Do you have any rituals in your life that you feel compelled to carry out?
I don’t mean routines, they’re more in the nature of necessity and I’m not meaning habit here either. What I mean by rituals is the doing of something that is completely unnecessary to living but you carry out anyway, either because of desire, compulsion or perhaps even superstition.
Personally I think many people do have such rituals in their lives, but don’t always want others to know about them; maybe it’s something too private and not for sharing, the reasons for which may not be understood by outsiders.
Whatever, can there be any harm involved? Possibly not, but what if by tying yourself to carrying through certain actions, if say only once a year, you are actually holding yourself back in some way or binding yourself to something or someone which, or who, has in fact long since moved on and your actions over time have now become a form of lip service.
I’ve mentioned my late friend Ian before. Ian died of cancer in November 1991; at that time Elaine and I had known each other about sixteen months. Though she was still officially with her first husband she attended Ian’s funeral with me, but not the wake.
We met up at my home later that evening and as it was now quite dark we carried out a ritual in Ian’s memory that we continued with, on that same date together, through twenty-nine years.
We let off a rocket (firework) into the night sky and raised our glasses to toast our friend as it briefly lit-up the darkness as he had lit-up so many lives during his short time amongst us.
The trouble was I often had to buy the rockets in pairs or multiples so we had spares and started letting them off in memory of other people, usually on the anniversaries of their deaths. We soon had more night time launches going than NASA could handle and it was getting a bit out of hand.
It was Elaine who said this needed to stop as it was all now becoming a bit morbid and I had to agree, so we just stuck with Ian’s yearly ritual and soon discovered that spare rockets did keep till the following year.
On one of these nights not so long ago, Elaine told me that she did not want me to remember her in this way should she die, or for me to start-up any other forms of ritual remembrance for her.
Seeing my puzzled look she explained that although she never wanted me to forget her she didn’t want me creating artificial ways in which to do it and falling captive to them.
The only special ritual for her was our annual walk by the river.
Every year Elaine and I re-enacted our first ever date together by walking again along the riverbank as we did in July 1990. It took a certain amount of effort for her sometimes, as chemo’ and other treatments took their toll along with the cancer, but we managed as best we could.
We never missed, and I know as she told me, that she hoped I would continue with this yearly walk to remember us.
Last July’s pilgrimage on my own was, I must be honest, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I just had to do it; and I’ll carry on doing it as long as I can as I know she would want me to.
I realised then too that Ian’s evening ceremony in November would be carried out alone for the first time ever.
When the date came I had two rockets left from the previous year but I bought two larger one’s also as by now a plan was forming in my mind that I somehow knew was going to be the right thing to do albeit the ending of an era for me.
It was Ian’s 30th anniversary of leaving this life and I thought a fitting time to end this annual salute.
Why? Because I felt it had lived its time, especially as Elaine had always been there before and without her I knew it was just going to emphasize her loss.
It was strange to stand in the darkness of the garden alone. Always before she was beside me but thinking on it now I believe she was really just there for my sake, the original meaning of the evening having long since faded like the light from that first firework.
As two rockets in succession lit the sky for my long past friend I told him they’d be the last and hoped he would understand my reasons.
I felt glad at the decision to stop, like something had lifted, but if it had, then it was a burden of my own making and no one else’s. I’ll never forget Ian he still shines bright in many hearts, brighter than any firework ever could.
I had two rockets left now and they were going to be for Elaine whether she wanted them or not!
I visited her grave at Christmas twice, as I said in the previous blog, then did so again for our wedding anniversary on the 29th. I went also on the date of her death but had made up my mind that these were not going to become yearly fixtures. As her birthday follows just two days later (7th Jan’) I felt she would sooner have a visit then rather than my being back and forth over several separate dates in quick succession.
I’d said to Elaine after we had organised her funeral and bought our plots some five years previously, that when/if she died I would place a small Christmas tree on her grave each year.
“What for, I won’t be there to see it?” was her laughing reply, and I now see how right she was.
If she were capable of witnessing a seasonal tree at Christmas, then why not witness the one at home in the lounge as she did when alive, than be stood outside looking at some rain sodden piss-poor shrub on a mound of grass? Logically it makes sense to me now too.
Standing next to where she lies, on her birthday I did feel closer to her, but possibly this is only as expected as her body is there; but that’s just the point it’s her body not the shining spirit that lived within it, that’s moved on. She can be anywhere that I am, the revelation of which came to me on Christmas Day outside the hospice.
There is genuine comfort in this.
As I stood before her there was something else for me to do; I moved my wedding ring to my right hand.
I had sworn to myself when Elaine died that it would stay put on my left hand for at least one year and a day. I couldn’t bear to not wear it at all and there’s no room around my neck on a chain for it, so the other hand is the only choice.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do and it does not mean I love her any the less, or ever will, but it is about my walking forward from here on and not standing still or looking back at that which I have been so lucky to live but which can’t be carried into my future other than as memories.
Later that day, back at the home we shared for nearly three decades I went outside into the late evening darkness at around 7pm.The rain had stopped-thanks Elaine!
The air was cold but encouraging in its refreshing embrace as I set up the improvised launch tube for what I knew would be the last time ever; so many before!
I opened a bottle of the same tap we had had at our wedding some twenty six years before and poured out two fizzing glasses to the brims.
There were two rockets, one large brute the other somewhat smaller.
First to go was the smaller one, and I thought then how it was the last of four, two of which Elaine had witnessed in November 2020 stood by my side.
Was she here now somehow to see this one as it launched with a screech and flare of white and red fire, shot skywards then fell and briefly hugged the landscape before plunging to earth and exploding in an orange ball of flame seemingly far greater that its size should have allowed.
Pungent sulphury smoke filled my nostrils and made me laugh as we had always laughed together, even despite the toughest news, given in consulting rooms and telephone calls over so many years.
Why were my cheeks wet when it wasn’t even raining-thanks Elaine!
I raised a glass and toasted my love, and the life that lives on in memories and yes, that to come also.
Then the second and final rocket was placed in the tube.
I hesitated, looking around me trying to penetrate the darkness, hoping still that somehow Elaine could see this earthly moment.
The lighter flame glowed steady, like a candle at a wake as I ignited the fuse which started burning with a spluttering hiss. Weirdly to me, I felt I’d just lit a light to eternity.
Standing back I took a sip from my glass as bright orangey fire lit up the small world around me and with a fantastic WOOSH!! carried my love skywards to try and find the one whose name is forever engraved upon my soul.
It exploded impossibly high in the world of darkness above me forming a stunning ‘living’ tree of golden stars and streaks of fire that hung for seconds but will shine forever in my years to come.
I knew she was close by and was pleased at my decision for this night and the future.
Stood in the silence it came to mind that this was the deliberate ending of an era by me for me.
I understand clearly now why Elaine didn’t want elaborate or false rituals; they can and do tie you down and hold you to something that is material in its make-up when that which is being remembered is more of the spirit than of this world.
I’ll walk by the river for her and for us each year as often as I am able. I’ll tend her grave and visit when I can, when it feels right to, or maybe on a special date, but not just for the sake of going to stand there and make myself bloody miserable because I falsely think it’s the proper thing to do.
Becoming a slave to ritual remembrance is pointless, it won’t bring Elaine back and I know damn well she wouldn’t want it.
The best way I can honour her is to live and try to do it well. It’s not the easy option as I have to make the effort every day with no fanfare, not just on a few selected dates now and then. Life simply cannot be lived through any sort of lip service.
That night, which would have been Elaine’s 67th birthday, wrought a change within me. I had to be open to it and it would not be hurried, but the shift has occurred; now to find a direction.