My mum died in October 2011, nearly two years ago. God, that makes me feel sick to write that. Some times I still want to turn around to someone and say “My mum died you know”. I want to put everyone on pause, for life to stop, just for a moment, just so I can take comfort in a collective recognition of this enormous, eternal loss of the most important person in my life. People often mistake this desire for a need for sympathy, or pity. It’s not; far from it. I don’t want a sympathetic look, hug, or apology. I just sometimes want to go “fucking hell, my mum is dead” and for someone else to share that moment with me.
It has been an extraordinary year and a half, for all sorts of reasons, but not least in seeing how the response to grief and death has changed. In my small, limited experience, it feels like since my mum died and I started writing a book about grief, everyone is suddenly talking about it. Obviously that is not true, but there has been a rather big leap made in society in the last year or so in its’ dealing with death and bereavement. There’s an article in almost every Sunday paper about someone’s experience of grief. People are talking openly about it on radio shows, blogs, twitter, exhibitions; In fact, the one at the Wellcome Collection had a skull as its marketing poster. If that’s not shoving death in the face of society then I don’t know what is. It’s amazing, it’s a brilliant, necessary and positive thing.
My version of this confrontation was to start volunteering at the hospice where my mum was a patient. Most people who know me will know that I really like to understand everything at all times, even if it’s a film that’s just started and that no-one else has seen, I will ask questions about the story from the moment the opening credits start. Without actually dying, which wouldn’t be very helpful for anyone else, volunteering at the hospice was the next best way for me to get to confront death and dying.
So this is my way of recording and sharing that process…this is where I shall tell you about the work at the hospice and the lessons I learn from the patients. This is where I get to know death.