The Unmentionable Side to Death

We are allowed to talk about sex. We are allowed to discuss, quite openly, the graphic details, the mechanics, the highs, the lows, the things people do, the things we like, the things we don’t.

We are allowed to talk about childbirth. We are allowed to admit to the pain and mess and fear and sheer exhilaration of bringing a human into the world. And what comes in the days, weeks and months which follow.

We are allowed to see both these things relayed to us via screens, directly into our own homes. Celebrities talk endlessly about both topics, publish pictures of both, boast and preen about both.

And we are allowed to talk about death. But only in general terms. There is an accepted vocabulary for it.

After all, there are limits.

But why? Because it is not glamorous? Not seemly?

Or because we are scared of it.

Whatever the reason, there are details which may not be discussed. Personal details. Which must be kept under wraps. Shrouded.

Why? Why should we shy away from talking about the inevitable? Sex may not be a feature in some people’s lives and neither may childbirth. But death? Death comes to us all. Even those glamorous celebrities.

The details of death are hidden away from our everyday lives, even though ‘in the midst of life, we are in death’. It is given many euphemisms: he has passed on, she has passed away, they are deceased, he is no longer with us, her time has come, his number’s up . . .

We see and read and hear reports of death every day, but not the details; not what it was like for those individuals at the moment they left this world. And certainly not what it was like for the loved ones they left behind.

I am definitely not allowed to talk to anyone about how much I needed the physical contact of my dad’s dead body. I am not allowed to admit to how much I wanted to kiss him, to hug him. To eat him up. I am certainly not allowed to talk about about how I felt, going through long lost photos of him as a young man: seeing him through his mother’s eyes in that wonderful, foxed and faded homemade album of black and white photos of his life from 0-19 years, that she had given him when he got engaged to Mum. Or seeing him through my mum’s eyes in the early years of their love affair, engagement, marriage. Or seeing him holding a tiny me. Seeing him with new eyes. And falling in love with him. I can’t talk about that. It sounds wrong. Oedipal. Perverted.

But true.

And when I finally pluck up enough courage and talk to others who have been through this loss of a parent, I find, to my astonishment, that they say the same. And that it doesn’t matter if it was a woman losing a mother or a man losing a father or another woman losing a father or a man losing a mother. They all have said the same to me – or rather whispered it: ‘I fell in love with them, wanted to hold on to them, to physically attach myself to them…’ The words are not always the same, but the admission is: ‘I fell in love with my parent after his/her death.’

So why aren’t we allowed to talk about this?


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