How can a funeral not make you think about things differently?

Mon 29 Nov – Sun 5 Dec 2021

Part of the discipline of writing a regular blog is that you have to think ‘What am I actually writing about? What do I want to share with others?’ At one stage I was going to write about how manic last week was (and it was). But then the key thing that happened was my dear friend Stephen’s funeral. I challenge anybody to go to the funeral of a friend or family member and come back without thinking about their life.

Stephen’s Funeral

It happened last Wednesday. As I wrote in my previous blog (read it here), I just about managed to squeeze into my only suit having failed to lose half a stone in a week. Stephen would have laughed about that – all older gay men struggle with their weight. Me and Dave met his partner and best friend then had a long journey with them in the car following the hearse from Fulham to Golders Green.

It was a very nice funeral

Simple with poems and people talking about Stephen. Plus lots of music from his beloved ballet. A bit of chatting afterwards then back in the car to Fulham to be followed by coffee and shared thoughts. A compassionate celebrant and the service had a theme of life being like a glass of champagne. Stephen lived a life of fun times and connections – we all adored being part of that and we were ‘caught up in his slipstream’ as his best friend so brilliantly put it.

You have to be thoughtful

But seriously, how can you not think about things after a funeral? Basically in a 30-45 min period, a life is precised and ‘explained’. That is ultimately what it comes to for all of us. And then that is it. Everything you were is gone. Of course, you are like a stone thrown into water in that the ripples of your life continue. But ultimately even they are gone and nothing is left.

And the point is…?

A funeral must make you think about the bigger things in life. And realise the smallness of us. The big philosophical questions that surround us like ‘Why do we exist?’ and ‘What is the point of it all?’ Particularly if you don’t leave a family behind which is, ultimately, the evolutionary reason for our existence.

Dying lion

Those left behind

Me and Dave now want to make sure Stephen’s partner is OK. We certainly don’t want to crowd him if he wants to be alone. But we want him to know he can phone if he wants and we’re always ready to meet for coffee or dinner. Indeed, where he is now is where me or Dave is likely to be in a couple of decades. So hopefully it’s a case of karma and what goes around comes around.

The poem at Stephen’s funeral: ‘He is gone’ by David Harkins

You can shed tears that he is gone

Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back

Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him

Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow because of yesterday

Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone

Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back

Or you can do what he’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Family and Friends

Mum, Dave, and sleep

Spent a lot of time with mum last week. This wasn’t being maudlin after the funeral, rather it was about practicalities in order to attend various health appointments.

So less time with Dave though we did manage a lazy weekend together (had my monthly haircut) including lunch at the UJC on Saturday. It was great to catch-up and sleep. A two hour snooze on Sat afternoon and 9 hours on Sat night.

Mum and Dave are both OK. Mum is moderately happy as she’s had her hair done. Whilst Dave is busy on a new gardening related initiative. Gardening keeps him happy.

Another death

Though terribly sad news that my brother’s partner’s dad died. Mum got a little bit morose as this is the 4th death of someone close in a very recent period. Though as I pointed out – it’s winter and more people die then, we’re in a pandemic, all the people who died were over 60, and as you get older you know more people who died.

I also knew lots who died in my teenage years and twenties with AIDS. I think this means I consider death and the purpose of life more than many other people do.

Death (flower)

Irene

Then on Thurs afternoon had my postponed catch-up with my old Comic colleague Irene. Twas cold so we spent a large amount of the time just catching up with each other over coffee at the Royal Festival Hall. There is no doubt Stephen’s funeral has put me in a very philosophical frame of mind about the future and what I want to do with my remaining time. Great to chat with Irene about options and so exciting to ponder on some of her ideas for the future.

Health and Efficiency

Perhaps it feels flippant to write about health matters in a blog primarily about the ripple effect of a funeral. But life has to carry on. And isn’t the point of living a purposeful, good and useful life to try and make it last as long as possible?

The crown

To the dentist last Mon. My broken tooth isn’t hurting but the dentist insists I need a crown to protect it. And that’s going to cost around £300 on the NHS. That’s a metal crown, an enamel one is £5-600 and I ain’t paying that for a tooth at the back of my mouth. So two more visits to come. First, to fit a temporary crown. Then, a week later, to fit the permanent one.

With the cost and the fact the tooth doesn’t hurt at the moment, do I trust the dentist particularly as she gets paid to do this work? But do I really have a choice – what if the tooth breaks more or suddenly becomes very painful by being left in its wounded state? And if I believe in science and expertise then I have to believe her. Plus at the end of the day you can’t not trust anyone. That leads to a life of paranoia and loneliness. Witness the anti-vax and pro-Trump conspiracy crazies.

nice teeth smile

Covid booster

Had this on Tues afternoon. Different brand to the two previous vaccinations. Had no ill effects for the first two and only moderate ones for the booster. But isn’t that a good sign? That your body is reacting to a health stimulation. Sleep that night felt very similar to the strange feelings and thoughts I had on the first night of taking my HIV meds. Then a lingering heavy arm ache for a few days. But that was a simple physical side-effect that comes from having a needle stuck in your arm.

INR

Straight after the booster to get my INR. Tues afternoon was packed with fun health things. This was my final health event before the funeral the next day. Good news – INR is back to being in range so no blood clots and no internal bleeding. Stay on the same warfarin level and back to check again in 3 weeks.

warfarin tablets

Back to the gym for my knee…

And more health stuff post-funeral – a gym session with a physio to build up my leg muscles to help support my dodgy knee. Pretty much the usual range of leg exercises (squats, presses, lunges, etc) but with lower weights and slowly. Felt OK – indeed, I had the lovely feeling of my muscles working and that nice ache afterwards.

