This week I learned of two deaths - they could not have been more different.
On Tuesday I was told that my ex father in law had died. He must have been ninety or thereabouts; a kind man, gentle, with a wry sense of humour. I’d not seen him since I separated from my first wife nearly thirty years ago, but I’m grateful still, for the care and support he gave me when starting out on adult life. I hope, that we didn’t speak says as much about distance and life moving on than any lasting anger on his part.
When I heard of his passing I didn’t shed tears. Death at any age is sad, but there is comfort in the knowledge of a life well-lived. We can celebrate what the person gave us, rejoice in shared memory, and - especially if there are descendants - take comfort in a sense of their contribution to the greater life journey.
For my part, this is as close to faith as I get.
Yesterday I learned too of the death of one of my son’s best friends. More accurately, I should say ‘had confirmed’, for we knew through the grapevine, and in our hearts, that the skier reported to have fallen 650ft in Oz-en-Oizans, was Jordan. One slip on the ice and…
As I write these few words, my fingers are tensing at the keyboard; my eyes are wet and it hurts to swallow. I am thinking of the time he came to our house and we played table tennis in the garden - so vital, so competitive, such fun to be with… Twenty years of the life force embodied in physical form.
And because of that, and because he was such a good friend to my son, I feel anger as much as grief. Anger at an industry that pretends the mountains are a helter-skelter ride; which revels in putative adventure but diminishes the risks. Its apologists will cry otherwise, but they are wrong… and the litany of deaths every year gives evidence to their self-deceit. There’s more to be said on this, much more… but now is not the time.
Every night this week I have slept badly; troubled in a way by my own distress. After all, Jordan was my son’s friend, not mine; I’d met him only a handful of times. I know that in part, it’s a dread of ‘what might have been'; a parental unease at events that feel too close for comfort - 'but for the grace...' as they say. But there’s more to my sadness than that.
For if I’m honest with myself, the first line of this piece isn't strictly true. To a man of no faith, all death is the same - oblivion, regardless of when and how it occurs. That void is beyond our knowing, and as such, I can just about bear it. What’s harder to reconcile, are the memories cut short, the potential lost - the link to life’s journey, more severed than stitched.
That will take time to pass.