Death is nothing at all until it happens to someone you love and someone who occupies a space in your life and in your heart. Bereavement, grief, dying - are all words we use and hear daily but what does it really mean when those words are part of your repertoire and have deep, emotional undertones.
September brought the bombshell that my babies were going to loose their beloved grandpa, that cancer had come knocking on his door and it wouldn't take no for an answer.
By October we knew he wouldn't see the spring bulbs push their delicate shoots above ground and burst into bloom.
The devastation was like a black, weighted curtain that no one could see but it smothered us silently. The children struggled to comprehend that he would not be there to see the summer sun and to do the everyday things they now cherish. " if I just say my prayers, Jesus will help, he can't die." Madeline would say. By November the move to the hospice was the only option and that in itself takes a certain kind of acceptance, you know the finish line of life is in sight and there isn't anything you can do other than watch your loved one move closer and closer to it. To our surprise, the hospice proved to be a beautiful haven where, what little time is left could be enjoyed with a hint of normality and privacy. During this time the children suffered with a lot of heartache as they had a cruel introduction to the reality of cancer ravaging someone's body and the crushing pain of knowing time is slipping away. Our visits consisted of picnics, Madeline dancing her latest ballet steps, Fin watching the football match with grandpa on his laptop, the occasional tear on hearing another of the poems Madeline had written about the best Grandpa in the world and all that she loved about him.
The plan was to spend Christmas Day at home, a last meal. Madeline said her prayers every single night.
The day before Christmas Eve we drove excitedly to the hospice planning Christmas Day and all we would do. Madeline said her prayers had been answered as we were almost at Christmas Day and grandpa was doing great!
We arrived and were greeted with a sign on the door " do not disturb". The next minutes were all of a blur as a doctor and nurse appeared and the children and I were taken in opposite directions.
Turns out, completely unexpectedly their beautiful Grandpa had passed very quickly as we were on our way. My initial reaction was to calmly ask the nurse if I was dreaming. It just couldn't be true because he was ok yesterday and he was coming home the day after tomorrow - his gifts were under the tree.
My second thought was that I had to get to the children who were sitting playing frustration with the doctor completely unaware of what was about to be bestowed upon them.
Fin went white and very quiet, Madeline was hysterical and said " I need him he can't go...." A blank space follows and I can't remember driving home.
Christmas as you would imagine was so hard, but I was immensely proud of my little beauties who through their grief still manage to think of the feelings of those around them. They reveived a telescope so that they could always look for the brightest star - and they do, everynight they look out to the sky and find Grandpa. Some may think we are mad but it brings them comfort and that's all that matters right now.
We've since celebrate his birthday and this week Madeline celebrated her birthday - and yes she cried and said she wanted to go back in time because she needed him. Needed to see him, hear his voice . She misses sitting on his knee to eat her porridge while he brushed her hair on a morning before school. It really is the little moments .
Moving forward a few weeks and the children have organised a sponsored event to raise money for St, Benedicts hospice. It's a good idea I think, a way to channel their grief. So on Saturday 19th March, Fin will walk the Roman wall to the Kevin Costner tree and hang a small bird feeder on in memory of his Gramps, his best friend. ( they used to love watching the birds in the trees in the garden.)
Meanwhile Madeline is holding a cake and coffee afternoon for them to arrive back to after the walk. It will be 2-4 at the parish rooms at St Joseph's school in Washington village. We hope as many people as possible will drop in and help us raise some money to help more people enjoy their final days in comfort, peace and love with their loved ones around them.
When someone is gone, they aren't really GONE. We can feel the empty void left behind. We can hear him in the sound of the rabbit food bouncing into the ceramic dish because that's a job the children and him did together. We can smell the wonderful, comforting smell on his clothes and in the house. It is the little moments.
We don't remember days, we remember moments.
I remember him when I go to get a black bin bag from the cupboard and realise it's the last one because he always made sure I was stocked up.
So what have we learned? We really cherish the moments more than ever because you really don't know when you will hear those words ...... " I'm sorry there's nothing we can do, you're looking at a couple of months." Life is about love and people. You loving people and them loving you.
In those final weeks I witnessed a love so deep and a devotion so strong that I don't think I'll ever forget it or recover from the depth of it. To have someone in your final days to hold your hand and love you is all you really need and if you find that, if you have that now, cherish it, it's a rare and beautiful thing.