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.
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.