Mourning never ends

I truly believe this. Because mourning is not an entirely conscious process. Like any emotion, a lot of it goes on in the background. It’s not always on your mind; but it is always on your heart or soul.

(Yes, this is about David Bowie as well, but more obliquely. His passing has caused me to think about these things anew.)

You’re moving along just fine, and then you see something, or smell something or hear something, and it all comes back to you. And when it does, you feel a species of guilt, because we all know in our hearts that mourning never ends. If the way the people who are gone live on is in our memories, then to have forgotten them (with one’s conscious mind), even for a second, is to have killed them. And we apologise inwardly, invoking and palliating the shades of the departed, because it feels like our forgetting them has hurt them the way that their deaths hurt us.

All but one of my grand-parents died before I was more than 12 or so. (My maternal grandmother didn’t die until I was in my thirties, and I got to know her – somewhat – as an adult.) At that age, it’s less that one cannot process death as that one bounces back more quickly. You are young and bright and energetic, and sad that you will not see them again, but your emotions are still so inchoate that the simple fact you can’t put a name to it protects you from the worst ravages of grief. That’s how it seems to me at this remove, at least.

In the mid-Nineties, a friend of mine – the very queen of snark – committed suicide. I had feared that she might (and went on spend years wrestling with the guilt of not having done more), but it was still a shock and a blow. I cannot hear any version of “Tomorrow Wendy” without thinking of her, even today. Hey hey, goodbye, old friend.

One of my aunts died after a protracted struggle with cancer. She was, well, to us nephews and nieces, she was our second mother. She was kind and giving and supportive, and I honestly do not know how she did it. She wasn’t a saint, don’t get me wrong, but she was an excellent human being. (The thing that sticks in my mind: on the day of her funeral, one my cousins couldn’t make it due to other commitments. A young man in his early twenties at the time, he wept unashamedly about that. And this was a cousin on the other side of my family, related to her only by my parent’s marriage. She was that kind of person.)

One of my father’s cousins, who was basically an uncle to my brother and I, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was a great guy, smart, incisive, funny. He’d been a school teacher most of his life, and before that, a member of the first ever graduating year at La Trobe University (which was my alma mater also). I’d barely seen him for twenty years, largely because I spent a lot of my twenties far from most of my family (emotionally, and sometimes geographically), but I cried at his funeral, which was so crowded with his family and friends and former students (and their families and friends) that the church wouldn’t fit us all.

Freddie Mercury died. My girlfriend and I had been away for the weekend, and only learned it when we got back to her place and her sister told us. We lay together and cried on each other’s shoulders.

Gough Whitlam died. Non-Australians won’t understand this, but Gough was one of the titans of Australian politics, a man whose works and legacy you could not fail to have an opinion about. Love him or hate him, his death seemed like the end of an era.

Robert Anton Wilson died. No single author has ever affected my thinking or the way I view the world as much as him, no one wrote books I more eagerly re-read or shared with others. (If anything that I’ve ever said meant a damn to you, the odds are about 50/50 that you’ve him to thank for that. I was merely a messenger.)

David Bowie died. Yesterday.

I could go on. I could talk about Paul Hester, or Hunter Thompson, or Roger Zelazny, I could bring up Isaac Asimov, or John Lennon, or that kid you went to school with, but there’s no need. My point is made.

People in your life die. Artists who you never met, but whose work has touched your life, die.

We don’t need to know them personally, because like all those we love, we know their hearts. Family, friends or distant strangers, they are the ones Who have brought hope to your heart, fire to your spirit or electricity to your brain. Who made you smile on your worst days, and who appreciated your smile on your best days.

Mourning never ends, so their absence will forever make you sad. At times, it will reduce you to tears and sobbing.

But ultimately, grief is a cause for hope. Because the reason mourning never ends is that love never dies.

Perhaps you’re smiling now, smiling through this darkness…

A Remembrance of David Bowie

Start here:

It’s perhaps a little late for it, years into his career, but perhaps that’s just when it felt real enough. When stardom was in his grasp, and all he had to do was reach out and take it. In retrospect, “Star” sounds like a mission statement, even a manifesto. Bowie started the song in 1970, tinkered with it on and off over that year and the next before finally recording it for his upcoming album. 1971 was a cusp year for Bowie, and a sense of make or break pervades the entire album of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Tellingly, Bowie’s vision of stardom includes both make and break. Bowie would both be Buddha and kill him on the road.)

Star” is one of the most optimistic songs on the album, full of Warholian ambitions. Bowie sings of a Transformation, even a World Mutation (the capitals are quite audible). Did he intuit, even then, that one day he’d need to kill Ziggy? It’s hard not to feel that he understood, already, the need to be protean. Bowie as shapechanger, as trickster, switching effortlessly from heart-on-sleeve passion to above-it-all cynicism and back again. Endlessly. (Ask any student of the tarot: death is just another transformation.)

Bowie, at every point in his career, is an outsider artist. Even in his Eighties incarnation, as pop music royalty, as one of those who sat enthroned above the system, there’s a sense of subversiveness. At any point, like his goblin prince Jareth, he’ll reveal that his authority figure status is just another act, just another character. (If you cower, he’ll be frightening. Yes and, right?) And even if that never happens, at some point he’ll be bored with it, and go do something else.

To me, and I suspect to many another misfit, that was the most alluring thing about Bowie. It’s not that he made it okay to be weird, or to be artistic, or to be queer, although he did those things too. It’s that he made it okay to be, in the eyes of the external world at least, inconsistent. Bowie’s integrity as an artist was writ most large in his unpredictability. He was always Bowie, but what Bowie was changed constantly. Other artists might become golden oldies, but Bowie was always mercurial. Bowie was Ziggy and Jareth and the Thin White Duke and so many more, sometimes simultaneously. It’s never better encapsulated than here:

Which one is the real Bowie?

I don’t think it matters.

In the end, this is what I’ll remember him for. Not for being perfect. Certainly not for easily comprehensible lyrics. But for being himself, even when that self was a surprise to everyone around him (and at times, it seemed, to him too). For taking himself so very seriously, and not seriously at all. For the stream of his consciousness. For his endless reinvention.

He did not die. He could never die. Death is just another transformation. David Bowie simply moved on:

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