Last Friday at 4.30 in the afternoon, we received the sad news that my darling Jo’s sister Lauren, had passed away. I know what losing a sibling feels like and I while I know what lies ahead for my love, all I can do is watch as the earthquake unfolds and topples one emotion after the other, while the aftershocks pass through our lives.
Her only son will have to go through the loss of his Mam and nothing can prepare him for the enormity of the impact that follows. The first time you experience the loss of a parent, especially your mother, is the worst kind of shock to the system. There are no comforting words to reduce the terrible pain of such a loss.
I haven’t been sleeping properly. Knowing we would be deprived of a proper wake due to COVID-19 restrictions, a funeral restricted to just 25 people and all that goes with how this unfolded, has made me uneasy. We need each other in times like his. We need to mourn properly and only now that this loss has visited our family, do I see the awful impact of this pandemic, on all the people who have lost loved ones this year.
Each culture has traditions and customs around death, but the Irish wake is a vital piece of our jigsaw of mourning. It is so engrained in our psyche, that I am not sure what to expect without it. For 6 nights now, Jo’s 95-year-old mother Joan has sat beside me on the couch, trying to make sense of it all. Two of her other daughters and their daughters, had called by on Friday to help us break the news to her that her daughter had died. All the while Joan sat quietly as they talked about the loss of their sister and aunt. Our three dogs tipped about the place but one of them, one empathic little boy sat beneath Joan’s chair throughout. He has been watching over her since.
After they had gone, this loyal little canine who normally spends all his energy looking after me, leapt onto the couch beside Joan and nuzzled into her. It was only after everyone had gone that she began to question the events of the day. Her hearing is poor. It is best to have one on one conversations at a fairly loud pitch, but more significantly, her short-term memory is patchy, requiring a lot of repetition to drive new events home.
She began to try and understand by asking me question after question. She told me that a child shouldn’t die before their mother. Each time this thought crossed her mind, Joan broke down and cried, but only for a little while as she pulled herself back in from the edge of grief. Born in 1925, her parents instilled a near Victorian attitude in Joan that means she finds it hard to be emotionally demonstrative. But I know that not showing does not equate to not feeling.
Due to her difficulty hearing, I had to simplify anything technical, so when she asked how her daughter had died, I reminded her that she had died from a form of cancer. She asked how old was she and when would the funeral would take place. Joan then reminded me that she was 95, as if this was news and also reminded me, that it was a good age. She wanted to know how Lauren’s son was, told me he had 3 children and that Lauren was 8 pounds, a big baby, when she was born. Joan said Lauren was always very clever and very talented with her hands, a funny girl, and wondered about practical things like what would happen to her house. She asked me if she had felt any pain and I reassured her that she hadn’t.
She asked me if I knew how one got cancer. I told her there were many ways and again she told us that a child shouldn’t die before a mother. She told us it should have been her. Again, she teared up before pulling herself quickly back together gain. There is nothing I can do to ease her pain and I feel helpless.
As each question from Joan or Jomammy as many call her landed, I replied in my clearest voice to avoid the need for repetition as my darling Joanna, sat quietly in the chair on the other side of me, struggling with the loss of her sister. My dear Jo is broken and I know that I can’t fix her. Joan finished round one and then, as she does, went back on a loop, beginning at the beginning and asking all the same questions for the second time, and so it went on, over and over, an unrelenting reminder of the terrible loss and all the while I answered each question as though asked for the first time, patient and calm, trying to help her process this new tragedy, so she might be better prepared for the new day.
I could feel Joanna’s pain beside me. She was trying to process her own grief and I am sure listening to the strange, repeated conversation beside her, going through the same details over and over again, was very difficult for her. We are both used to how Joan processes new information, but being used to something doesn’t make it easier. Trying to cope with the loss of her sister must have made it impossible, but she remained calm and patient as always. She was heroic in her silence and composure, I think.
I rose early this morning. The dogs greeted me as though nothing was different but of course it is. The earthquake has passed, but when I look around, I have yet to assess the damage. We will be finding broken things each day for some time I fear now that the funeral is behind us.
Each day is new, each chapter begins with the dawn, but each dawn will carry a cloud for some time. Like all families who experience loss, Lauren’s family will feel her absence daily. Hardest hit are the 2 people at both ends of the spectrum. Her only son, a grown man with a family of his own, is left with the truth that he will never see his Mam again. I remember how that hit me when it was my turn and even after 26 years, the loss has never left me. These days ahead are just the beginning and I hold him in my thoughts daily.
In our house, Lauren’s mother is trying to manage the reality that she has outlived her daughter. When the time came, because it came quite quickly, because of COVID restrictions and also because Joan is 95, there was no time to say goodbye.
On Tuesday we brought Joan to the funeral home to say goodbye to her daughter. Yesterday we attended her funeral. It was a small, deeply pained gathering, a family struggling to comfort each other fully in a time of social distancing and masks. It struck me that these difficult times mean that there is another meaning to that expression, for really, this is no time to have to say goodbye.
I normally stay clear of poetry but this week, thinking of her immediate family, and knowing what family means, I thought I would make a rare exception. This one, is in memory of Lauren and for her family that mourn her now and into the future;
Lost to us and we shall never be the same again, I fear.
We are broken a bit
as we sit and comfort each other,
but we are nonetheless broken and no token words will ease our pain.
A part of us is missing you see,
a part that is dear
are not here.
We speak your name and sometimes it feels the same
As though you never left us.
But then it strikes that we will never see you again
we are reminded,
blinded by the thought of it, drowned by the grief of it
angered by the thief of it,
lost in the thought that comes through each time we close our eyes
that a part of us is missing.
Rest in Peace Laurentina, may you be guided safely on your journey by those that have gone before you.