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Dying Young

Plus one and I were chatting and he mentioned how old he was before he attended a funeral. It was pretty old. Like university or beyond. This seems the English way. Either they don’t know anyone important to them who has died (first world problem, people live forever!) or they aren’t ‘allowed’ to go to the funeral when they are young.

I can’t really relate to this because, culturally, I was taught memorials and funerals were the last chance to say goodbye. (And potentially my parents were just bad at finding babysitters).

One of my cousins died when I was pretty young. He was a good few years older than me but on that side of the family, the closest in age to me. He was, however, eternally adult in my eyes, two heads taller than me. I did not particularly like him. He spent his time either ignoring me or teasing and tormenting me and I remember him throwing my dog into the pool while I cried hysterically in order to prove that ‘all dogs can naturally swim’.

My mother always thought it was quite tough on him, as he was so different looking from the rest of the family, he knew he was adopted. My aunt did dote on him but her brother was always one to rub in that blood is blood and he was clearly not blood so I’m sure my cousin must sometimes have felt the slight of this. That, and growing up in a small town in South Africa in the dregs of the apartheid era where being ‘different’ probably wasn’t the best thing.

His life and his hobbies are captured in his room like something out of ‘Boys Own’ of the 70s. There are vintage cars on the curtains, a crochet blanket on the bed. A weavers nest with pride of place above it. A loud ticking clock and framed butterflies which he used to catch in the veld beyond and then mount, neatly labelled.

That was the innocent side of him. The side that teased me got caught kissing a girl in the house when he thought his parents would be out and perpetrated mischief in the neighbourhood.

Still only 17 he and his friend went driving on his friend’s farm, both underage but not a big deal in farming society. I imagine they were still inexperienced and reckless and wound the windows down and went really fast, yelling and shouting with teenage joy. The car hit some stones, rolled and the friend was killed instantly. The coroner said my cousin lived on for a bit after the crash but it is unlikely he suffered, that he was probably not conscious due to the head trauma. I’m not sure that wasn’t said to make the family feel better. Either way, both died at the scene.

It was a closed casket funeral. The body was not in any state to be viewed. The men of the family who did in order to identify it said it was not a pleasant experience. I know the funeral was not shared with the friend who died. Strangely I have no real memories, which one would expect, of my cousin’s classmates rallying at the funeral or of them standing up and speaking for the dead. I mostly just remember my family taking over the whole day, the little that I do recall.

I remember not feeling particularly sad. If anything, a little bored. And maybe a little thrilled at wearing nice clothing for the day. It’s only when I got older I wondered how it would have been if my cousin had been with us longer, would our relationship have evolved as the age gap ‘narrowed’ in the way it tends to once you reach adulthood. Or would he still have remained the elusive tease I dreaded seeing?

 

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