One of this year’s themes at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is ‘Reading the Final Chapter‘, a collection of events centered around death. This feels very well-timed for me, as much of my recent reading (and writing) has been on this topic. I appreciate the open and frank discussions that are being held. Death and grieving are nothing to be ashamed of, so why not speak about them freely?
On Sunday I went to see Richard Holloway, a well-known local writer and the former Bishop of Edinburgh (who has since left the church). I found his mix of thoughtfulness and kindness very appealing. He spoke of the importance of living in the present, rather than in the past, even as one approaches one’s own death – also good advice for the bereaved as well as everyone else, really.
Holloway declared it a tragedy to die without knowing who you were. An audience member suggested the exercise of writing your own obituary from other points of view – how would others sum up who you are? I don’t think I really know the answer to that.
Today I went to see Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist who specializes in grief counseling. Many people in the audience had gushingly positive things to say about her book Grief Works, sharing how it had helped them. She spoke in part about the history of grieving in the UK, how in the Victorian era mourning was fashionable but sex was taboo, but the reverse is true today.
I confess I’d never given much thought to how we talk about death in today’s society before Scott died. Now I’m confronted with the topic daily, never knowing when/if/how I should bring up my recent widowhood. Some people seem to be uncomfortable when I mention Scott at all, even when it’s to relate a memory that has nothing to do with his death. Part of me always wonders – am I talking about him too much? How can I make people more comfortable around me? Am I doing grief wrong? These events at the book festival haven’t relieved me of my ongoing social awkwardness, but they have definitely made me feel less alone in my grief.