I want to add something of a foreword to this post.
Please, do not think that I am depressed, or having trouble, or feeling like this daily, or grieving abnormally. Some of you may have noticed that I post on pretty much a weekly basis, and that I haven’t posted in a while now. The truth is, I’ve just been in a bout of writer’s block, but this post has been rattling around my brain for some time. I think I’ve reached a point where until these words come out, no more will follow. I’m writing this to honour a woman that words cannot begin to describe. I’m writing this to get the words out; rip off the band aid; and carry on.
“But you went away.
How dare you?
I miss you.
They say I’ll be okay,
But I’m not going to ever get over you.”
There are some things that no one tells you about losing a loved one.
No one tells you that it is forever, and that’s not their fault. None of us have experienced forever. We know what weeks and months and years and even decades feel like, but forever is something that none of us know.
No one tells you how those that are gone reappear in your mind at the times when you least expect it. No one tells you that once you’re past the days where you just stare at old pictures and cry, you can be driving home from work one day and it suddenly hits you that, shit, you will never hear their voice again.
No one tells you how hard the first Christmas will be. No one tells you that if you sing Away in a Manger at their funeral (because they loved Christmas so much, and because they sang it in their last days), you will spend the Christmas season avoiding that carol. No one tells you that if by some miracle you go all of December without hearing Away in a Manger, when you finally hear it on Christmas Eve when you’re sitting alone in the living room, you will start to tremble and wonder if they’re communicating with you. No one tells you how badly you will hope that yes, they are.
No one warns you that you – even you, whose only true, pants-shitting fear is ghosts – will hope that every strange noise is them paying you a visit.
No one warns you that eight months after they passed, you will be sitting in a doctor’s office, and when the doctor asks you about your grandparents’ health and you have to say “I just have the one left”, hot tears will spring from your eyes; and you will clutch at your afflicted ear and hope the doctor just thinks they’re from the pain.
But the worst part – the worst of all these warnings that no one dares to speak of – is the stream of questions that go through your mind. Did I tell her I loved her often enough? Why, why did I think I had all the time in the world to introduce her to my child? When I was a child myself, did she know, even when I fought with her or complained about going to her house, that I loved her? Did she know me, at the end? Do I really want to know the answer to that? (Family who may be reading this, the answer is no; I don’t.)
And one that is, perhaps, unique to me.
Did I abandon her.
She knew me, when I first came home from Georgia. She thought I was a nurse who lived in America and was just back for a visit, but that didn’t matter: she knew me. She knew my name; she knew my face; she knew I was her granddaughter; that I used to visit her every week, and I once walked four and a half miles to be with her. I think she knew, then, how much I loved her. But once I started working 50 to 60 hours a week, once I couldn’t visit as often, I watched the confusion grow. I watched her call me my mother’s name, or think that I was my father’s friend, not his daughter. I stopped visiting as often. When one day she showed me a picture I had sent her of myself and the man who would later become my husband, and she asked me if I knew who those people were, I cried all the way home. I asked for extra shifts at work. I stopped visiting.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know that a day would come when I would be standing in my boss’s office explaining that one of the most important people in my life was leaving this world, and I didn’t know yet whether I wanted to be there for her final days or go to her funeral. I didn’t know that right then would be the first and only time I regretted ever leaving England at all. I didn’t know I would stutter at the word ‘funeral’, and that I would break down in front of my boss at my very new job, and beg him to let me take some time off. I didn’t know that I would start sweating and shaking every time my husband’s phone rang, fearing it was the news I knew would come. I didn’t know that I would be afraid to do anything fun or frivolous, in case years later I would have to say “I was shoe shopping when she died”.
I didn’t know that the last time I would ever see her, she would be so unwell. I didn’t know how much help she would need from me.
But one thing I didn’t know – and one thing that comforts me, and doesn’t surprise me, when I stop to think about it – is that she would never lose that wit; that sharp tongue. The last time I saw her, I was helping her choose clothes for the day.
I asked her, “now, where would I find trousers?”
She said, “on your legs”.
She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t stop to think about it. She just came out with it, quick as whip, and then she laughed that little cackle, and she apologised for ‘being rude’, and I don’t think she knew why I threw my arms around her or why I couldn’t stop laughing.
After that day, I said that I wouldn’t visit again. Some of the things that I saw that day were so heartbreaking that I was afraid that they would be my last memory of her.
But they aren’t. My last memory of her is that laugh. The way she clapped her hand to her mouth like she wanted to eat the words up. The way she was so quick to reply. The way that her wicked little grin said that wasn’t sorry at all; she was pleased with her joke. And on the days where she runs through my mind and I want to curl into a ball in my closet and shut the world away, I remember that joke; and I realise that we never really lost her. She may be gone, but she remained herself until the very end.
I remember cooking with her, and watching the way that she never looked at a recipe book. She just knew, from the smell of a spice or a herb, what it would go well with. She taught me how to make cakes without even weighing the ingredients. She taught me how to grate an onion for stuffing without crying. She taught me how to carve meat.
I remember watching her knit, wondering how she could turn a ball of wool into a cardigan or a scarf. I remember when I demanded that she knit tights for my impressive My Little Pony collection, and she did. No pattern, because no one in history has ever needed to knit tights for plastic ponies. But she made it work.
I remember learning to write at her dining room table. I remember taking all the thoughts that were running through my brain and putting them into words, into a coherent story. I remember how she read them, and asked me to write more. She nurtured my craft, and I wasn’t even aware she was doing it.
I remember bathtime. I remember that she tried to teach me not to be ashamed of my body.
I remember bedtime, when my brother and I would climb into bed with her to watch the soaps. I remember how most nights, we wouldn’t go to our own beds afterwards.
I remember the love. I remember the love that made that house what it was; that seeped into the very walls until you almost got dizzy from it.
I remember the flowers. The little paper flowers that I drew in marker pen and carefully cut out. I remember that I followed her around the house when she was on the phone, carrying a note that said “I NED SOME SELLATAPE FOR MY FLOWAS”, and she interrupted her phone call to get me some tape so I could make a ‘vase’.
I remember the day that I found those paper flowers tucked safely away in a drawer. She kept them. For over fifteen years, she kept some ugly little scraps of paper, simply because I had made them.
I don’t remember the day that I tucked one of those flowers into her hand in the chapel of rest.
When I think of her, all I remember is the love.