Nobody tells us anything about death: not what to expect when someone close to us passes, nor how to begin processing this completely new emotion of grief.
I’m sat on my late Grandpa’s desk chair, in front of his computer in his office, writing this three days after his death. (His ancient computer isn’t letting me edit this how I normally would so if the font is too big or too small, blame Windows 98.)
I’m not afraid of saying ‘death’ or ‘dead’ or ‘died’, but I can understand why people feel more comfortable saying ‘he passed away’. It disconnects us from the reality of it a little, maybe. Makes it seem a bit less morbid.
I cried a lot when I first found out. I was in the car on the way to Gloucester to see him in hospital, as we’d been told it wasn’t looking good, when my Mum phoned. I was hoping to say goodbye, but I didn’t get there in time.
I don’t believe in God or an afterlife. I believe that when we die, our bodies go back to the earth and all that’s left of us ‘spiritually’ is how we are remembered by those we’ve known and loved in our lives. That’s it. No golden gates, no burning pits, no unfinished business. I can very openly say how I want to be dealt with when I’m dead – I want my body (or the rag that’s left of it once all of my working organs have been given to their next owners) to be put into one of those pods that they plant with tree seeds inside, and eventually I’ll bloom into a weeping willow tree. I don’t want everyone to wear black to my funeral. I want every garment to clash; blinding the grieving so much that they temporarily can’t cry because their tear-ducts are too busy trying to deflect the gaudy prints clogging up their peripherals.
It’s been a weird few days, to say the least.
My Grandma has held it together like you can’t imagine. She was raised with the Great British Stiff Upper-Lip, and hasn’t openly cried to any of us. We have, however, played around 35 games of Scrabble in the last three days and she’s beaten us all every time. Her and my Grandpa were happily married for 42 years – and they never once argued. He’s 90… Was 90 years old when he died. That’s a weird one to get your head around. ‘Is’ to ‘Was’.
Because I don’t believe in heaven or hell or ghosts, death to me (from what I have experienced thus far) is just realising that that person isn’t walking around their house anymore. I’m starting to cry just typing this… but it’s true: Either someone else will sit in his chair or it will stay empty, because he’s not going to be sat in it again. It’s the reality of that that is the hardest part of coming to terms with death. Oh bloody hell, here come the water-works…
Maybe everything I’m saying is painfully obvious, but this is the first person I’ve been close to that’s passed away. He’s the first person that I had a close connection with and for whom I am in one of the first ‘circles’ of grief, if you will – my brothers and sister and I are very much a part of this whole ‘What’s next?’ process.
People say, "I’m sorry for your loss," because:
A) What the fuck else do you say? "Good luck processing the hell out of acknowledging this new void in your life, because it’s shit and confusing and no one likes talking about it." That might not sell.
And, B) That’s exactly what it is: loss. You’re a pack of playing cards and then one day the King of Diamonds is suddenly taken out of the mix. Now the rest of you have all got to muddle along, trying to figure out how the hell to carry on without him.
This level of grief feels like someone has turned on a switch in the back of my brain that I’ve never used before. Imagine you’d never felt anger before. You’d heard about it, and you’d had some sort of basic – if distant – understanding about what it is… but you’d never actually felt it before. Not really. Then one day, someone does something truly horrific and unforgivable and BAM! That switch has been flicked and suddenly you have to try to comprehend what this new emotion is and what it means, specifically to you.
Horace Meunier Harris.
What a name! He really lived up to it, I can tell you that for free. Jazz, red wine, and outrageously-themed parties… later modified to jazz, red wine and endless games of Scrabble.
I was angry. First at my Grandpa, for dying before I had a chance to see him; then at my family, for not openly weeping into each other’s shoulders and throwing their hands in the air like some dramatic scene from a Lorca play, screaming, "WHY, GOD?! WHY?!" – which I think was more of what I was wanting and expecting; and finally at myself – for not realising sooner that everyone has their own ways of dealing with grief. I want to weep into old photo albums, laughing through my snot and tears when I stumble across photos from their ‘Showgirls and Sugar Daddies’ themed party, with my Grandma in fishnets and my Grandpa with a cigar in one hand and a silver cane in the other. Then I’ll begin sobbing again when I see how happy and in love they were… and the whole cycle will start again, until I have to put the albums away and get on with it all.
… But that’s not what everyone else wants, and I’ve got to learn to deal with that – at least while we’re all here in their house together.
We’ll organise the funeral and say our pieces and then go back to our lives; trying to figure out the next steps from there.
A bit like the blog I wrote about my cancer, I really don’t know how to end this piece. I guess I’ll just have to start putting my own words into action and live on with just my memories of him. No golden gates, no burning pits, no unfinished business. Just him sat in his armchair, the corner of his smile reaching up to a dimple when nobody else was looking – the sparkling glint in his eye making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.
Here’s to you, Grandpa.
"You can call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for dinner." – Horace Harris, 1926-2016.