16/11/2010 Coping

I really should be sleeping at this moment, or at least trying to. I’m not.
I can’t.

Judging by the comments made here, and the replies I get to my posts on MSN or Facebook, most of my readers are close friends, so most of you know that one week ago, Saturday night, my grandmother died. She fell asleep in her favourite seat in front of the television and… didn’t wake up.
When my mother found her that Sunday, and called us over, I cried. For the first time in years, I shed tears over something that wasn’t physical pain.
I still don’t know if I would’ve been able to cry if I had been there alone, or what it was that made me cry: the sight of my grandmother motionless, or the sight of every single one of her offspring -bar my brother- crying as well. Not that I particularly care. As I said, I hadn’t cried for emotional reasons in years, and when the tears came, I embraced them. I did not feign strength by holding back -nor do I believe it would be a sign of strength if I did, more a weakness- and I cried. It was narcotic. As if all the worries I ever took from anyone to help carry were lifted from my shoulders for the full three hours we were there, and I could let my emotions run their full course.

Then came the week before the funeral, which was… numb. My uncle and aunt were over every day to help my mother plan the funeral, and I stayed home from uni for a full week. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on classes anyway, and I wasn’t ready to spend quite a bit of my time in a room, alone, without anyone in the same building I could go to when I needed to. I never needed to when I was home, but the thought helped enormously.
I did go the the Creative Writing Group organized at my university, but more out of therapeutic reasons than anything else, and I went back home that same night.
This period was also where my dog proved invaluable -and my cats utterly useless, but that aside. What I am going to say now may sound weird, but from time to time -and last week more than ever- I draw great comfort from sharing my bed with a warm, living body. Someone I can wrap my arms around or rest my back against at night, when trying to fall asleep. Under ideal circumstances, this role would be filled by a girlfriend, or a particular kind of very close female friend, but since neither have been ‘available’ for close on two years, I sleep together with my dog. It doesn’t matter that she can’t understand, or doesn’t care why I hug her in the middle of the night, the fact that she allows it -while not perfect- has been most welcome.

I cried again that week on Wednesday, when we came to bring a last farewell to my grandmother, in her open coffin. It was then that I learned the difference between a dead body and a corpse. What my mother found that Sunday was the former. A body that is no longer alive, but merely looks like it is sleeping, the only things hinting at the truth being her cold flesh, her numb, stiff hand and her skin turning a pale, sickly yellow. What I saw that Wednesday was a corpse. My grandmother never looked older than 65-70 in life, despite being a few months away from turning 80.  In those four days, her physical age had caught up with her, and added an extra decade. The flesh in her face had shrunk, her skin shriveled, and the pale, sickly yellow was now very clear. She could still be recognized as my grandmother, but only barely so. I then realized that she was gone, no more. I had lost my grandmother, and I would never get her back.

I cried again at the funeral. Because of all the memories that came up -even those that were not mentioned. I cried because more than ever, I knew, more than ever, that my grandmother was a very special woman. Normal people don’t get wreathes commissioned by the city on their funerals. I also realized that there was so much about her I didn’t know, or didn’t know well enough. Stories she never could tell me, questions she never could answer.

These were all ‘good’ cries. As I described the first one, so did the second and third work as a sort of narcotic. They felt right.
But then the weekend passed, without much happening, and it was time for me to head back to my flat, alone. I was certain I was ready for it. I was strong, emotionally rock-solid. I have spent most of my life listening to the problems of friends, being there for them. This didn’t change during that week, nor did I feel bad about people ‘troubling’ me as such. It was a distraction – almost a welcome one.
Then ofcourse came nightfall. I had to get up early again, so I went to bed early. I read a few pages in my book, then turned off the light.
And my mind wandered.
It wandered to how my mother described going to my grandmother’s a few days ago, bringing the dog who, usually very excited when she came there, was eerily silent as she entered the empty house.
It wandered to my childhood -I winced a bit at the idea that I was now old enough to refer to my childhood as a period of time in the past- at how my grandmother told me, my brother and my cousin about how fishpeople would come and take us under the sea, to a fantastical underwater kingdom, where we would have many adventures, defending said kingdom from the evil sharks. I would fill in details in the tale where I could, possibly enkindling my love for stories and story-telling -I was but 10 when the tale was spun, quite literally half a lifetime ago.
It wandered to how, after high-school hours, I would drop by her house ‘to say hi’ and then linger for dinner.
It wandered to so many other delightful memories which, had they overcome me more than a week ago would have been delightful, but now stabbed me at my chest.
I cried. Not a soft, narcotic cry like the ones I had the past week. I cried hard, loud sobs, wrenching at my soul. I cried out of despair. What I feared would happen the week before, the reason I stayed home those nights now happened the very first night I was away. I was alone; no dog to warm me and noone nearby still awake, nor anyone I knew I could wake when I needed them. No, I was alone. Felt alone. Or lonely, to be more precise. I started crying for my grandmother, but then I cried for myself. There are two things I fear more than anything else in this world: death, and living without being loved. Both fears gripped me tightly that moment, are still holding me, and I do not feel strong. I feel weak, pitiful, afraid, lonely. And I have no idea what to do.

~Helena

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