Monday, November 7, 2011

The Funeral/Sneaky "Handling The Dead" Book Review.

My grandma passed away on August 4th, 2009.  She passed while I was a million miles away, trying to get a flight into the country.  She died while my father was in the air, even he didn't get to say goodbye.

It still feels like yesterday and I'm the first to admit that whenever I talk about her, tears well up in the back of my eyes and sadness wells up in the back of my heart and I usually have to excuse myself and have a cry. Her loss hit me hard, it was like losing my mother.

Over the past two years, time has done anything but heal old wounds.  I hate that adage.  It's not up to time to heal old wounds, that wasn't part of Time's job description and Time refuses to be held accountable for fixing your neurosis. It's up to you to heal your wounds.

So why do I feel like I'm just picking at this one?

She raised me from an infant like another mother.  Like many of my generation, I had two working parents, both very busy and not always able to ferry me to and from school or be there in the evenings when I got home.  Plus, my mum often worked nights as a pediatric nurse, so I was always over at grandma & granddad's, occupying the bed to my fullest capacity under those heavy down sheets and getting tea and biscuits served to me in the morning (I KNOW. Grandmas, right?). She was my other major female role model and taught me so many of the things I can do today.  I owe to her my powers of dance, powers of baking incredible sponge cakes, and powers of a bizarre sense of humor, among other things.

Her funeral was a disaster.

As our procession car pulled up to the front of the church, my heart was warmed seeing the droves of old and familiar faces, conjuring up many happy memories from my childhood.  Dowdy old ladies who, when seeing me in my stroller, would coo and give me sweeties or chocolates or something shiny to play with.  Those flat-capped kindly old men who smelled of fertilizer and Woodbine cigarettes, who knew my grandfather and would make sure I got home safely after coming from the garden allotment garden by myself. Alighting from the car and following the crowd inside the church, we were immediately led to the front by the usher and the reverend began. I couldn't wait to say hello to all those old folks after the service. It had been 16 years, after all. Wouldn't they be excited to see how I've grown up to be so much like my grandmother!

The eulogy was great, the reverend was warm, sincere and not too sentimental. Once it was over, my father, cousin, auntie and I made our way outside to pick the tissue shreds off our faces and mingle.

Instead of the expected embracing and condolences, the "she was wonderful"s and the "you must come over for tea before you go"s, my father and I found ourselves ostracized and avoided. Like unwelcome ghosts.

I mean it. Ignored. COMPLETELY.

They even went so far as to collectively boycott the wake we had arranged, attending a private one they had secretly planned to further highlight their disdain for us.

I had never felt so alone in my entire life. I have no siblings to deal with, my parents live far away, and I no longer have any reason to visit my hometown that I loved so dearly. I'm not sure if they knew how hurtful they were being and how damaging their effect. They were merely trying to prove a point, spiteful as it may be.

Our emigration to the US had left bitter tastes in their stagnant old mouths.  Northern English sensibilities often include a vast dislike for people who attempt to improve their lives by leaving. Viewing us as traitors, turncoats, "abandoners of the elderly", they chose to enact their bitterness and anger at us at the most sensitive and unpleasant times of my entire life.  As a result, I think I'm having a hard time moving on from her death.  It still feels so fresh, like no scab has ever formed.

I recently read the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel "Handling The Dead", which is, ostensibly, a zombie novel with a difference:  the dead are semi-cogent, less than 2 months dead, and aren't (for the most part) violent. Unusually, it not only delves into the socioeconomic and political impact of the "re-living" (as they are required to address them...the terms "zombies" and "undead" are deemed politically incorrect), but into collective emotional states within societies and dares ask one of the ultimate questions...would we really want our deceased loved ones to live again?

Ultimately, it's a book about death, life, re-life and, most importantly, letting go. What began as an anticipated gore-fest turned out to be a deeply emotional and haunting examination of our relationship to death. It helped me realize that I'm not alone in my wish to have her back, to do things differently.  Anyone who is having trouble moving past the death of a loved one should give this a read.  It's not a self-help book, but really conceptualizes grief as a collective experience and encourages the "moving on" phase of grief.

I'm working on letting it go. Slowly forcing the anger and resentment and blame and grief to coccoon itself, spark a metamorphosis and someday release it into something more beautiful, something more fitting of my grandmother's life.

To be continued. 

Cheers, Grandma! 


  1. That is a beautiful picture. I am getting weepy looking at it.

  2. Okay! I think I have it figured out. BTW..that first one/unknown, was me.