Professor Joe Goldblatt
Shortly after visiting my beloved Aunt in hospital many years ago, my i Phone pinged and I read the message announcing her death. I was gobsmacked that her relative had chosen to use this means of communication to inform others of the passing of this remarkable woman who had positively contributed to the lives of myself and so many others for almost ninety years.
Since that time I have noticed that increasingly as soon as someone dies there is a new way to mark their death with a Twitter (or now X) brief statement of sorrow, honour, and often the letters RIP (rest in peace). Once again, I find that these brief and sudden messages may trivialise the glorious life that had been so well lived. I also realise that I am old fashioned.
I prefer to send a hand written personal card or a sympathy / condolence card with a brief note about the person whom we have lost. However, I also realise that not only is this an atiquated ritual but one that is in so little use that there are hardly any cards available to purchase for this purpose.
I have informed my loved ones that upon my demise my preference is that they telephone close relatives and friends and ask them to telephone others so that they may use their voice to provide comfort and also to answer any questions that may be raised. When my mother passed away following a brief illness, I telephoned every single person in her address book (aye, twenty – five years ago people kept hand written address books) and although it took hours, I was heartened by the emotions that flowed both ways over the telephone. Some calls lasted a minute or less and others stretched on for a long time as folk had stories to tell me, questions to ask, and of course, comfort to generously share.
A close friend telephoned me a few years ago and asked me to call him about his father. I suspected that the news I would receive would not be good due to his father’s afvanced age. However, I felt an urgency in his voice message and I rang him immediately from the train where I was travelling to another city. He explained that following a brief illness his father, my friend of over 40 years, had died earlier in the day and he wanted to tell me in person.
After I caught my breath, I began to quietly weep as did the son of my long time friend. Although there were thousands of miles between us our tears flowed freely along the telephone cables. These are the moments in life that I consider most precious and cannot ever substitute for a text, an email, or a brief message upon social media.
However, in today’s high speed and information faught world I suppose that technology may and should be used to enhance the traditional message by post or by telephone. Therefore, I too from time to time have resorted to expressing my sorrow using these mediums and I have noted that the recipient are grateful for my thoughtfulness as affirmed by the ubiquitious likes.
Despite the ability now to use AI to compose a generic or even personalised condolence or sympathy note, I shall still hope with all my heart that one day when my time comes to depart that my loved ones speak in person with others so that during their time of sorrow (or perhaps delight) they are able to be comforted, relieved or even amused as I was upon the loss of my mother or my long time friend.
Speed and expediency when it comes to times of sadness are often appreciated, however, in my view, they shall never replace the tender compassionate sound of the human voice, the opportunity to share a story or two, and to express the love in ones heart for the one that has brought me together with the distant voice on the telephone.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot