AN ATTITUDE TO DEATH
Francis is 26 years old; he turns 27 this year. Rowie would have been 18 this year. Effectively there were 8 years between them.
We came out from the UK when Francis was 8 years old and Rowie was 5 months part-baked! He was known as ‘Kiwi’ from his conception. Francis was excited almost to breaking point when he heard he was at last about to have a brother or sister!
The UK is heaving with people. The roads are congested; the population squeezed into house upon house upon house, all tacked together. Villages that historically hated each other have extended and melded their boundaries. When someone dies, unless they are directly connect to you it is rare that you even give them a seconds thought. Suicides escape your radar unless, again, they are directly connected to you. Mass murderers do still make the headlines as do their victims; The Yorkshire Ripper springs to mind here as do the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley but this is a sad sign of the times – mass murder is a worthy topic for the papers.
When we first came to New Zealand in 1995 we of course noticed the lack of traffic on the roads; the large expanses of emptiness between each town; the laid back attitude towards locking cars and house doors. We noticed the incredible attention given to deaths within the community – funerals were colossal with their observance of ceremony, formality, ritual and attendance; so unlike those we were accustomed to. We talked about this phenomenon often; explaining this away to each other by saying that this was the “original settler attitude” – sticking close and helping each other through the bad times.
We lived in Alexandra for the first thirteen years of our sojourn in New Zealand. Francis continued his primary school education and then moved on to Dunstan High School. During our time in Alexandra seven of his peers died. This is a figure that should have scared us witless; a population of around 5,000 that loses such a large number of their teenagers. We put this down to the fact that because the population is so small, New Zealanders are more acutely aware when a death occurs.
In a way the manner in which deaths are dealt with here in New Zealand help the bereaved to come to terms with and understand the death process in a far better fashion than we do in the UK. I was nearly 40 when we emigrated and I had never seen a dead body. In the UK someone dies, and if you don’t happen to be the one to come across the body then you are protected from this spectre. The body is taken away, processed and held in the Chapel of Rest for burial somewhere down the track – I think the average wait for a funeral is around 2 – 3 weeks. Francis, as a young 17 year old, was introduced to the concept of spending time with his departed peer; allowing him to come to terms with the loss before the burial – a practice that horrified me as a mother because I felt that it could be emotionally damaging for him but a practice that proved to be cathartic for him. He and his friends would sit with their departed pal, tell stories, laugh and cry. They would decorate his coffin and feel a part of the grieving process usually reserved for immediate family in the UK.
Chris and Francis went to formally identify Rowan. I initially stated that I couldn’t possibly go and see him. I was scared; I was horrified; I felt physically sick at the thought of looking on our dead son. I changed my mind and then again – I couldn’t get my head around the appalling, unspeakable act of viewing a dead body, albeit our beautiful, warm and wonderful son. I steeled myself and, accompanied by my other beautiful boys, went to see Rowie. I was so glad that I did this. He was cold, he was a shell. I knew at that point that he hadn’t just ‘died’. He had vacated and moved on…..
The thought of a dead body no longer holds any fear for me. We are energy, pure energy. We have the use of a body, a vehicle to move around in, but essential we are pure, pure energy. When the body no longer functions it frees the energy, the soul, to continue on its amazing journey. Rowie, the shell was there for me to look at but his essence, his being, his energy or soul had moved on. The beauty of this statement is that I now know, categorically, that the energy that was Rowie in this life is still an ever present energy – one that can stay around with his loved ones on this plane, one that can spend time with loved ones that have already, like him, passed.
I am aware that because his passing was accidental it came as a shock to his spirit, his energy, his soul. He saw our hurt and he hurt too. As such he had to spend some time healing. I believe that people, under whatever circumstances they pass; accidental, suicidal, through illness, through murder – all go through a similar healing process – one that allows them to forgive themselves for any unhappiness, despondency and misery they think they may have caused those left behind. Once they have allowed themselves to heal they can then start on their new and exciting journey, whatever they may choose to do.
….and I reckon Rowie has a lot of fun ahead of him!