It was eleven years ago yesterday that my nan died. I should have probably started this post earlier, but I was feeling sad and I’ve made myself a bit sick so I left it too late.
Eleven years ago, the 30th of May was also a bank holiday. My grandad didn’t have a car and I couldn’t drive, so we used to go on the bus to visit my nan while she was in hospital. There weren’t really many buses going from Grays to Basildon back then. I think they were every half an hour during the week – possibly even only once an hour – but on a Sunday they were every two hours. I’m not sure there were any at all on a bank holiday, so we said goodbye the day before and said we’d be back Tuesday.
The phone rang. We had to hurry: she was taking a turn for the worse.
I wasn’t even dressed. While my grandad rang her brother to see if he could pick us up and take us to see her, I put on some music and put my clothes on.
I can no longer listen to Magic by Ben Folds Five. I just start crying. It’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful song. The lyrics just matched the situation a little too wonderfully.
When we got to the hospital, the curtains were closed around her bed and there was a note pinned to them saying something like ‘Do not enter. Please see Ward Sister.’ and we knew, we knew it was awful.
I’ll never know what time she died. I’d like to think (in the weird way of trying to find something nice out of all of this) that it was while I was listening to Magic and crying on my bedroom floor, when I should have been getting dressed, when I just knew somehow that I was never going to see her alive again and I said goodbye to her in my head. It probably happened before they even called us, though. Or maybe we missed it by minutes. I’ll never know.
My grandad, my nan’s brother and I all stood around her bed. This was my first encounter with a dead body. Grandad was very concerned about making sure she looked at peace – her eyes and mouth were open, so he closed her eyes and took her teeth out. She was fucking covered in bruises. The warfarin and the need for fluids and drugs meant she was constantly being stuck with needles and the needle pricks left huge black bruises over her arms and hands. But she wasn’t there anymore. Just her damaged shell.
I fell apart in the corridor. I started howling. I’d never lost a close relative before, and this was the woman I considered my mother. I was partially orphaned and I couldn’t cope. They weren’t ever meant to die. Her brother put his arm around me and let me sob into his shoulder. My grandad, walking a few paces ahead, spun around and said ‘Pull yourself together. I just lost my wife.’
Cold? Sure. But he didn’t want to cry, and seeing me like that wasn’t helping him. So I pulled myself together, like all the other times I’ve been told not to cry.
I don’t remember leaving the hospital.
The worst thing that my grandad tortured himself with afterwards was the fact she’d started to lose her mind a bit in the hospital. She wasn’t herself. She’d look at us with her big, brown eyes and ask us why we’d left her in a home. Why had we abandoned her there? Why didn’t we want her around? And my grandad would try to soothe her, he’d rub her swollen ankles while I used the sink on the ward to clean her teeth and hide my tears. We tried to reassure her. You’re sick, Doreen. You’re in the ‘ospital. We ‘aven’t left you. We come ‘ere every day. We want you to come ‘ome. She’d look away, with tears in her eyes. You’ve gotten rid of me, you ‘ave.
So when she died, she died alone, thinking that we didn’t love her. Thinking that the person who she loved the most in the world had just ditched her once she became too bothersome. Thinking no one cared. Just imagine that.
He would never have left her. He loved her so much. He died truly, genuinely, brokenhearted. There was nothing but memories for his heart to love, and that’s just not enough. You will never understand it.
They’re the love story I should be writing. But I simply don’t understand it either.
I can’t write any more. And I’m sick of hiding my sadness and tears. It’s too much to keep inside, and there’s still so much I haven’t told you and it’s only just occurring to me that this is an awful lot to deal with and perhaps, really… maybe I don’t deserve this?
I don’t deserve this. It really fucking hurts.