The C Word

I wrote this some time ago and I felt that I’d like to share it tonight. Another leg of the caterpillar. 🐛 As always, comments are welcome.

Eski Caterpillar

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Six months isn’t very long. Not really. When you’re a little kid waiting for your birthday or Christmas, the time is utterly immeasurable, interminable. When you’ve been given six months to live; terminal.

Grandma must have known that she wasn’t well for a while. Surely that size of growth, that sort of invasion, you’d realise, if not recognise; wouldn’t you? But, while not one prone to impenetrable silence, she was never one for dramatic proclamations either. So even if she knew, we didn’t.

And then, just as suddenly, we did. I don’t remember the moment – not at all a movie moment where the thundering minor chords loudly announce the arrival of some devastating disease; not like that. We were all told. My cousins travelled out of season to see Grandma while she was still well. She made a point of doing things with them while they visited. I’m sure she did that for me too, but, shamed to say, I don’t think I noted it then, for I don’t recall it now.

For six weeks she was away for treatment. For some reason our base hospital was ill equipped (no pun intended) to offer the assistance she required. My uncle and my great-grandmother both spent blocks of time with her – ostensibly to help, but I recall overhearing that Nanna’s help was probably easier done without, although it was given in love.

I also overheard, not from Grandma herself, but my mother and aunt’s frustration and my Grandpa’s useless silence. Certainly not renowned for many outward displays of affection, he seemed unaware of the momentous happenings around him – surely they affected him most of all? I think though that he certainly was aware, and affected, but unable to express or even comprehend his emotions. We all chided him, behind his back of course; but I’m sorry for that now as I was sorry for Grandma because of it then. I never told her either how much I would miss her. I never spoke of love, or anything that might have been read as, “I’m admitting you’re dying.” It wasn’t consciously done – just unaware or unable to admit or comprehend what was going on.

I knew about the doctor’s sorrowful admission that all that could be done, had. I understood, but as for what I felt? Mum got it. She understood, then again, you would about your mother – I hope I do if ever the occasion arises – which I am praying not.

The last thing I did for Grandma; more for mum really, was buying a bedpan the day before she died. Isn’t it strange, the useless things we remember? Of everything, all the emotion, I remember that! But of course, by the time I got it there, it was too late; she’d died. For a week afterwards, I carried it in the boot of the car, not sure how to return it. No one asked any questions when I did.

Grandma died the day after / of my Grandpa’s birthday. That I felt sorry for him for, certainly no celebration to be had and always then that anniversary.

I wonder if people often feel entirely inappropriate planning a funeral. My sister and aunty visited the funeral directors only to be struck with the giggles, as we all were when they shared, by the man’s sincerely meant, but utterly inane question, “So, I understand we’ve had a death in the family?” Is it wrong to want to laugh at that? The comment still raises a smile today. I was proud of us, we weren’t wailers, we kept our sense of humour and practicality throughout the planning. It’s hard to mourn continually. The trite line, “Life goes on” is true. For the rest of us it did. Nanna understood. Considered more than a little old at 92 and particularly scatty at times, this time she understood. She discussed some and agreed on most points. Of course, we all cried here and there, I don’t remember it often. I can’t imagine having to plan my daughter’s funeral or my mother’s. I don’t want to imagine it – but that’s what they did, these amazing women. They carried on, smiling through tears and holding it together. It’s a girl thing in my family, I think.

I’d never been to a funeral before. I’ve been to three since and I’m not interested in having too many more experiences of it, thanks all the same. Grandma’s minister did what he did. We sang some hymns that none of us really knew the words to, but the church people did. I don’t remember what they were. Mum, Katie and I sang “Precious Lord”, which chokes me still, although I love it. I don’t understand it, maybe it’s just me, but there is kind of a perverse pleasure in outward displays of sorrow. We’re not an unemotional family, but we don’t dwell too much on the “negative” emotions. Anger has a limited place in our family and we’re ‘cross’ or ‘frustrated’ rather than angry. There’s a therapy session in that! Sorrow isn’t something I’ve had much dealing with and this was one of those few times. I was certainly ‘movie’ dramatic enough in that one moment. I never want to see anyone’s coffin be lowered again! Death I can cry about and cope with. Since believing fully in Jesus, I can learn to celebrate a little at times – but it’s still a hard thing. Lowering of coffins – never again!

Just for one moment, when the ropes tighten to lower the coffin and its silver handles – which have been for all intents and purposes useless at a graveside service. But you can’t have a plain wooden box for a much beloved family member – optional extras courtesy of the funeral director – waste of time and money but they assuage the guilt you’d feel if you didn’t do it. When the coffin lowers, I cry out – unintentionally – the term “wrenched from her throat” makes much more sense now. I cry out and stumble – almost to my knees. Silly really. Useless now she’s gone. But the feelings. Such conflict with my joyous mood later, when we went that night to a dress up charity collection. Odd, the things we do. But then it’s finished, and again, life goes on.

Reflecting, I think I’ve learned more about Grandma’s illness and her life as a person since she died. Even since writing this, mum and Katie and I have discussed more about that time than we did then. I don’t want to think that about my mum more than eleven years after she dies. Or anyone I’m close to – bit of a hit in the head – a wake up call. Talk to your family! Let them know what you’ve done, what you’ve felt. Share what you’re doing now and tell them how you feel. Take the time to do it now, while you can – my mum does that and I want to. It’s not morbid, it’s more important. Why not?

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