Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Letting go

I went to my mother's funeral on Monday. Writing those words I'm immediately reminded of Camus' use of a similar opening, which he put to strikingly blank and dissociated effect (After the first sentence: "Aujourd'hui, Maman est morte," you know that you are in the good hands of Albert Camus. The existential theme is just awsome - Josh, Great Falls.) Well, I'll see your Meursault, Josh, and raise you Oswald Bastable:
There are six of us besides Father. Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don't care because I don't tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all.
Or, for that matter, Lemony Snicket:
If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels; and if you haven't, you cannot possibly imagine it.
This quite complete statement will stop here.

The funeral was an odd affair. It was billed as a 'celebration of the life', with a brief family committal ceremony afterwards. This way of rebranding funeral services usually strikes me as inappropriate at best and positively unhelpful at worst: to celebrate a life is all well and good, but the loss also needs to be honoured - and surely it can't entirely be honoured without letting go and howling. (She wouldn't want us to be sad? Not forever, no, but I think she'd want us to miss her.)

In the event, though, the celebratory elements of the ceremony didn't grate on me; I never felt we were rejoicing in the life so as not to look at the death. The life we were celebrating is over, after all: ultimately, celebration only adds to the keenness of the loss. What I couldn't share was the consolation-of-faith element. I wondered if this was simply because my religious faith, if not quite non-existent, isn't strong enough for me to entertain any thought that my mother is in a better place or happier now, let alone that she's hooked up again with my father. But then, I don't think I'd want a faith that gave me such certainty about something so unknowable. I'm not sure I'd want a faith that took the edge of something so sharp, either - but that's not quite the same thing.

The mood of the committal ceremony was quite different. The minister opened by saying that we were there "to let go and let God", which struck me as exactly right: this was a ceremony to move us on, a place for us to say she's not ours any more and begin to let our mourning take a different colour. (No less intense - no less painful, for that matter - but different: less anxiety, more melancholy.) The tone of the committal was not at all consoling, and it was all the better for that: the message was a public, collective acknowledgment that something huge and incomprehensible had happened; and that those of us left were in enormous pain; and that this is how it is. Which doesn't bring in consoling certainties; what it does do (oddly) is make the pain a little more manageable. There's no denying how I feel - but there's no denying how it is, either.

China MiƩville (via Ellis) got me thinking about mourning and celebration, by way of some thoughts on revolution in fiction. (Stay with me here.) China:
the fantastic is uniquely well suited to examine these issues. I think that there are certain political issues that cannot be dealt with by 'realistic' narrative, and for me, revolution is a key one.
...
a revolution described by someone not in a revolution, let alone a post-revolutionary society so described, cannot be anything other than the palest imitation of the Carnival of the Oppressed that it would be, the earth turned upside down, because our minds are the minds of those living in an earth stubbornly and annoyingly the right fucking way up so if we take seriously the utter radicalism of a revolution and after, it is unthinkable for we who aren't there. It either turns into absurdity or bureaucracy, in our telling - but with the fantastic, and only with it, I can literalise, concretise, Rosa's insistence on the revolution's immanence: I was, I am, I shall be.
...
actually existing humanity is already pretty fucking great, in much of its numbers, much of the time, so just imagine how fucking great the unfettered variety will be. I'm trying to remember the last line of Trotsky's Literature and Revolution: 'From these, new heights will emerge' - something like that, about the astonishingness of the new human
For what it's worth, here's Leon:
the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.
But let's not linger over Communist man. China's key point - and a deeply Marxist point, for most decent values of the word - is that actually existing humanity is already pretty fucking great, in much of its numbers, much of the time. Amen to that, and cue Russell:
DOCTOR [genuinely shocked]: Who said you're not important? I've travelled to all sorts of places. Done things you couldn't even imagine, but... you two... Street corner. Two in the morning. Getting a taxi home. I've never had a life like that. Yes. I'll try and save you.
Ordinary people - or rather, ordinary lives - they're great.

But note the echo of Roy Batty's death scene ("I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...") Street corner. Two in the morning. Getting a taxi home. - those moments, too, will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Ordinary lives, they're great. They deserve to be celebrated - and mourned.

4 Comments:

Blogger Shelley said...

Phil, I am so sorry about your mother. It's tough letting go, especially we have so many good memories. From you last post with all the different foods and the smile hidden in all the descriptions, you have many many such good memories.

Take care.

22/3/06 21:16  
Anonymous Syd Webb said...

Phil,

On Monday I have to attend a celebration of my mate John - Becky's godfather's - 's life. It's not quite the same as losing a parent's life. But nevertheless - having lost a parent - I share your loss and some of your feelings.

24/3/06 09:17  
Blogger Clare said...

This is a beautiful tribute. I'm slightly confused, because I thought I'd already commented on this thread. But anyway, condolences and thank you for passing her on to us via this medium.

25/3/06 00:47  
Blogger Phil said...

Clare - this is my third post about my mother; I think you commented on one of the other two. (Some people, they're orphaned in middle age & they can't shut up about it...)

Thanks to all for the good thoughts, here and elsewhere. It helps.

25/3/06 10:52  

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