My lower back was killing me as I tried to focus on my breathing, but each breath I took made my stomach fall closer to the ground. I was in the plank position, trying my 4-minute challenge – today I was attempting 4-minutes and it was a struggle. I heard my phone buzz and as my data roaming was off I knew it was a text message. My phone was just inches away from the sweat dripping from my forehead and I glanced at it to see how much time I had to hold this stupid pose for.
Text: 3:59-mins…Thought it better not to ring you incase you are abroad. Nan died this morning.
I fell flat on the floor in unison with the chiming of my alarm. I reached forward, switched it off and sent a message back to my sister.
Text: Ok thanks.
I was planning to meditate next and so I got onto the bed, assumed the position and closed my eyes. I couldn’t concentrate and so I decided to think about my Nan for the next twenty-minutes. The first thought that entered my mind was the last time I saw her. My mum had told me that she had collapsed at home on two separate occasions. Each time she had lain there overnight, immobile and scared. She could no longer answer the door and so my Mum gave me a key. I took Jude with me and as I opened the door her dog, Benji, came running up to me.
I knew something was wrong. The door was ajar and I could see she was not in her chair and I remember thinking, “what if she is dead? I have never seen a dead person in close proximity before.” I told Jude not to move from the door and I walked into the room. She was lying in my Granddads chair in an unusual twisted pose. The dog was now sat obediently by her swollen feet surrounded by bits of cereal, pills and an overturned bowl. I walked over to check her pulse and she was cold, clammy and white. Then within seconds of my touch, she woke up; and although she wasn’t dead, the shock very nearly killed us both! I called Jude into the room and tried to talk to her but she was in a very strange state. She couldn’t keep awake for any longer than a minute and kept muttering strange, senseless sentences – almost like she was hallucinating. I made her a cup of tea but had no idea how she would drink it. After about twenty minutes I covered her up with a quilt and left her alone to sleep. I remember thinking if she had not woken up…if her pulse had not jumped to the beat…I would not have tried to revive her.
I am in Wythenshawe, Manchester, and she is just ahead of me. She has a satin scarf covering her brown mop; a knot pulling against her chin as the wind tries in vain to pull it from her head. She is dragging a tartan shopping trolley behind her and my little legs are running trying to keep up. Now I am in a caravan, and there are wasps next to my window. She starts to spray them with hairspray and I can taste the toxicity as it fills my throat. Then I am trying to sleep but I hear strange sounds on the caravan roof. I am crying and she is telling me to be calm.
“It’s just squirrels dancing,” she says as she strokes my hair.
I come out of my meditation and I have a few tears. I text my ex-wife to tell her the news and ask her not to tell my son until he finishes his holiday. She rings me, and it is nice to hear her voice. When you separate from your wife your families are just innocent bystanders. They never wanted it to happen. Your in-laws are still your in-laws and your Nan is still your Nan. The one thing I will say about death is it does put your current strife into perspective. Next I ring my Mum and tell her I love her. Then I pack my things and leave my hotel and head for the airport. For the next 8-hours all I think about is death.
I am on the plane in a trance-like daydream. I am experiencing the worse turbulence I have ever had and yet I am unmoved. I see lightning from the corner of my eye and decide to brave the vertigo and scan the skies looking for the forks. The clouds look heavenly and I laugh to myself that as a child I used to think this was heaven. I didn’t have to die to get here after all; I just needed to climb on board a little Fokker. I think about grief and wonder whether or not I should be ashamed because I don’t feel like I am grieving. When my Mum was 19-years old she gave birth to me. A single Mum in 1970s Manchester was not the in-thing. I lived with my Nan and Granddad, and to the day he died he would often refer to me as son and call my Nan my mum. My mum told me this evening that when I was being raised I would often call her Pat and refer to my Nan as mum.
So you would think that my emotions should show a little bit more gratitude in the form of tears and sadness, but they are not playing ball. A good friend once asked me if he had to love his mother? There are some things in life that people just don’t talk about and this question is one of them. I told him that society demanded that he loved his mother because she raised him. If he did not tell people that he loved his mother he would be viewed as strange, unethical and uncaring. Then I told him that he did not have to love his mother at all. Lot’s of people do not love their parents, they just prefer to ignore the fact and would rather pretend to keep playing happy families. Every family has them and you can spot them a mile off when the funeral procession begins. For me it is all about relationships and intimacy. Blood has nothing to do with it. If you don’t have a warm and loving relationship with someone then how can you develop the emotion of love? Just before my Nan died she told my mother to give me an old Chinese doll. She had taken care of this doll for 37-years. It looked familiar, like I had known it all my life. My mum told me that it was a present from my biological father. The only material thing in this world connecting him to me. I have his blood running through my veins and yet if I saw him tomorrow I would see straight through him. He would be a ghost to me. Like I said, the red cells do not contain love, they just contain blood. Slit your wrists and it will just seep out and run down every nook and cranny. Love is something different. It needs to be earned and develops over time. It doesn’t try to run away like blood does.
In a few days time everybody who used to know my Nan will turn up at the funeral to pay his or her respects. There will be a few tears, including my own, but how many people will be there because they want to be, and how many will be there because feel that they need to? So no I don’t feel ashamed that I am not emanating more grief than I should be. Over the years, especially when I started my own family, my visits to see my Nan were sparse. This meant we didn’t form the loving bond that needs to exist for grief to rise. So if you have recently lost somebody and are not feeling how you think you should be, then you are not alone, and more importantly there is nothing wrong with you.
Photo courtesy of bedrocan (cc @ flickr.com)