How would you like to be remembered?
Bit of a gloomy topic but death really is the last great obscenity, isn’t it? We try to keep it away from us, ignore it as much as possible, act as if it’s possible to live forever. We don’t like to be reminded of the fact that we are all going to die. But we are, and I think Covid-19 has reminded us of this fact rather brutally. When the virus first hit and I thought I had the dreaded auntie Rona, I wrote a list and called it (not very subtly) “In the event of my death”. I didn’t think of it as macabre but rather sensible and thoughtful to the people I would be leaving behind. Also, do you really think I would be able to resist writing about it? Of course not. I would live tweet my own death if I could.
What I hope to be remembered for is:
I try to apply this in my everyday life, but often fall short. I particularly try to apply compassion when I’m giving notes to writers or students. This is not always easy as they will try and argue with you about notes or belittle you because they are feeling attacked. You want to say “excuse me honey, I’ve been doing this since you were in nappies” but this is not helpful. Also, if you put your own ego aside, you can learn something from the argumentative little shits.
I try to apply compassion to people who have differing political viewpoints to mine. The greatest gift you can give someone is to accept them as they are. That could be a headspace meditation or maybe I saw it on the back of a sugar packet. Whatever. It’s true. It is even true of people you absolutely detest. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for what they’ve done, it just means that you treat them with compassion at all times. As Michelle Obama so famously said, when they go low, we go high (no, kids not GET high, GO high – there’s a difference.)
When I was younger, I was a real firebrand, willing to cancel anyone who didn’t share my views. I now think cancel culture is a crock of shit and I have also mellowed as I’ve grown older. Mainly, because I’ve seen too many people who say all the right things but don’t put it into practice and vice versa.
It’s easy to apply compassion to people we agree with, but people who have wronged us? Not so much. I’m still working on my compassion for the men who mugged my daughter and robbed her of her phone. Frankly, I hope something nasty happens to them. Clearly, more meditation is needed.
Being an excellent social media whore.
As you can see I’m not sure what to call this next one. But I would like to be remembered as someone who always tried to give people a leg up, whether it be a student, a fellow writer or just someone I came across on Twitter. I think there is enough room for everyone. Another writer’s success is my success. I sincerely believe this. I apologise if I haven’t been as present and media whoreish as usual in promoting books, but I’m afraid my workload is eye-wateringly large at the moment.
My sense of humour.
I want people to remember me as someone who could laugh at themselves. As a family we have always tried to find the funny side in everything, and I mean everything. We laugh at the most inappropriate things. But I hope that my humour has never been cruel, and I apologise if it has been. I have a love of funny lines and one of my current work colleagues has to keep saying to me “Yes, it’s hilarious, but would a sixty-five year old rural Zulu woman say that?” Sadly, she is usually right.
A good mother
I found myself getting nervous during the latest parent-teacher meetings (held over Zoom naturally). My daughter’s marks have slipped during lockdown. Tragically, like her parents, her need to be a comedian and entertain her classmates during Zoom lessons surpassed her need to actually listen to the teacher. Her maths teacher: I can’t see them, so I don’t know if they’re actually paying attention. Hmmm, I fear that not much attention was paid. To TikTok perhaps, to maths, not so much.
I got all anxious worrying about this and then I realised that it really doesn’t matter. If my kids end up having to repeat a year, so be it. The most important thing is that we get out of this pandemic alive and with some means to support ourselves, everything else will have to wait. I think as a mother I spend too much time worrying that my children are ACHIEVING, the pandemic has been an excellent teacher in this regard. Let the children be.
Ps…I have also been accused of loving the cats more than the kids. This is Not True. I love them all equally.
A good sister, cousin, auntie and friend
Works too much, never available. Last threw a dinner party for her friends where she actually cooked in 2013. More attention needed in this area.
Agreed. When lockdown is over, I will be turning over a new leaf. Promise.
A good wife
It would not be appropriate to mention what areas need to be improved upon here.
Having a good death
This sounds weird I know, but it’s quite an important one. My mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2009. As she was in her seventies, she opted for a bowel re-section and no chemo. This gave her an extra year in which time we went on safari to Zimbabwe as a family and she got to visit her sister in Australia. She enjoyed relatively good health until about eleven months later when the cancer was back with a vengeance.
But we still managed to have a St Patrick’s day party at our house a month before she died where she got to say goodbye to her cousins. Then in the final week of her life, she had the Last Rites, we discussed what songs and readings she’d like at her funeral and she made sure she lasted long enough to say goodbye to her childhood friend who drove up from KZN especially to see her. She died that night in my sister’s apartment. It was a good death and although I was very, very sad I felt comforted knowing that she had handled her illness and death the way she wanted to. She felt in control.
I know that this has been one of the most difficult things for people who have lost loved ones to Covid. Not being able to be with them, not being able to say goodbye, knowing that they were alone. I am in awe of the medical professionals who – on top of everything else they’re coping with – have gone out of their way to ensure that families have had some kind of closure.
We should not underestimate the value of a good death, not only to the person doing the dying but also to those left behind.
I think I have reached the last stage of grief as far as lockdown is concerned.
I have now accepted the fact that my life as I knew it is going to be very different going forward.
But I’ve just finished reading an excellent book about Jane Austen (The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne) which has made me realise that things we think are so unique to our situation now are really, really not. Humanity has been enduring pandemics, economic collapse, wars and all sorts of other nasties forever.
We will get through this, and hopefully the world as we know it will be changed for the better. Also, a special shoutout to contraception. Women in Miss Austen’s time were having up to 13 children.
After two kids jumping on a trampoline is a no-no. I do not want to think about the pelvic floor exercises required after thirteen.
Unsolved on Netflix. Riveting and heartwrenching. We had to binge watch it.
Recommended reads for this week:
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams about a young British-Jamaican woman in London navigating the dating scene and recovering from past traumas. It had me both LOL’ing and blubbing like a three year old.
The Manon Series by Susie Steiner. Susie is a brilliant writer from the UK who happens to be dying of brain cancer. Her tweets @SusieSteiner are in turn heartbreaking and hilarious. I regret to say that I drunk tweeted her a couple of weeks ago after a glass and a half of prosecco to tell her how amazing I think she is.
I say regret, I’m kidding, I don’t regret it at all. If you think someone’s amazing, tell them now. In the words of O.A.R. “Babe we’re only here, oh, for a little while”
Let’s try make our time count. Happy reading! xxx