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Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
(James Joyce, The Dead)

Can you understand people’s fascination with death? We all know that it’s going to happen, and don’t know what happens after it. Some cultures take it as a cue to mourn, or celebrate.

The requests people make when they’re dying, though, can be so silly. Bury me here, wearing this dress/suit, and put this in my coffin … spread some of my ashes overlooking my favourite view, and some on the street I grew up in, and the rest on the beach … blah blah blah … do this, do that. You’re dead. Who cares what happens here afterward. I’m not going on a road trip with an urn. If there is an afterlife with people looking down on the living or any of that stuff, the ones who burdened their families with these requests are probably thinking it was pretty stupid of them: it’s all material world stuff that you probably won’t care about anymore.

But you could look at it this way: those final requests involve the living in a structured process of mourning and closure, a process of materially showing final respect for the deceased’s wishes. It lets the living know that they’ve personally carried out a loved one’s last desires, even at some cost to themselves. True love is about self-sacrifice for another, not doing what is reasonable or comfortable for you.

And whilst the body will decay, and the soul might travel to some next life, in a practical emotional sense, something of the deceased is very much still here for those who interacted with and loved him or her. All those connections aren’t instantly sundered and erased as if the dead had never lived. To pretend that a person’s wishes matter in life but not in death is to deny that fact.

I won’t be leaving any chores for those left behind. However, I can see why these rituals exist and have for thousands of years. It is because humans require some sense of closure about everything, even those things that they aren’t there to experience personally. And those around them will do these things because they feel like when they are in that situation, they will want someone to do it for them. If it means a way to prove one last time that they are loved, or whatever personal philosophy that they hold to that is being fulfilled, then so be it. It isn’t anything to be hostile about. Death is the fulfilment of life. No more, no less.

Brown bread is brown bread.

(Source: Daily Mirror)

Amy Winehouse’s grieving mum Janis says her daughter was “a physical wreck and completely out of it” the day before she died. Janis spent several hours with her tragic daughter after turning up at her home unannounced. But 27-year-old Amy was in such a bad way that her minders had to help her down the stairs.

This contradicts reports last week that she had beaten her drug and alcohol demons – and adds weight to friends’ fears that she had fallen back into her old ways. At her funeral on Tuesday, her ­devastated dad Mitch said Amy had given up drugs and had been winning her battle with alcohol. But Janis, who had called at her daughter’s home just after midday on Friday, told a friend it seemed she had hit the bottle again.

“Amy was completely out of it,” she said to the friend. “She was in such a state the guys minding her had to go upstairs to get her and help her down the steps. It looked like she had been out drinking the night before and was still drunk or hung over.”

Police are now probing who Amy spent her last hours with and ­whether she was supplied with drugs including ecstasy the night before her body was found at 4 p.m. last Saturday at her home in Camden, North London. It could take up to four weeks for toxicology tests to come back to determine the cause of death.

Janis also told her friend: “I don’t know what happened on that Friday night. I was told she was seen drinking in the bar at the Roundhouse that evening. But how much she drank and what happened next is a mystery. I just think she put her body through too much and it just gave up. If you continue to neglect yourself, there is only so much it can take.”

Amy’s close pal Tom Wright – son of BBC Radio 2 DJ Steve – says friends had turned a blind eye to her using “social drugs” like ecstasy and cannabis on the basis she had quit using crack cocaine and heroin.

Tom, who had not seen Amy for about six months (so really close then), said: “I think maybe some people made a distinction between the hard drugs of her past and the social drugs of the present. I don’t think that’s acceptable but it’s the only explanation I can think of for what happened to her.”

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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