I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard or cried so much in my whole life as I have in the past week.
I think we’ll just call this thread my therapy, and if you can follow along, then good on ya.
On Thursday 15 July, L died. He was 46. He was my friend. He leaves behind a wife and two teenage boys – men really, I guess. He was one of the smartest, funniest guys I know – the kind that would make some offhand joke – usually with a Black Adder, Monty Python, Red Dwarf or similar joke put in. Most people didn’t get them. I did. He never sat down in church – he always stood, leaning on the sound desk, and I would always look for him when I came in. When we hosted carols in the park, he’d be there at 7am, setting up and still be there at midnight, packing up. He was generous to a fault, kind and unassuming. On that Thursday morning, he and his wife were preparing to go on holiday, and he simply fell down dead. No warning, one minute alive, and the next gone.
On Saturday, we took my dog, Beefer to the vet to put him down. My dad and I held him when he died. I think he knew. He had been in my family since I was a kid growing up, and when I go home to mum and dad’s, I keep expecting to see him waiting at the door wagging his tail.
On Wednesday, it was L’s funeral – a time to laugh and cry and remember what a fantastic man that he was. I really wanted this to be L’s day, but I got a phone call when I checked my messages between the service and the wake. My grandma had died.
My grandma was the most fantastic person you could ever hope to meet. When you spoke to her or spent time in her presence, she would make you feel like you were the only person in the world for that moment – and I think for her you were – she would give you her whole attention. She was passionate about what she believed in - be it the God who loved her and who she loved, or causes – she wrote letters for amnesty international, would hotly debate with you over the morality of Australia’s treatment of refugees, women’s rights, the Iraq war – she believed in standing up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves, and she went out and actually lived it. She made friends with the people no one else noticed or would talk to – Sharon in the bread shop, the leady who had a mean husband so no one would talk to her, anybody and everybody was a candidate for her kindness and hospitality. Just by the way that she said my name, I knew that she was proud of me. I remember doing crosswords with her – neither of us could count spelling amongst our strengths, we would laugh, and make up words with no interlocking letters – we called them Rachel clues after my cousin. She taught me to make sponge cake. But mostly, I just loved being with her. We didn’t have to talk, we could just sit there, and everything that needed to be said was implicitly understood. She was tough as tough – she raised 6 kids in some of the remotest parts of Canada, she was a sheep farmer in the outback of Australia, a nurse, she established a grief and loss counseling service for the very cancer institute that she would be a patient of in her last years. Even at the end - she held on. She chose to die at home, and on the Friday before she died, a doctor and two nurses all told us independently of each other that she would not last the day. She held on until the following Wednesday afternoon. She didn’t want to let go and leave us any more than we wanted her to. She had planned her funeral in great detail – we found it filed in her filing cabinet under ‘M’ for ‘My Death’, not ‘F’ for funeral as you might expect. That was so very like her. In that file she left a letter to her grandchildren – no one knew that she’d written in, not even my grandpa. It was read at her funeral. It is now one of my treasured possessions. When they came to take her to the funeral home, they placed the last peace rose of the year in her hand. It was fitting. She had been so sick for so long. In so much pain, and now, finally she was at peace.
In 2000, for her 70th birthday, I made a quilt – It had 72 squares, all made by different people around the world – a square each – who loved her. She loved it. This quilt that wrapped her in love became a shroud, draped over her coffin at the funeral. And so that was how I last saw her – placed in the back of a hearse, wrapped in the love of family and friends. That was Saturday.
I don’t know how to express in words what I feel about her. How much I loved her and how much it hurts now she’s gone, so I will say this: She was my grandma, and I loved her, perhaps that is all that needs to be said.
This week, my soul has been battered and bruised. I have nothing left, I am exhausted and aching and running on empty. I have cried more than I have ever cried before, and there have been moments where we have laughed harder than ever before – especially with the family sitting around and remembering my grandma in the past couple of days. We also have a new rule in my family: No alcohol or chocolate shopping when you are sad. (We sent an uncle and aunt out to get something for lunch, and they came back with a case of wine!)
In the words of one of my favourite songs: “If you ask me how I’m feeling, I’m broke to pieces, but I’m healing”. At least I can say with a high degree of confidence that this week will be better than last week.