, maybe saying nothing at all, but being present. I heard someone once say, about losing her husband, that it wasn’t that she no longer had anyone to do things with, but she no longer had anyone to do nothing with.
So when I hear that someone has died I don’t feel sad for them because I suspect they may well be having a mind-blowingly wonderful time, but I do feel huge compassion for those they have left behind in this world, who will struggle with the loss and loneliness, missing the advice they used to offer or even the mess they used to make and perhaps the arguments they used to take part in.
When Christina Rossetti writes,
‘When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;’
she is missing the point that the sadness we often feel is for ourselves and for those left behind. I have no sadness for the departed because as Chapter 7 of Mike Dooley’s book says ‘Heaven’ is going to blow your mind!’ I always think of those who die having a great celebration and reunion as they arrive in ‘Heaven.’ I don’t think they need our sadness, but those left behind often need our love, support and compassion.