20 Sep

I’m not exactly a stranger to death. I recall the funeral for my great-grandmother Sarah (Sadie) Simpson back in August 1992. She’d made it to 91, and while I was fairly young (11), I felt a loss at her passing. We were too late, and probably too small, to be allowed inside to see her body, which left a strange sensation of something unfinished that took years to shake off.

Around the same time a young friend of mine called David, who I knew from the Boys Brigade, died suddenly of a heart condition. While I we weren’t bosom buddies, I looked forward to chatting with him on Wednesday nights up in Glenmachan, and I cried a little at his funeral, packed with friends and loved ones. A year or two later and another David died, this one a boy in my 3rd year class. I was one of the contingent of school mates that went to the funeral, though I had barely gotten to know him at the time. I was upset, but not as much as his proper friends who I recall being in floods of tears at the funeral. All in all it was very strange.

But it has taken until now for me to feel a personal tragedy so close to home, the demise of someone I didn’t just know a little, or admire, but one who I can say with all honesty I loved unconditionally.

Two years ago when it was first suggested that granda had cancer, we were told the doctors wanted to speak to the family. Naturally we assumed that the prognosis was probably only going to be a couple of months at best. I phoned round my brothers and sister with the information and the recommendation that we make our goodbye visits as soon as possible. Those phonecalls were incredibly difficult and I could scarcely hold back the tears as I talked.

But he pulled through, came home, and details on prognosis were sketchy. We’d effectively said our goodbyes, so each and every visit and conversation subsequently was a bonus. Further hospital stays occurred, and at home he grew gradually bed-bound. Always talking about getting up and doing something, but not able to act upon those words.

The second week of September has been the emotionally fraught in my entire life to date. Aware that things had taken a turn for the worst, already prepped for the news, once we were given a prognosis in the hospital all manner of emotions took over.

Sitting in the hospital room with him was difficult. Without the least bit of warning my eyes filled with water which seeped across my cheeks without any hesitation.

The emotional minefield that is death is something which I hadn’t really anticipated. Seeing someone you know and care about before you, knowing that your time with them is limited in days or hours (and eventually minutes), shakes you to the core. One drifts off on a tumultuous sea of conflicting thoughts. Happy stories and memories clash with the imminent ending of a life, promise clashes with finality, regrets and sorry lift their bold head high. One must try and savour every moment left while dealing with the build up of sadness.

People talk about grief in the wake of a death, but what doesn’t get mentioned is the pre-grief. The sorry one has while the person lives. While one still feels as if they should have the power to act, to make changes, to say things.

I wandered around the corridors of Altnagelvin hospital in the middle of the night, sustained on vending machine coffee. In something of a daze, I stumbled blindly into the cold outside air. I tried to stifle my sobs, not quite ready to let go completely. How can one weep when the person one weeps for remains alive?

Once again I made the phonecalls. Only this time they were daily, if not multiple times each day. Keeping the close knit family aware of developments as the day grew into an unexpected week. Glad for each additional moment with him, and yet aware that we were well into borrowed time.

I’m not convinced we human beings are prepared for death. Even with advance warning of the inevitable it still comes as a shock. There is endless talk of regret, sorrow, abandoned conversation. We can’t just flick a switch and move from “person alive” to “person not alive” in our understanding. Seeing them in pain brings us frustration, anger, sorrow. But seeing them peaceful arouses similar sensations. We cry for their presence. We mourn their departure.

I’m still going through the process now. The last few days have been a little easier. Possibly a disconnect caused by seeing his body. I didn’t feel his presence there in the side room at the funeral home, and so I cannot connect it to him as a person – even though the figure in the coffin looks like him. But there have been moments, bits of conversations, images, which have stirred the emotions once more. I’m looking at photographs and cannot fathom there being no more to come. Perhaps it is the continued presence of my grandmother that makes it okay. I’ve seen her without him before, so it doesn’t totally register yet.

I don’t think anyone goes through this sort of thing and not feel something. I continue to reach out for an embrace, a comforter to help me through. Someone to listen to my stories, my memories, my grief.


One Response to “Grieving”

  1. tenderlytina September 20, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    (hugs) There are no words to make it better or easier or less devastating than it is. Know you are not alone

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