The death of a spouse, father, mother, close relation or close friend is always an awful experience for those who survive them. And, having lost every one in this list, I think I may be a bit more expert on experiencing grief than a lot of people.
My first wife died from sudden heart attack after supper one night in April 1992 when we were both quite young (48). But I was lucky that someone who came to her funeral in Oxford was also one of her best friends, whom we'd known in Lancaster 20 years earlier - when we'd all had small children. She and my wife had stayed in close touch and I knew that she was about to be divorced.
By the end of 1993, we had started living together and were married four years later. Since then, the number of deaths among our relations and friends (young and old, sudden and expected) grew dramatically. Now in our seventies, we find ourselves going to more and more funerals of close friends and neighbours.
2. PERSONAL and PUBLIC
Among the many other friends who came to my first wife's funeral were Paddy and Jane Ashdown, who (typically) had a practical and generous plan to help me and my younger son in the immediate aftermath of his mother's death. Thrusting keys into my hand they said "These are keys to our house in Burgundy. We're going there at Easter. But you know where it is so you and Joe can go there whenever you like and we'll join you later." So that's exactly what we did.
I had written and organised every last detail of Moira's farewell at the Oxford crematorium. And, although I'd worked with Paddy on loads of speeches, I was very flattered when he said (at the wake in our local pub) "I want a funeral like that" to which I replied that it was the first one I'd ever written and I hoped I wouldn't have to write his.
But, as you'll see in the ITN report below, it turned out that he did plan every last detail of his own funeral, which concluded with the blessing, read by his younger brother - and with which he'd ended his last speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats at the party conference in 1999:
May the road rise with you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
3. TOWARDS THE HOLLOW OF GOD'S HAND
We'd known that Paddy had bladder cancer since October last year and that he was being seen by specialists Southmead Hospital in Bristol.
When he was eventually admitted there, he was his usual cheerful, bouncy, Tiggerish and optimistic self. A senior nurse who was going to be looking after him (and also happens to be the daughter of neighbours of ours) told us that, before actually meeting him, she was a bit nervous about meeting him - and what she should call such a famous peer of the realm. She needn't have worried. Before she'd time to tell him her name, he was on his feet holding out his hand to shake hers with the words: "I'm Paddy!" which immediately put her at her ease.
The operation was a success. But afterwards, he contracted
pneumonia. He'd never looked like an elderly man, nor would he have considered 77 to be on the outer fringes of fogeydom.
But my medical relations (two GPs and two nurses) tell me that the older we get, the more vulnerable we become to illnesses from which younger people would recover more easily.