There was a happy post planned for today but it might have to wait a bit.
You see, my grandmother, the mother of my-mother-the-psychonaut, died last night.
It wasn’t sudden, it wasn’t unexpected and it was certainly her time.
But it’s still sad.
And most of that obviously has to do with being on the other side of the world. There are less hugs to give and receive. And with the grief comes the guilt.
The guilt, too, wasn’t unexpected. In fact, emigration comes with the unsaid acknowledgment that you probably won’t ever see your elders in incarnate form again. Did you know that, before they left, US-bound Irish immigrants used to hold “American wakes” for this very reason? Those remaining in Ireland wouldn’t see these new Americans again until after death. They faced up to that and found a way to communally mark that reality. It’s a lovely, pragmatic and very Irish idea.
Clearly I’ve missed my chance for that but, speaking from experience, there are still things you can do if you are in the unfortunate situation of grieving remotely.
1. Tell someone their story
Which is where you lot come in.
Obviously, if you get to 90 years of age a certain amount of editing is required because that is a long innings. So I’m going to tell you snippets that paint a picture of the kind of woman Joyce Johns was.
- Music was everything. She won an opera scholarship to London but then war broke out and all scholarships were declared void. So she sang for the troops instead. In fact, she was carried back on stage for an encore by American GIs stationed in Australia.
- One day when I was ten or so she was sitting on the couch with me and asked if I would like to learn diaphrammatic breathing. This little opera trick helped me no end with my trumpet playing at the time and with pranayama ever since.
- When I was fourteen and could finally choose electives at school I dropped music. For some reason this came up while we were visiting her in hospital and her face fell when I announced this. This was my first realisation that music was really important to her. I felt guilty.
- Two years later when I was singing in the (mandatory) school production, after my number (which was shit) I looked out into the crowd and saw her giving me a standing ovation and crying her eyes out. Afterward she hugged me and said she had sung on that very stage fifty years before and was very proud of me.
- Her rum balls were approximately 99.8% rum and unbelievably good. She apparently learnt this from her own mother. You see, my mother’s grandmother would make rum balls that would accidentally get all the grandchildren absolutely smashed. I have distinct memories of being about nine or ten and my mother carefully policing mine and my brothers’ rum ball intake. I subsequently found out why.
- You all know how I feel about Buffy. Well, this love affair started with the appalling, Kuzui-ruined feature film. My mother took me and my littlest brother to see it at the cinema but we had to leave about twenty minutes in because it was too scary for him. (He was five.) I bugged my mother for weeks to take me back to see it. She refused because (a) she was too busy and (b) the film was shit. Out of the blue my grandparents rang and offered to take me somewhere or go on a picnic or something. I wanted to see Buffy. But it had left the cinemas in my town and was on its final screenings at one shitty cinema three towns up the valley. So they took me to see it and patiently sat through a really, really shit film that I absolutely adored.
- Her hair was always immaculate (she was very glamorous) and yet she would dutifully don her paper hat every Christmas.
The last memory is actually from last night, after she had died. You see, my grandfather and her only husband pre-deceased her by about fifteen years. I’ve had numerous dream contacts with him, one of which has been verified with previously unknown real world information. So that is one of my very few clear comms channels.
Except it has been years since I have “dreamed” about him (in that magicy way. You all know what I mean.) And last night there he was. Telling me that he and nan are going away and that it has been a while since they have gone somewhere together. Then they were sitting next to each other on an airplane and holding hands.
2. Remember your physics
Entanglement means spatial distance can suck it.
3. Remember your metaphysics
It’s not like they’re in a physical location anyway. Do you think moving your body somewhere else on the face of the earth makes any difference? Are you waiting for them to get somewhere with cell coverage?
Funerals are for the living. If you want to talk to the dead you can do that anywhere.
4. Mark the event anyway
If funerals are for the living then presumably that includes you. Just because you can’t be at the funeral doesn’t mean you can’t formally pay your respects.
Why else do all this magic stuff?
5. Incorporate part of the deceased’s tradition
My grandmother was pretty churchy and I walk right past one of the grandest churches in all of Christendom every day on my way to work. (Extra points: The site used to be a temple dedicated to Diana. Go London!)
Synchronicitously (new word alert), the famous “death is nothing at all” sermon was first read out by Henry Holland in the very same church a little more than a hundred years ago:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
This idea comforts me a lot because I know she would/will really appreciate someone saying the Prayer For The Recently Departed in St Paul’s Cathedral. She absolutely adored London.
the soul of Thy servant Joyce,
from every bond of sin,
that being raised in the glory of the resurrection,
she may be refreshed among the Saints and Elect.
Through Christ our Lord.
You are of course all invited to play along at home via the old school and now little-used Catholic Prayer of Eternal Rest:
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the soul of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Journey well, nan.
See you in a bit.