Sunday, 15 April 2018

Grieving 8,000 Kilometers from Home

Dublin, Ireland

At the end of life is death. Everyone dies. I know that.

When I was fourteen my grandfather passed away. The last time I saw him was before I moved to Ireland. I never saw him alive again. I don't remember where I was when I heard the news. I don't remember how I felt or what I did. What I do remember are the nights of crying in the dark that followed afterwards, sometimes seeming to come from nowhere at all.

Of course I cried for all the things I'd never be able to share with him. I'd never be able to talk to him again, he'll never ask he how I am or tell me how important it is to work hard at my studies. I even thought about all the bigger things in life that he'd never witness. He'd never get to meet my partner or those of my siblings, never get to meet my kids and even more simply, never see me beyond the age of 9.

Grief to me is a necessarily selfish affair but I couldn't help thinking about how short his life now seemed in retrospect. His widowed wife, my grandmother, his 9 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Somehow at the age of 76 his life when it ended didn't seem all that long after all.

That's not to say he didn't do much. He had a great relationship with my grandmother. A relationship I look back on as a good example of what relationships; strong, resilient and full of growing together. The values he and my grandmother taught me have helped shape me into the person I am today. As a teacher he shared with me his passion for knowledge of everything and anything. He built a Primary and Elementary School with my Grandmother which still provides affordable education to children and teenagers. I'd like to think I have adopted his sense of adventure and travel as well. We spent a lot of time together because I didn't have many friends. He was one of my favorite people to laugh with and talk to.

 I miss him dearly.

On St. Patrick's Day just gone, after working ten hours, missing two buses and ending up a 40 minute walk from my home, I got my second dose of bad news. Two words in my sister's first message, "Grandma Dead". Second message "Call Uncle". My Great-Grandma had passed away that morning. My uncle had drove her to the hospital and drove back alone.  I know there'll be many to come but that thought provides no comfort.

This time I know exactly where I was. I know exactly what I felt. And I know exactly what I did. I couldn't help but hunch down at the side of the road crying as I spoke to my uncle on the phone. The only thought that provided me with slight comfort was the thought that my boyfriend was on the way to pick me up from the side of the road. Boy was I glad I decided to bite my pride and ask him for a lift instead of walking home.

I was meant to call them yesterday. I was meant to call them yesterday. I was meant to call them yesterday. My brain repeated.

With my rational head I know had I called I wouldn't have been able to speak to her because she would've been asleep as that is how she spent most of her last days. In bed or confined to her wheel chair in the home. And had she been unwell, my grandmother and uncle not wanting to upset or worry me while being so far away would not have said so because what could I do?

My great-grandma unlike my grandfather had not lived a short life. At over 120 years old she had lived through two world wars and witnessed our family grow generation after generation after generation after generation. Because she was a devout Jehovah's Witness she didn't celebrate her birthday so all we have is an estimate of her age.

She was a strong woman, the kind that can beat a century. She was a wild woman not to be contained. In her life she faced many trials but had received many blessings. Her quality of life towards the end was so full of pain and illness, we were happy to see her out of it all. No longer in pain.

I was lucky enough to see her on my last visit home two years ago. And I am lucky enough to have the memories of the times we spent together. With my grandmother and grandfather, they raised my sister and I and an entire family tree. They infused us with knowledge, strength, values and principles that have made us the people we are today.

On the one hand of course I'm glad she is no longer in pain and confined to the house. But on the other, and the selfish hand, I still wish she was here.

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