Death’s a funny thing. I used to think it was a big, sudden thing, like a huge owl that would swoop down out of the night and carry you off. I don’t anymore. I think it’s a slow thing. Like a thief who comes to your house day after day, taking a little thing here and a little thing there, and one day you walk round your house and there’s nothing there to keep you, nothing to make you want to stay. And then you lie down and shut up forever. Lots of little deaths until the last big one.
― Neil Gaiman,
I have never been good with letting go of things or situations. Hass keeps reminding me of that fact and my last relationship should be proof enough. I’ve ‘danced’ with him too long because we both didn’t want to let go of something we still remembered.
Death is the ultimate letting go. Not forgetting but definitely letting go. I only knew the sudden kind up to now. The kind where you talked to the person one day and the next he or she was just gone. Without much warning and preparation. I always felt it was cruel to the once left behind. So much unfinished business. Words unspoken, thoughts shared and you just wished for that last goodbye I suppose.
Now I had been introduced to the other kind and for me, this one is far more painful.
A few weeks ago, my grandmother decided, she really had enough of this life and stopped eating. I read a lot about this phenomenon and it seems to be ‘normal’ for a human being of a certain age.
For everyone she knew, this came as a shock. “… But she is such a lively woman, always talking, always joking and always social”, you would hear them say. “I really enjoyed spending time with your grandmother!”
For me it was painful, but not a real surprise. My grandmother felt tired of life for quite a while now and I found myself hoping I will have her forever in the same moment that I wished she could be with grandpa as her heart longed for.
I have been very busy lately and haven’t checked in with her as often as I wanted to. As I was on tour, I must confess, I simply didn’t think of calling. I called as I got back and tried to call from New Zealand, but I could not get through the switchboard of the retirement home from abroad. I did contact my father, to tell her I am thinking of her and she should expect a new postcard from me.
As I got the call, that my grandmother decided to stop eating, she was already weak and going in and out of hallucinations. I do wonder sometimes, what would happen if I would have reached her. Could I have convinced her to keep eating? But I suppose these sort of thoughts are just poison for my mind.
Though I had booked already a flight some 2 weeks later, I took the next best plane to Germany and spent 2 weeks by her side. It was difficult to see that this once formidable, friendly, bossy, happy, bubbly and busy woman was just lying there. She had good moments of recognition, bad moments of fighting with her situation because it took her too long and moments where she was just peacefully sleeping.
The first few days I was fighting with it. I was mad at myself and hurting for her. I was pleading with powers I don’t believe in and I was caring for her as much as I could. After the first denial and raging had passed, memories had room to flood in. Things she said in her confused mind, photos, the furniture, and memorabilia triggered them. And once in a while I sat there next to her and smiling whilst I stroked her now thin hands. I would be telling her how much I enjoyed helping her and grandpa make wine as I was a kid. That I love gardening but I have not received the green hands they used to have. How much Grandpas obsession with Bud Spencer had rubbed off on me. That I am still using the potato salad recipe she taught me and I still love german shepherd dogs. That I am grateful for them always being there for me and that though I do not regret leading my own life, I found it a shame that this decision also meant spending less time with her.
I know people have different pictures of people in their minds. The time at grandmas side has taught me that too. My uncle and my father both have shared stories about my grandparents with me. Both described entirely different people than the ones I knew all my life.
I do have one regret when thinking about my grandparents. I started way too late asking questions about their youth and life. I wanted to be respectful and thought if they want to share that part of their life with me, they will tell me, not realizing they are from a generation that doesn’t share much. I got my grandmother to tell me some bobbs and bits but I had to learn how to ask first.
After 2 weeks her status was stable and there was a return flight already booked from the standard visit planned, so I returned home for a while with the intention to fix some paperwork that collected and get a bit of rest. Spending 8-10 hours watching a loved one suffer, can take the fight out of you too.
I was just looking into my flights back as I got the dreaded call a day later.
I took now a few days to eat badly, cry and try to find my rhythm. I think being able to grieve already next to her makes the grieving process less ‘sharp’ as it was with my mom, but nevertheless, I have not yet figured how to give it a place. I am sure I feel yet a bit better after the funeral and even more so as time passes.
I will miss her, but I am also happy, that her struggle is over and she is at peace at last. I love her and I am grateful to have had such a wonderful grandmother.