Sadness and grief

This week has brought some great highs but two terrible lows.  I had an amazing few days with my sister and her family in Cornwall, getting burnt on the beach, eating out at great restaurants and spending time with my niece and nephews all of whom are growing up so fast.   This peaceful Cornish existence was shattered by the news of Felix’s death in France.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that I was sitting in the sunshine at the Magdalen College ground with him and his Oxfordshire under-14 team mates, congratulating him on his great bowling that day and sharing a joke or two about some of the T1 boys.  I find death difficult to cope with whenever it sneaks across my path.  I guess it is one price of being an atheist and not seeing a higher purpose in all the suffering.  But when the person who dies is 14 years old, it seems to me exceptionally unfair and cruel.

I know the next few weeks will be a terrible time for his family and friends.  It is human nature to try to look for positives in the darkest times, to seek meaning in the messiness of our lives but I don’t think this is really possible.  I think there is some value in just quiet grief and contemplation without the need for false explanations or meanings.

Sport is an emotional business (well it is for me anyway) and I know Felix’s team mates from Threepenny 1, from the Dragon and from the Oxfordshire sides will all be hurting very badly.  It is a cliche that sport doesn’t build character but that it reveals it.  Felix’s character was revealed all too clearly this summer.   Felix set himself high standards and was ambitious, eager to learn and to better himself.  He knew how to celebrate successes and I will not forget the joy on his face when he repeatedly knocked the opposition stumps out of the ground, bowling fast at Tonbridge.  But Felix had a generosity of spirit such that the successes of others also brought him joy.  I find it hard to imagine that I won’t feel the smack of the cricket ball hitting my baseball mit as Felix unleashes yet another bullet throw, nor see his happy smile.

I had to come back from holiday early to go to the funeral of a school friend yesterday.   Both events have reminded me that not everyone lives to see their undoubted potential come to fruition, that our grip on life can be less strong than we sometimes believe in our cocooned existence, and that you might not be given a final chance to tell people how much they mean to you.  In reality I had lost touch with Lucy, chatted to her on Facebook a few times in the past ten years but there was so much still to say.  She died not knowing that a whole gang of her school friends from 30 years ago would travel to her funeral, some flying in from overseas, some driving up from London but all as determined as I was to be there.  It doesn’t make the hurt any better but at least we had a chance afterwards to talk, to laugh a lot about the old times and to renew some of the friendships from times past that actually are such a vital part of who we all are.

One of my favourite pieces of writing about death is a famous short poem by David Harkins.

You can shed tears that she is gone

or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back

or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her

or it can be full of the love you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday

or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember her only that she is gone

or you can cherish her memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back

or you can do what she would want:  smile, open your eyes, love and go on.


RIP Lucy xx and RIP Felix


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