Wednesday 2 March 2016

Grief in all its Sh*tty Splendour

By the time you are reading this post I will have been to my Grandpa’s funeral. I wasn’t sure how it would go but based off how I’ve felt since he died on the 13th of February I thought I might get through it without turning into the sodden mess I was at my Uncle’s funeral in December. Oh yeah, this *is* my second funeral for a close relative in about two months, I’m more than ready to be done with death at this point. Like seriously, fuck off death.

You might be wondering where the hell I’m going with this after that opening – basically grief is a weird mess of feelings that after three family deaths in the last 5 years I still don’t fucking understand. Every time I’ve lost someone, I’ve felt so differently to the point that I don’t even know how I might react in the future. Not that I want to contemplate that right now. Not even a little bit.

Back in 2011 my Granddad died suddenly and I’ll be honest it fucking floored me. Hell it still bothers me from time to time and it’s nearly five years since it happened. At the time I took a rather odd method to dealing with things – I wrote a blog post about it (here) and since then I’ve had a dangerously morbid sense of humour when it comes to talking about the subject of death. By making awful and borderline inappropriate jokes I stave off the constant crying that might otherwise occur, while possibly at the same time making people think I’m slightly unhinged.

I was so angry and devastated for months after my Grandad died, it was such a sudden occurrence that we were all left reeling at the void that had opened up beneath us. Just processing that he wasn’t there anymore was impossible. I had the distinctly dubious luck to be present at the hospital when he passed along with the rest of my family so now I have a ghoulishly detailed memory of that god-awful Thursday night to haunt me for likely the next twenty years.

This is the version of my Grandad I want to remember. :D

With hindsight comes a few consolations. While I may rail bitterly against the knowledge that my Grandad never got to meet my boyfriend Mark (known to Twitter as Le Boyf), or that I’ll never be able to hear him sing at my wedding one day (goddamn just thinking about this makes me choke up), I have to remember that not long before he died my Grandad was diagnosed as being in the early stages of dementia. If he hadn’t gone when he did, he could have slid away from us bit by bit until he was less than a shadow of the vibrant man we loved. I now understand all too well that it was a very back-handed blessing that my family was spared that awful experience. At least that time.

My Uncle’s death in December was grossly unfair and heart-breaking, but it wasn’t a surprise – he had had a massive stroke in April 2014 and by some fucking miracle survived. Only for us to learn several weeks later that the blood clot had been caused by several brain tumours and that he likely only had 4-6 months left. Which obviously was a thorough kick in the spine once we were already on the floor. He was only in his mid-50’s and had already battled melanoma twice before, surely he’d had far more than his fair share?

The only two positive things that came from my Uncle’s diagnosis was that although he couldn’t really speak or use his right side due to the stroke, he was still unmistakeably the same man in his mind. The other positive thing was that the 4-6 months prognosis ended up being 18 months which I will never stop being grateful for. I’ll be honest now, the women in my family are more than a little high-strung and opinionated so it seems to be the trend that we gravitate towards very chill and easy-going guys who don’t mind living with our nonsense. My Uncle Peter was quite possibly the most laid-back person I’ve ever known and had a fantastically wicked sense of humour that he kept the entire time he was battling the cancer.

The last time I saw Peter was at a joint birthday party for me and my Grandma last October (we’ve always had joint parties since our birthdays are on the 7th & 11th). I didn’t see him again because his health started to deteriorate later that month and continued to worsen through November so both me and my sister were told that it was best if we didn’t see him like that. I do not regret that decision in the slightest.

The birthday party was held at my sister’s flat in Nottingham so from my house takes a 15 minute drive and a 30 minute tram journey to get there. When Mark & I walked onto the street where her building is, we were met with an odd sight. My cousin Jamie, my Aunt and my Uncle Arnold were cleaning the roof of my Aunt’s car in one of the parking spaces.

It turns out that as my Aunt was driving round Nottingham’s god-awful ring road she had to get round two cyclists who were hogging most of a lane. As they passed, my Uncle Pete thought it would be *hilarious* to stick two fingers up at the cyclists, using the one hand that still worked. Apparently the blokes weren’t too impressed by my Troll Uncle’s antics and when they were stopped next to the car at some traffic lights soon after, took it upon themselves to throw a carton of milkshake onto the roof, resulting in the mess that I saw them cleaning up.

My Aunt was beside herself and threatened to put mittens on Pete if he dared do it again. Pete being Pete, spent pretty much the entire afternoon flipping the V at us all every chance he got, grinning like a fiend as we howled with laughter. There is a picture from that afternoon which I will cherish forever because it so perfectly epitomises who my Uncle was and I’m so glad that it’s the last memory I have of him.
Auntie Michele & Uncle Pete

Losing him was such a heavy blow but at the same time, we knew he was no longer suffering and it would be callous to wish for him to still be here if it meant he was in prolonged agony. He could have died straight out from the stroke and we would have been left shell-shocked and bereft like we were after Grandad died. But we were astonishingly lucky to have been given the gift of 18 more months with him when we thought we had only a handful.

