Loss is only a positive word when associated with weight — and when it occurs, it calls everything into question, often forever.
I was very close to my grandparents as a child. Because my parents worked long hours, often six days, I spent a lot of time with them. Because they were always pottering about, being at their house sometimes felt more homely than home. Through them I learnt to cook, bake, make jams and preserves, sew, knit, (unfortunately I didn’t get the hang of crochet), gardening etc. and watching lots of cartoons my gran recorded for us on Betamax – she loved Tom and Jerry.
In our down time (my gran napped every day between 2 and 4), I remember having in-depth conversations with the both of them and they were always genuinely interested in what we had to say, and in what we were doing at school. My gran never screamed and insulted us. Her approach was nurturing, feeding and supporting, yet stern enough when she needed to be. She only ever spanked me once, I was in nappies, it never happened again… I had a healthy respect for her.
When my gramps died in 1990, it was a catastrophe. It was the first time I lost someone that meant that much. I wasn’t even around when he passed on and didn’t get to attend his funeral as my step mother was out catching a tan with my father sunning his perm — we were on a family holiday that I just wanted to be over from the day after we arrived and found out that my Grampa had died.
My gran passed away last year, 2012 and although her collapse was a shock, her death felt like a release because she’d been waiting to go for a long time. She’d stopped talking on the phone because she couldn’t hear, stopped drinking water so she didn’t have to use the loo, napped a lot during the day, slept twelve hours through the night, snacked on apricots and Marie biscuits and then she finally wound down.
And after my Gran’s memorial service, I had to come to terms with not only the loss of two of my favourite people in the world, but also mentally sever that connection to that phase of life. It is a time that still lives in my memory with absolute vivacity, that existed so long that I could be forgiven for taking it a little for granted and is now permanently lost in the mists of time.
These people that were once a part of my life, are now gone. I can no longer lay down next to my Gran having laugh at the newspaper over a cup of chicory coffee (Gran would have very weak lemon tea), or go even further back and draw on my Grampa’s back with a ten colour pen he’d picked up at the stationery store earlier that week.
I have one small item that still holds a puff of memory. A music box that used to belong to my Great Aunt, that my Grampa inherited, came to me. It’s made of yellow wood, not particularly remarkable to look at but it’s priceless because it smells like my childhood and the home it smells of, no longer exists — demolished to make way for two new homes. When I really miss the old folks, I just lift the lid and all the smells of childhood are right there to breathe.
However, while I cannot simply have a two-way dialogue with them, their influence, love and presence is always with me. When I play with my daughter, it’s my gran’s nurturing style that’s coming through. When I make jam, I remember my grampa telling me about the scum rising to the top (in both jam making and politics). When I find another key to the life puzzles, especially regarding the templars and the holy grail, I think of my gran and uncle. They were really interested in that, many moons ago.
What I do after sustaining a massive loss is I just pick up whatever pieces I can, remind myself that I’m still alive, that I have more immediate matters to attend to and try to move on. At points I welcome the memories, cry the tears and laugh at the truths. Remaining realistic and objective goes a long way. I know deep down that the older I get, the more loss I’m likely to deal with, I might as well cultivate a healthy attitude toward it now.
And when I pass on, I’d like to think that those that favoured and appreciated me would celebrate my life, quirks, opinions and sayings, cry a little and talk to me until they no longer have anything left to say.