Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Letter to Death on the Anniversary of Nan's Death

Two white lilies on a grey background, one still in the process of blooming

Ever since seeing Collatoral Beuaty, I have wanted to write my own letters to Love, Death and Time and other abstract concepts, like Howard does, but for other reasons. This is my first letter.

Dear Death,

It's been two years today since Nan died. Two years.

I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in heaven or the afterlife, or anything like that. Nan has simply gone. However, I like the idea of you being some kind of entity, one who looks like Helen Mirren rather than those images of the Grim Reaper we see. Having this imaginary idea makes me look at Nan's death in a different, helpful way. The idea of Helen Mirren turning up, sympathetic and sad, to take my nan's hand and lead her away from her pain and suffering feels good. Rather than focusing on what you took from me, from my family, I instead think of the peace and relief you gave my nan.

I stop thinking about how unfair it is, I stop thinking about how angry I am. Or rather, I'm less angry that she died, but still angry that cancer caused her to die. It's probably a mercy that she died when she did, because I don't know how Nan was coping with living in that body; the memory loss, the lack of hand-eye coordination, meaning everything had to be done for her, being so weak and exhausted she was bed bound. And the pain, the pain that was only staved off by medication that made her sleep. You taking her when you did was a mercy, and as sad as I am, I can feel better about it.

As I said, I'm an atheist, but Nan wasn't. She believed in God, and she believed in heaven. And for her sake, I hope I'm wrong. I know, if I'm right, she wouldn't know any different; she would have died, and that would have been it. But I hate the thought of her being cheated somehow, that she didn't get to go where she thought she would. Though, I suppose, it doesn't make any real difference. I'm an atheist, but I'm one who doesn't have anything against religion or faith, it's simply something I don't believe. I've seen the good faith does, and I suppose it worked that way for Nan; even if there is no God and no heaven, believing there was as she was dying probably made it easier to cope with. Soon she'll see her mum again.

But I do like the idea of heaven. Although heaven is linked with God and religion, it's an idea even atheists fall back on when trying to explain death to children. And though I don't believe it, it's still nice to imagine Nan in heaven, at a cloudy bar, drinking everyone under the table, flirting outrageously with Charles Bronson (the actor - she really fancied him), and having a great time with her sister and brother, who joined her later. The thought puts a smile on my face and makes it a little easier to deal with the pain, even if I don't believe it to be true.

All of which makes it easier, today, to think less about how I've lost her, and more about the great memories I have of her. Us jiving at parties. Her cooking me steak-in-gravy when I came to visit. The caravan holidays she would take her daughters, grandchildren, foster children, and sometimes the children she used to child mind on. The Saturday mornings she would take us down the high street, buy us something from the pound shop, and take us McDonald's in the afternoon. The nights she would go down the pub and take me with her, when I was a child. The nights, as an adult, when I would take her down the pub. The lunches I would take her out for. So many good memories. So many.

So although I'm so upset, and I miss more than I could ever express, today, on the anniversary of her death, I can smile. I can smile for all the memories I have, for how much I love her and she loved me, and for how lucky I am that I had her for a nan.

And I'm no longer angry at you, Death. I forgive you. In fact, I'm actually grateful. You took my nan from me, but you stopped her suffering. Thank you.

Jo

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1 comment:

  1. This is so beautiful! What a really lovely letter to have written and it's so powerful to hear your perception of death change in the way it has. I can't wait to read more letters like this from you.

    Have you read The Book Thief? That changed how I felt about Death, it's a lovely book!

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