We had the time to say goodbye on our terms, time to fortify our hearts against the wave of grief that was looming on the horizon, to brace ourselves to weather the storm. We could hold onto each other until the surge subsided and then pick our way back to the shores of normality. I’m not sure if we’re in the clear yet. But one day we will be.

For my side of the family though the waves swept us out again in February. My Grandpa (I will always love how everybody seems to have different epithets for their maternal & paternal grandparents) died suddenly on the 13th February but on this occasion I did not cry. In fact I only actually cried on Monday at the funeral right at the end when the final song started to play – Josh Groban has a lot to answer for. Before you really start to question my sanity I need to explain why this third death has affected me so differently.

My Grandpa had been ill for a long time. He was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia about a year or so after my Grandad died. I honestly believe that the shock of his death probably hastened the onset of my Grandpa’s illness. I don’t know how usual it is for both sets of grandparents to be friendly like mine were/are - for as long as I can remember my Gran & Grandad have got on really well with my Nan & Grandpa. We had them all at my parent’s house every Christmas and we even took them on holiday to Florida with us twice.

Grandpa Charles & Grandad Don (L+R) at Epcot

But over the last few years dementia slowly robbed my Grandpa of everything that made him who he was. I think it was sometime in 2012 or 2013 that I went to my Nan’s house for the first time in several weeks or maybe a couple of months and was so struck by how different he was even then that I started to cry. He was starting to hunch over and shuffle his feet as he moved and my Nan had to guide him back to the sofa.

That was the top of a long slope which Grandpa kept sliding down, becoming less and less able to function, more and more dependent on my Nan until she was unable to leave him alone for more than a few minutes without him getting agitated. For the last 9 months or so my Nan has effectively been house-bound caring for him up until the start of December when he finally had to be moved to a hospital as she was no longer able to look after him at home.

Like with my Uncle I hadn't seen my Grandpa in several months as my parents felt it would only upset me and my sister to see him how he was - unable to really move by himself and so far gone with Dementia and Alzheimer's (that little shit of an illness rocked up to the party eventually) that often he didn't recognise my Nan or my Dad and would be shouting and swearing at them. I didn't argue with my Mother about this, it was awful enough seeing him sitting vacantly on the sofa, barely aware of what was going on around him let alone seeing a complete stranger effing and blinding at his family.

I think that's a lot of why I'm not all that sad now. To my mind my Grandpa has been dead for a couple of years already - at least the essence of him has been gone for that long. The dementia was like a vicious sprite frolicking through his brain, gleefully shredding everything that made him the person I recognised as my Grandpa. All that we saw each day was the hollowed out shell left behind.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't wished he'd died sooner. Seeing the increasing strain and distress that his worsening condition caused for my parents and my Nan, made me wish that he would just slip away that last little bit during the night so the awful drawn-out trauma could finally be over. Every day that he continued in that shade of an existence was another day of good memories that were stripped from the time Before. It's hard to remember now how he was before 2011 because the fucking Dementia has seared it all away, leaving me with only the memories of the man who was no longer my Grandpa.

That Saturday when we got the phone call from my Nan to say that he had died, I felt a numbness that shocked me as well as an even more disturbing sense of relief. Finally. The suffering was over for him at long fucking last and the rest of us could stop holding our breath. 

At the funeral there were so many people that some had to stand at either sides of the room. That was wonderful to see. My Grandpa was a very popular and well-liked man and I envy all those old friends and work colleagues their happy, untainted memories of him. I actually read a poem at the beginning of the service. When I agreed to do it my Mother was impressed but for me I didn't anticipate that I would be too upset to manage it. After the service everyone kept congratulating me on how well I had done with the reading and I honestly felt like a bit of a fraud for *not* having been more upset about it.

I don't think many people would quite get what I meant if I said that I wasn't sad because I'd already mourned the loss of my Grandpa over the months that he vanished before our eyes, so I kept nodding and thanking all the people I didn't know as they told me how brave I was. Brave is the last word I would have used for me on Monday.

The point that I think I'm trying to make is that Grief and Death are such intangible lethifold-esque beasts that you can never guess whether they'll sneak up on you and devour you whole, or whether they'll rip apart those you love and leave you standing in the remnants, too shell-shocked to feel anything. You never know what you'll feel until the feelings hit.

I hope this may have meant something to some of you, and that you found a nugget of happiness from the few happy moments I've shared. It's been incredibly hard to lay out all these thoughts so I do hope they make sense. 

Thank you so much for reading. 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful piece. My mum died suddenly (completely out of the blue) on 11th Jan, my uncle, her brother, from cancer 11 days later. Her funeral was Thursday 4th, his Friday 12th Feb. I know how you feel. Death, and indeed 2016 can well and truly fuck off right now haha!


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