Friday, February 12, 2010

how it makes of your face a stone that aches to weep

My aunt told a story at the dinner table the other day of how the mother of a colleague of hers died sitting in an armchair while a birthday party in her honour bubbled gently around her. She might have been dead  quite some time before anyone noticed her sitting motionless amidst the throng of friends and family. She was pretty elderly, so the story occupied the warmer end of the tragi-comic spectrum and we laughed. The consensus at the time, apparently, was that she would have died happy, perhaps expediated slightly to impending demise by her excitement at seeing all the people she cared about gathered in one place.
My grandmother, who died two years and three days ago, didn't have such a luxury. Cancer robbed her of her hair, a breast and her weight before it took her entirely. And her words. My mother and I sat with her one evening in the hospital as she tried to tell us something, both of us straining for meaning in her well-formed, well-spoken nonsense. But there was no sense to be made from the words she used whatsoever and she deteriorated into further gibberish as she grew more and more frustrated at this breakdown in communication. Already wracked with guilt over a previous occasion when she had woken up only to catch me crying over her, I was determined that she wouldn't feel that our inability to understand was her fault. "I'm sorry, granny," I said, after this had gone on for about fifteen minutes, "I think we're just not listening properly. We must be tired."
She smiled patiently. "Yes, I expect you are."
And with this, the last thing I remember her saying to me, she refused to let cancer take the politeness and consideration that had been her hallmark for over eighty years from her.

8 comment(s):

Jo said...

Ah, sad. My cousin's wife's mother died at home with her, in her late eighties, incredibly suddenly, a couple weeks after my mother died.

And while it was sad, I can remember being so very jealous of her for losing her mother that way.

Radge said...

My own granny went in a similar way, but it was a much shorter illness. My granda followed five months later.

I've written it before, but one of the last things he ever said to my da wasn't that he didn't still love my granny, but that he was still 'in love with her.' That's the way to go.

notRuairi said...

That's quite lovely, in a way. My uncle and aunt went the same way, except without any poignant last words. Still, plenty of good memories to hang onto. I hope you have as many of your granny too.

Tessa said...

I remember that, with my mother - her distress at not being able to make herself clear to me. And I did just what you did, Andrew, I responded to her as if she was making perfect sense. Thing is, I achieved at that level of sensitivity after many decades of trying and failing. Rosie is very lucky.

The Shape said...

My grandfather died of cancer nearly two years ago. He died in his living room surrounded by his family on a nice March morning. His last words 24 hours previously before being put in a morphine induced coma were "I'm scared". That will haunt...

Sorry for your loss...

Lindsey said...

I can't believe it's been two years already.

Geosomin said...

I was very glad when my Mum passed on that she could talk and say all whe wanted to say in the hospital. Somehow she calmly, clearly spoke to us when she wanted to say something. I'm so grateful her heart took her from us quickly and her mind was sharp to the end. Her last words, after me saying "I love you" was to smile and say "I know".

Stays with me when I'm sad :)

Andrew said...

My apologies for taking so long to respond to comments here. When replying to people individually my gut instinct is always to try and be funny, but that wouldn't sit right with this post or the stories that people have shared. So I'll just thank you all and leave it at that.