PART TWO - YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
"I am a part of all that I have met…"
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Every single person on the planet has a life that is intertwined with others. Even if you’ve spent your entire life as a hermit in the remotest of caves, shut off from society and civilisation, someone still gave birth to you. From mums and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, husbands, wives, partners, sons, daughters, friends, teachers, colleagues, neighbours... we experience a wide and wonderful range of relationships. And that’s just the people we know!
More human beings than we could possibly imagine have been aware of our existence. What about all the people we don’t count as family, friends or acquaintances who have somehow played a part in our lives, like doctors and driving instructors? And how about all those brief encounters we experience every day – a morning wave to a fellow dog walker, a chat about the weather with a fellow bus passenger? And what about the relationship we have with ourselves? Mustn’t forget that one…
All these relationships have had an impact on our lives – some in a far more meaningful way than others. And as the years have gone by, the way we conduct these relationships, communicate and interact with people has changed dramatically, especially in the last decade or two. That’s bad news if you liked receiving hand-written letters, but good news if you have loved ones in Australia who Skype you once a week…
So now we’re going to look at the people who have shared in your life. Using the life story you put together in Part One, you can identify who has shared in your journey so far. You won’t, of course, remember everyone – some names and faces will frustratingly elude you while others take you by surprise as they pop into your mind. You’ll also think about which of your relationships have been the most significant and meaningful, and who you are grateful to have shared the planet with. And we’ll look at ancestors who link us to the past and the people who will keep our memory alive in the future.
WHO HAVE YOU SHARED YOUR LIFE WITH?
That’s quite a big question, so let’s break it down a bit. There are two ways of approaching this, just as we did with your life story – in date order or subject matter. At this point we’re looking at the people you know, who you’ve shared a relationship with, so that will include family, friends, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, etc.
It doesn’t matter how many names you get down, or who you do and don’t remember. You might just want to focus on your immediate family. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this. Remember – you can do as much or as little of each section as you like, it’s entirely up to you - it’s your life, your story. And it’s a story which continues – new people will come into your life and others will leave – so it’s all a moveable feast.
Using dates and/or ages, make a note of the people who were part of your life at that time. Use your life story to remind yourself where you were living and what you were doing.
You might prefer to think in terms of groups of people. Such as…
Family – immediate and extended, the family you grew up with – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins…Significant others – husbands, wives, partners, girlfriends, boyfriends.
Offspring – your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren
Friends – who you grew up with, who you were at school/college/Uni with, working with, sharing interests, holidays and nights out. Neighbours – from chatting over the fence to a friend in need
Teachers – the good, the bad and the inspirational
Colleagues – team work, office banter, Christmas parties.
Some of these people will still be part of your life, others will be out of touch but still out there in the world somewhere, and some will have reached the end of their story. The point is to recognise and appreciate how your life has been intertwined with the lives of others, and those who have made the most impact…
“Appreciate how your life has
been intertwined with the lives of others”
THE RYTHYM OF RELATIONSHIPS
So many songs written over the years have reflected the feelings someone has for another – love songs being the most obvious. But there are others that show the more complex side of relationships, ones that are painful, unexpected, eventful, even entertaining. Here are five songs that take you on a musical journey through the lives of quarrelsome fathers and sons, abandoned mothers, hot-headed lovers, secretive daughters and unhappy newly-weds…
Click to listen to the songs
A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash
The lesson here is simple… think carefully before naming your children!
Down From Dover by Dolly Parton
A young girl waits in vain for the man who done her wrong.
El Paso by Marty Robbins
An epic West Texas tale of love and revenge.
Ode to Billie by Bobbie Gentry
Will we ever know what happened that day at Tallahatchie Bridge?
The River by Bruce Springsteen
When hopes are dashed and young dreams die…
When you work as a Funeral Celebrant, it’s abundantly clear how important family is to people. It’s rare to have a ceremony without mention of the special part someone played in the lives of their loved ones – a much-loved dad, a loyal and loving wife, a proud mum, a thoughtful son… Sometimes, when I visit families, the desire to focus on these roles is so strong, it’s difficult to shift the conversation onto other areas of life, such as work, interests or character and qualities. But it’s understandable – the focus on family gives everyone left behind a sense of having shared a meaningful connection with this person. A relationship that was both part of the wider family, and uniquely personal to the two of them.
Needless to say not all families are close and not everyone shares the same level of grief – funerals, like weddings, can reveal cracks in a family and, sometimes, widen those divisions. I do have to tread very carefully at times. But, every week, I will lead at least one ceremony that really encapsulates all that’s joyful and positive about being part of a tribe. Where the love and appreciation for this deeply missed person, their little quirks and well-known ways, their special place within the family, is recognised and celebrated, sometimes in the simplest of ways, like this…
Ethel didn’t become a great-nan until later in life. And when identical twins Lauren and Louis paid her a visit at the Care Home, Ethel said “Look! Buy one get one free!”
Stan’s parents were not wealthy people, but sometimes they managed a holiday to the coast. On one occasion his mum and dad boarded the coach and, on arriving at their destination, realised they had left him and his younger brother at the bus stop in Dorking!
Sylvia was fiercely intelligent, proudly independent and utterly unorthodox. Her daughters cringed at this when they were younger – as their mother would arrive at the school gates with a Victorian fur stole thrown nonchalantly around her shoulders, compared to their friends mother's who were more conservatively dressed in twin-sets and pearls. But as they grew older they were more grateful for Sylvia’s eccentricity – they loved the fact that their mum was a little different.
