I read a book some years ago called The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have recently watched the film of the same title. It is a story about a young thirteen-year-old living in New York, who survives an explosion that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, he is cared for by the family of a friend. He is utterly grief-stricken and clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a miniature painting of a Goldfinch that draws him into the underworld of fine art as an adult. It’s a captivating story about grief and loss and love.
It’s in fact, quite normal when you’re grieving to come across something that catches your eye; something that takes you back to a moment in time or puts you back in touch with the person you mourn. Often, when you find that something, you can suddenly realise that you can see a little further in front of you because you have something of them which remains – it could be a photo, a book, a video, or indeed a painting.
For me, after losing Grandma, it was her golden cup and saucer. I can remember, as a child, how captivated I was by that cup and saucer. It seemed to embody her ideals, her tastes, and her way of life. I can still see how her lips, laden with pink lipstick, would curl around the edge of the cup, and she always left an imprint of her lips on the side of it. I can still hear the click of the bone china as she placed the cup on the saucer. When she died at the age of 90, she still used the same cup and saucer. It was the one thing I felt I needed to take with me as a keepsake. There is something almost eucharistic about it. Something of the past becomes a present reality. It is now much more than just a cup and saucer – it’s grandma.
I think Donna Tartt captures the essence and nature of grief in her story and how we often invest so much in something which may seem unimportant to others. I encourage families to bring a few things with them to the funeral of a loved one, representing the life we are celebrating for this reason.
I remember one young man who tragically lost both his parents within a few days each other, writing a little while after the ceremony to thank me for suggesting precisely this. When I met him, I remember him referring to an old conker and a two-pound coin. The conker took him back to a cherished time he went conker picking with his dad, and he often reminisced that his mum would always give him a two-pound coin when he lost a tooth. At their funeral, he placed them on a table next to a lit candle.
The conker and the coin now take pride of place in his room. They are the parts of his mum and dad which remain. The conker is no longer just a conker, and the coin is worth a great deal more than its physical value.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” ― Bill Keane