We had a memorial service for Chris a week after he died in Bahrain, at a friend’s house on their little beach with a schwarma station and bubbles (because it’s what he would’ve wanted in the absence of actually being able to be there, wolfing down schwarma and beer himself, interspersed with wobbly paddleboarding sessions as we’d done there many times before). It was all still so surreal and I was in no way ready to say goodbye, if anything it was a bit of a hassle to slow down and take stock when I was forging onwards with the practicalities and shitty life admin but as I was also leaving friends, a job and a life that i’d made there for the past 4 years arriving in desert knowing no one, it was useful for me to be with those we’d made connections with, give them an opportunity to say goodbye and I suppose I can now take some positivity from looking at what had been built in the time i’d spent there, to help close that chapter.
My best friend had flown over from Dubai and had bought me a little notebook to write down thoughts and feelings. It’s very strange looking back at what was written before i’d developed any sort of ‘take’ on events and I haven’t been able to do it for a while but if anyone reading this has gone through something similar just spill it all out onto a page even if it’s ramblings and doesn’t make any sense, even if it’s angry, bitter, sentimental and makes you cringe later on, just get it out of you.
I’d written down something to say, on behalf of both of us to say thanks to those who’d helped me through the last week and just do Chris some justice. We then had a bit of a Quaker service standing in silence and if anyone wanted to say something about him, they could. Surprisingly it was someone i’d never met before, someone Chris worked with who said the most heartfelt thing about him (Americans are really good at expressing feelings) about how they’d discussed opening a diving centre in the Philippines and Chris was the kind of person who you would consider moving half way around the world for – I can definitely correlate this, he had an infectious enthusiasm and ambition which I would have and was planning on following to Costa Rica as he’d just been offered a diving job there.
I flew back to Belfast a few days later in a Xanax induced daze. I had a week at home before I had to fly to England for the funeral and wrote a “eulogy” (still can’t get totally on board with official death terminology). There’s a lot of politics involved with big life events especially with weddings but no less so with funerals – another delightful discovery. What i’ve learned is that, as the girlfriend, I had a part to play but it also the day wasn’t really for me, the actual funeral was for his parents and as soon as Chris arrived on UK soil, I had to take a back step and had to relinquish the decision maker role. He had a whole life before he met me and I had to make allowances for that, for the ex-wife, strangers who’d contacted me to find out details on Facebook, the parents and the full Naval contingent who arrived in official No. 1 dress to pay their respects. I had some family and friends who made the trip and honestly don’t think I could have got through it without my contingent there to back me up. I’d gone into town and bought a shitty black coat from H&M for 50 quid! I mean, when am I going to wear that again? Side note: would be super helpful if mags could do like a funeral chic section, what to wear at your boyfriend’s wake etc. – just a suggestion. Never consciously felt i’ve used make up as armour before but bloody hell I caked it on that day.
The prospect of standing in front of a room full of mostly strangers, being the only one there to represent the last couple of years of his life and the reason for him leaving everything he knew to move to a new continent and start a new chapter, I already felt like a scarlet woman so the red lipstick was on. It was also St. Patrick’s Day and as a patriotic Northern Irish this sat well with me as I know that on that day for the rest of my life I will have a Guinness in my hand anyway (Chris’s favourite drink, fortified after our tour of St James Gate the year before – see picture) and it’s probably the most fitting day on the calendar for me to enter into celebrations in the face of adversity #northernirishlife.
Just like Hollywood has a lot to answer for regarding love and relationships, it also has a lot of skewed portrayals of death and funerals – what an anticlimax. When someone young dies, without fulfilling their potential or living to a ‘ripe’ age, it’s not a celebration. No one can feel anything but sad or cheated attending the funeral of a person who wasn’t ready to leave and just shouldn’t have left, in a cold little bland, beige room. There’s no ‘he lived a good life’ chat, it’s just shit and bleak (sorry, I did say I don’t have any answers). What I will say is you have to just persevere and work towards accepting the shittiness and bleakness of it. As much as the padre tried to spin it, sometimes it’s just a waste and no sense can be made from it. It can often feel like you’re battling against people trying to resolve it or wrap it up conveniently so they can attribute a cause or some reason to it for their own ends, sometimes there just isn’t but accepting the futility and randomness of it all I think can help to move you forward. Once you’ve lost someone in an ‘untimely’ way you register as a member of a really shit club and there’s a difficult tightrope you now have to walk between accepting your loss and the cruelty of the universe whilst still pushing on to create some meaning in your life while you’re still here.