The Bench

Grief is a big emotion isn’t it? It floats in the sky, in the wind and the rain around and above you. There is a vastness to it. If it were a person it would be tall, possibly willowy, always in plain sight.

On the weekend it was the ninth anniversary of my dear Irish Grandmother’s death.

Somehow it doesn’t seem right to refer to the day someone passed, another year gone, as an anniversary.

Anniversaries seem to sit on the celebratory side of the lexicon.

Yet it seems to be the only phrase that fits.

The weekend was the anniversary of my Grandmother’s death.

It was, but in truth, it really was a day to remember the celebration that was her life.

Her goodness, her kindness, her compassion and empathy for all living things.

Her irreverence, her good humour, her ability to see the beauty in the smallest of things; and yes, on occasion, the force of her ill temper.

So many parts make up a person that it is almost impossible to break them down. To pick out the bits you like best.

It is rare to encounter a person where all the bits gel and belong together, complementing one another.

It is even rarer to say with alacrity, with confidence: I like everything you are.

Everything.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be just like my Grandmother.

I used to say it all the time.

I’m going to be just like you when I grow up. To show you that I love you.

My Grandmother used to respond by saying : Oh no, you don’t want to be like me, you want to be yourself. To be you. That is the best way to show me you love me.

We learn so much from those we love.

Every year since my Grandmother’s passing my mother, sister (sometimes sisters) and I have gathered in a church in Sydney to remember her. We light candles, we pray, we even attend Mass. After everything I have said and thought about the Catholic church in recent years it is hard for me to sit in a church. I do it because I know my Grandma is up there laughing at me squirming in my seat, saying : Gotcha, my girl.

This year my mother refused to spend the day with me.

My sister, who would never dare to defy my mother, followed suit.

There is a mental ache akin to strong physical pain. It is like being blasted with a shotgun at close range and blown backwards into a wall.

I have been aching for over a week.

I am not shocked, just stunned at the lengths and breadths to which people will sink.

Over things that don’t matter.

I didn’t go to church this weekend. I couldn’t face it alone.

Instead I wandered through the park like some character in a Victorian novel, metaphorically gnashing my teeth and tearing at my hair.

I was feeling agitated and directionless.

Then I saw the bench.

Tucked up on a verge by the wattle and bottlebrush. I had never seen it before in my thousands of trips to the park.

I couldn’t believe it was there. Perched. It reminded me of the tiny wooden bench my great grandfather, the famous, garrulous, sometimes scurrilous Paddy John Andy made, placing on a copse facing the sea for the little people to sit on and watch the waves. I loved that bench. I used to sneak out of my room at night to see if any of the fairy folk used it.

Seeing the bench in the park, it was as if an invisible thread had shot out from the past right into the present, linking old places with new places, one side of the world with the next.

I couldn’t get up to that bench. There was a steep rocky ledge to contend with and the ground around it looked a little unstable. I enjoyed and related to the wildness of it. It seemed to fit.

So I sat nearby and looked at it. And listened to the wind and the birds. Gathering. Drinking it in.

And I found that all of a sudden I could be still. And the grief split and dissolved like shadows sucked under water.

And once again the ancient spirits of the park offered me solace.

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23 thoughts on “The Bench

  1. Oh Selma. I wish your mum had absorbed some of your grandmother’s wisdom: “Oh no, you don’t want to be like me, you want to be yourself. To be you. That is the best way to show me you love me.” It doesn’t sound like your mother wants you to be you. I don’t think your grandmother said “Gotcha” this year; I think she sent you a message that she still loves you for you.

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  2. Hi Selma,
    Beautifully written, I did enjoy the read.
    The Bench looks like someone put a lot of love into it at some stage, the carvings on the legs, the patterns in the middle across the back, it would of been very nice when it was new. It even looks like there may have been a light or something similar by the pole near the bench.
    A picture can tell a thousand story’s depending on who is looking at it, and what their thoughts may be.

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  3. Hi DAOINE:
    You’re going to make me cry but I do think you’re right. Thanks for saying that, hon XXX

    Hi MAGS:
    I agree. I’ll try and find out where it came from because it doesn’t look like a standard park bench. I’m sure one of the older locals around here will know. There is definitely a story behind it!

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  4. OMG, you are really getting into the spiritual!
    My Irish granmother had more influence on my long term direction than my mother or father, even more so as I aged. Now, I realise I spend more time discussing (their) serious issues with some of my grandchildren than I ever did with my children for whom I needed to provide control along with support. As a grand father, I can offer a judgement free zone.
    So, I expect your grandma’s spirit will be with you all your life and as time passes you will say with even more comviction, “I like everything you are. Everything.”

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  5. How special that a bench is on both of our current posts, different reasons of course.

    Oh Sel, I felt so sad reading this. I am SO sorry for how your family treated you during this weekend and for all the other hurts and slights before this. They are the losers in all this. And I’m sure your lovely grandma is pis…..at them, big time. She sounds like a woman of grace, humor and real depth. How I remember my Big Ma too. How I miss her as well.

    Hugs to you and your dear Gran. She is with you, every single day. G

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  6. I cannot think of a single thing anywhere in this universe that would make me reject my daughter. Honestly. Even if I found out she was a serial killer and she told me it was the truth, she would still be my daughter and I would love her, unconditionally.

    I wonder waht your mother is thinking. How did her love become so conditional? So faulty?

    Selma, I say it everytime you bring your mother up but I will repeat it, this woman is not someone you need in your life. She needs to get sense and the meaning of love before you let her in again.

