Grandma

The children have grown up with their Grandma’s illness. Robin has no recollection of the house in West Kirby, where, in the final weeks before moving to Scotland, Susan felt the return of the cancer. Gabe has grown up and taller than his Grandma; his hesitant growth less a factor than Susan’s shrinking as the cancer occupied her spine.

The children have seen her become less mobile with each visit; less able, in the last year, to hold a conversation with them. They have seen her with a wig and with tufty hair re grown after treatment. They have seen her, on our last visit, unable to open one eye. They’ve not seen her grimace and groan with pain – not because it hasn’t been there, but because she concealed it.

When L heard that the doctors were ending Grandma’s treatment, she told the children what it meant. Each of them cried. They bore their mother spending weekends away in Scotland as Grandma declined, happy at her return. Then one day L came home early from work to collect her bag and head north in a hurry. She got as far as Preston before the second urgent call of the day told her that Grandma had died.

I told the boys immediately. They were quiet. I collected Eliza from her arts course and told her as we walked out into the sunny street. We walked home together with one arm wrapped around each other.

We spent five days at St Andrews before Grandma’s funeral, much like every other visit there, but for Grandma’s absence. Driving to the funeral, following the car taking Grandpa, L and her sisters, we talked about funerals – why it was fine to be sad and what had made some funerals sadder for me than others. Arriving bang on, if not a little late, we hurried into the room of remembrance and, despite the empty rows, managed to be separated. Gabe and Eliza sat together; Robin and I; L with her younger sister. The children sat quietly, respectfully; Robin perhaps a little curious about who was affected in what way.

After the service, the funeral’s other purpose held sway: it became a family get together, but without the person who drew us together: the children’s Grandma.

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