Death fascinates me.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking how someone can be here one minute, alive and breathing, and cease to exist the next.
It’s a strange thing to give your thoughts over to that kind of morbid fascination. But it’s not unusual.
I am slowly experiencing grief for the first time. And I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.
My grandmother has been slowly deteriorating in health for the last three years. She’s been in hospital more than she’s been in her own home lately, and I’ve watched her go from a woman who hosted barbeques and loved being around family to a shell of her former self.
From minor hospitalisations lasting a day or two to longer stays, resulting in weeks in a nursing home, year after year she just gets worse.
The inexorable decline of her life isn’t anyone’s fault. We can’t blame an accident, or a person, or even really illness. We just have to accept it, because it’s an unavoidable part of life. You’re born, you live and then you die.
There’s no way to get around the end point, no cure for the inevitable.
But this slow, drawn out process of death is what makes it hard for me, for my family, for her friends. Because as a life comes to its final moments, the world continues to spin. People move on. Friends stop asking if you’re okay. Your tragedy is old news, and your community has pushed past it.
Well, until the next one.
In many ways, my grandmother is already gone. The memories I have of her as a child are far from what our relationship is now. But she is still, and always will be – long after she’s gone – an incredible part of my life.
And the memories I do have of her, they aren’t going anywhere just because she can’t remember them.
But in these last stages of life, the memories of the two of us – of turning up on her doorstep and being greeted with bananas and ice cream, adventures in the backyard, family gatherings – aren’t being recreated. In fact, they haven’t been replicated for years.
And that is why I’ve already started grieving.
I feel lost. Part of me is slowly coming undone, knowing the world will be duller without her in it. But the other part of me is making plans, eager to grow up and experience life, and move on.
Is it selfish of me to be looking forward when she can’t? Or would it be selfish of me to instead put my life on hold for something that will happen to all of us eventually?
Right now, I don’t really believe there is a correct answer to that question. Because I don’t really believe there’s a right or wrong way to experience grief.
When she does die, whenever that may be, I hope the slow decline has prepared me in a way, so that her incredible absence doesn’t shock me to my core.
I’ve been told before that when a loved one dies, your memories change. The pain disappears, the terrible ache of their loss fades, even the way you think of their last moments – as a sick person – drift away.
What’s left are the memories of the person in the times that matter. The hugs, the laughs, the life lessons.
This is how I will choose to remember my grandmother when the end comes. I’ll remember the barbeques, the banana and icecream, the sleepovers, the family gatherings.
I’ll remember the laughs and the love.