This post is not about silence in the usual sense.
It is not about the silence of libraries and waiting rooms, broken only by the occasional cough or the shuffling about of things and people.
Neither is it about the silence of the oppressed or marginalised.
It is not even about the silence of mid-night or early morning, when the streets are empty and the air is still.
As I write this, it is almost seven weeks since my grandma passed away. I will schedule this post to publish at more or less the seven-week mark.
I’m not sure why exactly it’s taken me this long to write about this. It’s not really that it’s been hard to talk about (especially after reading Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes). Part of it is simply that I didn’t have the time, energy or words.
But I know if I don’t write this, these thoughts will just continue to swirl around in my head indefinitely, waiting for an outlet. So, I suppose, this post is about my silence of the last seven weeks — the silence of loss.
I received the news of my grandma’s passing on October 15th, just as I was about to start work. The news hit me hard — a lot harder than I could have expected. The tears came, and as much as I tried to suppress them, they insisted on flowing. There was a physical pain too, like heartbreak but more extensive.
I would say my mind went into a spiral, but even that seems too orderly a trajectory. I tried to rationalise, tried to hold on to something logical. I remember searching for reasons to explain why I felt so upset.
Objectively speaking, I wasn’t that “close” to my grandma. We lived in different states the whole time I’ve known her, and at most we’d visit once every year or two. My mum called her frequently (usually in the evenings when calling charges were cheaper — this is from before the days of mobile plans with unlimited calls), but I was rarely part of these conversations.
I found it interesting that one of the things people seemed to want to know, when I told them my grandma passed away, was if I was close to her. It seemed odd that this should matter, as if it would justify my grief and make it more understandable. But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe there weren’t that many people who asked about this but, rather, I volunteered this information, confused at why I was so disproportionately upset.
As in just about everything, my mind just wanted to understand.
In reality, I think the two questions people asked most were about the circumstances of her death, and how old she was. It seemed to me that people wanted the reassurance that she went peacefully — not for themselves, but for me. I appreciate that it can be hard to console someone who has lost a loved one, so it is natural to want to highlight a peaceful passing, and a long life. I understand this, and hold no ill-feeling here.
I just find it interesting that a long life — at or above average life expectancy — is intended to be a consolatory thing. What about quality of life? A long life does not necessarily equate to a happy, fulfilled life. A number is still just a number. But it’s a curiosity — I get that, and it’s fine. But I cannot truthfully say how happy she was in the last years of her life.
It’s interesting, also, that being able to foresee a death is expected to lessen the grief, pain and sadness. What I found out was that the impact and the emptiness that followed were not attenuated by prior expectation.
Perhaps there were other factors: perhaps I was too submerged in my own world to see it coming, or perhaps unrelated circumstances had already put me in a fragile state of mind. Perhaps it was like knowing a storm was brewing, but not seeing the lightning, so that when the thunder came, deafeningly loud, it was still a shock.
I thought about a lot of things in that first hour after finding out.
I thought about my mum, and how she must be feeling. And I thought of her siblings too (my aunts and uncles). I was glad my mum had already flown down to visit, many weeks earlier, and was still there when it all happened.
I thought about how I should have taken some time off to visit. I had visited earlier in the year, but was thinking of going back before the end of the year.
I thought about other times that I had visited. Such a big, wondrous city, and all I wanted to do was sit by her bedside and read while my mum talked to her, or while she watched TV, or even while she just napped (although I think she rarely napped while there was company).
I thought about how my grandpa had passed away while my sister and I were both in the middle of final uni exams, so we did not attend the funeral. I thought about how I no longer have any living grandparents, and how oddly upsetting that was.
As time progressed, I wondered how I would tell other people. Who would I tell? Surely it wasn’t necessary to tell everyone. I just didn’t want people feeling sad and awkward.
I wondered how long would be an appropriate time to grieve, to mope and wallow. I wondered at how sadness could be put aside or put away, and how everything could just continue as it had before.
9 thoughts on “silence”
The only “advantage” I’ve ever seen in knowing someone would die fairly soon is the opportunity to say goodbye or to say anything else that might need saying. I haven’t found that knowing someone would die makes the actual event any less painful. Intellectually, I’ve tried to “prepare” but you really can’t. As you were saying, deaths can release emotions in us we never saw coming. I’ve also thought that just because someone is old, it doesn’t make their death easier for the people mourning; in fact, the longer someone lives the more lives they can touch and if not that, the longer they live the more it seems like they will just go right on doing so.
I am not sure why death still surprises me but it does.
Thanks for sharing this.
Your last point about how the longer someone lives, the more it seems like they’ll just keep going – I think that’s how I feel about the older people in my life. As much as I’m aware death is a thing that happens etc etc, it’s still a shock to the system (I guess especially so if it’s someone that’s been alive for the entire duration of my own life)
Yes, like they’ll always be there, just like they have been.
I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I would think that writing about your grandmother’s passing could help you work through your feelings. I remember being more upset by the death of my grandmother to whom I was less close than my other grandma. Maybe because I was still a child, but I think it was partly because I realized that I would never again have the chance to get closer. Death is final in that way, but we still have our own memories related to the person who is gone, and possibly you can be there to listen when your mom wants to share some of her early memories, as well.
Yes, indeed, writing always helps me work through my thoughts and feelings. I also appreciate hearing about other people’s experiences and their thoughts on things (hence why I shared on this blog), so thanks for commenting 🙂
You make a good point about death being an ending – the final closing of a door. I guess that really factors into it for me too. But, yes, there are always memories – my own and others.
I’m so sorry for your loss. I think Becky Ross Michael has touched a truth: Death closes off future opportunities of interaction with the person we’ve lost. In my case, at my age, there’s also the shock of losing a part of myself: There’s now no one left alive who knew me as a baby, or a child, and fewer and fewer who knew me as an adolescent or a young adult. No one to share certain “in” jokes with. It’s a personal diminishment, in addition to mourning for the person who’s gone. ❤
Yes! I think that’s a big part of why this was so upsetting for me, knowing that the “adults” of my younger years are, indeed, mortal. Well said.
I’m so sorry for your loss. There is no one way to do grief. I hope writing about it has helped somewhat with processing, but also it can be a very up and down experience.
Three out of my four grandparents passed after long-term significant health problems (the fourth passed quite suddenly, but when I was too young to understand). For all three, it was very drawn out, everyone knew it was coming, and in at least two cases the grandparent was more than ready. Nevertheless, it always dregged up things for me that I didn’t expect.
Writing this really did help. And hearing about other people’s experiences and thoughts has helped too. It seems that even though everyone’s experience of loss and grief might be different, there are common elements we can relate to, and that in itself is comforting