My Nanna and I were close when I was small and blonde. She is one of the people who shaped me into this woman who’s writing to you today. This wyrd, crazily enthusiastic, deeply passionate woman who never wants to do life half arsed.
But then something happened, and our relationship started to come away at the seams. There were cold shoulders and fewer birthday cards. There were short, snappy conversations and hugs that didn’t have the warmth they once had.
Then one day, it felt like there was nothing left to hold onto, and we became estranged, estranged like I never could have imagined we would be. When I was small, my Nanna always used to say, ‘you’ll stay with me won’t you?’ I’d always reply ‘of course!’ like it was the most obvious thing in the world. It was always a surprise when she asked that. I wanted to tell her that I thought she was being daft, doubting that I wouldn’t be there.
A few days ago, it had been several years since we spoke last. I’d been talking to my boyfriend about how it was high time I wrote her a letter, spilling my history from the past several years and asking if all of whatever it was that we were estranged over, could be forgiven. I wanted to tell her that I was expecting a baby (more about that another time) and that I was living in Sweden. I wanted to say she was welcome to come see the forest where I walked every day.
Less than 72 hours after I said I was going to write a letter, the news came that my Nanna had passed over. Apparently she had been lying in hospital for 6 weeks prior to her death and we were told nothing. There was to be no funeral because she had given her body over to medical science – something she would always tell me she would do. But we – my family and I – wouldn’t have been welcome anyway.
It’s strange. I have cried but I haven’t had hysterics. I haven’t had a mental breakdown like I did when my Grandad died in 2012. I don’t think I’ve fully processed it. Nanna wasn’t supposed to die. I imagined her living forever, forever making rock cakes while listening to Irish folk music. Forever having holidays in fishermen’s cottages in Whitby. Forever doing cross stitch while watching documentaries on serial killers. Death wasn’t supposed to put his hand on her shoulder.
My friends have encouraged me to write the letter I was going to write. I will do that. I’ll also pour my questions and memories into poems and photography and my blogs. That’s how I have grieved in the past, it’s how I’ll continue to grieve and how I will recover. Before we lost each other she was always encouraging of my creativity.
I walked in the forest alone on the day I found out she was no longer here, and I captured some of autumn, our season of dying, our season of truth, our season of letting go.
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
― Lemony Snicket
“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”
― Helen Keller
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
“Dying / Is an art, like everything else.”
— Sylvia Plath
“How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?”
— Carson McCullers
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
― Kahlil Gibran