Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Death Effect

The passing of death always serves as a reminder of how fragile life is. It's a swift jolt to brains caught up in the monotony of everyday existence. Suddenly we remember that death is scary and final; death happens.

The death of Amy Winehouse at the weekend, sadly, did not shock me. It was everything that happened afterwards. It was the news channels spitting out the news only an hour after she was found dead. It was the gluttonous purchasing of her music on iTunes, sending an old album flying back up the charts, as if people hadn't had access to it for the last five years. It was the media lionising her unforgettable talent when previously all they did was berate her for her addiction, despite the messy tabloid gold it provided. 

It all just felt wrongly childish; as if we lived in a giant playground and everyone had decided it was okay to like that person again. It didn't matter if they knocked them to the ground and kicked them while they were down. That was yesterday.

Still, it is not the first time this has happened. Michael Jackson's death two years ago induced the same surge in his popularity. In recent years, condoned by the media in light of the allegations surrounding his private life, he was ridiculed and vilified. And yet, within hours of his death he was a renewed figure of appreciation; a talent the world would miss.

Take Marilyn Monroe. During her career she was never really viewed as an exemplary actress; her job was a 'sex symbol' and nothing more. But since her death at age 36, she is cited as one of the greatest female stars of all time. Her estate is probably richer now than it ever was when she was alive.

What is it about the effect of death on a person's significance? Seemingly, an untimely demise renews our interest in their contribution to the world. Where was all this caring and appreciation when it really counted?

Suddenly everyone remembers that person actually mattered and, perhaps surprisingly, that person was human; not some figure of greatness to perch on a pedestal. They were flesh, blood and bones; their hearts could break and their souls could hurt. They were just like us

Maybe that's what this is all about. Glorifying someone after their death is just a reflection of how we would want to be treated. Maybe this rush to celebrate Amy Winehouse and remember her talent is because we ourselves want to be celebrated when we're gone. We don't want to be forgotten.

Reader, what say you?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Is that you? This is me...

This was my Granddad two years ago on his birthday. Despite the hot weather, he insisted on a jumper, jacket and a blanket. He wore my old sunglasses and a hat my mum made from newspaper as a joke. He even wore it on the ride home.

I post this because last Saturday would have been his 96th birthday. I can scarcely believe that he's been gone nine months; not because time slips through our fingers like sand but because I still feel like he's here. Every day we repeat his old-man sayings and laugh at the things he used to do. Even answering the telephone I still expect to hear a little pause before he says, 'Is that you? This is me.'

The thoughts seem so unnecessary - silly even - but it's surprising how some things never leave you. 

For years I never really had a solid relationship with my Granddad. When I was a child it was his brother, my Great Uncle Tom, whom I had real affection for. He was the one who came to stay for three weeks every summer; who told me bedtime stories and gave me custard cream biscuits before dinner when my mum wasn't looking. And when I was nine years old and Uncle Tom died, I was bereft. Suddenly, I had to carve a relationship with my real Grandfather who hadn't really been around at all.

It would be unfair to say he was completely absent. He tried to visit once a week, on a Tuesday, and always bought a huge paper bag of penny sweets. We ate them as we watched TV. Granddad never really said much - he preferred to fuss over his three Yorkshire terriers - and would always leave at the end of Quantum Leap. 

This was the extent of our relationship for many years. I guess I never thought much about it. Sometimes I would yearn for the bond I shared with Uncle Tom but such thoughts from a child were always fleeting - and forgotten just as quickly.

Much later, like most relationships, things changed. As I left my childhood years, it was as if Granddad saw me for the first time, as if he thought: 'At last, she's an adult; we can finally talk on a similar level!'

With hindsight, he probably wasn't a 'kid' type person. Not every Grandparent is the typical cliché. Perhaps he found it difficult to communicate, struggled to relate. His sense of humour and way with words were certainly better suited to an adult mind.

Soon enough, he wasn't just my Granddad. I came to appreciate the person he was beneath that label. I learned how he didn't let his physical disability (caused by a motorbike accident aged nineteen) destroy his zest for life. How everything he did was for the future benefit of his family and how important it was to know we would be cared for. I appreciated his wittiness and the cheeky glint in his eye.

We had our disagreements - he didn't think women needed higher education - and he sometimes got on my nerves (yes, Granddad, I'll make you a cup of tea; you can stop with the dying-of-thirst charades) but he always made me smile. 

Even on the passing of his birthday, with glasses raised to his empty chair, just the idea of him, his memory, made me smile. Like most people I wondered what I would say to him, given the chance. 

'Is that you? This is me. I miss you.'

More than I thought I would...