Today’s been a weird ass day. I think that pretty much sums it up.
Carole got some shitty news at work today. And then this evening we got a phone call from my mum to say my grandma passed away. It’s been a day dominated by death, I think it’s fair to say.
The thing with my grandma is weird, though. It’s hard to quantify because ultimately she was a hard woman to get on with at the best of times, let alone since she was blighted with dementia.
We used to go down to visit her – she lived in Kent until dad brought her up her a while ago because she couldn’t live on her own any longer – every summer. Ten days staying with her and visiting all the attractions the South coast had to offer. I have seen more of Dover Castle than most people alive, I reckon. And Deal. And… you get the idea. We’d go down on a Sunday and drive out to Ashdown Forest in the afternoon and have ice creams. I mean, things were nice.
It was just such hard work.
Grandma used to buy me and my sister presents every year which we’d find on our pillows when we arrived. We’d get there, say hello to grandma and then tear upstairs – itself a novelty as we lived in a bungalow – and see what we’d got. Colouring books and the like were plentiful. Puzzle books. Things of that nature.
And then one year it was a sponge.
And then after that, no presents. But with no explanation given as to the whys or wherefores.
We were also instructed not to play on the stairs because the neighbours had pre-emptively complained to my grandma and expressed a preference that we did not do anything which may make noise. We couldn’t play out in the garden, for example, before a certain hour (and it was a late one) because we might disturb the sleeping beauties. There were a lot of rules. But then, having said that, there were a lot of times we slid down the stairs on our bums because, fuck it, we were kids!
But as the years went on, grandma became less and less welcoming and more and more hard work. I remember one year saying that I just wanted to get on a train and go home, thinking that my pocket money at the time would get me back up the country and away from the tortuous misery of it all. I mean, this was a woman who – if we had fish and chips – would insist that the papers were put in someone else’s bin in case anyone thought that we had had fish and chips.
But then, she also slept with her curtains open so that the neighbours wouldn’t think she was lazy if she didn’t have them opened by a certain hour.
So, hey ho.
And recent memory is tainted by the absolute misery that she put mum and dad through when they brought her up the country to live with them. They’d visited her not long before and found that everything was in a state and, talking with the neighbours, it transpired that she wasn’t washing or cleaning or generally doing anything. Just living in a cardigan. So they did the decent thing and brought her up here to live our her days. My dad’s original hope was that they wouldn’t have to put her in a home, that she’d be manageable living with them for however long was left – when they brought her up she was frail as anything.
But the years rolled by and everything was governed by her presence. And the fact that her dementia knocked out any last vestiges of niceness from her being. She was awful. Rude, ungrateful and generally a handful for both mum and dad. But mainly mum, because she had a weird hang-up about any women who got close to men in her family. It became apparent, as well, that she was insanely misbehaving – on purpose – as mum or dad would catch her doing things just because she knew it got a rise – and created tension – out of the other.
Eventually she had to go in a home. She didn’t want to. But she had to. They couldn’t cope any more. And so she did. And then dad died the year after – about six months after, for want of a better phrase, getting his life back.
And so she’s been like the Sword of Damocles, hanging over us, since then. Mum’s house, loft and garage is peppered with the contents of grandma’s house which was meant to be sorted when she’d gone into a home but wasn’t something dad ever got round to. And we haven’t got round to it either because… meh, we haven’t got round to anything like that. Still. I think that’s me not wanting to say goodbye. I mean, I know it is. If I start sorting out stuff it’s like I’m removing traces of dad from my life and I don’t want to do it. And I guess that’s why dad didn’t do it either. I mean, she was still his mum. Even if she thought she was in her twenties and was living in Orpington.
When mum called tonight it was weird. It wasn’t like a collapse of grief like when dad died. It was just a relief. It sounds awful to say that. But it was. There’s the conflicting emotions of the fact that she was my gran and the fact that I know – and have witnessed – her to be an absolute cowbag when she wanted to be. And there’s the relief that we don’t have to worry about stuff any more. We don’t have to constantly make sure there’s money to cover the home fees each month or – in Carole’s case – take mum on ridiculously regular toiletry runs to the home (we have been working on the assumption that the rate of soap consumption indicates we have actually been providing soap for the whole home) and countless other things.
We can start sorting stuff out. Me and my sister can fight over who gets to inherit the blue bowl which is, apparently, a family heirloom but no-one had ever seen it before it started to live in my parent’s front room. I’m happy to let my sister have it. I’m sure she’s happy to let me have it. We can close things down. We can stop worrying about the fact that the doctors and/or hospitals mix up my gran’s medical records with mum’s (hopefully).
But more importantly, I hope, it’ll take some of the pressure of mum. Because I know since dad died the mantle of responsibility has weighed heavily upon her. I have been present for almost every rant she has had regarding the situation. They have not been pleasant.
There’s a lot of admin in my future. I don’t think I’ve ever really got a handle on all of grandma’s various accounts and things. They’re just in a file labelled “mum” that my dad made. We’ve never really looked in it. We’ve just added things to it over the past couple of years. And fun as it would be to leave it all to half-blind stroke victim to sort out, I can’t do that. I know dad sorted a lot of stuff out a while ago. But it’s never something that was really discussed.
I think I’m going to be one of those people you see in movies and the like, with loads of paper spread out over a table, and one of those adding machines, beavering away into the night.