‘Are you crying, mum?’ asks Grunting Teen in disbelief as I watch the news of Prince Philip’s death. ‘That’s so weird. You didn’t even know him and he was well old, anyway.’
And to be honest, I’ve surprised myself by shedding a tear for a man I’ve never actually met. But it’s like discovering that the eccentric elderly uncle who turns up unfailingly to all your family occasions is no longer there to drop a casual non-PC remark and shock the youngsters with his eyebrow-raising behaviour. What’s more, it’s like realising you didn’t know him at all. He had a whole other existence before he got wedged behind the dinner table of your expectations.
It takes a death for us to reassess a life and to realise that despite what social media shows us, things are not always so clear cut, so black and white. Humans are multi-faceted. For instance, whilst to Grunting Teen I am the provider of regular meals, the magic laundry elf and personal taxi-driver, the Nearly-Beloved views me as that irritating itch he’s learnt to live with over the years. Yet in my dreams, I am a free-spirited writer with a rich and fascinating past.
‘He was quite a character, Phil the Greek, wasn’t he?’ says Grunting Teen, who I’ve forced to sit through the news coverage as part of his history revision. ‘Are you both going to watch the funeral then?’ he asks. His republican father snorts his response, announcing that he’s deliberately organised a game of tennis. But I am a royalist at heart and anyway, I’ve already shopped myself senseless and left it too late to book an outdoor seat in a restaurant.
Besides, in many ways, a good funeral is what I needed right now. A chance for some national mourning. Because we’ve all been in mourning for our pre-pandemic lives. Even as society opens up once more, there are notable absences. Stores we once loved have closed their doors, indoor entertainment is a distant memory, and collective celebrations of sport and music are still beyond our reach.
So, it’s a chance to remember all those we’ve lost, whether it be to the virus itself or to the consequences of lockdown. Like many others, I’ve tried my best to keep a stiff upper lip and remind myself of all the positives. I’m in good health, have a roof over my head, and food in my stomach. But I mourn for my past. I miss the person I used to be. I miss the freedom. I miss the hugs. And oh, how much I miss the Lost Boy I haven’t seen since Christmas 2019!
And yes, patience is a virtue. We’re nearly there now – our goal is in sight. And yes, technology is marvellous. We can Skype and Zoom our way into loved ones’ hearts. And yes, science is incredible. The vaccination programme is leading us out of the epidemic.
But sometimes you just need to sob out the sadness.
A funeral gives us a chance to do that. A chance to reflect on the life that was led. A chance to realise that blurred lines and grey areas make us the wonderful but fallible humans that we are. Mourning our losses is natural but the silver lining is that when we lose something it creates room for something else to take its place.
And here we might surprise ourselves with what we’ve learnt. Maybe we’re mourning the things we’ve lost but will now show a greater appreciation for the things we have. Maybe instead of asking ‘why is this happening?’ we’ll ask ‘what is this teaching me?’ Maybe we’ll realise that some of our past is best left buried so that our future can shine all the brighter for it.
So yes, I’ll be crying. But maybe they’ll be happy tears…