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Until Death do us part

Posted on Friday 17th November 2006 at 00:00
I didn't post yesterday. It wasn't that I didn't know what to say, it was more that I didn't know how to say it, or wasn't ready to say it, I don't know which. However, that day has ended, a new one has begun and I feel more able to talk about my bad news than I was yesterday.

While at work I received a text message from my Mum. Just a short message but it contained a lot of meaning. It told me that my last surviving grandfather was surviving no more. He died sometime on Wednesday night/ Thursday morning. It wasn't entirely unexpected. He was old and in hospital, from which we didn't expect him to come out anytime soon. Despite this, I at least hadn't really thought of him as on his death bed. As far as I was concerned, the move to hospital was just one step in a process that would pan out over the next year or so. In fact, of the three relatives I have who are actively dying (as oppose to just aging and gathering dust) he was the one I expected to hang on the longest. All things considered, the other two are far more ill than he seemed to be. Perhaps my perceptions came from having not seen him in nearly three years now or not getting regular status updates on account of my not living at home at the moment.

As the day wore on, what struck me the most was not the death itself, but its affect on me, and how my perception of it changed throughout the day. It is an interesting fact that when people grieve for a loved one, they are not grieving the deceased's loss of live but merely their own loss at having had their loved one taken away from them. On the face of it that may seem selfish, but really it is the only natural reaction. Because of our lack of omnipotence, we tend to see all the problems we face from a very personal perspective. The greater our problems, the more personal our loss and so when the unthinkable happens, it is ourselves we feel sorry for, not the person who just died.

This is certainly true of the current case. I don't feel sorry for my grandfather. He had a good life which he enjoyed. He lived it for a very long time and he died at the natural end of his life, warm and comfortable in bed. His suffering is over and his life has been completed in the most satisfactory way it is possible for any of us to go. So no, I don't feel sorry for him, I feel sorry for myself for losing a grandfather, for my grandmother for losing a husband, my father and his siblings for losing their father and for my siblings, cousins and all other people who've suffered a loss as a result of his death.

As I worked through the rest of my shift, a part of my consciousness sat and observed how my ability to do my job accurately and neatly was inhibited at the points at which I was thinking of the death, and how when I was kept most busy, with the most difficult tasks, I was able to stop dwelling for a brief period of time.

As the afternoon wore on, my thoughts began to turn to who I was going to tell, how I thought they'd react and to what extend I wanted or needed their sympathy in order to help me cope. In the event, I was a lot more stable than I expected, and perfectly happy to switch to other thoughts and happier conversations when it was called for. It isn't that I was blocking out my problems or not dealing with them; it was just that I was able to tackle them in smaller lumps, while affording myself brief periods of relief in between.

At first I'd feel guilty if ever I smiled, laughed or dared to be merry; but I soon saw how stupid this was. No one who dies really wants those he or she leaves behind to be unhappy; quite the reverse in fact. When I die I hope my loved ones will be able to be happy for me and not suffer too greatly from their loss. I will have this death weighing heavily on my thoughts between now and the funeral in a weeks time, but I don't intend to be miserable all day every day. Doing so won't bring him back, and it won't satisfy any other cause, except to spoil the week, which granddad would not have wanted.

I shall miss him when I think of him and think of him whenever it occurs to me to do so. I shall carry him in my heart always and say my goodbyes at his funeral and that shall be that. Right now I'm going to get on with life as best as I can and not feel guilty if I decide to catch a film tonight, or laugh loudly at Comic Relief on BBC One. To be happy does not insult him or his memory; it compliments it.

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