On Friday 13th at 4.30am my maternal grandmother died. She was a devoted Christian/Catholic all her life. She used to take disabled people on pilgrimages to Lourdes and in my eyes, began to resemble Mother Mary as she grew older. She taught me to knit. Loved to sing; to hear singing. When I was seven she developed an illness called Motor Neurons that kills most people within seven years yet Gran defied death and kept on living.
Over my life I watched this red headed Boudicca lose her ability to speak. Her soft voice was reduced to a soft moan and then to silence. Next her body language was stolen. Her ability to stand, walk and dance became a memory from yesterday. Reduced to an wheelchair her hands were taken; the strength to hold a pen, hold her fork, press the buttons on her electronic communicator … It was all gradually tugged away.
In the end all that was left was her beautiful face, her smile and laughs and the spirit that shone from her.
This was her language.
As I mentioned before, on Friday morning, at 4.15am, Gran finally passed away. The Motor Neurons had wasted her muscles so she could no longer leave her bed. She was in a lot of pain. Because of the muscle wastage, her tongue could no longer steer food and water down the correct side of her throat. She was put on a high dosage of morphine, so strong that she fell into a deep slumber.
The nurses said she had a day, two at the most.
Gran raised a metaphorical eyebrow and lived on for eight. Haha, fuck you death. Catch us if you can!
A few days before death caught Gran I sat with her. I pushed the pillow away from her one good ear and we talked. Well, actually I talked and she listened. Her right eye was a tiny bit open and she communicated to me by moving her iris and occasionally released a single tear.
“Gran,” I whispered to her. “Do you remember the song that I used to sing to you when I was little?”
Silence. No movement.
“Do you remember Gran? You would be in the kitchen and I would sing that song and you’d ask me to sing it again?” I paused, pushing the pillow away from her ear so she could hear me clearly. A little tear crept from her eye. “You said you loved that song,” I reminded her. “That it made you think of flowers …”
Through the tiny crack of her eyelid, I could see her eye moving as if in acknowledgement. I don’t think she remembered the song …
“I’ll sing it to you,” I whispered. Prayed I could get it in tune. Didn’t want to torture Gran with bad singing when she could do nothing but lie there and endure it. I took a deep breath and did the best I could do. Then again. Then one more time.
Another little tear from Gran’s eye.
Over the years the two of us had sat for many hours in her living room ,talking about spirituality and the meaning of life and our passions to contribute to humanity. Unlike her, who had gone to church religiously, Gran knew I had a library of issues regarding organised religion, so we didn’t really go there. Instead we talked about the way God/Consciousness pervades everything and the enduring power of love and creativity.
Back then Gran was able to keep up her end of the conversation on a Hawkinite electronic communicator. Her responses took ages to write and if she made a spelling error, she would go back and painstakingly correct it. I am possibly the most impatient person in the known galaxy, but I never finished Gran’s sentences for her … even though I’d guessed them five, ten minutes before and was now tortured by endless rewriting.
And now, in this final conversation, we talked about God. I referred to her God and she referred to my Goddess and we knew they were one and the same. I told Gran that I thought we should say what she would call a prayer and I would call a ceremony. Using language and imagery, I wove images of angels – Micheal, Gabriel, a bunch of others that turned up, two Indian Goddesses in golden saris and some other faceless beings, into ring around her.
Again, a little tear fell from Gran’s eye. I touched it with my finger tips. They felt leathery and rough against Gran’s porcelain skin. I couldn’t even feel the wetness of the tear, so insensitive my fingers have become it seems!
Finally we communicated about dying and the bridge and what was coming and fields full of flowers – cornflowers and blue bells – and dancing and singing and roller skating and rainbow colours.
In that moment Death and God/Life/Everything seemed very much the same thing.
Irreverence and reverence went out the window … Death and Life simply swirled together into two entwined spirals that became an all encompassing love, spiralling, spiralling, dancing, merging and blurring.
Gran let out her last little tear, like a whisper.
Then the conversation was complete.
“How long has she been awake for?” I asked my mum in a low voice as I came out of Gran’s bedroom and into the kitchen.
My mum looked surprised. “She’s not awake.”
“But … yes she is. Her eye is open.”
“Her eye is just like that. It has been open all day and all night.”
“But she was crying …” I paused, baffled and bewildered. “And she was answering me by moving her eye. We talked about … ” My voice faded away.
They say that when someone is about to die, that their hearing is the last thing to go. Never before had I felt so much like someone was consciously listening … even the awake people. It was the most sacred, surrendered, cradled conversation (if it was a conversation and not me talking to myself) that I’d ever had. The whole experience left me feeling a bit strange; disjointed. Like I’d been asleep and dreaming, but believed a dream to be real and now I wasn’t sure whether the boundaries between the two crossed.
Frowning inwardly, I went home to the Sanctuary.
A day and a half later Gran died. All this is part of the reason why I haven’t managed to get on here again all week.
This was the song I/we sang.