So my grandmother died.
Different from the last bereavement. No hammering grief, no enveloping remorse for stuff unsaid and things not done. Just a deep, deep sadness that sooner or later people just… stop. I’ve seen people ill before – I’ve never watched them literally dying. A Sunday-supplement features writer might knock off the phrase ‘strangely beautiful’ but it’s not – it’s fucking depressing and I don’t want to see it again.
Is it acceptable to treat death with humour? Certainly the first draft (‘My grandmother has died!!!’) seemed inappropriate. But we all die. If it’s amusing to humiliate people in the street for TV light entertainment, then I can’t tread too carefully around such a universal experience. Humour, perhaps, but not light-hearted.
I suspect Gran was slightly disreputable at heart. By my understanding she grew up in a terribly ‘proper’ working-class environment; best china and a front room that was never, ever used. So what prompted her to bugger off to London to get a job? To become a pianist in a dance band? To marry a rough-and-ready Australian larrikin who at the time had only one leg?
(He lost the other one later on, it wasn’t that the first one grew back).
And then Granddad became ‘Mister Melbourne’, cheerful host of what are now the Hampstead Tea Rooms, and graduated to some form of Arch-Grand-Wizard of the Masons, and they settled in to NW3 respectability. But I still can’t square this with the lady who first got me pissed – standing there with a worried and slightly sheepish look on her face as I spewed cheap Majorcan sangria from my twelve year-old guts on day three of my first holiday away from my parents.
Later on in her long widowhood she moved back to my home town and became a Methodist, albeit a rubbish Methodist who had to hide the booze away whenever the vicar came to visit.
That was then.
At the end she was in hospital. I wanted her to die neither in pain nor in Basildon, but I suspect it couldn’t have been better for her. It was gut-wrenching to see the nurse’s eyes – an endless and genuine depth of care, affection and love as she adjusted the blanket and stroked Gran’s hair. It hit me for six. She was quite fit as well. I’d be happy with that in a few years.
As people, we generally care for our elderly. As a society, we process them. We look back in a sort of horrified amusement to the way we treated kids in Dickensian times (‘they sent them up chimneys!!!’). In two hundred years time, let’s look back in the same way on comfortable but soulless care homes, inedible meals on wheels, abandonment to physical and mental decline and sticking them in a room with a telly to keep them amused.