“You look bereft, Leon”
“The question is, why don’t you?”
“Don’t be deceived by appearances.”
- Lantana (2001 Film, Ray Lawrence)
My Grandmother is/was one of the most important people in my life. My mother resumed full-time work a month after I was born. My grandparents lived an hour away from them but since there was no one else to look after me, I lived with my grandparents for the whole first few years of my life until I went to kindergarten and I got to go home. I would be held up to the window and would scream and cry as I waved to my parents retreating in their cars. Years later when I’d started at school (and lived back with my parents), I would usually visit my grandparents every single weekend and during the school holidays, and I would .
Anyway, I got used to sleeping on a single bed against the cupboard doors in my grandparents room. I would scratch my name into the wood and be shocked the next morning when I saw it made a mark… I don’t know why but I still feel guilty about that. I would wake up early and sneak into the lounge room as quietly as possible and slide the door shut behind me. I would put on the TV and watch Art Attack while cutting out cardboard people and houses. My Nanna would wake up not too long after and would make me Vegemite and butter on toast. It would always be a little cold and I now only eat toast if I’ve left it in the fridge for at least 10 minutes (if you haven’t tried this with Vegemite you’re missing out). Then my Dada would wake up and come to the lounge in his pyjamas, robe and slippers with a newspaper under his arm. I would have to change the station at this point to the news. It was all he ever wanted to watch, listen or talk about. Around midday we’d catch the tram to just north of the city and go to the markets and the library on the corner. They’d take me to McDonalds and then we’d catch the tram back, talking all about the adventures of the day. At night we’d watch foreign comedies and I would feel safe knowing I was so loved by them.
Over the years my grandfather started to lose touch with reality. He’d changed so much from the man that would stop strangers on the street to talk about where they were from and what their ideologies were. He’d studies religion and politics and had walls and walls of history books. Now he was too thin for his tall frame and the same pyjamas and robe were hanging off his frail arms. My grandma didn’t know how to cope and this became painfully clear after he was admitted to a hospice and she began to deteriorate herself. I was in the hospice visiting him everyday except the actual day that he died. My friends wanted to take me out for a day to help me get through the difficult time (made even harder because I’d broken up with my boyfriend of 3.5 years during the same week) and that was the day he died. And I missed it because I was selfish, and I don’t think I’ll ever make my peace with that.
I’ll give my Nanna props here because after Dada died, she lived for another 5 or so years until the month before she was going to turn 96. This is the really hard part to talk about. I stayed very close with her, still visiting her almost every weekend and sitting with her next to the window talking about the most mundane things but yet the way she told the story, always with a flair for the dramatics, I was kept interested by her stories. Unfortunately she declined pretty rapidly after a stroke and she also went into a hospice she was never going to come out of. The day I was told she wasn’t going to recover, I lost all rationale. I cried like a child and stamped my feet in the hospital. I looked at her beautiful face and though she was barely there anymore, I have never felt the sting of the punch quite as bad as I did at that moment. I dragged my feet to the car, and climbed in, smashing my head on the steering wheel in tears. On the dive home, I was inconsolable and I kept screaming “Please don’t leave me!” as tears streamed down my face. I had lost my voice by the time I got home.
All I kept thinking of was the most simple times in my life when we’d sit on the couch chatting, or I’d listen to her yell in other languages (she was born in Egypt and could speak 8 languages) to her friends and she would laugh! She laughed all the time, a loud accented noise and I loved it. Sitting next to her was the only safe moment I’ve truly felt in my life. You know when you close your eyes in peace and think that no one’s ever going to hurt you? I doubt I’ll ever feel that way again, the feeling died with her. When I got a call a few nights later at 3am, I knew it was the call. My mother told me the nurse had called to say she was close to passing away. After I arrived, I ran down the hall, not even registering grief that was already starting to overtake me. I held her hand and we felt her heart still faintly beating until the nurse listed with her stethoscope and told us she was gone. I’ve never felt more alone than that moment. She was gone and I was all alone. That was a year and a half ago and the curling, threatening grip of grief hasn’t left me since. I cry about it sometimes, mostly at night in the dark so my boyfriend can’t see me sobbing uncontrollably. Sometimes when people talk to me and I get reminded of her, I scream so loudly in my head that I wonder why they haven’t reacted to the sound. She was the only person who understood me and loved me unconditionally. She was my only safety. And here I sit, writing something barely coherent and I can still hear the screaming in my head. She’s gone.