Most will send condolences and imagine the cordial service at a local church.
Some will picture her 93 year old frame, frail and dusty, giving in without resistance to the reaper’s grasp.
None will imagine her as the hero, bagging carrots in a factory until each finger bent irrevocably under the burden. Single handedly putting two boys through school on a pittance wage.
None will know how she loved Boy George later, his energy and crazy hair, and kept his poster on the back of her guest bedroom door in her tiny apartment with the slanted walls…
They will sit quietly at her funeral service, hands in their laps, listening to the generic words of the priest - not knowing that she was vibrant and alert, not so long before, and painfully aware of the limitations of her failing parts.
They won’t realise that she kept the family memories alive and well in her mind – she had the sharpest memory I’ve known. S at up in her hospital bed two months ago, head crusted with blood from where she’d fallen, body hunched and dry and so tiny… she said to me matter-of-factly:
“I’m 35 years old in here” (pointed at her heart)
“Getting old is annoying. People talk loudly to me. But I’m the same person I was at 35, just got stuck in this old body”
And it struck me.
So many are afraid of old people. They fear the fragility, as like a mirror, it fortells the future. It forces us to face our own mortality and the sickly smell of urine, warm and without dignity, that characterizes the demise into old age. It repells us.
We see them so often as already gone – mentally, physically. Many will not look for that flicker in their eye, that could reveal a person to relate to and understand. A person who has loved and been loved.
But it struck me when my gramma said this to me. I looked deep into her eyes, and there she was. Lover of shortbread cookies and the best baker of them in the world. A mother, a sister, a soul that I could relate to. It was a reminder that one day, this could be me.
I wanted to reach out to her, to hug her so tightly. But she’s never been the affectionate type. And her body had grown so skeletal (from the bad food, according to her), that I had to resist. To just be content to be in her presence. A woman who I’d grown up with. Who I had always loved, and who in that moment, I was so connected to.
And then I had to fly away, as I do, and the news came of her continued weakness.
The nurses hovering around her, a patient number on their rounds, chatting amongst themselves, lifting body parts and replacing them mechanically.
They didn’t know who she really was. I suppose they didn’t have time to look.
And as the talking around her got louder, she became quieter and more still. Her breathing got more shallow and her body started to shut down.
She slipped into a sleeping state. She was tired. I wasn’t there, but I know she was too tired to carry on. What with the annoying oxygen tube they put across her little face, and the sores on her legs refusing to give her a moment’s peace.
She decided to go, my grandmother did.
And as with everything in her life, she knew her own mind and she did what needed to be done.
But for us weaker ones left behind, I only hope we can do her legacy justice. Her soul escaped our world and left an emptiness we now hold.
Go well Gramma, we will remember you for the wonderful woman you were. No generic lip service from me. I love you forever.