There is a lovely old idea that no-one truly dies until their influence on the world has ended. Until the clock they wound has wound down. Until they are no longer remembered. Until their footprints have been erased. We all affect the world around us, in ways both large and small.
My cousin, Chris, died unexpectedly on the weekend. We are a large and somewhat distant family, and Chris was one of the few who was in touch with almost every relative, no matter how remote. He worked hard to create a family tree going back hundreds of years, and talked to every branch of the family, trying to piece together all the information. His influence will not fade in a hurry.
Chris has left electronic footprints that are both comforting and disturbing. Facebook is still telling me about comments he left on my wall. Gmail suggests his email address to me. My phone prompts me to call him. These reminders are poignant and yet sharply painful. I can’t bring myself to delete him from my contacts. A friend of mine died of cancer last year, and his contact details are still all over my electronic memory.
It is a knife to my heart every time something brings up his email address or phone number, and I realise that’s one email, one phone call, that I can no longer make. Remembering loved ones who have died is an important part of living and cherishing their memories, but this is a particularly painful reminder, because it prompts me to connect in a way that is no longer possible. Still I can’t bring myself to delete those contact details. It feels too final.
My 8 year old is struggling with grief. This is her first truly personal encounter with bereavement, and she is bewildered by the pain. With all my experience of grief, I still don’t know how to comfort her. She wants to know when it will stop hurting. Truth to tell, so do I.
The electronic footprints are difficult, but the truth is that Chris’s influence is all over our lives, and so many others. He will be sorely missed, and the hole that his death leaves in the world will never close. Each flare of pain is somehow precious, as if it brings my heart a little closer to his. Rest in peace, dear friend. Your footsteps echo in my heart.