Thursday, September 26, 2013


When I was 18 my friend's boyfriend was drunk driving when he crashed his car, and he walked away unhurt. She was paralysed from the neck down and died of pneumonia a year later. It was a tragedy, such a waste of potential: we cried and learned from this not to drink and drive. But we had only known her for a few years, and we were young and still had no sense of the inevitability of death.

Last night my brother-in-law, Mac Bell, died. From my current perspective of 62, 74 seems way to young. I said goodbye to him on his birthday, two days before he died. Like all of us, he had both good qualities and flaws - but what was important to me was that I enjoyed his company. I enjoyed the discussions, sometimes arguments, that we had. He had a different outlook to mine on many subjects, but there was always respect for each other. He didn't speak without consideration, and could amend his views if you gave him good reason. He was very knowledgeable about many things, but that didn't make him a know-it-all - if I knew more about something, he respected that. I knew him for 43 years. I miss him already.

At my age, the death of a friend you have known so long brings grief that wells up through your whole body, not just in your throat and eyes. It also brings a heavy sense of my own frail mortality, an awareness that I could die today or soon - or I could live another 40 years. There is a personal reality to death that wasn't there when I was 19.

Last night, also, my oldest chook died. She laid 3 eggs this season: tiny, the size of a blackbird's egg. We have the space on our place to allow our old ladies to live out their lives in retirement, and I had been watching her comb start to turn a dark purple and her blindness become almost complete. If she had seemed unhappy I would have put her down (I've done it once before) but she spent her days standing by the feeder and the water bowl, or sunning herself and enjoying a dust bath. Usually, dead animals get disposed of fairly unceremoniously here, but today my oldest hen was buried under rich, black soil in a grave I dug while weeping a farewell to her, and to Mac Bell, and to my friend, Lalage, and to my mother, my father, my aunts, uncles, friends who have all enriched my life, and then died, leaving behind both sadness and gratitude.

Farewell, Mac aka Peter McGruther Bell.

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