My brother died.
He was younger than me. It was unexpected, it was sudden and it knocked me sideways, but fourteen days have now passed – it is, I know, no time at all – but I feel that it is none-the-less, the right time for me to start to settle back into what must pass for normal.
You see, my problem is that I see the absurd in everything and even the most painful of circumstances do not put a block on it. Everybody else’s problem is the same one – me. I have learned, of course, that just because I have seen it, I don’t necessarily have to say it, but I have also learned that popping the balloon is, occasionally, exactly the right thing to do.
I have been through these situations before – too many times (and I carry the knowledge that there will be many more to come) – and always, when despair is at its worst, we have laughed. It must be part of the human condition. It must be how we cope. It is why The Wake can sometimes become such a riotous occasion. When we are wretched, when we are sad – even more so when we are terrified – there is always the feeling that a giggle is not too far away. Somehow, all extreme human emotions channel into the need to laugh. We huddle together, we look on helplessly and hopelessly and we search for something to break the mood. Nobody wants to turn tragedy into Music Hall, but everybody senses the point at which the deceased would have laughed too.
Laughter does not stand apart from grief. It runs side by side. It is an inalienable element of coping. Joy and anguish are interwoven threads through which we look both forwards and backwards.
I cannot tell my mind how to think – we both know who is in charge there – but I do realise that I am not being disrespectful by looking at my own life in these circumstances. Nobody expects me to stay sad forever, nobody wants me to be sombre. In the darkness, I am most definitely not the light: I am the coffee table that skins somebody else’s shin. I am never the way, but I am often the diversion. I would love to cultivate gravitas, but I am stuck with child-like curiosity. I will not make jokes about my brother or his life, but then I would never have done so anyway. There are no circumstances under which I would seek to devalue the depth of pain being experienced by his wife and children, but I am equally certain that they understand that in discussing my own oft irrational responses – how I cope with this and all aspects of my life – in no way diminishes my appreciation of their loss.
I hope that from today, as far as this modest little smorgasbord is concerned, I can return to business as almost usual. It will change nothing – that is not within my gift – but it will help my brain to re-establish some sense of equilibrium. Life changes, but it goes on, and somehow I cannot stop myself from watching it…