... visiting the sick, celebrating the bride, attending the dead, which says that if someone you love is seriously ill you should perform the mitzvah of celebrating a bride, as that is listed between sick and dead, so you kind of symbolically make more space between the two states. Two weeks ago roughly my grandmother moved on from being terminally ill to actively dying, and of course it was impossible for anyone to really predict just how urgently I needed to rush home.
During the week I had lots of responsibilities in the medical school it would have been really annoying to duck out of, though I'm sure I would have got permission if I'd asked. And at the weekend I had planned to go to a wedding with jack, so in the end I decided that I would go ahead with what I had intended to do anyway, and hope the timing would work out if I returned to my parents' place Sunday afternoon. So I travelled to Hastings late on Friday night (really annoying connection across London from Euston to Charing Cross, such that I ended up missing an hourly train by 30 seconds), and finally reached jack in a very quaint little B&B shaped like a brick castle. And in the morning we woke up and could hear and smell and see the sea, and that went a long way towards helping with being stressed and scared.
And the wedding itself was awesome, it involved an afternoon of folk dancing, mostly Morris dancing and related styles, at several locations along the sea front. It was really nice to be able to mingle with the other guests and watch the dancing and buy icecreams and chips and beer and it generally really chilled. In the evening we went indoors to a former church, St Mary in the Castle, a rather amazing venue set into the hillside. And there was more dancing, a mix of demonstrations and more participatory ceilidh dancing, and a pot-luck buffet, and some really touching speeches, and it was very much what a wedding should be, a gathering of friends and family who genuinely wanted to celebrate the couple.
I did in fact arrive in time to hold Granny's hand and say goodbye to her, though I really have no idea how aware she was by then. I mean, if nothing else she was physically quite deaf, even if she'd been mentally alert I am not convinced she would have been able to hear people talking in low deathbed voices. She seemed to squeeze my hand, and she seemed to be trying to give Mum a hug at some point very close to the end. In general I would prefer to assume people are present and their communication is meaningful, unless I'm really really certain that's not the case, and I was grateful that the nurses continued doing things like warning her when they were going to give an injection, even when they didn't know for sure she could understand. But equally I don't want to romantically project the communication I would like to have received onto another person, that's also disrespectful of autonomy.
I worked from home on Monday, and by Monday afternoon Granny still seemed to be entirely stable, so I decided to return to Keele, having no way to know how long this phase was going to last. In fact she died on Tuesday morning, so I should have rearranged things and stayed, but I didn't know that, and also I don't want to give too high a priority to being present for the last few hours of someone's life, rather than all the time we spent together in the preceding weeks and months and years. My brother Screwy had been present with Mum and Granny the whole time, and the rest of us sibs and our partners managed to get home by Tuesday evening, so we were all able to come to her funeral on Wednesday. Granny had chosen an eco-friendly woodland burial, where you use a biodegradable coffin and temporary grave marker, and within a few years there's just woodland as a memorial. Lots of Granny's friends from various parts of the local community also made it to the funeral, as well as some relatives, including relatives by marriage such as Granny's late husband's and my Dad's family. P'tite Soeur helped prepare food for the shiva, and Thuggish Poet composed and read a poem in place of the eulogy, and Screwy and Mum and Mum's brother all spoke movingly, and Dad did the practical paperwork needed when someone dies, and I likewise contributed the thing that I'm good at, leading the shiva prayers.
I wasn't sure if I should count myself as an official mourner or not; in theory you're not a mourner for a grandparent as opposed to a closer relative, but Granny had been part of our family for decades. In the end I decided that keeping a week of full mourning was over the top. So I stayed around at home on Thursday, saying goodbye to my sibs and uncle when they returned home, and trying to make myself at least somewhat useful to Mum who got stuck in straight away with cleaning and organizing even though she definitely is a mourner.
It was a really strange week, it felt like even before the funeral we were already turning Granny into a myth, which I suppose is how it works when someone dies, but still. We even had to pick out a Hebrew name for Granny, posthumously, in order to recite the memorial prayers, since Granny as an old-fashioned Liberal Jew had never used a separate Hebrew name.
A name given by death, indeed, making literal that Zelda poem that often gets quoted at funerals. I don't know that Granny would entirely have approved of even that much ritual and fuss at her funeral, but it would have been really hard for Mum and the rest of us to cope without.
The other thing I wanted to say was that my partners have been so incredibly wonderful throughout. jack did so much just holding me and being present and understanding not trying to police my emotions and helping out practically with family stuff and even emotionally with the sitting with Granny in her last days. And ghoti cycled all the way out to the village where my parents live so I could take a break from sitting at the deathbed and play in the park with her and the kids, and then made food to contribute to the shiva, which cjwatson attended in person. Friday I went back to mine and jack's house, and in the afternoon OSOs joined me. ghoti helped me to make challah to take home to parents in the evening, and in between making the bread, the children played and cjwatson and I got on with bits of work. And in the evening jack and I went to have a Friday night meal with my parents, which was extraordindarily normal. Shabbat does that, I suppose, it breaks up the week of mourning, and of course it can never possibly be just a normal sabbath, but at some point you have to go back to doing things like making and eating meals and being in a normal rhythm again.
On Saturday ghoti joined me at synagogue, and everybody was really nice to me and I was a little bit weepy and it was really good to be able to join back with my community, and to have my partner supporting me. We spent the rest of the bank holiday weekend being thoroughly domestic, getting started on painting the children's bedroom rainbow colours, and cleaning up the paint that got spilled on the carpet and splashed on the people, and sorting things out a bit at mine and jack's house, and playing a bunch of games and watching The good dinosaur together. They say you should never partner your own spouse at bridge, but we managed a very good-natured rubber with the whole quad playing together. I should give credit to the children too, they've been so affectionate but also just refreshingly focused on their own concerns and generally incredibly good for me. I haven't actively hidden from them that I'm dealing with bereavement, but I also haven't sat them down and made sure they were paying attention and explained clearly that I'm sad because my Granny died this week, so I think my emotional stuff hasn't really affected them.
Anyway, I feel a bit emotionally numb in some ways, I haven't really taken in the idea that Granny will continue not to be there in the coming weeks and months. But I do feel very confident that all my people will be here to take care of me and eachother.
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