Both James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Picard had it wrong in Star Trek‘s opening credits. Set against the inky backdrop of the void, punctuated by a billion lustrous pinpricks, the USS Enterprise prepared to engage its “warp drive”. The incumbent captains voice, steeped in authority, yet tinged with a dash of wonder, would utter the iconic words “Space, the final frontier….”.
But of course it’s not really, is it? It’s a frontier, certainly… and one that we are only starting to explore. It’s vast in a way that perhaps we’ll never comprehend: it’s scope, it’s potential and the challenges to human ingenuity that it’s exploration presents are unimaginable. But I have no doubt that, given time, humanity has the capacity to rise to those challenges.
The title of “final frontier” belongs, I believe, to something much closer to home, something equally perplexing, deeply personal and perhaps because of that more frightening by an order of magnitude than anything we’ll encounter in space. It’s a frontier that’s of this earth, and yet also, perhaps, more than that. It’s a frontier that, ultimately, no living person can avoid. I’m talking, of course, about death.
I’ve been pondering death this week – not in a morbid, brooding way, but in terms of how we react to the death of another, the way it reminds us of our own mortality, and to appreciate the things that are important in our own lives. My wife’s “Nana” passed away last week, her departure leaving much sadness, upheaval and reflection in its wake. She was 89 years old, and had lead a full and active life, but somehow age, and a grudging acknowledgement of the inevitability of a loved one’s departure, does little to ease the pain of losing a parent, grandparent, sister or friend.
I was astonished at the scale of the funeral. It always strikes me as incredibly poignant the way that the act of saying that ultimate farewell can bring so many people together. Grieving is an intensely personal process, but it’s not a solitary one. Death, it seems, can be a catalyst for solidarity, sympathy and support.
As with everything in life, children are amazingly pragmatic and resilient when it comes to confronting death. The girls used to see their great grandmother regularly when up in Cork visiting their Nana. They were sitting at the kitchen table when we told them the sad news. The twins were upset, but stoic, and were mostly concerned about their Nana, and the fact that she had lost her mum. The little one stood up without saying a word and went to her bedroom. My wife followed her to find her sobbing into her pillow. “I’ll never be able to see her again,” she said.
After a little bit of time and a cuddle or two she was fine… but her little mind was hard at work analysing things. “Does that mean Nana’s an orphan now?” she asked the following morning as we drove up to the City. And technically, although we rarely think of it in those terms, I suppose she was right.
Now that the frantic few days of the funeral are behind us, and the formal farewells are done, the family will have time to reflect and come to terms with the fact that “Nan” is gone. Each of them will mourn that loss in their own way, but in the knowledge that they’re not on their own. They have each other’s love and support, and all of our thoughts are with them.