By Meg Mulcahy
This month last year, my grandmother was rushed into hospital by ambulance, where she would remain in ICU for three months. It was sudden, prolonged and a torturous period of waiting; the unknown, flying back-and-forth to London and managing my own expectations all whilst having to exist as normal.
During the first month of her hospital stay, I also found out that a friend from school had died suddenly. I had just left my job that Christmas so I had no routine to distract me from any of it. I was trying to adjust to a new life of uncertainty as it was. This, coupled with someone my own age passing, made me aware of death in a way I hadn’t been before. I felt surrounded by it.
When she finally passed, we had to wait eight weeks for the funeral. Burial waiting times in the UK are notoriously long but we were told there was a backlog from the winter months and London is of course highly-populated. It was the end of May before we were finally able to say goodbye at an official service.
It was cruel to have to wait so long for a funeral. It was excessively drawn out and closure came slow. I couldn’t wait for it to be over so that I could start grieving ‘properly’ and stop being on edge waiting for updates or checking my phone. So far I’d been so focused on getting through the waiting period that it didn’t feel real. While she was still on this earth, I couldn’t grieve.
In my mind, I had been losing my grandmother from that day in January she went into hospital. I had been fighting a mental and emotional battle for five months before she’d even gone. I was exhausted. I hoped that the funeral would be the end of it so I could get on with being sad in peace.
However, it would turn out that there were many more grief ‘achievements’ to be unlocked. There is no light-bulb moment when you’ve reached the next stage of grief. In fact, I’m sure I’ve stayed at the same one all year.
The way that grief manifested in me was through nightmares and intrusive thoughts that made me extremely low.
For example, if you had any kind of complicated relationship with the person or hold feelings of regret, resentment or guilt, those are the thoughts that haunt you tenfold when they’ve passed away. Significant during life yes, but would torment you when they’re gone.
Little things that you never would have considered before crop up where you least expect them to. Every day, I felt numb. I wasn’t outwardly sad or sobbing so it was hard for my boyfriend to comfort me or know that anything was wrong.
I knew I was so raw that I had to avoid drinking. I felt guilty for not being more expressive and obviously morose. I handle difficult situations with humour and as my humour can be very dark, people assumed I was fine.
I also felt like I didn’t deserve to be grieving; she was elderly, had outlived all her siblings and you naturally prepare yourself for your grandparents to pass away at some point in your life.
However, she was still someone I’d lost and who had very much been a mother figure to me. Not only had I lost a person but a home.
Her death triggered a lot of trauma and stress for me. Grief is the thing that swallows you whole as you’re walking down the road to get to work when you weren’t even thinking about it. You become a tornado; completely empty but raging externally, caught up in the whirlwind of your own head. If only it was as simple a plot line as ‘loved one dies, you are sad’. For me, that wasn’t the case.
The people we’ve lost are complex characters with their own histories. We tend to romanticise the dead but it’s important to remember that we’ve also lost a relationship rather than just a person which has its ups and downs like any. How each of us reacts to that will be different. There is no ‘wrong’ way to grieve.
I knew that when my grandmother did pass it would be a devastating blow to our family but her death forced me to face a lot of other things she left behind.
Now, almost a year on, I consider grief to be a bruise somewhere hidden; a part of you that hasn’t healed and it hurts like hell when it’s pressed, but one day it will blend back in with the rest of you.
Meg is an Irish writer of articles, poetry and short stories with a blog ‘The Social Seagull’.
You can follow Meg on Twitter @TheGoldenMej.
You can read more Memory Boxes here.