I’ve been on the road quite a bit over the last month attending funerals. A number of beloved octogenarians in the family and community in Kerry and Cork have passed away belonging to us. Belonging to us. What a lovely thought. For they did in ways belong to us. Their smiles, their habitual complaints that make us chuckle inside, their turn of phrase. The way they made us feel.

It is always a sad event. Of course we’ll miss them. It’s easier, however, to be philosophical at the funeral of much-loved elderly relative, to hand out the usual condolence on their passing. A good innings, a great age, they lived a good life. In the natural order of it all, we stand outside the funeral parlour, church or family home and exchange these words in remembrance and move on. What a beautiful evening we might think or it feels like rain. Have you the silage in? How’s your own mother? A way for neighbours to come together and chat if you like. Why not? We are, at that point, in the business of celebrating a life. What better way.

It makes tragic deaths the more difficult. Lives interrupted by accidents, sudden illness, suicide that leave us shaken. How could it be? It can’t be, it shouldn’t be. This doesn’t make sense to us. We mourn the loss of a young person especially as we see them robbed of their future roles as a father, a mother, a grandparent or an old friend.

Holding the hand of the one who suffers such a loss, we tell them that while we don’t understand it either, we feel their pain. In their company, we carry their pain be it as an idle thought whilst washing the ware or shaking our heads on hearing it. As we watch the news and see a coffin being led into a church, we feel that pain. For the lives stolen, for their stories untold.

Life will continue to be a mystery to us, just as we think we have it figured out. In celebrating the long life of someone dear to us, we find solace in knowing that’s how it goes. Alas, along comes the tragedy to silence the crowd outside the funeral home of an evening, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads at the mystery of it all.