Sonder is a word for our own realisation that everyone around is is living their own lives. Not just that, but that they have lives as complex as the one we live and that we have absolutely no awareness of its complexity only that it must exist. Sometimes, on the bus home from work, I see everyone around me and I being to imagine. I imagine what their favourite colour is, what they like to watch on tv, if they have any pets and ifthey like to dance. I realise that each person on that bus has likes and dislikes, a view on everything I have a view on, but all I am privileged to is the clothes that they wear (sometimes a uniform they’ve clearly not even chosen), the way they style their hair and generally present themselves. Sometimes I’ll spy someone reading a book or a newspaper which gives me a little more insight but really nothing about how they live their lives or their opinions.
Have you ever considered the fact that every single person around you has a story to tell? I’d by lying if I said I always had. In fact, for a long time and as a teenager especially, I’d not really considered most people to be worth my time or even remotely interesting in any way. I had the perspective on humanity that there were a few shining stars and exceptions, but by and large most people were incredibly and overwhelmingly dull. I believe that this is a way that a lot of people think, influenced by books and films where a person is isolated from everyone else for being ‘special’ and that person is to be admired and fascinated by in an exceptional way. Only, from my more recent experiences I am seeing a very different side to this.
Bringing this topic to death, I’ve attended two family funerals in recent times, and it hit me just how little I knew about my own family membersin terms of what was discussed in their eulogies. They were relatives I maybe saw twice or thrice a year pre-pandemic times and who lived a fair drive away at least. I would say that I felt a pang at both their funerals, a pang to have known them better than I did. However, often we do only find something out about someone after they have gone and though it does hit home that we should have spent more time with them, would we have done anything differently knowing this? I’m not sure we would have, or at least could possibly do that for every single person in our life to not have that pang at any funeral.
Sometimes at work we make up little stories about the deceased that bring us an amount of comfort. For example, if someone has an item with them that has a lot of animal hair (absolutely no shame intended because most of my clothes are about 60% animal hair at the best of times) then we might imagine they have a cat called Bob who likes to lay on their bed at night. For a while, one of our funeral directors would come to collect deceased with a little booklet which had a short paragraph about them. Sometimes it could be very fascinating to learn that Mary loved baking and horse riding, or that Cedric loved his model trains and holidaying in Madeira, these facts that we would only ever be able to learn if a family member decided to share them with us. Insights like this retain the humanity in the deceased, which is very important in my work. We treat the deceased the same way we would treat any living person, unfortunately often all we ever know is their name and a lot is left to the wondering imagination.
The point I am trying to make here, although potentially not very successfully, is that I think the world would be a better place and people would be nicer to each other acknowledging that everyone is fascinating and admirable and is not ‘just’ another person. Famously, The Doctor from Doctor Who once said ‘in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important’ and this line has always stuck with me. Everyone is important, to different people and to different causes in our lives. It’s not only crucial to remember this working in the death industry and to remember that the deceased in front of you lived a whole life of adventures and importance, but to see that in our every day lives is something really special.