Saturday, September 15, 2007

Will he or won't he...?

Sometimes doing this death stuff is crap when the academic side gets too mixed up with real-life, personal things. A lot of my work involves talking to people, getting new information to supplement what's already published. It's one of the things you have to do - approach different people, to try to get whatever help they can offer. Sometimes they're really helpful and give you loads of time, but sometimes they're a bit cagey if it's sensitive sales related-info, or if they don't understand academia and you obviously won't make them loads of money, or the nature of their profession makes them a bit suspicious of 'outsiders'. Fair enough.

But occasionally, personal things just happen to be intertwined with academic work more than usual, so it makes things more complicated.

I've been quite keen to write about someone's artwork in my PhD, as I think he'd be an excellent 'case study', especially as he's doing a range of jewellery now. I went home via his new shop the other day after work, to try to sort out an interview and get some more information about it. I wish I hadn't left it to the last minute, as it's meant to be in this chapter I'm supposed to handing in soon... ulp. He wasn't there, but I left a message.

He agreed to help a while back, so it's not a new idea. The trouble is there's some weird history in the background. He was involved with my sister for years, a major relationship for both of them, I think, and they stayed friends even after they'd split up. I contacted him when she was admitted to an intensive care unit about 8 years ago - she'd gone into a coma after taking ecstasy, and died from multiple brain haemorrhages without regaining consciousness, a week later.

It was that horrible scene that's such a cliche in hospital dramas on TV.... standing round someone's bed, watching a person you've known all your life that now looks strangely unfamiliar, bloated and hooked up to equipment and tubes. You don't really know what's happening until the monitor suddenly flatlines and the machines go quiet. Then that's it. A few minutes in the family room with a nurse to tell us about the formalities, then my sister was whisked off for a post-mortem and the bed was prepared for another person.

When we left the hospital, I went for a drink with her ex, meeting up with another of my sister's close friends who lived nearby. Quite weird, as it was a sunny summer Friday evening when normal people were going out for usual after-work drinks, while we'd just watched someone die an hour earlier. Sitting in that quiet beer garden after that didn't seem real. When something really horrible like that has happened, you half expect people to look at you differently, as if somehow, because that's changed you inside forever, it ought to be visible on your outside too. In reality, nobody can tell, unless you're weeping uncontrollably, which we weren't. I don't think it sunk for quite a while. We stayed up late at the friend's flat after the pub closed, drinking and talking, then went home.

He was great, helping me to organise the funeral service, and we stayed in touch for years, until relatively recently. Not to talk about my sister, though she obviously came up in conversation, but it just seemed right at the time. The problem is that you share horrible experiences like that, but over the years people's lives change and each gets on with their own stuff. Just because you've got a death in common, despite the nature of the death or the impact it had, it's no reason to keep in touch with someone, as it's not the central focus of your current life.

He now has a new relationship and seems to be doing really well with his work. I think I could be a really unwelcome reminder of things that he'd rather forget, popping up now to speak to him for my PhD. It would probably be easier right now if I was a total stranger who wanted to know about his work - no history.

But we're not strangers and I still have to do my work, so now I'm waiting to see whether he'll get in touch or not. I wouldn't blame him if he didn't, so I'll just have to wait and see.


Annette said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your sister.
That must have been dreadful.
Prehaps he will get in touch and probably enjoy talking to you about whats happened since that dreadful time.I hope so, please let us know.

dickiebo said...

Gosh! Sorry, Claire.
I'm sure he'll be OK with it though. No reason not to be.

Claire said...

Thank you both for your comments!

I'll see what happens. If he doesn't get in touch, then that's fine. People cope with life's crap in different ways, so you have to respect that!