After Life

Since Mia’s death, and now the quieter, gentler passing of my Mum, Barbara Ayliffe this weekend, I’m becoming something of an expert on grief, or more accurately, how to avoid grief’s full effects by shelving it until a future date. My grieving for Mum has most definitely been shelved, in a box marked, ‘for future consideration’ like an urn of ashes left to gather dust in a mortuary, waiting for another death to be scattered. Not a recommended course of action in anyone’s books, but perhaps my only real option if I want to carry on in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

I’ve been asked what I think about the afterlife, which I find hugely complimentary, although I’m obviously not in a privileged position to know about that either. I suppose it’s something I’m now contemplating more than most people without a structured set of beliefs. The easy answer is, I don’t believe in an afterlife, but that’s not strictly speaking true.

I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell. I think they’re metaphors, borne out of man’s fear of the unknown. I don’t picture Mia with Mum and Dad, sat on some cloud with God and a bunch of angels. Mia’s life certainly didn’t lend itself to automatic entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, and I’m certainly not prepared to accept the alternative, although I have an uneasy feeling that a number of Christians close to me believe that absolutely. She went to Sunday school, she rejected Christianity in favour of Buddhism. She had her chance, and she blew it aged 8, and never looked back.

The poem we quoted at both Mia’s memorials was a sonnet by Mary Elizabeth Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning’s hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there. I did not die.

But if I’m honest, although I find this very beautiful and comforting, I don’t believe it in a literal sense either. I find myself closer to Mia when I’m in nature, and can visualise her more easily in beautiful places, especially on beaches, and in the hills, and now on Foia mountain, which she would have loved for its strange, film-set beauty, brightly coloured vegetation and abundant fruits. But do I really think her energy has been absorbed into all things natural? It’s a beautiful metaphor, and beautiful metaphors help us to cope in times of need.

Most of all though, Mia’s a voice in my ear, in a way that no-one else could or ever will be. We don’t speak to each other, we don’t need to. For most of Mia’s 20 years, It was just Mia and I for most of the time. I always felt that we were almost umbilically linked. I could walk into a room with a big smile on my face, and Mia would sense something and say, ‘What’s wrong?’ We went through grazing poverty together, we made sudden unplanned trips into the unknown together, we ate, laughed loved and often fought together. I know her opinions on everyone and everything, and not least on me, of whom, latterly she was immensely critical in the way only a teenager brought up to speak their mind can be. This is how I know precisely how she will be feeling about my every move. She ‘tells’ me in no uncertain terms when she thinks I’m being mean, fake, or selfish, and when she’s proud of me for rising above such pettiness. And this is why I say she is my moral compass.

And so she lives on, a still small voice of kindness and compassion, in a world which would otherwise be spinning out of control.

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