For Jo

On my piece last Friday ‘The light went out…’ there were many comments. One in particular begged an answer.

Jo said

I know that people are meant to go, and have to go but I don’t know how we’re meant to find peace with it. I really don’t.

You are an inspiration, it’s true, your blog speaks of the pain of your loss but also so much of the joy you find in your life.

How do you stop a death like this from tinting every happiness afterwards with a little sadness?

Coming from a large family circle we had plenty of hatching, matching and dispatching. The first death that I actually remember was in 1955; our next door neighbour had a stroke and died a week later. They had no telephone so our number was given at the hospital for emergency contact. It was suggested that May the wife, might telephone every morning for a progress report (back in those days visiting was very restricted and children under 14 were not allowed). May arrived at our house every morning before 8am and we children had to stay in the dining room out of the way for the duration. May wailed like a tragic opera singer and refused to make the phone call, mammy had to make the call and pretend that she was May! My parents were loyal and supportive in every way. May died in 1992. She never stopped wailing and instead of bringing support it had the effect of turning people away. That left a mark on me.

My father was called on at times of family bereavements to make the funeral arrangements and he involved me in the practical arrangements. I learned the importance of making the ‘Lists’ they might take 10 minutes, but it saved time and hassle further down the line. I learned how to deal with, and in which order, the undertakers, the clergy, the press and the florists. Most important of all I learned how to tell people over the phone calmly that someone had died, remembering that I was giving them shocking news. That taught me to harness my emotions.

Over the years I have known and watched many people die, from elderly grandmother, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins to a baby niece who was a victim of sudden death syndrome. I have lost many close friends as well. Not all death effects on you in the same way. Some people leave a special indelible mark on your heart.

When my maternal grandmother died, mammy, daddy and I were with her. Later that evening daddy gathered my siblings and we went en-famille (sp?) to pay our respects. We gathered around the bed where granny was laid out, looking very solemn with her hands joined. We spoke in whispers. Why do we do that? Daddy told us to kneel and led us in prayer. Suddenly from the far side of the bed one of my younger brothers burst out laughing! Daddy frowned and continued with the prayer. Brother No.3 continued laughing and indeed got worse. Daddy stopped and asked for an explanation. “I keep thinking that Granny will open her eyes and say ‘Hah! I fooled you!’ said Brother No.3. That was Granny in a nutshell, and soon we were all laughing. Laughter of love not disrespect.

Jo, my husband was ill for six years. This gave us time to prepare, to say all that had to be said. Those six years were not all suffering and grief. The time was limited so we made the most of it. We had some very precious moments, the memory of which will live on in my soul. Jack was a good teacher of how to live; he had come through some difficult times in his life’s journey, I spoke about them here and here. I might not have felt like living on when he died, but I had Elly to think about and if I was to live as long as my mother and grandmother before me, I had 30 years or more to go and that is a long, long time to stay miserable. Misery breeds bitterness in my book

Those years were not all sunshine and roses either. My mother died eighteen months before Jack and Elly left the nest for University six weeks later. My good neighbour and friend faced surgery and chemotherapy I helped with her day to day care when she was feeling ill or low. I washed and creamed her feet each evening and this gave her great comfort. When we learn to wash each others feet, we peel away barriers and build friendship (I am beginning to sound like a preacher here!).

People suffering from loss or heartbreak find their body and mind reacting strangely even in normal situations. They experience mood swings. They sometimes avoid places and people that bring up nostalgic memories and can make them weep uncontrollably. Even when you can’t have your loved one back, you may still be able to move on with your life and become a stronger human being. The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. The best tribute we can pay a loved one is to LIVE!

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

27 thoughts on “For Jo

  1. And as Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” You’ve clearly embraced life and filled your years with wonderful moments as well as heartbreaking ones. By the sounds of it, you’ve been very lucky.

  2. Darren

    I am very fortunate to know and have known great love. Jack gave be a very precious gift – Our Elly.

  3. Nelly

    some days I feel I’m the oldest person in the world 😆 I don’t know where you get the ‘wise’ bit from.

  4. I echo Nelly. For one reason or another I’ve had little experience of death and people dying so having to deal with it is still something that unnerves and confuses me. You certainly sound wise to me.

  5. Wonderfully stated response to Jo. I do think we learn how to deal with death through many sources in our lives, you certainly had good teachers early on.

  6. Well, thanks for being one of my teahcers 🙂

    I think it was a bit of a baptism of fire that the first peson I lost was my mother. And immediately after I got married.

    I tried to do some counselling about it at the time, but it didn’t work out, and now I’m dithering about trying agin, six years later.

    Is there worth in raking it up and getting upset about it all over gain, now that it’s settled down and become normal? I have to admit I’m a little scared, at this stage.