…actually inspirational, I am returning to the gym one day

What it did do was make me remember why I love the gym and why it was a big part of my life pre-pandemic. I am inspired to think about a new gym membership though hopefully things aren’t going to be scuppered by Omicron. Linked to the post-funeral thoughts, I want to do things I enjoy, that make me feel good, and that enhance my life. That has to include the gym again at some point.

range of dumbells

Weight

Losing weight takes real effort in many different directions. It’s not as easy as just ‘eat less’ because if it was then we would all be skinny. But last week, with everything that was happening, I just didn’t have the energy or drive to focus on the things I need to do to lose weight. Like forcing myself to go a bit hungry and not eat for comfort as well as take more exercise. I didn’t balloon but I certainly didn’t lose anything. Something to come back to when I can give it the attention it deserves.

Sustainability

Stephen’s funeral definitely reinforced my thoughts around this. If we don’t change our ways then we are talking about humanity’s funeral. Climate change won’t mean the end of the Earth but it will mean the end of human life as we know it.

Ultimately we all just leave junk for someone else to get rid of

It was also so reminiscent talking to Stephen’s partner about all the stuff you have to decide what to do with once a person is gone. I had to do this with my old friend Brian who lived in Brighton. And it made me realise that all the stuff we accumulate in our lives is junk. It might mean something to us and give us hope for the future – ‘I will read that book one day’. But when we are gone it is for the charity shop at best but more likely just landfill. And the damage done to the planet is done.

eBay did the right thing

So I carried on with my sustainable living. Walking, eating less meat, using reusable cups for coffee, appreciating nature, visiting charity shops, and offloading stuff. Related to the latter, I had put out a tweet about eBay’s over zealousness in classifying gay-themed DVDs as ‘Restricted Adult Material’ and freezing people’s accounts. This had led to me being put on the naughty step. The sunlight of publicity meant eBay contacted me, reviewed the case, admitted their mistake, and reinstated my account.

But the truth is – Don’t Buy Stuff!

So good news. Though the reality is that in getting rid of stuff then very often people don’t want it or will only pay pennies for it. So it goes to the charity shop who may well end up throwing it away. The real value is not buying useless stuff in the first place. Perhaps borrowing instead or not purchasing things in physical form i.e. better to stream and download films and music rather than buying DVDs and CDs that ain’t every going to bio-degrade.

Everything Else

The funeral gave last week focus. But other stuff went on. Though the funeral, family and friends, and health issues really took up most of my time. No problem because the balance always shifts.

Tech for Good

I was impressed that my employer, without hesitation, gave me special leave for the funeral. Fascinating that someone close to the deceased was told by his charitable employer that he couldn’t have such time off as it wasn’t direct family. ‘Healer heal thyself’. But it was busy at work particularly as we are finishing stuff off before Christmas and my direct colleague had a couple of well deserved days off.

So I worked my paid hours apart from most of Wed which was funeral focused. But I also did some work on my non-paid days to make sure I stayed on top of things. Our new environmentally focused discovery project is going well as is the delivery project. But a funeral has to make you think about work in terms of what Oscar Wilde apparently said, ‘No-one lays on their death bed and says I wish I had spent more time at work’.

inter-connected tech

Art and Culture

Watching I’m a Celebrity though it is a bit repetitive, over-dramatic, and silly. Aren’t we just watching the same tasks every year? And don’t the celebs know what is going to happen plus none of them are really at risk of getting hurt. But it’s pure escapism from the stress of everyday life. And it gets better once the celebs start getting voted out one by one.

Books and Reading – Dr Who Short Trips and my new reading book

Only finished one book last week. This was another collection of Dr Who short stories by cult audio and book publisher Big Finish. This time, it was volume 10 entitled ‘2040’. The common theme was that all the stories were set in the year 2040. A nice idea as it was published in 2004 and interesting to reflect how close the stories are to truth. Some are downright silly but others portend the coming of big tech in particular. Overall, these books are like comfort food to me – and what is wrong with that in difficult times?

Meanwhile I have started reading a non-fiction book which is unusual for me. I’m very much a fiction person normally. This is a study of Paris in the half decade after its liberation from Nazi occupation. There’s something amazing about places that are liberated and given the chance to start again. And this one is full of passion, patriotism, philosophy, politics, and famous names.

Personal Development

Another quiet week with the funeral and everything else happening. Got no coding practice done at all – that really needs fixing. Did manage some Duolingo to practice my Spanish but would love to have the time to do more. I’ve stopped with my knee exercises as hopefully we are picking those up via the gym sessions albeit there being only one per week at the moment.

The Week Ahead

  • Three solid work days and my colleague Jeantine’s last week before she’s off for Christmas
  • The Christmas online social event on Tues evening for the Thoughtworks staff who have been involved with our Social Change Lab. We are making pizzas together!
  • Dentist on Tues afternoon – fitting the temporary crown and taking measurements for the permanent one to be fitted the following week
  • Time with mum and Dave. The latter will be spending some time with Stephen’s partner.
  • Gym physio session again on Thurs morning. May use the time in the afternoon to check out a gym I am thinking of joining.
  • Should get at least one book finished

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