What do you do when death’s cold hand comes out of the sky and rips someone from your life; taking them away forever?
Few of us are qualified or prepared, which is why cliches and platitudes abound at funerals. No-one really prepares for death but how can we?
Nanas and Grandads are allowed to have a “good innings” but we never imagine someone young will be taken from us. And when it happens, out of the blue, under a sunny sky, it’s usually when things are ticking along nicely…
Rosalind Gibb explores this void in our collective coping mechanisms in her first, and hopefully not last, book: Show Me Colour: Notes On Love, Loss, Grief and Renewal.
Rosalind, a freelance writer and editor, in her thirties, had fallen in love with a long-time friend called Andrew. She’d had other relationships before but he made her laugh like no other. With his hand in hers, she felt the luckiest girl in the world.
Andrew lived in Edinburgh and Rosalind in Carlisle so they crammed in their weekends together going on long walks, watching films, talking and laughing. As the summer of 2010 turned to autumn Rosalind knew this six month relationship was serious.
Having planned their first ever romantic weekend away, Rosalind sent Andrew a jokey text asking if he’d packed yet?
All day at work she heard nothing back, so she left a message on his answer machine.
Her suitcase, packed for the weekend, was in the hall.
She found out on Facebook that Andrew was dead, but didn’t quite believe it.
She telephoned one of his friends who burst into tears.
Her vivid and raw recollection of the sudden whirlpool of grief that sucked her into its vortex is one of the strongest parts of the book.
Her sister tying her shoelaces. Rosalind going to see his body one last time. Being asked in the shoe shop, where she was buying a new pair for his funeral: “Going anywhere nice?”
The tormented frustration and the desperation of grief. Having to go back to work as if “it” has all run its course. But better there than at home and the ticking clocks, the endless rumination and the “what ifs”.
Rosalind recalls shouting at the sky one night, asking: “If you can hear me, please make things more bearable.”
It would be easy for her to have written a morbid, self-pitying book.
But her story, told in a rapid cut-to-the-chase style that belies her background in newspapers, is a clever one and worth reading. I sense she’s written it as a nod to the scarcity of literature not available on the book shelves when she most needed it.
At a zippy 131 pages in short passages, it’s a story that doesn’t over stay its welcome.
Rosalind learns to move on and does so in a dramatic, unexpected and life-affirming way that made me smile. It’s a clever gear change which transforms the pace, tone, and attitude of the book.
Rosalind doesn’t magically “solve” her loss – we don’t tend to – but she does learn to build a bridge over the hole. The lesson that stands out for me is the understated significance of changing your scenery.
Going in search of a new life and new sunrises once the storm of grief passes over. Because if death gives us anything, it gives us a latent strength we never knew we possessed.
* 50p from the sale of the book will be donated to Cruse Bereveament Care, which has a branch in Cumbria, and helps people to come to terms with the loss of someone important in their lives and to understand their grief.
Edinburgh: Blackwell’s, South Bridge
Word Power Books, 43-45 West Nicolson Street
Living Memory Association shop unit in Ocean Terminal (ground floor).
Glasgow: Good Press (based in Mono, 12 King’s Court).
Carlisle: Bookends, 56 Castle Street, 01228 529067 http://goo.gl/H8ZFUA
Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LE
It is also available from the shop http://www.rosalindgibb.com.