Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I am acutely aware that when I sit down to write this each day, I want it to make some sense. I want it to be clear and clean on the page. I can't avoid the subject, but I don’t want to bang on and on and on about the melancholy facts of death. I must put, not exactly a brave face, but a presentable face on it. I do not want to alarm the horses.
I thought at first that it was because I never wanted this blog to be a glaring spotlight on my soul. You all have your own souls to be getting on with. I realise now that I am doing this here, because it is what I am mostly doing in life. It is not that I am not telling the truth, but I am not telling the whole truth.
Look at me, I am mostly saying, implicitly, I’m doing fine. Nothing to worry about. Nothing difficult or messy or troublesome. Look, Ma, no hands. It's not quite as simple as that, as it turns out.
I cried last night, suddenly, viscerally, for my dog. Sometimes the tears are for all of them: the father, the cousin, the friend, the canine. Sometimes they are for one of them alone. I can’t tell when which version will arrive. Here is what happens: the wave of sorrow crashes, and for a moment, I let it. I feel it roar and rage through me. I arch my back and open my mouth very wide, as if I can let whatever it is out into the room. Then, quite quickly, my brain kicks into gear. I start to think: all right, this is what happens. This is just to be expected; this too will pass.
Then I think a variety of muddled things. I think it is a process and that is fine; that is what I should be going through now. I can’t just tick the box and move onto the next thing. (Although there is a part of me that wants so very much to do that.)
Then I tell myself, oh come on, pull yourself together. No point in dwelling on things. You are not living in the Congo. You are not the two environmental activists who were shot to death in Brazil yesterday. You are not living on the sixteenth floor of a sink estate, with crack dealers in the stairwell. I think: all right, that’s enough of that.
You see, in the nutty little part of my mind where the wrong constructions live, I am not allowed to be sad. It’s a glorious pincer action. First of all, I am British, so I was born in a culture of stoicism and stiff upper lip and people who got through the war and never talked about it. As I went to three funerals in three weeks, I thought, at one point, pah, this is nothing. Imagine those women in 1942 who got three telegrams in a one week. They managed, although I am still not sure how they did.
Second part of the pincer action is that I am so damn privileged. I live in a Western democracy, where I may vote and walk alone in the street and drive a car and not live in fear of the secret police. I am a woman of independent means. I was sent to the best bloody schools; I went to one of the finest universities in the entire world. I am surrounded by so much natural beauty that it hurts my eyes. I do a job I adore. I have utter freedom. I have a family whom I love. I have the old and dear friends, with the laughter and memories of twenty-five years. I have the Nieces and the Pigeon and the godchildren and all the little great nephews and nieces, who are so funny and sweet and golden. I have my garden and the hill and the ability to type. I have All This. How dare I be sad?
Someone I know and love said to me, the day after my Dad died: Well, at least it is not like losing a child. She was empirically correct, although at the time it was not necessarily what I expected to hear. (We worked out later that she does not do Death.) But it haunts me, that remark. She was right. It’s not a five year old with an incurable disease. I have been in a season of loss, but these are not the grievous, tearing ruptures which make a life almost impossible to live. I don’t know what people do when it is a child, or, oh I don’t know, the unimaginable things like an entire family wiped out, by the earthquake in New Zealand, or the tsunami in Japan, or those tornados in America, or the rampaging armies of the Congo.
There is a school of the good life which says the most egregious thing you can do is compare yourself up. If you are always trying to keep up with the Armstrong-Joneses, you will never be happy, because there will always be someone with a bigger house, a better job, shinier hair. I do the opposite. I compare myself down. I have a haunting belief that this is a moral imperative. I must, must, must count my blessings, which are so manifest, because otherwise what are blessings for?
In some ways this makes sense, but in others it leads to a stuttering stall. The wild griefs of life must be honoured, or they end up twisted in the craw, and come out later in dark tangents. I am afraid that I am papering over the cracks. I tell myself that I must be bonny and blithe because of all the fine things I have.
I once compared sorrow to a long tunnel, with a very faint light at the end of it. I wrote that when I was perfectly happy, and it was easy to type the words on the page. The thing I do know, I said, is that the light does come again.
I do have light. I can see the trees. I can make a conversation. I can laugh at a joke, although I notice that the laugh comes out much louder than normal, like a forced shout, as if to say: here I am, I am still alive. It is not what those friends of mine who have suffered depression describe, where everything is black and there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning.
But I am amazingly fragile. My skin is thin as paper. I have a fear of people I do not know very, very well. My bones ache and crack. The mortality attacks sometimes come in serried ranks, yelling at me. They say: we all die, everyone you know and love will die, there is no reason or rhyme to it, there is no grand plan, you will end up going to funerals for the rest of your life. This is objectively true; it is the thing that Philip Larkin once marvelled did not make us all scream when we awoke each morning. At the same time, it is the thing on which we must not linger. Come on, I say to myself, when that human condition artillery marches towards me, concentrate on the little things. You still have the trees, and the old, old friends who make you laugh from your stomach, and the swallows who are teaching their fledglings to fly, and the music of Bob Dylan. You have the novels of Scott Fitzgerald and the poems of Yeats and your eyesight to read them. Come on, I say to myself, raising a smile.
I miss them all, the departed, but just now, just at this very moment, I miss my dog. (Maybe, I think, in my crazy mind, I should write out a nice, neat schedule for it: miss Dad on Monday, miss cousin on Tuesday, take a day off on Wednesday; miss dog on Thursday; then the weekend is for rest and recreation.) Even though I feel it is almost not permitted, what with all the human funerals I have been to, I miss my darling old Duchess. I have sudden panics that I shall forget her. I want to write down all her quirks and funniness and other glorious attributes, so that I can fold her into my heart and mind, and keep her there. I want to be able to take down that book, the one about the dog who truly believed that she was the Duchess of Devonshire, and slowly read.
Camera still hors de combat, so here are some old pictures of the old girl. Wasn't she fine?