And it’s not that I had not witnessed death before. As it happens to most people, my grandfathers went first (I hardly recall my paternal grandfather, he died when I was a small child – I do remember my maternal grandfather fondly, he was a loving man who was always surrounded by children; he worked as a clown for a few years after the Spanish Civil War, during which he lost his only son, Rafael, just a few months old, to disease and malnutrition).
A few years later, and over an ever-worsening process that took several months, I saw my paternal grandmother die a slow, terrible death because of diabetes and poor blood circulation. My other grandmother died suddenly in late 1995.
My own father died when I was 25. He died of a heart attack on a hot August morning, and the ambulance that was sent did not have the equipment that might have saved his life. But I only found out ten days later. I was abroad and no one was able to locate me. Yes, I was young and stupid. Haven’t we all been young and stupid at some point in our lives?
As per his wishes, my father was cremated. My mother suggested that I might want to bury his ashes. I agreed, of course. I buried them under the Norfolk pine tree we had always mistaken for a fir-tree; the Norfolk pine tree now towers majestically above my mother’s house. After digging a hole and pouring the ashes in there, I put a rock on top.
I had always held on to a somehow idyllic plan for my own funeral. I had always thought I would die before anyone else in my family. I would be survived by my wife and three children. My wishes were (still are) that my body would be cremated.
My (somewhat romantic) dream was that, eventually, my daughter Clea would make the trip to Spain and fulfil my wishes by climbing Penyagolosa Mountain [the picture above was taken in summer 1992] and scatter my ashes, that what once was me out to the wind, not necessarily from the top, but at least from a good vantage point, somewhere with breathtaking vistas. Just somewhere beautiful in a place that once meant a lot to me.
I do not want my ashes to go to Valencia now. The bond that once joined me to those lands is very fragile, to the extent that apart from family and very few friends, I have no business there any more. But even if my sons offered to carry out the task when the time comes (and it will), I would say no. No, I would rather have my ashes scattered in the land of the Ngunnawal, on the petal-coated lawn beneath which my Clea is buried.
Still, I do hope that my boys will travel to Spain, and that they have a great time, or even move there for good if they wish to do that when they are older. They’ll be able to do that if they wish. They could even climb Penyagolosa, and admire the views. It’ll be their choice. But there will be no need for them to take my ashes over there, to a place with whose people I no longer feel a truly meaningful attachment. Another part of me died over the months and years after 29 September 2009, and it cannot be resuscitated.
Call that a radical shift? Yes. Is it justified? You betcha!