I need to write a letter for my Grandma for her funeral in a few days. I wrote this to get my thoughts in order
The night before the morning that everything changed, I had been knitting a frog.
My best friend’s birthday had already long since been and gone, but what with the looming dates of our (separate) departures to (different) universities, I was determined to create something for her.
(And she had sewn me a waistcoat for my birthday – I couldn’t allow myself to be shown up)
She had always had a soft spot for frogs.
Soft dark green wool wound around one hand, the tip of a needle poking into the pad of my opposite index finger, eyes drooping with sleepiness and my mind filled with thoughts about aliens and ashes and magic stones.
My parents were away on a camping trip with friends. They had taken the dog with them, leaving myself and my two brothers behind – my sister was also gone, having just started her new job in London. Naturally, we had all taken full advantage of the empty house, with my brothers (as per the standard) both barricading themselves into their rooms, fixated on whatever game it was that their friends were currently obsessed with. And I was distracting my relentlessly buzzing mind with knit, knit, purl and Avengers Endgame plating on the screen.
I gave up at 3:30a.m, just after Sam came through the portal, just before the real fight started.
My parents packed up their gear at 4:00a.m, just after getting the call from my aunt.
Mum greeted me with coffee the next morning. I was too tired, at first, to register anything wrong. Mum was a staple in our house, after all, and had taken to doting on me what with my upcoming departure to Scotland. Of course she was home, why wouldn’t she be?
It didn’t take long for me to remember (with the help of my dog placing a tennis ball rather hopefully in my lap) that she was supposed to be camping in Wales.
I didn’t cry, not at first.
I think, in part, that’s because I didn’t think that my Grandma – stubborn, chatty Grandma – even knew… how to die.
In truth, even now, two weeks since she officially passed away, I can’t believe it. I go around my new home in a new city, surrounded by new people that I’ve only just started risking calling my friends, when it will hit me out of the blue.
The day before everything changed, I had spoken to her. It was just three days before I would be setting off for university, and while everyone says that it’s good I spoke to her then, before everything happened, I hate thinking back to the call. Because I can remember how, at the time, I had viewed it as a chore.
Why did I need to call Grandma? I needed to say goodbye to my friends! I needed to book appointments! I needed to contact my new flatmates! I needed to start making lists of what I’d need to buy last minute for my dorm! Why did I need to spare a whole two minutes of my day to call my Grandma and tell her what she already knew?
Yes, still going to Edinburgh, Dad’s going to drive me up, yes I’m studying psychology and no, I don’t wish I had taken medicine instead. I love you too. I’ll call you again once I get settled.
So many lies in such a short phone call.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and I wish that I hadn’t taken that phone call for granted. Because less than 24 hours after I had promised to call her once I had moved in on Monday, my mum broke the news to me that she was unconscious in hospital fro a bleed in the brain, and there was nothing that the doctors could do.
I drank buckets and buckets of tea that day – all of us did. My sleep deprived mind, desperate for any sense of normality couldn’t help but picture my bones, stained brown or yellow with the dregs of tea. Drowning our sorrows in the most British, socially acceptable way possible.
(what was less socially acceptable was what my brothers and I drank that night after Mum had long since retired to bed and the three of us sat in silence that was still disbelieving in front of Thor: Ragnarok)
Grandma hadn’t passed when I moved to my apartment. I had spent almost three days at that point waiting for my Dad to call and say that she had gone at last.
Selfishly, so very selfishly, I had hoped she would pass before I got to Edinburgh. Before my mum left. Before I was alone in a new city with four strangers who I now lived with, away from family and home and anything that could have known how to bring comfort to me when the call inevitably came.
My grandma, though, being as stubborn as she was, waited until I was settled, waited until she knew I had people around me who I had met who were good people and who would look after me. And only once she knew that did she allow herself to let go.
I went out the same day that I got the call. First thing in the morning I found out that my grandmother had died, two hours later and I was fulfilling plans I had made last night to go out and see the Fresher’s fair. And I was fine. And I didn’t look at my phone, or reply to messages from concerned loved ones or allow myself to think of Manchester accents and pub quizzes.
“Keep yourself busy” had been what my grandma had advised me after I had given her the briefest overview possible of my anxiety only a few months prior. Advice I had taken grudgingly and ignored at the time, frustrated and irrationally angry at her trying to help me.
“Keep busy” was repeated to me that morning by my parents, voices clouded with emotion, having already had to call my sister and tell her the news. Their daughters living alone at opposite sides of the country and finding themselves helpless to comfort us.
As it turns out, keeping busy doesn’t always help. Because at some point or another, you crash and you can’t keep busy anymore. And it’s as though your chest caves in on itself, you forget how to breathe and there’s a fire alarm going off in your head and you’re just lost.
I hadn’t finished the frog for my friend before I left home. It’s half made – a body, a head, eye and one leg sewn together. But I left the frog behind. A coincidence that I had found funny to begin with was that my Grandma’s favourite animal was also a frog – for her 70th birthday we decorated her cake with 70 fondant frogs, which she kept on display for… frankly, way too many years.
But there’s things like that everywhere. Little reminders of her tucked into every single corner of the world. Trams remind me of trips with her to the Blackpool Illuminations when I was a kid, singing ‘Painting the Roses Red’ with my siblings and cousins with her encouragement. Empty pillow cases remind me of the party game we used to play where she’d hide objects inside one and you had to guess what they were (always the same objects, mind, trivially easy by the time you’re 19 years old and still being asked to recognise a corkscrew, a whisk and a soup spoon). Open word documents with blinking cursers and an empty brain Charity shop window displays, pub quizzes, the local pub’s weekly line dance group.
Grandma, Grandma, Grandma.
And it’s not okay. Not right now. Right now it still sometimes hits me out of the blue when I stop ‘keeping busy’. Right now I still have to remove certain Cards Against Humanity cards and my new friends tread lightly around the topic of seeing our families. And I tune out when my lecturer starts talking about how frogs communicate and can’t watch Strictly Come Dancing for more than a few minutes at a time.
In the future, though, I know it will be.