    You can’t believe how furious this gets me.

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  7. Oh Selma. I’m sorry you had to be alone on that day. I had a similar relationship with my grandmother. And when the anniversary of her passing comes every year I am saddened deeply. Im pleased to hear you found that bench and it helped to ease your grief.

    Sending you love and hugs!
    xoxoxo

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  8. You had a wise and wonderful grandmother – must have skipped a generation straight down to you 😉 Your opening 2 lines are wonderful. That seat is lovely and amazing you hadn’t seen it before – maybe check in a few weeks to see if it has gone.

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  9. Hi STAFFORD:
    It’s one of those weeks given to contemplation, I suspect. I think my Grandmother’s influence will stay with me for good. I hope so!

    Hi JENNIFER:
    I think so too. It’s possible it has been there all along, but I like to think it just appeared recently ……

    Hi GERALDINE:
    We were definitely linked by the benches. That is quite amazing. I am glad your Big Ma had an influence on your life too. I love her name!

    Hi LAURI:
    I wonder the same thing too. I don’t have a daughter as you know but I could never, ever reject my son. There is nothing he could do that would make me turn against him like that. It has upset me so much that I don’t really know what to make of it. I am furious too. And sad…

    Hi MAMA:
    I was OK in the end. The bench really did help!!

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  10. Hi MELEAH:
    I know how much you adored your grandmother. We are lucky, aren’t we? My life would have been quite different without my dear Gran!

    Hi GABRIELLE:
    I’m definitely going to keep an eye on it. It has probably been there all along, but you never know, maybe someone put it there just for the weekend.

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  11. Just stopping in to leave another hug. Hope you are having a much better day today.

    PS: I guessed purple re fav colors, how’s that for vibes!!! I don’t think I read that here.

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  12. lovely photograph selma, it gives another dimension to the words, and these kinds of anniversaries are so poignant. and so beautiful a remembrance of your grandmother, i can almost see her, bless her
    and you ((((hug))))

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  13. Lovely bench and beautiful pic Selma. Does it help your pain to think that if your mother hadn’t been so daft and mean, then you wouldn’t have walked in the park and you might not have seen the bench?

    Ignore your foolish mother and keep on being yourself, just as your grandmother would have wished.

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  14. Hi GERALDINE:
    That is amazing. But I have always thought you were very intuitive. I actually have a purple suede jacket that I still wear. And it still looks good. I love my purples!

    Hi TIPOTA:
    Awww. Thank you so much. Your hugs are much needed and even more appreciated. XX

    Hi PUDDOCK:
    That is so true. I would never have seen it. Being myself is the greatest tribute I can pay to a woman who meant so much to me. Thank you for your wisdom X

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  15. I too had a strong bond with my Grandmother, who also passed away around the same time as yours. Like you, I wanted to be like her and in many ways I am. Somehow, the genes skipped a generation. 🙂 Just today, I was talking about the lesson she left me when she died… that I don’t have to fear death anymore. It was a great fear for many years, but it disappeared the moment I stood up in front of everyone at her memorial and delivered the eulogy as her eldest grand daughter. Never in a million years did I think I would have the courage to do that, but I did and it felt so natural because I knew she was with me. And you know what? Just like your Gram, mine is with me in spirit and in action every single day. And like you Selma, every now and then, I am given the gift of grace to allow me to feel her presence more deeply.
    This is a bittersweet piece you have written……. beautifully. I am glad you found that sense of solace. It’s an amazing feeling when it lights up in the soul.

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  16. Hi DANA:
    I am glad you have that connection with your Grandma. It is such a gift to have. WOW. You have blown me away with your point about no longer fearing death because I don’t either, any more. I used to worry about it all the time. Coming to terms with my grandmother’s death has helped me deal with the fear no end. It is a relief in many ways. I don’t want to spend the time I am alive worrying about when I’m going to die. It is a pointless exercise. Solace is truly amazing. Amen to that XX

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  17. I would’ve gone to church with you, Sel. And we could have honored our respective grandmothers for filling the nooks and crannies in our minds and hearts with all that is magical in this life. You’re not alone. Hmmm, I wonder why your attention was drawn to that particular bench… I’d put my money on your grandmother having been sitting on that bench and waving at you…telling you to keep on being yourself, and to forget anyone who would expect otherwise. xoxo

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  18. Hi VIC:
    I am really touched that you said that. You give awesome hugs XXXX

    Hi STEPH:
    We would have had a blast together. I think my grandmother was there in some way. I could feel her spirit. Now I feel a little less alone. Being ourselves – it’s the most important thing, really!

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  19. As sad as it will be, I think that you need to spend some time apart from your mother. Total communications blackout – just for a while. Maybe your absence will make her heart grow fonder?
    I’m sorry about what happened to you, on this of all days. Despite our differences, you would think that the ones closest to us would put aside any petty issues that they might have for an occasion such as this. The loss, however, is theirs.
    Look at it like this – you have now found your own place to go and remember your beloved grandmother. I firmly believe that those loved ones that go before us also watch over us from some ethereal plane of existence, because the bonds of love that bind us are unbreakable. When you think of that bench, think of your grandmother, sitting on that bench, smiling at you. Remember all the reasons why she was such a good person, all of her positive attributes. Most of all, remember how much she loved you. Find peace in that.

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  20. Hi MANOJ:
    I have really missed the wisdom of your commentary. You really are such an insightful, sensitive person. I am really grateful to know you!!

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