Experiences of Death: An Anthropological Account

Experiences of Death: An Anthropological Account

Experiences of Death: An Anthropological Account

Experiences of Death: An Anthropological Account

Excerpt

In 1955 my 74 year old grandfather was admitted to hospital from the tiny family home where I had always lived with him, my mother and my father. Suffering from heart trouble, he remained in hospital for more than a week. Though I sent in cards and presents for him, as a 9 year old child I was excluded from visiting. Within ten days of his admission, whilst lying awake in the living room where I slept, I overheard my father anwering the front door. His 'Oh Lor!' and my mother's unusually firm squeeze as they left the house evoked no conscious suspicion on my part -- but I remember them still. The following morning, seated on either side of the kitchen fireplace, my parents announced my grandfather's death. Straight-away I began crying. Then, being told 'Don't cry. Grandad wouldn't want you to', I stopped, permanently. Soon after I spent the day with family friends, a special treat. Everyone else went to his funeral. A barely used toothpaste tube, the cards and the presents made a slightly disturbing re-appearance in the house. For nine years my grandfather had been by the kitchen fire, my sometimes frightening story teller and my solid climbing frame. Closer and more consistently accessible than either parent, he made a rapid, invisible and emotionally unremarked departure.

In October 1966 my mother, apparently healthy in her very early fifties, announced that she had to go to hospital, 'just for tests'. Her concern that I might be worried surprised me -- I wasn't. Within a fortnight my father appeared in the library where I worked to pass on the doctor's announcement that she had ovarian cancer, that there was no hope, that she would die within nine months. Our decision to withhold the diagnosis from her was easily reached. Her unchanged manner and appearance gave a lie to the shocking information we were concealing. Its impact remained but was oddly dulled. We assimilated it privately as she, slowly, deteriorated. Our long held expectations were fulfilled the following March. When my father woke me to announce, 'She's just gone', my emotional . . .

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