The first thing I should probably note is that, in a way, my grief was expected. The person who died was my Grandparent – and you are meant to lose those.
But not mine. Not so soon.
My Nan was known within our family as Granny Grumbles. Which was quite ironic given that she didn’t, not really. She was the sort of woman who got on and did what she could with what she had. She would tell me that you shouldn’t leave todays jobs for tomorrow. “Keep on top of it, we’ll get you right” she would say (as she launched into last nights washing up which I had lazily bypassed the night before while I would put the kettle on). It made her happy to help, it made me happy not to have to do it myself. It seemed like a good plan at the time.
Granny Grumbles was not a very tall woman but she was pretty fierce.
She had a wicked sense of humour, she loved dolphins and coconut mushrooms and Cliff Richard. A great chef she was not but she made interesting meals which for absolutely no reason whatsoever were sometimes colour coded. She would wrap up small boxes of smarties to hang on her Christmas tree for us to find. Granny Grumbles had inexplicably heavy duvets on her guest beds and a temper which could be shorter than she was. She gave Boa Constrictor level hugs and loved to love.
Her door was always open (not the front door, that wasn’t for family) and when I was younger we lived close by so I visited a lot. As a child we would go to her house for sunday dinner. When I grew older I would stop by on my way from work or to friends and she would make me a jacket potato with cheese or bubble and squeak if I was very lucky and then she would fill me in on all the gossip – unless neighbours was on in which case I knew better than to interrupt.
When I had my first child she visited us on the ward. I remember her holding my newborn in her arms and telling me how perfect he was. She cried when I told her that I was naming him after her youngest son who had unfortunately passed away at a young age.
The now Great Granny Grumbles was so close to my son, Col. He would go for weekends at their caravan and even went with them to Australia for the summer one year to visit my Aunt. I cannot think of many people I would entrust the care of my children to like that. She was on the list though.
My Nan really was my biggest cheerleader.
When I first started making cake toppers she bought me books to help me and insisted that I give her business cards to hand out to the other residents of the sheltered housing where they now lived. She would phone me for updates and gossip and when I said that I was worried about how I would juggle everything in the school holidays she suggested that she could help. By this time we had moved a few counties away but she was determined to be there for me, still.
We would drive to meet her halfway and she would take the children for the holidays so that I could work. She meanwhile would take the children to their caravan in Norfolk and would have the best time. It’s only on reflection now that I can appreciate how much that helped me at the time.
We moved home
In 2008 we moved back to Peterborough and Granny Grumbles was so pleased. By that time Bess was 2 and Col was nearly 8. They loved to spend time with their Great Gran and Grandpop and I loved that their relationship was a close one. A couple of times a week Granny Grumbles would visit and we could chat over coffee. A few months after I moved back, she went off the coffee. She said it gave her indigestion. So I bought some fruit teas and didn’t think anything of it. The heartburn came and went over the following few months but the trouble was that Granny Grumbles never grumbled. She also refused to go and see a Doctor over something as trivial as heartburn. I wish she had.
It was a few months later, after an unfortunate food poisoning incident at my sisters wedding, that I got a phone call. Initially it my Nan on the line but she couldn’t quite get the words out so she passed the phone to my Grandpop.
It was Bowel cancer.
I don’t remember clearly the events that followed. It was all a bit of a blur. It was fast though. The cancer seemed to eat her up and I hated it. I hated that I had to tell my children that their Great Grandma was so unwell. Hated that I saw her shrink before our eyes. I didn’t hear her grumble.
My last conversation (I think? I like to think? I am sure) with her was short but she told me how proud she was of the woman I had become and she told me how much she loved her family, how sorry she was that she wouldn’t be able to stick around but that she knew we would be ok. Yet again trying to be there for us all.
My uncle phoned me to tell me she had passed away peacefully, in her own home (as she had wanted) on the 8th October 2009. She was 68 when she died.
That was a decade ago
At the time I really didn’t understand how life could go on as normal with such a massive hole in it. I was full of rage at the Cancer for taking Granny Grumbles from us and a massive sense of injustice. She was healthy! She was meant to be the one who lived! It wasn’t fair!
That’s not really how it works though, is it. Life (and death) isn’t fair. Things like Cancer can and do appear seemingly out of the blue and they knock us for six when they do.
They say that grief goes away in time. I don’t think that’s true.
I believe that, as some people say, there are stages of grief. They don’t flow in a certain order though and some are harder to move past than others. There is no right or wrong. Perhaps it will take you a year or perhaps you will take decades to even crack the surface. Either way though you should deal with your grief in your own way. Be honest and as open as you can be with those around you. You may feel better if you can support each other. Make sure you take care of yourself, however you choose to work through it.
I think that rather than grief disappearing or getting smaller, you just sort of accept it as part of who you are now. You get used to it so you become more able to deal with the waves of it.
Life grows bigger around the grief with the passing of time so perhaps the grief seems smaller in that sense. New spouses and children are welcomed into the family and life moves forward regardless.
Acceptance means that now I can feel the dull ache of missing her and laugh about memories I have all at the same time or marvel at how much she would have adored those Great Grandchildren that she never had the chance to meet
A new normal is found and, just like Granny Grumbles would have, we get on with it and make the best of what we have.