I haven’t blogged in a month, so I thought I should explain why…
My Grandmother (actually my mums’ mum but we call her Gran) collapsed back in March – initially thought to have been just a fall, it actually turned out that she had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, and by the time I saw her in hospital, she was paralysed down one side of her body, unable to speak or open her eyes, but she could definitely hear us.
I had seen her the day before, she was her usually lively self, playing with my kids and drinking cups of tea. Before she left, I remember thinking that I hadn’t taken the time recently to have a really good look at her even though I see her 2-3 times a week; so often we just say hi and bye to the people we see the most often, so we shared a tender moment of just grinning at each other, cos that’s the kind of daft thing we used to do.
The weeks that past whilst she was in hospital were the worst; I don’t think I have ever suffered from panic attacks before then, as well as being unable to sleep or eat, I’d have chest tightenings and cramps in my stomach constantly from the worry. The Dr said there was no point doing anything; she’s old, she has dementia, she wouldn’t be able to cope with the anaesthetic. So on and on and on and on. You want to punch the walls and ask why no one can do anything? We tried nevertheless for a period to feed her, to fight for her as she was always a fighter, but to no avail.
Once she had passed away, something I was so scared of, I was just as terrified at seeing her body, now an empty shell. But I am glad I did see her; amazingly it didn’t seem strange that she wasn’t drawing breath, she seemed peaceful and calm, thin from the final days of nil by mouth, eyes sunken, a moulded smile. She was very cold when I kissed her. Algor Mortis. We all told her one by one how much we loved her, that we would miss her, and she needn’t worry about any of us.
Then afterwards there is the organising of a funeral. I now know everything you could ever know about funeral flowers. That was my job, my distraction.
At her funeral I had prepared a eulogy, but the lady doing the service didn’t ask me to go up to read it. Perhaps I was secretly a little relieved too, that despite staying up all night to write it I didn’t have to stand there in front of my entire family and dissolve into a puddle of tears. I have decided I do want to share it though even though it is personal – perhaps someone else can read it and can draw some inspiration. It’s at the end of this post.
And now the funeral has passed? The real mourning begins. I find myself just walking around in a shop and suddenly I want to touch her, to talk to her, but I can’t. I miss her, I miss her, I miss her.
I know that realistically speaking, it’s normal to lose a grandparent. It’s crueller to lose a child, to lose a parent or sibling when they are still young; someone who still had so much life to live. But when I think about my `gran, who was 82, who had lived a life so difficult, so full of experience and purpose, I weep that she is gone because well, who can replace her?
Losing my grandmother has made me think very much about life and religion. I am a humanist at heart, so, if there is no afterlife then it’s ok if the life you have lived was a good one, like my grandmothers’. But if there is an afterlife, then I shall look forward to that too (and it will be rather spectacular, no?!) and now that I know how fragile life is, I will live and love to the fullest.
Eulogy for Grandma
When I was growing up, I remember watching TV and reading books and seeing what a grandmother was supposed to be like; this old lady with grey hair, who was fragile and would sit in the corner knitting. I would think – that’s nothing like my grandma. My grandma (por-por) was strong, like an ox; she was never short of an opinion and she was never timid.
My grandma was the ultimate matriarch. She had an interesting relationship with my grandfather, who was the opposite of her; he was quiet and placid, he liked to stay at home, whereas she was loud, determined, outgoing and always out socializing and seeing new places when she could.
I lived with my grandma all through my childhood and teens. I remember her waking me up for school each day by pulling me out of bed by my ankles, I remember her accompanying me on a school trip, even though she couldn’t speak a word of English and had to sit at the back of the coach with the teachers; I remember her making me cups of tea that were so sweet it would make your teeth hurt. Later I watched her make the tea, and she put in at least 6 teaspoons of sugar.
She was quite superstitions too, she’d tell me that if I ate lying on my side I’d turn into a snake; I wasn’t allowed to whistle at night and I was never allowed to go to bed with wet hair. On more than on one occasion I was happily sleeping with my damp hair and she’d drag me up to dry it – she was always hands on in this way, she was a doer and ultimately, she cared.
She was a constant presence in my life, without ever being overbearing. She very much had her own life, and was very popular. I remember how the phone would constantly ring in the house, and it was never for me, always for her.
She was fiercely independent despite not speaking much English and would get the bus all the time to go to the Casino or go shopping. She wouldn’t think twice about carrying a 10kg bag of rice all the way home. More recently, she tried to help my husband move a 40 inch flat screen television – she was never held back by old age, or gender, or height or weight – until the very end she always wanted to be useful and she always wanted to help.
Her physical strength was a real characteristic of hers – she would often play fight with you, especially if you teased her. If she chased after you to tickle or pinch you, you would run and you would hide, because if she caught you, well, that was that.
She wasn’t just strong; she was brave. How many old women do you know would run at a robber with a stick, because she is trying to protect her daughters? She didn’t have to pretend to be brave; she just was.
She loved to potter at home and she loved to do the gardening and grew beautiful, blooming daffodils. In her back garden she grew vegetables and was an expert at growing mange tout. She really nurtured the plants she was growing but just don’t ask what she used as fertilizer.
She was always extremely maternal and caring – one way she would show that was by constantly feeding you. No one could ever leave her house on a empty stomach. Such was her generous nature; knowing what it was like to be hungry, she would never want you to feel the same.
So, if there were three key things I learned from my grandma in those years living with her, they would be:
i. You’re never too old to wear patterned socks.
ii. Even if an orange is sour, keep eating it
iii. Never ever ever hold in a fart
She had 5 children, 8 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren and she loved them all. She has always adored children from her oldest grandchildher youngest. She would’ve loved to have spent more time with her other grandchildren who live further away. My last video of her, is her playing with her great-grandchildren, my son – he is smiling and laughing at her; she exudes happiness.
Later on in life, as her dementia worsened and she lost some of her independence that was once so important to her. A disease like dementia strips away what you pretend to be and leaves you with what you truly are. She never lost her good qualities; she was funny, cheeky, stubborn, caring and compassionate till the end. I always admired how her children cared for her whilst she had dementia, as it is such a challenging disease to cope with. Though she forgot many things, she never forgot who her closest family were, and that I think, is a testament to the love that surrounded her every day.
I learned new things about my grandmother, even just months prior to her death, things that make me stand back and look in awe as I wondered, if I had had to go through the things that she did, and if my start in life was as tough as hers, would I have the same courage and conviction to make she same choices? I know she wouldn’t have been able to understand me even if I told her, but I can say to her now, as a woman, and as a mother I am so completely in awe of everything you have done to give us a better life.
She was the heart of our family. How do you live without your heart? We seemed to lose her so suddenly that it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Some days everything feels calm, then suddenly, I remember that she is no longer there and it feels unbearable, like a someone has taken a hammer to my chest.
I wish we had you for longer Grandma, but maybe that would be greedy. Maybe it’s time for you to have a break. But as long as your memory burns brightly in those who love you, then you will always be with us. And one day, when my children ask me, ‘Mum, what was your granny like?’ I’ll say – she was pretty awesome.