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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

October 2013


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month



“The grim reaper has been busy lately,” writes Eleanor Mills recently in The Sunday Times. “In one thwack he culled our greatest poet Seamus Heaney, the celebrated broadcaster David Frost and the radio legend David Jacobs.”

He has been just as busy lately with dear friends and loved ones of mine, though not as well known to merit nightly TV memorial tributes and countless columns of newspaper print.  I have been called to four funerals in the past two weeks, remembrance rites celebrated in different ways, both religious and secular.  The ages of those whose lives we honoured  ranged from 78 to 97.

I am unable to fall back on religion to ease these losses.  For me, the afterlife is in the memories of those who have left this life.

“The strange thing about death,” says Eleanor Mills, “ is how the hole, the echo, that a loved one leaves expands as the years pass –that is why Heaney is so right when he talks about that void being both ‘empty’ and ‘a source’.

“It is as if, with their absence, their role, their values, what they said, how they thought is amplified in the minds of those left behind.  By their no longer being there we realise how they have shaped us, moulded us, how much their way of viewing the world has become our own – how they live on inside our minds.”

Though it is fourteen years since my husband died, he becomes more and more present in my thoughts and daily activities.  I find myself telling David’s stories when the conversation prompts the punch lines I remember.  Unfortunately, I don’t always remember the engaging build up to the pithy observation at the finale. But sometimes it does come across and I do get a laugh.

Of course, when I watch television I find myself turning to where he sat and comment as he might have.  His glorious smile has reappeared in the children and grandchildren and his empathy for other people’s concerns is manifest especially in our son and grandsons. 

I drive people crazy having inherited his compulsion to always be on time, arriving not just on the dot of the appointed time, but at least ten minutes early.  We sit around airport lounges for what seems eons to make sure we’re on time for the plane, though this early arrival is the results of his travelling in his work to many godforsaken, undeveloped countries where if you were not among the first to push your way aboard the plane the seats would fill with government officials and you might have to wait two or three days til the next flight into the bush.

Of course, like most of us, I hear my mother and father in the children and grandchildren, my mother’s insistence that you never speak ill of anyone and always greet people with a smile.  And my father’s ability to remain centred when all about him is in chaos.

When the son of the good friend called me to tell me she had died and her funeral would be the next Tuesday, I asked him if he needed me to call anyone else, though I didn’t know many of her other friends or relatives.  He said he was okay.  He had simply looked in her address book and called the people whose names he had recognised.

I asked my son who happened to be with me at the time of the phone call, what he would do.  He said he too would look in my address books and call the friends.  That, I thought, may leave out those whose names were not noted or were people he didn’t know.  So be it!

 But then I started to worry that some of my wishes for burial might not be possible.  I would like my ashes mixed with my husband’s. His are buried beneath a flowering bush in a memorial garden.  But maybe they won’t dig up his and mix mine. I think I shall inquire shortly as in my advancing years death is coming closer and closer.  But as my husband would have said: “Why worry.  You won’t be there to know.”

The rituals of death –funerals, prayers, hymns—are profoundly comforting.  But for those who do not believe and those who do, they are seeking new ways to break the taboos about death, to channel grief and fear, loss and bewilderment. 

Groups of young and older are gathering at Death Cafes across the UK and in the US and Europe to talk and be understood.  I mentioned these Cafes in my column of August 2013.  I also said I would be attending one soon to report to you on what the format is and what the conversations reveal and how helpful it might be.  I have signed up for one in Hampstead and will write about it for the November laterlife issue.

These cafes seem to have hit a well spring of need if not curiosity. The leader of the one I am attending, just send out a plea. “To those of you who have already booked and are unable to attend please let me know. We are overbooked by 42 places!”


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