Friday, 24 June 2011

Ghost Dance.........

I swear to God this morning I saw Jason Robards, the American actor, driving a black cab .... he was turning on to the Euston Road..... I was upstairs on the number 30 bus. Unlikely I know, especially as he’s dead. But maybe not.

In Will Self’s brilliant and hilarious short story, The North London Book of the Dead, from The Quantity Theory of Insanity, it turns out that when people die they end up living in the city suburbs and working in most departments of the civil service........

I recently lost a close friend. My oldest friend. She died of cancer after a brave and difficult, 3 year battle; another too young, too soon. Over the last few days I keep smelling a perfume: at work, at home, on the number 30 bus. I know this scent. It’s not mine, I wear Jo Malone. But I recognise it. It smells like Joseph’s Perfum de Jour. I used to wear it a lot when I was younger. My dead friend wore it. When I was in her bathroom I would spray myself with it and remember my youth. Is it her?

This year has been rather death heavy so far, a sign of growing older perhaps? My Uncle died suddenly, only in his sixties, and then my ex-mother-in-law, eighty something. Death is the only thing in life of which we can be certain and yet we are always surprised when it creeps up, calls our name and we run in the other direction. As a child I asked the nuns if heaven was so great why didn't we all just commit suicide? Shocked by the immorality of such a question about mortality by a minor, they changed the subject.

A couple of weeks ago the oldest member of my yoga class died aged 96, her last words being, 'May I have a glass of champagne please?' Her's was as good a death as one might hope for. It came at the right time, at the right end of her life. When you lose a child, unlike an adult, they grow up in your mind. Year after year. So you lose their future too: where would they be living? What would they be doing? Who would they be? And what would one's own life have been, if they were still here? My daughter would now be the same age I was when I had her. I could be a grandmother. Where do they go?

Rise up hold the reins
We'll meet again I don't know when
Hold tight bye bye
Paths that cross
will cross again
Paths that cross
Will cross again

from Paths That Cross

Patti Smith

Top tip: live each day as if it were the last.......


  1. Hello;
    A somewhat sad and reflective post. On Wednesday of this week we attended the funeral of a dear young friend of 35 who died after a long struggle with cancer. Death, as you say, is the only one of life's certainties.

    On Wednesday we felt most sad for √Čva's mother in her distress at losing a child. From what we read, you have had that same experience and we are so very, very sorry.

  2. How sad. I've asked myself the same question you asked the nuns; my only conclusions is it really isn't that great, or we wouldn't all be running.

  3. I'm so sorry about your daughter. What a terrible loss. You've written very movingly - things like deaths do seem to come in clusters. xx

  4. I can feel the sadness. I am also so sorry you lost your daughter. All I can say is the sorrow is felt.

  5. I want to be like the 96-year old yoga doer. I don't care how old I am when I die, I want to do it asking for something I love. And thank you for reminding us that tomorrow may or may not be here but dammit, we do have today.

  6. I am so sorry about the loss of your daughter.

    When I lived in Austin, Texas, I could swear I saw Sigmund Freud driving a little red pickup truck around town. I saw him more than once.

    Thank you for the beautiful post.

  7. Oh, it's so sad when we lose family and friends......and, your loss is something that I'm sure you never come to terms with. I cannot begin to know how you cope with it.
    I, too, hope to be like the yoga class member and hope that I down that glass of Champagne before I go !!
    I can't remember seeing any dead people anywhere but, I'm sure that I saw Prince Philip in Woolworths when I was about 9 !!
    Lets all enjoy the present, preferably with lots of Sauvingon Blanc !! Have one on me.
    Lots of love. XXXX

  8. "What ifs" must be so painful to live with. A parent should always die before a child.

    My sis thought she saw David Blunkett driving once! xxx

  9. My mum has often rued that parents shouldn't outlive their children. She's outlived two. As has one of her friends and has quite a few others who have lost one. It's my biggest fear. I often wonder where all these 'lost children' would be - whether they were children when they died or adults - and whether I'd be in the same place if they were still around..... I hope, not necessarily believe but hope, that there is a sort of heaven where they're all having a ball and possibly poking the universe about a bit to have a game with us.

    Jim Broadbent picked up my dead car a few months ago on his nice AA truck but I don't think he's dead. Maybe just moonlighting.

    Rock on Patti.

    Rock on you! Have you got any older posts about your daughter or could you bring yourself to write more? I would love to hear about her if you could. Sometimes face to face people get embarrassed when you talk about your lost ones but maybe writing would be good? x

  10. Death is a pisser. So sorry to hear about your daughter; it never stops hurting. Our wee soul didn't survive even for 30 minutes, but I sometimes wonder what she would have been like. Mind you when I discussed it with my son and daughter, they raised the point that if she had survived, would we still have had our other kids?
    Which one would it be?

    My son (the youngest) always looks a bit worried when this conversation comes around.
    Death is a pisser, but unfortunately it's part of life.

    Harold McMillan walks along our road every morning; bit odd, the Conservative party doesn't even exist in New Zealand.

  11. You are a constant source of inspiration for me. I don't know how you coped after your daughter's death, but I pray I have what you have if it ever happens to me.

  12. This is such a beautiful reflection on death. Losing our parents, the crazy uncle, that's the way of the world. But losing a child is a loss that is unjust. The way you describe them growing up in your head is so sad and powerful, imagining the life they would have led if only, if only.

    Still, amidst the sadness, I find this post to be inspiring. It's reminding me to suck the goodness out of each day, to hug my daughter three extra times, to love all the chaos in front of me. To live.

    You are amazing.

  13. I like the champagne quote.I remember seeing someone on telly,cant for the life of me think who it was (a writer I think)who started each morning at 6am with a glass of Champagne,thats what I plan to do when I retire.He lived to 97:)

  14. Oh Jo, that's so sad.

    It has a bad year, I'm not good with death.

    Lovely words from Patti. Sending love to you xx