On an anniversary of loss

Today is not my favourite day. It should be. Today, 8 years ago, my baby boy was born. Of course, he’s a dog, not an actual baby, but why should that make a difference? It’s also Armistice Day although, sad as that is, it’s not the source of my grief. I value that as a society we set aside time to honour and mourn those who gave their lives so we could live in freedom. Let us never forget their sacrifice or the pain and misery it entailed.

No, today is the day, exactly one year ago, I lost a woman who meant the world to me.

My grandmother was a strong, capable, intelligent lady. She took maths and science with the boys during college, an achievement in itself, and eventually became dux of her school. She came top in the country for her piano exams after studying with the nuns of St Mary’s. She was a teacher, a loving wife, a caring mother. And she was one of the people I have loved most in my lifetime.

I could tell the story of the slow and excruciating demise dementia wrought on one of the most intelligent women I have ever known. I could tell you how it felt to realise she no longer knew who I was. I could tell you how amazed I was that my surgery, set for this day 12 months ago, was moved forward three days without notice and I could tell you what it was like to be at home when she died instead of in theatre. I could tell you how it felt not to be able to say goodbye before she passed. I could tell you about the tears running down my face as I write this, or the hours I’ve spent in tattoo studios inking her memory into my skin. And I could tell you about the hole I have had in my heart every day since I lost her.

Or I could share with you the eulogy I wrote for her funeral and hope that in some small way it expresses the depth of the pain I felt at losing a woman who was more a second mother to me than just another elderly relative. And I could ask that if you have anything to spare you donate to Alzheimers New Zealand so that maybe, one day, women like my grandmother don’t have to deteriorate in the tempered and painful way permanent memory loss entails.

 

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No more nights in silence
No more heated meals
No more “borrowed” handbags
Filled with “borrowed” little steals.

No more talk of madness
My darker days are through
No more talk of sadness
Or of pain & guilt & truth.

Remember me with fondness
A life not lived in vain
Remember not my struggles
Remember not my pain.

I was not always ageing
Not frail with hands of blue
I was once young and vibrant
With a heart that loved you true.

Weep not for me in earnest
I have passed to greener fields
Weep not for loss of living
For my wounds have all been healed.

Weep not for me in sorrow
Let your grief not lay you low
I shall not suffer any more
It was my time to go.

Weep not for missing family
We all know this was best
Weep not for bittersweet memories
My soul is now at rest.

There’ll be no more awkward pauses
No more lonely days
Although my candle may be doused
My light will never fade.



Memories

I’m back in the house my grandmother built when I was a child. Back after 4 years of tenants in it. Back 6 months after she died. It still smells like her. How can a place smell like someone who has been gone from it for so long? Someone who isn’t even here anymore. I can still see all the furnishings the way they were. The photos, the paintings. The little piles of things she was working on. Memories of being here so often as a child are overwhelming me. There isn’t a single corner of this house that isn’t overflowing with them. The time I ran away from home and she let me stay. The times I spent off school sick. Every day after school for 10 years. All my school holidays. I could spend weeks here and not run out of memories. I still want to touch the things that used to hang in the wardrobes. Sit on the beds she had, the ones I slept in as a child. I want to inhale the scent of her talc and shampoo. I want to turn around and see her pottering around behind me. Want to smell her baking in the kitchen. Want to hear her playing the piano the way she used to when she thought no one was listening. Suddenly, I don’t want the house sold. I want it held on to as the last memento of the woman I love. The woman I lost.

 

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