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Friday, 12 November 2010

Bereavement

Shall I tell you something? It's something I've only recently realised, on account of writing this blog really. I don't know my grandmothers name. The grandmother on my Fathers side of the family that is.

In my defence, she died when I was very young, at an age where I probably thought her name was Grandma and I've had no contact with that side of the family since not long after her death. I only know My grandfathers name on that side because it's my brothers middle name. (My brother is called Andrew. As is my maternal grandfather. My parents claimed that they hadn't realised the connection, since my grandfather always went by Andy, rather than Andrew. When they cottoned on, they figured they had to name him for both, so as not to show favouritism.) Anyway, I don't know her name.

It saddens me a little - real human emotion, whoda thunk it - that this tiny, timid little woman who had such a crappy life, caring for a disabled child and violent husband, should be so easily forgotten. It feels like she deserves better than that. Sadly, it's not to be.

I take a little solace in the fact that the last few months of her life were made slightly better by the fact that my grandfather died first. She didn't survive him by long but she had at least a short little bit of freedom.

I remember the morning that I found out he had died. We hadn't been living in the flat long when it happened - had he died just a little bit sooner the rest of my family would have still been living with him. My sister possibly had a lucky escape there. Imagine if she had been the one to find him, at 5 years old. (He got up in the night for the lav, collapsed and ended up at the bottom of the stairs.) Could have scarred her for life. Anyway, I got out of bed, made my way out to the living room and found my Dad looking very upset. He and my Mam sat me down and told me that Granda was dead.

They were very solemn and trying really hard to be sensitive and gentle but they needn't have bothered. The truth is, while this was the first real bereavement I'd ever suffered, never even having had a pet, I understood what Death was and what it meant. I understood that he was gone forever and I was never going to see him again. I remember, very clearly, thinking "I should probably be sad". Sadness never came, no tears fell, I just sat there, feeling really uncomfortable because I could tell that my parents were upset and they were expecting a reaction from me that just wasn't coming. In the end I said that I would go and wake up my sister and tell her what had happened, just as an excuse to get out of there.

Why did they let me do it? I was about 7. Should I have been allowed, at that age, to assume the burden of telling a 5yr old that her grandfather was dead? At a guess, thinking about it now, I think that either my lack of a reaction had made my parents as uncomfortable as it had me and they were as glad of the excuse as I was, or they had perhaps thought that my lack of reaction had been down to shock and were hoping that talking to my sister would bring me out of it a little. Either way, I had the dubious honour of informing my sister, who was bouncing quite happily up and down on her bed and giggling, about what had happened, and then giving her a cuddle when it finally sank in. Unlike me, she did have tears for the old man.

It turned out that the fall down the stairs hadn't killed him. He had in fact been dead before he fell, because something had burst in his brain. Very quick, apparently, over before he knew anything about it. I'm tempted to say it was too quick, given the way he lived his life, but as the old saying goes, you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. I mention the cause of his death because several months later, when my grandmother passed away, she did so from exactly the same thing. I've often joked (yes, I know) about the coincidence, saying that it's odd because they were a married couple, not blood relatives, "Unless there was something they weren't telling us, ha ha"

The added tragedy of my grandmothers death, apart from the fact that she finally seemed happy out of his shadow, was that it happened whilst she was pushing my aunt, in her wheelchair, up the access ramp outside their home. She fell to one side, leaving my aunt to roll back to the foot of the ramp, where she had to sit and look at her dead mother until help came. Given her mental state normally, and the fact that she still wasn't fully over the death of her father, it must have been torture for her. Which makes my joking about the whole thing all the more reprehensible really.

I didn't cry for my grandmother either. I could, if I were looking to make excuses for myself, blame his years of bullying and abuse as the reason I didn't mourn for him, but her...? She was more his victim than I ever was and she always treated me with kindness. So why couldn't I cry for her? I didn't know then, and I don't know now. Nor why I have never, in my 31 years of life, felt any depth of emotion for the passing of any human being. (Real human beings that is. I will weep like a baby at TV shows, movies, books and comics. Oh, and animals. I lose it completely at the thought of an animals pain or death.)

I do know why I joke though. I know exactly why I make fun of their deaths, and insinuate things about the coincidence. And it's not a reason that reflects well on me. You see, death terrifies me. That all consuming fear of ceasing to exist that takes hold of you as a child, but which you somehow come to terms with, or at the very least repress, as you get older, has never seen fit to leave me. So the coincidence of their deaths terrifies me. The idea that I am 50% genetically predisposed to die at a relatively young age, from something that kills you from out of nowhere, would pretty much drive me insane if I let it. Essentially, I mock the deaths of my family members because I am a quivering wreck of a coward.

I may not be a very nice man.

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