My mother-in-law died this week at the end of a decline that felt much longer than it was.
She left the room where my children were nursed as babies, where I read “The House At Pooh Corner” to my son so many nights in a row that I no longer needed the book.
She left while nobody was looking, unobtrusive, without fuss, selfless, the way that she had lived.
Climbing the stairs I find my daughter sitting on the floor her back against the wall, silent with tears streaming. I sit and hold her hand while we both stare at granny.
“I keep thinking I can see the bedcover moving up and down”, she says.
“I know” I reply, remembering staring at my own father’s chest one spring Sunday afternoon decades ago and I get the same smell of spring blossom in my nostrils even though there are no spring flowers.
My son comes in, briefly. He’s hard to read today so I hug him. It’s easier than talking, and when he goes back to his work I’m left unsure whether it’s a relief or a burden to do so.
My father-in-law is in the room too and he sits in the corner on the solitary chair and I hear myself saying,
“Are you OK?”
I don’t mean “are you ok?” rather, “are you ok?”
“I don’t think it’s quite sunk in,” he tells me though we both know that it has not even begun.
I have never seen vulnerability in my father-in-law and he too is impossible to read, but I don’t hug him. I have never hugged him. He is the best fixer I have known in my life but he cannot fix this so he has no option but to bow down in front of it.
After a while, he leaves saying he will come back later.
“Don’t drink too much if you’re going to drive,” my wife says as he closes the door behind him
Later, when she calls and asks if he’s coming back he says has drunk too much to drive and that he is watching a tv programme about trucks.
My brother-in-law is here now and he busies himself, his father’s son, taking care of practicalities.
When the undertakers arrive they stand in the hallway talking while my daughter and I sit on the stairs listening.
I feel frustrated and angry about the necessity to talk about administration and wonder why we can’t just have today for feelings instead.
Now the funeral director is listing crematoria within a twenty-mile radius. He gives my brother-in-law detailed directions to one that nobody has heard of and, while they check their mutual understanding of the roads, I feel grateful my father-in-law is at home watching a programme about trucks and can’t debate the fastest route to somewhere none of us has been or will ever go.
A diversion past the scene of grief.
We gather in the front room while they prepare for departure.
My brother-in-law asks me to close the door and the curtains so that none of us can see. I don’t hear so he tells me again, more firmly.
Granny has already left, into the ether in a blessed liberation that does not feel blessed at all.
When it is quiet again I make tea.
My son is in the kitchen helping me and I tell him,
“If you want to talk you know where I am. I know you’re not a fan of looking at difficult emotions.”
He looks directly at me.
“I will, but I’m OK. Granny was tired. I think it’s a relief.”
Sometimes my children remind me that I have taken much longer to reach a point they have already arrived at and that not everyone spends half a lifetime trying to be OK with who they are.
I wake the third night in a row from a dream about granny and think about how odd it is that I should dream of her when I never dreamt of my own parents.
Rain is hammering against the pavement, the car roofs, and the recycling bin as if something is being washed away.