I remember the night my grandmother died. She was 79 years old and she was the only grandparent I had ever known. All of the others were dead years before I was born. She was my connection to the past, the family history that I was and am still so fascinated by.
She was a quiet and dignified woman, reserved, yet possessing a sense of humour that would see her apple cheeks and little round belly vibrate with laughter. I would spend every weekend I could with her, escaping from my large, unruly family to the sanctity and silence of her home, a few miles from my own. She would let me sit curled up by the fire reading or writing or simply dreamily watching the flames, spinning stories around them. She gave me the peace and stillness that I needed to be fully me.
She had the softest, smoothest skin, with no visible lines and her long silver hair was worn up in a tidy bun. She would brush it out around her shoulders before she went to bed and it fascinated a little girl who was never allowed to grow her lush thick jungle of hair longer than a little below the ears. She was a tiny woman, less than five feet tall and she lived long enough for me to tower over her by exactly two inches. I loved her and there was never a moment in my life when I doubted that she loved me.
I was fifteen when I realised that my grandmother was dying. No one told me. I think I knew even before she did. They say that animals can smell death and I believe that that unfettered part of my animal brain, caught the scent of death from her long before her inoperable bladder cancer was diagnosed. I visited her more often. I brought her little gifts, sometimes some pretty ornament or scarf, sometimes her favourite strawberry tart. In those last few months, she could eat very little and eventually even those favourites were inedible. She was my first experience of the way people you love begin to fade in front of you, like cartoon figures being gradually erased, layer after layer obliterated, until there is only a shadow caught half way between this world and the next. She was my first experience of death.
On the night of her death there was a gathering of almost all of her adult children in her home as she lay in her bed barely conscious. We took it in turns to sit with her. My aunts and my mother were weeping in the kitchen as they kept the kettle boiling for the endless cups of tea that seem indispensable in times of trial in any Scottish or Irish household. I had volunteered to sit with granny and as a fifteen year old, sensible way beyond my years, I was trusted to be her guardian while the others grieved downstairs.
As I sat beside her bed, she was moaning softly, in excruciating pain. I wiped the beads of sweat from her already deathly pale face and moistened her lips with small drops of water which seemed to help. She was barely aware of my presence. This courageous little woman who had single handedly raised eleven children after the death of her husband, deserved better than this. A devout Catholic, she walked to Mass, every morning at 6.30a.m. regardless of hail, wind or snow. She was the most faithful of faithful servants and I was so angry that this is how she had been rewarded by the God in whom she placed such trust. I sat and I prayed as I had never prayed before. I told God about my anger. I told God that she deserved better treatment than this. I stormed heaven with the intensity of my pleas that she be released from her pain, that she be allowed right now to enter the heaven that she so fervently believed in.
As I prayed, something quite extraordinary happened, something I had no conception of, something beyond my experience. It started with a feeling of the deepest most serene peace engulfing me. Then the whole room seemed to take on this gentle golden glow, as if I had been transported to another dimension. I knew with absolute certainty that my prayer had been answered and that my grandmother would make her transition that night. I was filled with such quiet joy. I knew at the deepest level of my being that there is no death. I knew that the body she was leaving behind was not my grandmother. I knew that the essence of who she is, her soul, was eternal and that I could never lose her. I simply knew and in that knowing, was the most amazing sensation of love. I was complete, whole, at one with the divine and there was no separation. There never could be.
For the rest of the evening, until we went home, I comforted my family and the serenity of the experience remained with me, cloaking me in this transcendent joy that I will never forget. At two in the morning, as I lay sleeping, I woke to find my grandmother sitting at the bottom of my bed. I knew she had passed and she had come to let me know. I smiled at her and as she disappeared, I thanked the Light for her freedom and slept without a tear. The following morning, my mother told me that granny had slipped away at 2a.m.. I cried once after her funeral and I cried no more. She was at peace and I knew beyond doubt that life truly is eternal. I did not grieve for her passing. I rejoiced in her liberation from a body that no longer served her bright, shining spirit.
I remember my grandmother. I remember our love. I remember a door opening to another world.
Maria Stepek Doherty
For a transformational change in mind