I haven’t been able to bring myself to the computer, I just couldn’t face it. I took care of the boys and just got on with my business. Yesterday was especially tough, and with no rationale. If the truth be told, I thought I would be fine; that I would return to Montana and somehow slide slowly back into life. I knew the transition might be a bit rough and I’d probably experience some homesickness, but I had no idea how awful I would feel or just how long it would persist.
I was expecting some culture shock, in fact, I knew it would be inevitable. There really are no similarities between Scotland and Montana — even the grass is bright green this time of year over there. Then again, I’d never seen dead dormant grass before I came to the States.
But it’s not just the feeling of not being somewhere that I know and am drawn to, I now feel disconnected and, if I’m truthful, isolated and maybe even abandoned. Apart from a gaggle of friends, it’s just Bryan, me and the boys here, and there’s nothing like no family around to solidify the reality that you’re in the middle of nowhere. I grew accustomed to seeing my family everyday, especially my Mum, and never really realised how the full impact of not having that connection would affect me.
My Mum had exhausted herself. Ever since Gran was admitted on 30th October last year, she went and visited her every day, relentlessly for five-and-a-half months. She’d buy a weekly bus pass and ride two buses just to get there every day by 3 p.m. A nurse, Paul, later related that they held her in high regard for her dedicated visits. No other patient, I presume, was as fortunate.
The day after I first saw Gran, they moved her into her own room; something I soon realised was not a good sign. They told Mum it was because she had a “little bug” (read: C. difficile), and she did, but I knew better than that. I accepted a while ago that she was dying and I came to terms with it before I even set foot in the hospital. (She didn’t want to move to a hospice, and quite frankly, who can blame her? I wouldn’t have either. When Mum told me that, I said, “think about it though, you’re admitting that you’re done. It’s the last port and call.”] I was even composed during the funeral, which I was not expecting. I felt at peace though, I knew she was around and that she could see us all. It was raining quite heavily that day and the ground was especially sodden. I think Gran had the last laugh though.
Unlike American funerals (which I actually prefer, if you forgive the expression), the pall bearers are the ones to lower the coffin into the ground, it doesn’t sit on a low platform on top of artificial grass, closed from unimagining eyes and the stark reality of the situation.
The cemetery is on a hill overlooking the entire town, with a great view of the coastline and across the (mile-wide) river. It’s beautiful, and I’m sure even a lot more pleasant on a clear day too. Gran’s plot, therefore, is on an upward slant too, which I thought was rather cool, that was, until seven pall bearers had to stand at various locations around the grave site on planks of wood (I know…) in the sopping rain and attempt to lower her coffin into the ground on the slope. As they were steadily lowering it, I’d hazard a guess that about half of them lost their footing on the wet planks and slid a good half a foot, accompanied by a resounding gasp from the women, myself included. Bryan mentioned if it hadn’t have been for the leather strap he was holding that he used to counter-support his weight as he slipped, his grip may have slackened, and well… Minutes later uncle Billy joked about it saying Gran “was just trying to pull Denis (my step-dad) in there along with her.” We all laughed pretty hard knowing how true that statement could have been.
My Gran’s death isn’t the first for me to experience in the family, but it has impacted me the deepest. It’ll be four weeks tomorrow since she died, and although I’m OK with it, I wasn’t really prepared for realising the entire ramifications of it all.
Days after we arrived home and while we were slowly still unpacking our things (seven suitcases, the majority being baby things, like the playpen, the fold up highchair, the back of Ian’s carseat…), I came across an old letter from her. My Gran has been writing to me since I was eleven (yes, OK twenty-two years), ever since she moved to Australia when she married a native and remained there for the ensuing fifteen years. We used to correspond frequently all throughout my adolescent and not-so-teenagery years too.
I looked at the date and it hit me: it was the last letter she ever wrote to me.
22nd Sept. 2007
She didn’t mention that she was now mostly house-bound and unable to go for her daily brisk walks. She didn’t talk about how she was in remission from the throat cancer after her recent bout of radiation. And she didn’t mention that she now had stomach cancer, if in fact she even knew at that point. As I read through her pages, it hit me: I’d never get another letter from Gran again. Ever. And that, was completely devastating. What a mind-numbing thought.
I was lucky enough to have my Mum and uncle say I was free to take any keepsakes I wished. There weren’t many things left over from when she had her home in Scotland in the 80’s, but a few select trinkets that made many great memories come rushing back. I’d go sleep over at my Gran’s every Saturday night, so I grew up being really close to her; pair that with seeing her usually two to three times a week and being her only grand-daughter and it may give a glimpse into the kind of relationship I had with her.
I am amazed at how grief affects us, me. It’s hard to explain. I’m not sad that she’s passed, but that the physical connection — even just a letter, has gone and won’t be returning. I suppose you could say it has made me view quite a few things differently now, and that’s why I’ve been so absent, at least from here. I just needed time to sort out everything and work through it. I can’t say I won’t have more bad days – especially like yesterday – but I feel better prepared now to tackle them on head first, just like I know she would have.