Monday, 18 March 2013

Ghosts of grandmothers past.

2012 was the worst year of my life, to date. Yes, it was kind of fun - I aced some exams, and got accepted into the university I may or may not go to, and found out what it was like to fall asleep next to your crush - but it was also pretty shit. I suffered from hypothyroidism for about three months before it got diagnosed, I learnt that following your heart isn't worth fucking over your friends, and I saw my dad cry.

Also, both of my grandmothers died.

To be honest, the death of Granny was a relief. She had been physically ill for a long time. She had a live-in carer, and walking sticks, and her voice always reminded me of a cat. She was deaf to high frequencies, so she understood my father and brother better than me. I was her only granddaughter, and I remember sitting with her when I was small, learning to draw horses and landscapes.

But I never knew much about her. I don't even know when her birthday was - just that it's around now, in March. I don't know how old she was or how she felt about spending her whole life as a housewife. She had lived in the same seaside village since she married into the Wells family, and it's not an exaggeration to say it's on the edge of nowhere. There is one street in the village, called The Street. My father was born in a place called World's End Farm. I visited her maybe once or twice a year, and Granny's death did not affect me in any great earth-shattering way. I went to her funeral; I saw the casket of her ashes buried next to her deceased husband and daughter in a hole which did not yet have a headstone. It was so cold that my father's tears froze on his face as he cried.

And then we carried on.

One day in June - about two weeks after I had finished my exams - there was a phone call. My gran had had a fall. My mother rushed to hospital, and my friend called me up to comfort me. She made me laugh, and then I felt guilty.

"I can't believe I'm laughing while Gran is in hospital, like, dying," I said.
"She'll be fine," she said.
"I know," I said. "I know."

I woke up the next morning to my mother sat on the end of my bed, telling me that at around 2am, my grandmother had just slipped away. It was very peaceful, she said.

Gran died of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. It doesn't sound very peaceful. But there was nothing anyone could have done. It was a relief in a different way, I suppose; Gran had been suffering from Alzheimers. She had started to forget the more distant relatives, who she didn't see very often, but she still remembered me. I was the middle of three granddaughters, who she saw once a week or more. Truthfully, I was seeing her less and less often before the end, because it upset me too much to see her forget.

I went into school that day and managed just fine, until we started watching King Lear in English and I stood up and quietly explained that my grandmother had just died, and walked out of the room and stood in the corridor for five minutes staring straight ahead and forcing myself not to cry. Then I walked back in and carried on as normal. I spent the week in a state of heightened emotions.

"V, you need to take out your nose stud. It's against school rules," said the overbearing deputy head of Sixth Form.
"I'm sorry, I've had bigger things on my mind this week, LIKE THE FACT MY GRANDMOTHER JUST DIED!" I replied, and burst into tears in the common room kitchen.
"I thought she died in February?" she said, confused.
"Yes, the other one died too," I replied, and she reached out a hand to console me. By this point in time, my friends had appeared in a protective semi-circle of a group hug, and they all glared at her. She withdrew her hand very quickly.

The thing is, I have never cried specifically over her death. It's always been things relating to it, like the fact that my grandfather is alone now, or the fact that she died before she saw my cousin Gus get married.

I try and see Grumpa frequently now, but it's hard because he's so actively busy. He makes a point of going out with his friends on theatre trips, or to classes about literature, or playing Bridge. He was always a Bridge pair with my grandmother; I wonder who he partners now.

Everywhere in his house though, I can see Gran. I see her sat in the upright wooden-armed armchair, asking us to turn the fire up. I see her in the upstairs bathroom, drawing in her eyebrows and telling me how lucky I was to be young and beautiful. I see her stood in the kitchen, giving food to their old dog Benji. He died in 2012, too. They buried him in their garden, next to the river.

I see her stood at the foot of the stairs. I was eight years old, and it was nearly Christmas, and I decided to slide down the handrail of the staircase. We had just finished decorating the hall, and my slippered foot caught on a beautiful new glass bauble. It was a present someone had given her. It smashed. I can still see Gran's state of alarm, and I started crying because I was scared she'd yell at me for breaking the ornament - but she hugged me tightly, and told me she'd been scared I'd hurt myself. That I mattered more than any bauble ever could.

I always meant to buy her a new one to replace it. I never did.

It's been nine months since Gran died, and we're reminded of it every day. Mum still has to stop herself from saying "mum and dad's house", and just say "dad's house". I feel a pang of jealousy whenever my friends mention their grandmothers. But the aching sadness of last year has gone, mostly.

Though, just occasionally, it resurfaces. In the faces my mum pulls, or the silences in my grandfather's conversation, the way he occasionally just trails off like he's waiting for her to finish. I know it's not fair on Granny, but I don't miss her in nearly the same immediate way as I miss Gran. But I'd be sadder if I ever stopped missing them.

I hope they both haunt me. I hope they never stop.

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