When a friend dies how are you meant to behave?

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Twenty minutes can be a long time

It’s twenty minutes since I slouched past Mother’s bedroom door yoga mat under my arm and I can still hear her talking on the phone. Twenty minutes is an unusually long call for her because her hearing is poor and her patience quite short.

She also keeps chats quick because she thinks telephone charges are ‘scandalously’ high along with the TV licence, bread, milk, butter, eggs and cake. She lives in an imaginary inflation free Eden.

The last call this long was with a fraudster, who was trying to prise loose her bank account details. Instead they got her life story in a pause free monologue of approximately fifty minutes. I felt sorry for the fraudster. It must have felt like being kidnapped by the James Joyce Society, who won’t set you free before they’ve read you Joyce’s 265,000-word, stream of consciousness masterpiece ‘Ulysses’, slowly and in one sitting. 

I’m doing the downward dog

I make a mental note to ask Mother who she was talking to when she comes down for breakfast. If it’s the doctor, I like to know what’s been said. I am in the Downward Dog pose. Delighted, I realise my yoga is getting better because last week I would have fallen over if I had tried to think at the same time as attempting Downward Dog. Is it time to move on from the five-minute beginner’s warm up video?

I flop into Savasana, the Corpse Pose, which involves lying flat on your back and breathing which is hardly taxing. I keep my eyes closed as I hear the clumping of Mother’s crutch on the wood floor as she walks to the kitchen. The fact I do not open my eyes to look at her is a sign of my growing powers of yogic concentration and ability to control my mind / body duality.  Another triumph!

At breakfast, I read a report which says 8,000 older people have died of corona virus in care homes. The death rate in April is 10,000 higher than usual for this month. Is the covid death rate being under reported?  

Can we trust the covid death rate data?

It makes me wonder if Mother would still be alive if she had gone to an old people’s home instead of moving in with us. I  feel relief Mother is here with her family, not alone, isolated and scared in a care home. Would she ever want to go to one after this? 

‘Who were you talking to,’ I ask Mother as she butters her toast.

She looks up and out toward the garden.

‘B— has died.’

B— is an old friend, who worked with Mother worked in the fifties.

‘I was just on the phone to her husband. She died a few days ago,’ says Mother.

‘I’m so sorry,’ says my wife.

‘Was it covid?’ I ask.

Mother shrugs her shoulders. Her friend was in a care home for people with dementia.

‘When is the funeral?’ asks my wife.

‘I don’t remember anything about a funeral.’

‘Is she allowed to go to a funeral?’ I ask.

‘I was thinking of sending flowers and card, really,’ says my wife. 

‘It’s happened, already, I think. Poor B—.’ She sighs.

My son is looking at his grandmother for signs of distress. But she isn’t shedding any tears. No flood of memories has been unlocked, so perhaps she feels she lost her friend to dementia years ago and the news of her death has lost its sting? Maybe, she’s just decided to play this with a stiff upper lip? 

How are you meant to behave when a friend dies?

Are there rules on how you are meant to behave when a friend dies? Can you train for it? Or do you just have to roll with this knock out punch, like a boxer, who’s always known this moment would come and that it is instinct not training which gets you back up off the floor?

‘I’d like to organise a Mass for her. I’ll go and see the priest today,’ says Mother.

‘I think you better call first. I don’t think you can go to the Church yourself,’ says my wife.

‘Still this bloody covid thing,’ says my Mother.

‘I’m afraid so,’ says my wife.

Later that afternoon, I open Mother’s bedroom door. I have details from the church and florist to hand. She is asleep fully clothed, exhausted by emotion. She has left her radio on which is playing ‘We are Family’ by Sister Sledge.

Published by Man in the Middle

Ecce Man in the Middle. The stale meat in the inter-generational sandwich.

2 thoughts on “When a friend dies how are you meant to behave?

    1. Thanks. My struggle is to stop my instinct to treat the world as an absurd joke and face some of the sadness and sweetness. The challenge of living in a multi generation household is one is faced with both all the time.

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