As big brother, it was Stu’s job to look after his young sister Sarah. She recalls he would take her swimming or to buy sweets, always in the knowledge that she was ‘cramping his style’. He took her to see the rock band Deep Purple for her 14th birthday, but that was more to do with his music tastes than hers.
On Rachel’s Wedding Day, everyone else left for the church and she was alone with her Dad. He told her how beautiful she looked then realised how scared and nervous she was. So he poured her a tot of neat Southern Comfort to try to calm her down. It didn’t work, but certainly gave her cheeks a bit of colour.
The evening Reg’s new grandson came home, Reg proudly arrived, camera in hand. It had taken several hours to settle little Noah, so his parents said to Reg “Whatever you do dad, do not use the flash”. “Oh it's alright” says Reg, “one won't hurt”. It was 4am before Noah settled again…
WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE?
We all know that relationships are complex and colourful. Some bring joy and happiness, while others cause pain and heartache. Some take us off in new, adventurous directions, while others provide stability and familiarity. Some are for life, others just a short chapter in the story – even the briefest of moments. But whatever the diversities, all these relationships have the ability to teach us something about life and about ourselves. That does, of course, make the question ‘who made a difference’ an easy one to answer because everyone, in their own way added something. Even if it was a lesson in what not to do.
So take a moment to look through your list of names. In addition to your immediate family and the people who are closest to you, do any others stand out as being particularly meaningful? Was there a teacher who encouraged you towards you chosen career path? A grandparent whose values and wisdom inspired you? A friend who stepped in when your spouse walked out? A bad boss who forced that job change which turned out to be the best move you ever made? Highlight these names, make a note of the difference they made to you and your life.
Close encounters with the unknown
This is not about UFO’s or other un-explained phenomena. I’m referring to strangers you crossed paths with at some stage in the journey of your life, who did something or said something which meant a great deal at the time. It could be as significant as someone rushing to your rescue when you had an accident, or as simple as someone sharing their loose change at a parking meter. Big or small acts of kindness showing humanity in action and people in tune with the needs of others…
If you’ve felt gratitude to someone unknown over the years, it might be nice to include them in your list of people who made a difference. It will also be a reminder that good people always exist in the world, even when the media tries to tell us otherwise.
SHARING THE PLANET
"All living under the same sun."
For the first six years of my life, I shared the planet with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie and all four Beatles. They’d never heard of me, obviously, but I delight in the fact that, for those few years, we all existed in the world together, all sharing the same planet, living under the same sun. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, of course, it’s only now I look back and realise that feels significant to me as a music fan. And there are many other well-known names and faces from all walks of life that I feel privileged to have admired from afar as they went about the world spreading their talents, genius and wisdom…
Later on, in Section Five, we’ll be looking at the people who have inspired you – past and present. But for now, as we’re looking at the people who shared in the journey of your life, you might like to begin making a note of any famous faces who you feel glad to have been alive alongside. Choose from entertainers and sports people, authors and artists, politicians and royalty.
Whether you’ve researched your family tree back to Doomsday, or only know the names of your grandparents, there is something thrilling about knowing we all come from a long line of ancestors. Especially if, like me, you love history. The thought that someone related to me may have seen Roman soldiers march by, or perhaps caught a small glimpse of a large Henry VIII blows my mind a little bit, I have to say. My attempts to trace my family tree didn’t take me back that far, unfortunately, but my ancestors were alive in the world at the time – how exciting is that?!
These ancestors, however far removed they may be from us, are still part of our family, part of who we are, an unbreakable line continuing down the centuries. Their story is the prequel to our story, and it will continue long after we’ve reached our final chapter. How incredible, and what a privilege, to be a link in that chain.
A few years ago I began to trace my family tree. I knew I had strong Anglo-Indian ancestory on my Dad’s side of the family, and a long line of Londoners from my Mum’s. But my searching also revealed a strong link to South Shields and several generations of Geordies descended from my paternal grandmother. What a combination! I’ll certainly be picking up my search again at some point.
I’m not going to show you how to trace your family tree – there are plenty of organisations, websites, magazines, books etc. full of expertise and advise should you want it. But, to give you a heads-up, they will all suggest you start at the same place – by speaking to parents, grandparents and any other relations, who can share their knowledge of the family and, at the same time, give you an insight into their own life experience.
At the time of writing this, it’s the week of my Nanny Doris’s 93rd birthday. Doris is my maternal grandmother and from a family of Londoners – her father helped to build the underground and she lived through the blitz near Finsbury Park. I see her regularly and never tire of hearing her stories or run out of questions to ask her. She’s getting frail but her mind, and memories, are sharp as a pin. When her time comes, I know I’ll be so grateful to have shared those conversations with her. We share the same nose too…
If you have relations who can shine a light on your background story and are happy to share their memories, make the most of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with bereaved families who have said “I wish I’d asked my dad more about his early life” or “I don’t know the names of all the relatives in this photo – mum knew all of them but it’s too late to ask now”.
I’m all for living in the moment and appreciating the here and now, but we can still benefit from a step back in time. And give a nod to the future too, so, if you are enjoying this process of looking back on your life, there may be younger members of the family who would enjoy hearing about it. They are, after all, the next link in the chain – the keepers of the family flame. So keep sharing…