LIFE AFTER DEATH WORDS: MAX COOPER ART: ADRIANA STURMAN I’ve been thinking a lot about death, and about what we do when it happens. For this to make sense, I’ll have to tell you about my grandfather. We were close – we even had the same name. He was the only grandfather I can ever remember being alive, but he made enough memories for a family tree. Part of why I moved to Adelaide when I did, spending the Summer of 2008 here instead of saying goodbye to my mum/sister/stepdad/ friends/cat in Canberra before moving most of the way across the country for school was so I could spend another Christmas with him. He was in hospital by the time I got there, and spent the next few years going in and out of the place. Anyone who has lost a loved one to illness can probably tell you the same things I can. There were ups and downs, it was hard, and even writing this now it still hurts. Two years later, towards the beginning of summer, he died. This wasn’t a surprise: like I said, it had been coming for years. But that didn’t make it any easier. Everyone still had to go on living, but it was hard. Our family had a small get-together a while after, to share stories and remember his life.
I’ll always remember looking over and seeing my grandmother with his twin sister, and feeling like I could see the void where he’d been. That void hasn’t gone away. I don’t know if it will for me, but I doubt it. Despite this, I feel like my grandfather has been there for important things. He was with me at my high school graduation, and there with my grandmother when she wished me happy birthday for my eighteenth. Even little things, like how my phone still has ‘Muttie & Grandpa’ saved make me feel like he’s still here. And that’s not unique to me. I know friends who still talk about their grandparents’ money, or their grandparents’ houses, years after they’ve died. The entire concept of heirlooms is based on it: we imbue objects with their owners’ presence in order to cope with our sense of loss. And it’s important that we do. Being able to grieve, and express loss, is an incredibly important part of life. And while everyone grieves in their own way, we have some big no-nos in our culture. People who throw themselves into work, or drinking, or anything with a vengeance aren’t really dealing, according to us. They need to be
able to let go. But going too far in the other direction isn’t okay either. You can’t just try and forget someone, or pretend their loss doesn’t hurt. Clichéd though it may be, if you’re repressing something to avoid feeling it it’s just going to get so bad you can’t repress it. This kind of mourning and remembrance of the dead is not new. The Iliad, one of the earliest works of literature that survives, is all about the choice between a glorious death that will be commemorated down the ages, or a pleasant and long life that will be treasured by your family. In both of these cases, death is not the end: people still go on living, and they carry you with them. Mourning rituals and honouring the dead may change across time
Inside the final edition of 2013: the inside word on exchanges, bookshops, and nursing degrees, and more.