  7. The only deaths I have experienced have been animals. I was 16 when my grandmother died…I was at school and I felt divorced from it….both my parents died over 30 years ago and I was kept away from both…no-one told me how bad my father’s accident had been and my mother conned the doctors and nurses and went back to Norfolk….. Is one allowed to envy such a caring upbringing as yours GM?

    Thanks for sharing your love with us.

  8. I am not obsessed with death, and it is not something I would wish anyone to experience. My reason for these posts was that it might help somebody along the road of grief. I have no magic answers.

    I do suggest that at the time of a bereavement, to place a favourite photo of the person in a prominent place e.g. beside your bed or on the fridge. There is no harm in talking to the person through the photo. When you feel sad, think of a happier time with that person, if it included laughter laugh again NOW.

    Jo, would your mother want you to be sad for the remainder of your life? I doubt it. This weekend have a special meal and celebrate her life, talk about the happy times and raise a glass to her memory.

  9. “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” ~ by Grannymar

    I like that 🙂

    Another wonderfully rich post, Grannymar

    Thanks for sharing it and also last year’s podcasts about Jack.

    You paint a good picture, I feel like I’ve been to see a good old weepy movie 🙂

  10. GrannyMar I have no real ‘comment’ but everything you say is absolutely right. I’ve been surrounded by accidental death, sudden death and the slow effects of cancer so I know exactly what you mean. There is a fine line between coping and falling in a heap but we tread it every day. I couldn’t have put it better myself as for children being a gift? Hear hear . . . mine have saved my life in miserable times.

  11. When my mother died, after a long, physically devastating illness, her sister and I went to the funeral home for the first viewing. We stood there for a few moments, and, suddenly my aunt said, “Who is that?” And, we started laughing. We were holding on to each other and, if anyone looked in on us they would have thought we were sobbing uncontrollably. The absurdity of the situation led me to decide on a closed coffin service, and also made me realize that all we were looking at was the empty vessel that had contained the mother/sister we both knew and loved. Somehow, it made things easier.

  12. Steph ~ I loved a good old weepy movie. Madame X or Love Story, mind you I went to the latter with a bloke and he was the one to cry all the way through it! I sat there like a stone, maybe reading the book the night before was not such a good idea. I wonder whatever happened to that bloke? 😆

    Paddy ~ 😉

    Baino ~ You travelled my road!

    Betty ~ I have a couple of similar stories, as I said above Laughter of love not disrespect.

  13. You can sound like a preacher anytime you want! You are wise and this information needs to be shared with many.

  14. It’ll be 5 years this summer since my mother died … I must write about her on my blog when I can give time to do justice to her memory.

    You are a good guide to us all Grannymar … thank you …

  15. Judy ~ we all have life’s lessons to share.

    Paddy ~ good idea, write the piece for your mother’s birthday or anniversary.

  16. I read faithfully but rarely comment, but this post is too moving and inspirational . It is more a lesson on life than on coping with death, and the quote that Steph noted already is going in my little book of quotes. Thanks for a beautiful post.

  17. Welcome back Cathy, I believe there is no point in planning tomorrow if we forget to live today.

  18. I lost a dear aunt yesterday, GM. thanks for this post, it means more to me than I have the words right now. You are truly an angel!

  19. WWW

    My sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with you. Remember the good times.

  20. I’m saving this one for later. I’ve a feeling it will be comforting some day to look back on it.

  21. K8

    I hope it brings the comfort but that you will not need it for a longtime.

  22. Thank you so much for these two posts, Grannymar. My mother passed away in January after 3 years with ovarian cancer. I’ve been surprised at a couple things.

    My brother, my dad and I have been grieving differently. Your organized and practical approach to all the arrangements in Jack’s final days sounds just like what my dad did. My brother, very loyal, was marvelous that last night, keeping her comfortable, holding her hand for hours. I thought and observed, and cried very little. The long, slow approach left us lots of time to spend together, and we didn’t have unresolved issues. I miss her terribly, but she’s only as far away as my thoughts, and that’s a comfort. I hope it stays, that feeling that I know just what she would say, how she’d react to something I encounter from day to day.

    There’s a Lyle Lovett song that starts out,
    “I went to a funeral
    And Lord, it made me happy
    To see all those people
    I ain’t seen
    Since the last time somebody died.”

    It was really so good to see all those people, it meant the world to me. If I ever have to decide if I’m going to attend a visitation or funeral now, it will be yes, because it helps in a way that nothing else at any other time quite can match.

    As we sat there in the hospice, listening to her breathe, and then breathe differently, and then not breathe, the phrase that occurred to me was “the miracle of death”. I don’t mean miracle in the sense of a good thing that brings surprising triumph, but in the sense of something awesome.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  23. stwidgie’s “miracle of death” is what I remember feeling after watching my sister die in 1997 after fighting cancer so long and valiantly. If it was that hard for me, think of how difficult it must have been for her was what I was thinking, and even prayed hard for death to hurry up. Same story with my brother though I wasn’t there to witness, thank god. Death is not always the enemy, is it?

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