“For all the saints who from their labours rest
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed
Thy name O Jesu be forever blessed
How to sum up the life of a man who is your mother’s father?
I need to try. You see, I now have no grandparents. It’s a bit of a stark thing to say, and some people may wince to read it put here so bluntly, but it’s just that harsh to me and my family.
Let me tell a little of the story of my grandparents. Not long before I was born, Grandpa Sid passed way, leaving Grandma Win and his 2 sons, one of whom was recently married and whose wife was expecting their first child (me). It was a little hard, from all accounts; Sid had not told anyone of the severity of his illness until it was far to late for anyone to do anything about it. Another blow came to my father when it transpired that he couldn’t be at his father’s side at the end: Grandpa had instructed the nursing staff not to call anyone out until he had gone. Dad raced to the hospital on receiving the call from the hospital, but had no chance to say a true goodbye, Grandpa had already departed this world before Dad got there.
Almost 10 years ago Grandma Win, his wife became ill too. She was more open about her illness, having friends to hand at all appointments and making sure the family knew how things were going at each stage. In spite of all the love and support she could receive from her family and her Church, Grandma Win eventually moved to a hospice. It was hard to know that her move there meant things were far from ideal. Some days after she arrived at the hospice, on a Sunday in fact, Mum and Dad and I visited her briefly before we went on to Church for the evening meeting. She was sleepy. I though she was tired; we didn’t stay long, and said we’d come back tomorrow to see her when she was more rested. She slipped into her final coma that night. From that point she was never alone, Dad and Mum stayed with her at all times and family members and various friends dropped by throughout the days.
Grandma was responsive during this time. It was like being at the side of someone who was dozing; someone came by with a trolley of hot drinks and offered them round (hospice practice is to offer anyone present a drink. Nothing is restricted to patients only) Grandma obviously heard the offer, she squeezed my hand when she heard the offer of tea! From that point, we made a point of speaking with her monologue style, knowing she could hear and understand, we didn’t want her to feel left out of anything even in those last hours. Announcing the visitors as they came down the corridor to her room became the norm, knowing she could and would respond to any information given to her.
At risk of sounding morbid, I loved spending time with Grandma Win. Seeing a happy and loved woman who loved God wait to be called away to her final rest did a huge amount to change my perception of what death is. To that point I had been very much frightened by death and it’s implications. I came to see it as a necessary milestone in life, we all have to pass it; but it is no more frightening at that stage of life than going to bed at the end of a long and productive day. I had needed to see that and understand that to lose my childhood fear of it: at one point I had been frightened to go to sleep, particularly after a couple of stories about my early childhood ill health and how close I had been to death myself at one stage.
Grandma Win passed away 10 years ago this coming Christmas, and I do miss her very much still. I no longer need to cry, but the missing never really goes away.
On the deaths front all has been fairly quiet for our family since then. We’ve lost elderly friends over time of course, but no actual family members. Until January. When I lost my beloved Dan. I blogged about it at the time, so I don’t really need to go into the detail again over it. I’m still recovering from that loss. I do cry, but the need is gradually becoming less as time goes on.
Then in March I had a sudden and unexpected call from mum. Grandma Dora was not expected to survive the night and most of the family was rushing down to see her. I chose not to go, I was still too raw from losing Dan to be able to give my mind properly to saying goodbye to another relative. Grandma made it through another night, but her long-term health conditions had given her pneumonia and we all knew that she couldn’t fight it. She wanted to go, and so we said our goodbyes and then settled to wait. For all her ill health, Dora stayed with us for almost 3 weeks, and finally passed just before mid-April.
It was especially difficult from my point of view this time; I’d just been made redundant, and only 2 days before she passed I’d finished packing and moved house. I was emotionally torn. I needed my Dad’s help, but I knew Mum needed him too at the hospital where she was keeping vigil.
Dad raced away from Mum’s side, helped me move and then raced back to Mum. No easy task, I was in Bedfordshire, moving to Warwickshire; and Mum was at the hospital in Plymouth. That’s a huge amount of driving on top of the emotionally draining task of supporting someone keeping vigil. (I love my Dad. He’s something of a diva at times, but he steps up when he’s needed and nothing surpasses that.) He got back to Mum’s die 24 hours before Grandma Dora passed away.
I’d love to be able to tell you the story ends there. I’m afraid it doesn’t. Just a few weeks after Grandma Dora passed away, Grandad Ron was diagnosed with cancer. Initially we all assumed that he would refuse treatment. We knew he missed Dora and wanted to be with her. The choice was taken away from everyone; it was aggressive and advanced. There was nothing the hospital could do except keep him comfortable. At the beginning of June I had a cold and was sleeping upright and badly. The phone rang in the dark; no cold callers ring at night. I answered it. Mum had just been called by the hospital to let her know that Grandpa had left us to be with his wife and their young daughter, lost many years ago to a road traffic accident.
Now we have the task of sorting out our feelings again, and supporting our parents as they deal with the loss of their own parents. I take comfort in the knowledge that the people who have passed on are Godly people who I will most certainly see again one day. I know that they are happy and free of pain and illness.
What am I trying to say? Well, I think it’s that losing a relative is difficult, no doubt about that, but it’s not something to be afraid of. Don’t be afraid either to make friends and hold friends and family close. Nothing stays the same for ever, it can’t; so be prepared to change and accept new friends and family where the gaps have been created. You’ll never forget the people you’ve lost, but your heart is big enough to take in more people as time goes by.
Rest in peace, beloved people. I’ll see you again in time.