That pandemic favourite – hand sanitiser – has been on my mind this week…

Once touted (with hand washing) as the indispensable saviour in COVID infection control, we all stocked up by the gallon. But as respiratory transmission became more and more commonplace, the question arose: what to do with all this HandSan?

Noticed first by my partner, and then rapidly adopted by me – we discovered HandSan does a terrific job on spots and blemishes… Happy days! Dab a blob and spots give up the ghost, and both the HandSan and the the spots quickly disappear without a trace.

But not just bacteria and facial blemishes – HandSan does a steady job of battling our fungal friends too. Athletes foot, whilst not eliminated, is certainly curbed by high alcohol goo. One of my toenails is telling testament to this, improving week on week with twice daily applications in the bathroom.

But the bigger reason I’ve been thinking about hand sanitiser is as a metaphor for life. Last Friday was the memorial service for a friend who died – probably due to COVID – in the spring of 2020. Blood clots and a brain haemorrhage were the final killer we suspect, but COVID was a likely trigger for both.

A family man and senior civil servant, perhaps in some ways it was better for those closest to him that some time had to pass before any significant number could gather in memorial. It felt like we remembered him with an unbridled wave of positive feeling, not the more tentative eulogies sometimes offered in the face of the raw anguish which follows a sudden death.

Everyone who spoke for Steve – and there were many – reminded us of his warmth, endless positivity, kindness, ready smile and total absence of gratuitous ambition, edge or sharp elbows. Notwithstanding this (and one hopes because of it) he rose to a very senior position; whilst impeccably contributing to the raising of three lovely children into their teens and young adulthood.

I don’t think anyone could have achieved more in the rounded service of family, friends and the wider public or have been appreciated more for it. Taken in his prime, we remembered him as a simply great person in every sense of the word.

After the event, talking to my partner, we both said (and she said another of our friends had also quietly mentioned) the thought had crossed our minds: “how could my funeral ever match-up to that”. Not that it’s a competitive business, just that with the memories of him so bright and large, we felt a little small and monochrome in our achievements and ongoing lives.

Because he left us in his prime everyone’s memories were fresh and his colleagues and friends all were able and wanted to be there. But what will it be like for those of us who might live another 25-30 years…

The audience will be much different. Probably fewer, and at much later stages in life, children will now themselves be in their 50s (the age of the friends at Steve’s memorial). And we will be remembering a life through a different prism. Much more like my father-in-law’s funeral last winter, where he was remembered by his bookseller not his work colleagues. In fact we scarcely touched on his working life at all.

So why does this lead me to HandSan? Quite simply because having experienced my father-in-law’s passing – and sifted through the many objects, possessions and general detritus of his life as part of clearing his house, I’m clearer on my end game. My aim is not to match Steve. My objective is to disappear at my passing, like a small blob of hand sanitiser.

Pouf (as the French say). One minute you’re there, the next you’ve disappeared into thin air. I’m aiming to have the fewest possessions, the smallest footprint and the simplest end. I’m thinking let go of the memorials, the legacy, any pressure to be remembered or fear of not being; and just settling for the the last volatiles of my final breaths floating off into the ether. Pouf, gone. A life lived, the job done.

Letting go of the memorial service lifts a burden from the mind. Having seen one of the best, I’d be surprised if anyone will ever top Steve’s. So my plan is to keep my life simple, and to seek to simplify it further all the time. Wanting less – including less of a parting fanfare – is the way to go, literally and figuratively. No fanfare equals more freedom.

Here’s to being like hand sanitiser: one minute here; the next gone.

: )

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