When my grandmother died it wasn’t entirely unexpected. She was ill, in and out of hospital, and never really ‘herself’. She’d suffered from strokes and some sort of dementia was so very obviously gripping her mind – she’d shout things that would usually be hushed, and say rude things about people who were currently in ear shot. She’d be in good spirits, but it was still ‘not her’. Before the illness she was a sharp, hilarious woman. I loved her so much.
The weird thing I discovered about dealing with the drawn out fall into an illness so many of us deal with is that there can be a relief in your mourning. Before her, my only real experience of familial death was my grandfather, who died when I was 11 and not fully equipped to understand the world. I used to gnash my teeth and roll my eyes whenever someone said “oh he’s in a better place now” or “he’s finally at peace” because that didn’t make sense to me – a grandparent’s place is with their grandchild! Doting on them, overfeeding them, taking them to places that their parents didn’t.
But with my grandmother I finally understood it.
I was studying for a master’s at the time, and with it being almost the summer I had some essays that were almost due in and it was almost time to begin the last few months of hurried work on my big final project. My supervisors were very understanding, and allowed me a two week extension on my deadlines, provided I provided them with a photocopy of the death certificate. I always thought that was a bit messed up. I understand of course, but requiring legal proof made me feel so frustrated with the whole process. Morbid.
I remember the meeting with the vicar before the funeral quite vividly. We were in my grandmother’s living room, a room she hadn’t actually lived in for many years, being bed-bound. My grandfather, her husband, was there, along with my parents and my uncle and auntie. We were telling the vicar all the details of her life and all the funny stories that she would go on to tell at the funeral. While we were all broken people, it was an oddly joyous hour – like an even more intimate wake.
That’s the weird thing about grieving, it’s not just a type of sadness. Grief is a fat demon that sits on your consciousness and refuses to move. It rewires your memories and fills up your synapses and it doesn’t budge and you’re forced to experience it. Did you know you can’t receive a proper diagnosis of depression if you’ve just suffered a loss? It’s a different kind of pressure on your brain.
Anyway, the funeral came and I was a mess. I didn’t sing along in the hymns, I could barely mouth the word ‘amen’, I cried and cried and cried. The vicar told the stories well, and she had a very heartfelt way of speaking. I stood with my mother at the end to receive all of the other guests. I received so many hugs from women I hadn’t seen in about a decade. Everyone said it was a lovely funeral. That she would have laughed.
That’s another weird thing. Funerals are, I think, always horrible. But they can also be joyous, can’t they? Doesn’t sit right with me. I wouldn’t laugh at the stories they’d tell at my funeral, I’d be furious that I wasn’t there to tell them myself.
I got quite drunk at the wake. My grandfather was a very big whiskey drinker, and that day so was I. I remember slurring a lot of words and having those sad, slow tears of defeat in the face of sadness as we talked about my grandmother. You know the ones that just fall so easily out of your tear ducts and roll down your cheeks as you put on a smile because while you’re talking about happy memories, it’s just so fucking miserable at the same time?
Anyway, we get home, sit down, and it feels like we can breathe. It’s ‘over’. It’s like we’re allowed to think of other things, though we rarely do for the first few days. Usually.
We ordered a Chinese takeaway, and soon it was time to sleep.
The next morning I came downstairs feeling brighter than I had in a while. The previous day had been, in a way, a tonic. Grief lifts from your brain in waves, I think.
I walk into the living room and the atmosphere hits me like a brick wall. My father tells me to sit down, and I think I laughed, and said “What now?”
“Your granny has died,” my father said.
She picks her fucking moments, aye.
We could barely cry. I remember the four of us sitting together that night and actually laughing like loons because the situation was utterly farcical. We didn’t have the energy to cry about it. I kind of always felt like it was a disservice to her, that we shed more tears for my nana.
She was another person who had ‘not been herself’ for many years, but it was far more pronounced with her. Parkinson’s. The last semi-lucid thing she ever said to me was “Are you wearing lipstick? Tell me the truth. Are you gay?”
I told her no, and she said “thank God.” I quite like to think that was just the Parkinson’s talking.
When I told my boyfriend about my second grandmother passing away, he told me “At least you know what you’re going to wear to the funeral”. Stupendous tact, right?
The next two weeks felt like a deathly déjà vu. I’d lost another brilliant loved one in a very similar way. The grief demon got fatter and sat down harder and I felt myself fray like rope with despair. We told each other it was ‘funny, really’. We surmised that, again, it was almost a ‘relief’. The curse of loving someone intensely is knowing that one day they may not be in your life anymore, and that anxiety is horrible. When they die, you gain some certainty about your life that you didn’t have before. It’s like the jump scare in a horror movie – they’re entertaining because once they’re done, it’s over.
I didn’t ‘enjoy’ my grandmother’s funeral. We had the same vicar as the first funeral, and while she was a very kind and compassionate lady we discovered her lines to be rote, her lovely words recycled and the whole ordeal to be artificial. I still cried though. Buckets.
This time I stood with my father to receive hugs from older, distant ladies.
I didn’t get drunk at that wake. I was too exhausted to drink.
The next day, I walked downstairs with that grief relief slowly peeling away. I walked into the living room, looked my father square in the eyes and said “Don’t you say a fucking word.”
Grief is something I think we will never truly understand. People say that we all grieve in different ways. My sister says reassuring things that sound like lines from a Disney movie like “Oh he’s watching down over us from the stars” and it makes me want to shake her. I tend to sleep a lot. For some people the grief demon festers and roils in their mind and doesn’t go away. My remaining grandfather grieved for his wife until the day he died, and the word ‘relief’ was bandied around when that happened too.
It’s taken me a long time to conceptualise what grief is to me, and a long time to write about this painful period of my life, but it feels good. I think losing someone doesn’t get easier with time, you just exercise your demon until it’s light enough to be moved to the back for a bit.
Oh, and I had all my essay deadlines pushed back until Christmas. And yes, I had to provide the second death certificate.