Cheery title I know, and perhaps I wouldn’t read on if you’re wanting a joyful, fun blog post.
I’m feeling melancholy after I watched ‘Holding The Man’ last night, a wonderful story of true true love. A story punctuated by HIV, resulting in death. It rushed me back to hospital wards, the rooms to one side where you’re put when they know the inevitable is not far away. It also made me reflect and realise some things..
Grief. Loss. Bereavement. Someone dying. Dead. Passed away. Passed on – whatever the f that means. All such strange words that get thrown around when its on the horizon or when it happens. When you’re told to go have a sugary tea. Like that’ll make everything ok. Seriously?
When I was a child my paternal grandfather died after being ravaged by the f-cking ‘C’. My memories are of his decline and then pointing out a person shaped cloud from the back of the car as we left his funeral. I thought it was a cloud ‘Grandad’ lying on a cloud being taken off to heaven.
My paternal family have in particular been significantly devastated by the big C. Two uncles in swift, yet such cruel ways; C reducing towers of men to carcasses, there’s no other way of putting it. Barbaric, cruel deaths.
By contrast, B looked like a prime athlete having a sleep. In the couple of hours leading to when B died, I remember the ‘room’ we were moved to was huge. He looked almost insignificant laid in the bed in the middle of the room. A nurses station at the back behind glass. The sounds of the god damn machines, their shrill noises sounding, deafening alarms of what we all knew was happening. That noise of heart monitors, in a hospital, on TV, wherever, takes me right back there, even if just for a split second every single time.
His death was so very sudden, yet ultimately, bar the machines, I remember it being peaceful. I think I’ve chosen to selectively remember it this way, instead of dwelling on the reality of the ‘death rattle’ chest sounds, and his heart beating so hard swelling up between his ribs until it couldn’t beat anymore.
There are some things though that I wish ‘someone’ had told me..
1. It’s a trauma
Get counselling if you can. However it happens, you will need to talk it through at some point. Death. Grief. Loss. They’re all traumas. Don’t bottle the words up. If you can’t say them, write them down. And that’s no 2.
2. Write it down
Your head will be a mess. Write everything down – stuff the nurses said, things the funeral director asked/tells you to do, what BT need to change account names and who you spoke to. Write down stuff you want to remember about them – you’ll think you’re forgetting them when you can’t remember. Favourite places, jokes, aftershave, pudding, chocolate bar – (Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut was B’s)
You’ll cry tears like you’ve never cried before. And then they’ll stop and you’ll be numb. And then random things will turn that tap back on. And that’s OK! Happy tears will come eventually too.
It is the strangest sense of emotion when you’ve been told someone doesn’t have long left, and you’re held in a suspended state watching their every move. Every indicator trying to decipher the timeline. With B, and both my maternal grandparents, we had the opportunity to sit alongside them in a hospital room for those final hours, kiss them, talk to them, tell them we loved them. With all three, at some point I just wanted them to stop fighting, to let them give in and be still. This thought, each time of course, eats you with guilt, wanting to end their suffering, and selfishly appease your own. Yet conversely, not wanting them to go anywhere, willing them to get well and defy the medics.
5. The last words
I think this one can eat you up if you’re not careful. Your last words to them, the last thing you remember them saying. You might not think it at the time, but it doesn’t matter.
B’s last spoken word was ‘Chocolate?’ to the ICU nurse – who couldn’t give him any as they hoped to operate before events changed. More significant in my memory is he waved J goodbye. The last gesture or controlled movement he made before he died 24 hours later.
When my maternal grandfather had a catastrophic stroke, I couldn’t remember the last conversation we’d had. We’d been at their house just days previously and he’d have waved us off as he always did. Looking back the words weren’t important, it’s the feeling and thoughts when I think of such an amazing man that glow.
With my maternal grandmother, we had about a week of ‘she’ll not make the night’ in hospital. Defiant to the end, she was totally going on her terms not theirs. I really struggled watching her last hours. Too many of the noises, sights and sounds and I could not face it yet again. I said my goodbyes and left while she was still fighting. She died about half hour later as I’d just arrived home back to J.
6. Get rid of stuff when you’re ready
There’s no right or wrong to it. It’s harder when it’s not only your decision though. With B, I was able to do it at my own pace. Everything of his moved house with us 8+ years ago and gradually bit by bit, I’ve gone through the boxes of ‘stuff’ and it’s reduced down significantly.
It was very different when it was my grandparents and there was a skip on the drive, and a deadline of when the house had to be empty by. It became a very practical, clinical process. Some of my most prized possessions on my shelves & walls are simply that because of their connection to my beloved grandparents.
7. Some friends will surprise you.
Some friends won’t know what to say/do. Some will try anyway, some won’t. Two friends made, to them probably insignificant gestures, after B’s death, that I remember with such fondness whenever I think of those friends even now ten+ years later. If someone is hurting, send the card, send the flowers, pick up the phone. Drop off a casserole for them. Don’t cross the road to avoid them. Don’t say nothing. Please.