“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 2,4
11 November 2012, a day that I am far from forgetting. It started off like any other Sunday morning, rushed around the house getting ready for church and tried not to be late once again. I was happy and excited about a new outfit that I was wearing; black and white floral knee-length dress, pale blue cardigan teamed with peach and pale blue wedges and matching bag. I remember all too well because I had found the shoes and bag the day before and I was all too excited to wear an outfit so bright and perfectly coordinated to church. For the first time in about ten months I was wearing make up to church. I had decided earlier in the year to stop after I was moved to tears the one day and looked like a hot mess! I don’t know whether it was the new outfit that inspired me to try again, but for some reason I did on that day. I met my mom and aunt in the kitchen as I was walking out and they complimented me on how pretty I looked. I giggled and did a little twirl at my mom’s request before grabbing my bag and heading out the door. I thought of going to say bye to my gran but thought against it because I was scared to wake her up. Well that’s what I told myself but when I thought about it later, I just wanted to avoid getting into any argument about me going to church. I have wished virtually everyday in the past five and a half months that I would have gone in to see her, had I known….
Much of what happened from the time I left home at about 7:30am till the middle of the second service at 11:30 remains a blur. I just remember my one friend saying she hasn’t seen me this happy and relaxed in a long time. I also remember another telling me about how he senses that I am coming into a season of great blessing in my life but just as God starts to shower me with blessings, I step away from underneath the downpour. To this day I have never been able to decipher that message and it doesn’t help that he didn’t want to explain it to me either. For reasons that only made sense afterwards, I was a bit agitated that day and I kept my phone on during church which was out of character. In the middle of the service I felt it vibrate, I reached into my bag for it and I froze when I read my cousin’s BBM message: “Gran is gone.” With as much composure as I could muster, I showed my phone to my friend sitting next to me and started gathering my things and walking out trying not to cause too much disruption. It wasn’t until I was outside waiting for a friend to drive me home that I started crying. I cried all the way home and my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest. I was hit by guilt of not being home with her harder than grief that she was gone.
When I made it home I was greeted at the gate by our helper who told me to stop crying, my gran’s not dead they’ve just taken her to the hospital. Somehow I didn’t believe her but I tried my best to stop crying and I went into my room and I called my other cousin to ask him what’s going on and he said no they’ve taken my gran to the hospital with my mom and aunt. I distinctly remember asking if she was alive and him saying yes. I asked which hospital and told him I was on my way to them. I was barely out of the gate when he called me back to tell me to go back home, my gran was gone. A fresh batch of tears flooded my face from nowhere and I didn’t stop crying until my mom, aunt and cousin eventually came home from the hospital, their screams and cries said all I needed to know and confirmed that yes, this was very real, my last surviving grandparent was finally gone.
In the hours that followed I kept crying and searching for clues of what I had missed. I was devastated as I recalled my last conversation with her on Friday night. I had come home from work and walked into the room to find her sitting up on the bed, looking well and in high spirits. I was pleasantly surprised and I said to her: “Wow you look so much better!” and we had a little laugh about it. Little did I know that those would be my last conversation with her! Saturday I was out shopping and hanging out with my friends and when I got home I walked into the room to check on her she was sleeping. I took a nap and by the time I woke up again the rest of my family was sleeping so thought it best not to check up on her lest I woke her up.
I’ve tried to process her death and make sense of why I am consumed with grief, why when I think I am out of the woods then it hits me all over again. It doesn’t make sense because my three grandparents all passed away when I was old enough to understand what was going so she wasn’t the first grandparent I had lost. Death was nothing new to me because just a month before on October 10, my cousin who was just two months older than me passed away after a very short illness. Her death shouldn’t have been a surprise to me because for starters, as so many people were kind enough to point out, she was in her 80s and therefore old and expected to die. Secondly she had been ill for a few months and had been living with us for about three months leading up to her death. As I sit here remembering all the times my heart would jump to my throat if my mother phoned me while I was at work or when I tip toed into her room in the mornings before I went to work or the evenings when I came back, I realise that I had known that her time was near. Why did it hurt so badly then when it finally happened? Why does it still hurt so badly then as if it was a sudden death that no one could have foreseen?
I feel I am long way from recovering and healing from the loss of my gran but I am somewhat consoled when I look back at how far I have come and have made a few discoveries on I have struggled more with this loss than any other loss. Firstly, the grief and regret of not saying good-bye to her and realising that I will never get a chance to do that still has a very firm grip on my heart. Secondly, I am still carrying the burden of words said to and about me leading up to and after her death.
For some reason it is easier for me to believe that I would feel much better had I been home that Sunday and not been at church rather than to accept that I was exactly where I should have been and that my Father who knows me better than I know myself knew that I wasn’t strong enough to see her life end like that. I will always remember my gran as a woman of great strength and courage. My grandfather passed away when I was eight years old and so she spent the last twenty years of her life on her own. Although my mom and aunt helped her out here and there, she always wanted to remain independent and she sewed and sold what she sewed to supplement her pension money and provide for herself. She never wanted to feel like a burden on anyone and was always strong and full of so much wisdom. To me she was a shining example of a Psalm 31 woman. So how could a force like that be gone so easily?
Truth be told looking back she really did put up a fight. From my mother’s accounts and her speech at both the wake and funeral, I came to realise just how much pain my gran had been in in those final months. So maybe I was just never meant to see her in her weakened state so that I always remembered her for the strong woman she was? Maybe God knew I was not strong enough and so shielded me from it all? Was that how my family had justified in their minds them not telling me that they had been up since 3am with my grandmother and that she was in a bad state when I left for church that morning? Is that how they had justified not calling me to tell me what happened and tell me to come home and yet others called? And still, despite all this, my mother was still able to say to me just hours after her death that I should have been at home, I shouldn’t have left that morning and it is those words that have imprisoned for months, unable to find absolution no matter how much I rationalised, prayed or talked about it.