When did you leave us?
Was it sometime in the night when you were struggling to breathe? Was it when the kindly GP gave you something to make you more comfortable? Were you unconscious? Did you hear Dad phone me and say ‘You’d better get over here, Sandra, he’s not going to survive’? How did that make you feel? Did you hear us telling you ‘we’re here’? Did you hear us telling how well you were doing, trying to keep our voices steady and bright? Could you feel our tears splashing on your hands as we held them in ours?
I didn’t say goodbye.
We’d exchanged our usual farewells the night before.We didn’t know this would be the last time we spoke to each other. I suspect this wouldn’t have made any difference to what was said. You said ‘thanks for coming’. No matter how much you tried you couldn’t make it sound sincere, although it was. It was the same when you received gifts. You always said ‘thanks’ but it was a family joke that we said you didn’t mean it, that you never liked anything you were given and would rather have had the money. You liked the football slippers I gave you though, I’m sure you did.
So I’d said ‘thanks for being such a hospital’, our Two Ronnies-style take on the word hospitable. We both said ‘see you later’.
What happens when you die?
Your neck pulsed.
And then it didn’t.
Did your spirit float up at that moment and look down on us? Dad looking at the clock, recording the time of death, tutting and saying ‘what a waste’. Mum wailing. Me sitting, still holding your dead hand. We made you more comfortable by laying you on the sofa. We covered you with a sheet, not over your face though. You looked asleep. I combed your hair. We had a cup of tea.
I tried to find you.
I desperately wanted to know you were okay. I wanted you to haunt me. I didn’t want you to leave me. I saw spiritualists, mediums and clairvoyants. All came highly recommended. You didn’t appear to any of them, although they said you did (after I had mentioned you). In my head I knew they were charlatans, taking money from the bereaved, exploiting my grief to buy more candles and angel figurines. In my heart I kept an open mind. I wanted to believe in ghosts. I wanted to hear that one word that would prove you were there.
I wanted to hear you call me by my nickname, the one you had used since we were children. The one that no one else knew about. The one you used when you wanted me to get you something or when you were beating me at Yahtzee. I still can’t play Yahtzee without crying.
Each time I tried to find you you seemed further and further away. All the time I was searching I was curling further and further into myself. I was shutting down emotionally.
I cried silently each night, feeling trapped. Not wanting to rob Mum and Dad of their last surviving child, but so much wanting to be with you. To look after you as I had always done. No one was looking after me.
One afternoon I sat at my desk, taking the first bite of an enormous cream cake. This would stuff down my feelings for a few minutes. My secretary came in. She was a friend, although I had pushed her away with the others over the past year.
She said, kindly and gently, that the cream cake wasn’t going to help. She took it out of my hand and replaced it with the Yellow Pages. It was bookmarked with a pink post-it note. I opened it to find the page for bereavement councellors. I nodded thanks, wiped my fingers and dialed.
Several months later and many stones lighter I was still grieving, but I had started to say goodbye to you. I stopped looking for your ghost and kept you in my heart instead.
This post was written as part of the Sleep is for the Weak Writing Workshop. This week I was able to incorporate all of the writing prompts, these being:
1. Write about a nickname you have been given in your life, either an endearing one or perhaps a hurtful one that cut deep. How did that nickname come about? Who gave it to you? What feelings and memories does it conjure up?
2. Tell me about a time when you had a moment of realisation and knew that something HAD to change. Did you act on it straight away? Or did it take time?
3. Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Or has someone you know? How did you interpret what you experienced? If it was someone close to you, did you believe them?
4. Share some memories of a sibling or siblings. How does your relationship with them now differ from when you were kids? For those of you who have perhaps lost a sibling, what do you remember most vividly about them? What things or places remind you of them most?
5. Tell us about a random act of kindness, either one you performed or one you received.