The second time I flew to Australia I was 26. Mike was waiting for me in New Zealand and I stayed back to spend some time with my family before heading overseas. At the time, my grandma was 81 years old. She had lived down the road from us my entire life. Whenever I had the chance (whether it was a flight across the country or a train ride down from Toronto for the weekend) I made sure I spent a few days with her.
She was incredibly intelligent, elegant, poised, and had such social dignity that I’m pretty sure I only ever heard her cuss once in my entire life. She had her hair styled once a week, and never began a day without lipstick. In fact one night after a tumble, she refused to be taken out on a stretcher at 2:00am until she had her lipstick. She was beautiful. She had lived in her humble apartment from my younger years until I was well into adulthood. Everything in the space was just so, perfectly placed. I would catch myself watching the small rainbows scatter around the living room in the late afternoon. One small crystal hummingbird had captivated me at an early age. The way the light dazzled the room calmed me. It was mesmerising. My sisters and I all loved her equally, she was incredibly loving and patient with us.
I knew I would be gone a long time, and during my visit I could sense a deep rooted sadness in her. Over the few days we ate together, watched wheel of fortune and she would chat while I listened. One evening I opened a conversation between us, armed with a pad of paper and some questions. I started with simple questions, and then dug deeper.
“What is your favourite Colour?” “If you could be any animal what would you choose?” “How old were you when you had your first kiss”
There was so much about this amazing woman that I did not know, and I couldn’t bear to think I’d never get the chance to ask. I interviewed her, with questions I had written for her. My grandmother had a story. She wanted to share it with me, and I wanted to hear it She hand wrote her answers for the first page, and from that point on asked if I could take over. I wrote at a mad pace for three hours. She shared precious moments, sad, silly, and also triumphant memories. We had spoken before, many times but she was now getting the chance to have it written down. When we finished, she thanked me.
A few days later I had to leave for Australia, I hugged her goodbye, she gripped me tight. She was soft and warm. I could smell her familiar perfume, Chanel 9. When I pulled back to see her eyes, she was crying. My heart clenched. She struggled to speak when she said to me “I don’t think I’m ever going to see you again”.
I’ve never felt that kind of pain before. Knowing that I was hurting her…hurt me as well. I told her she must hold on, and wait for me to return. She must meet Mike. She smiled at me and said she would wait for us to come home again. I gave her another long hug, and by that point I was crying too. I debated internally whether I should stay home. I felt torn between her loneliness and my need for adventure. I told her I wished I could take her with me.
I cried all the way to the elevator, over the concrete walking blocks and eventually regained my composure before I got home. I didn’t know if we would see each other again either…
While we lived in Melbourne, I would sometimes wake up with a feeling of dread. I’d wake in the night and feel unsettled. I would think of her alone in her apartment and feel so guilty for being so far apart. When it was a decent hour I would call her. Some time passed, and we found ourselves moving to a Cattle property in Western Australia. I began to show her more of this amazing country. I sent her a stack of my favourite photographs. I would post her cards, and call her when I felt a tug on my heart. When I found myself in the hospital for burns, she kept me company. During my stay she would call me and we’d talk for hours, often she would say she had to go, and then the conversation would spur on for another 20 minutes. My injuries scared her but she was brave and never made me feel any pity.
When I was better and back at work, she would ask me about our life on the farm, and one day exclaimed that we were boring (we were in a bit of a routine!) and then enquired if she could come and live with us. I joked that we’d need to seal off the house and get better air conditioning (she’d whither in the heat), but that we’d love to have her. I could hear her laugh and light up. I really wished we could have brought her to Australia so she could see it just once. I did my best to describe it to her on the phone.
Time was passing quickly, and as the months drew near, Mike and I were destined to arrive in Canada for my sisters wedding.
We spoke frequently, both excited that we’d meet again soon.
We got on the plane, and four days later touch down in Toronto. Dad collected us, and we drove down to Welland together. We weren’t home more than 3 minutes when I led Mike down the road. There was someone very important waiting on his arrival.
She radiated joy, she was more beautiful than I remembered her. She looked fresh, healthy, and joyful. She was very social attending a family barbecue and also came to my sisters wedding. We spent three days with her afterward, squeezing in as much time as we could. On the last morning, we were due to leave; she looked so happy. I hugged her…and this time it was my turn to shed tears. I couldn’t tell her what I was thinking.
We flew back to Western Australia.
10 days later I got the call that she was dying. I couldn’t anything but sit and wait and hope for the best. Upset, I continued to work. Shortly afterward she passed. I was unaware, in a paddock driving with Tessa at the time; when I counted 6 rainbows. We were in a rush to evade a massive storm that was heading straight for us. The rainbows were beautiful. When I looked at the time she passed, it coincided with the time we were in the paddock. I knew she was happy, and she had ended her life on an amazing high note.
Eventually when it sunk in that she was gone, I was absolutely depressed. I couldn’t think straight, I’d go into a daze at work, and felt really disconnected from my surroundings. I caught a flight home and unleashed a fury on my family during my two week stay. I was furious, hurt, sad…I fought with everyone. I’d never dealt with a loss before. She was such a massive part of my (and my sisters) lives and was no longer with us. I grieved for her. I was so angry.
One of the hardest parts for me was watching people evaluate her items, to paw them and decided what was worth keeping for themselves. I struggled with the entitlement the infiltrates a family when there is death. An entire life under scrutiny…
Have you encountered this at the passing of a family member? Has your reaction to the death been outside of your normal behaviour?
When everyone had left our family home, only my sisters, father and I remained. I looked at items packed in boxes and reminisced. I tried mentally to place them where they had been in her living room. I was looking at a pair delicate scissors wondering if they were kept in the bathroom or the kitchen, when I caught a glint of something clear in a vase. It was the humming bird. I held it delicately in my hands and smiled.
The little crystal bird came back to Australia with me, and she’s been living with us in our windows ever since. She’s seen Eneabba, Coroow, Wembley and now East Perth.
She scatters her rainbows in the early morning light, and when I catch a glimpse of her pretty little colours I can’t help but smile.
It has only been one and a half years since she left us here. Sometimes it’s painful, and other times I reminisce and feel very lucky to have known such a wonderful woman.
I miss her every damned day.