Yeah, okay, I’m a self confessed TV addict, you all know that. But the tv I watch can have two very different reactions from me. Unfortunately, recently it’s been bringing me down.
I recently started rewatching Grey’s Anatomy from season 5 onwards. Anyone who knows what happens at the end of this season and the beginning of the next, you’ll probably have some painful memories of the first time you watched those scenes. The heart breaking moments when we saw each character grieving in a different way. As per usual, I started to cry along with some of them.
Then I realised I wasn’t crying over the episodes I had just watched. I was crying for Stella. For Papa. And for Tom. I’d even say I was crying for my Granda, who I barely remember, and Ted, my cousins’ granda. I was crying over the deaths of these people, and it dawned on me that I still can’t even think about any of them without crying.
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked on here about it before. As I said, I barely remember my Granda. I was 7 when he died, and I still remember walking out onto the landing to see Dad crying. I remember being told to pack a bag of books and toys because we were going to Northern Ireland for a funeral. This meant nothing to me. I didn’t really understand death and what it meant; all I knew was I was getting to miss a few days of school.
Fast forward 4 years, and Stella, my dad’s aunt, was unwell. Stella was that fun loving, child-like old person you loved to visit. She’d play games, sing songs, have drawing competitions, and always had her biscuit cupboards filled and a fruit shoot in the fridge for you. I haven’t actually had a fruit shoot since she died. We had friends over visiting us in Lisburn for the North West 200 – a racing event that happens every year. We had a glorious day in Portrush, and Rachel and I were so excited to see Tom and Stella that week to tell them everything we’d done and all the rides we’d been on. Everyone went to bed early on the Sunday night – our guests were leaving early on Monday morning and we were getting up to go to school. I remember sneaking quietly downstairs to say goodbye to them without waking Rachel, and as they left, Mum told me not to go back to bed just yet because she wanted to talk to me. I still know exactly which stair I was sitting on when she told me that Stella had died in the early hours of Sunday morning, and that our neighbour had been the paramedic in the ambulance. She went on to say that I wasn’t to tell Rachel, she would do that, and that when I got home from school I would need to go thank our neighbour for trying to help Stella. I sobbed. I stopped crying briefly and thought I would practice playing the piano because I had a lesson that afternoon and mum thought it would distract me. I remember putting my foot on the pedal that made it quieter, because dad was on the phone with different people I’d never even heard of before. I remember getting through the first 3 bars of my music before my hands slumped and I was crying again. A few days later, we were kept off school to go to the funeral. It was a home service as Stella had fallen out with the church years before I was born, and I remember the little house being filled. You couldn’t move due to the amount of people all trying to say their last goodbyes. I lasted until the psalm before I just had to get out of that house. I don’t remember the rest of the day, not after the service, I don’t remember everyone leaving, and I don’t really remember the days that followed but I do know I didn’t cry for Stella after her funeral.
June came 4 weeks later, and with it came a mini heat wave. As usual, we went to the local rugby club on Saturday afternoon, and Rachel and I tried our best to hide from the adults because we were bored. As we were heading home, Mum went over to her dad and reminded him we would be coming round for a barbecue the next day. She told him off for being drunk, and reminded him not to drive home. We had a usual Saturday evening, and went to bed as normal. Sunday morning came, and Rachel and I were watching Recess on Disney Channel when the phone rang. Dad answered it quickly because Mum was still in bed and we thought she was asleep. Granny B (Dad’s mum) came and sat with us eating breakfast and closed over the door. It was Granny H on the phone, so we just assumed it was to talk about our planned barbecue. Dad went upstairs, and within minutes Mum was downstairs in her tracksuit, bed-head hair, and tears running down her face. She opened the door to the living room and simply said “Papa’s dead, I need to go to Mum”. The door was closed again, and with that she ran out of the house and Dad drove her to Belfast. I think Rachel and I were both in shock, because we just turned back to the TV as if nothing had happened. We didn’t see Mum the rest of the day. Dad came home and told us our aunt and uncle were coming over from Dundee and they’d be over the next day. We played in the garden, went out for dinner, and Dad tried to act as if nothing had happened. I didn’t cry. I didn’t acknowledge what was going on. Again, we had a day off school for the funeral. I remember the rain that day. I remember my outfit, even down to what pants I was wearing. I didn’t cry in the church, even as I sat looking at the coffin, trying to imagine my papa lying there. Trying to realise I was never going to see him again. My youngest cousin was 4 at the time and far too young to really know what was happening. We kept shhing her as she played loudly in that front pew in the church. At the end of the service, we had to walk behind the coffin out of the church, and into the hall where people were having tea and coffee. I remember seeing my mum’s uncle crying, and I remember Tom crying, standing there just 4 weeks after burying his wife. Yet I still didn’t cry. The school year ended, I went on a school trip, we had a summer holiday in Gran Canaria, and we spent time with both Granny H and Tom, trying to fill their days as best we could. And still I hadn’t cried. The church magazine came in during the second last week in August. Mum always sat to read it before lunch, and this time she handed it to me when she was finished. There was a 2-3 page eulogy from a man in the church all about Papa and what kind of man he’d been. I read through it slowly, and as I read each word I began to cry. I finally felt the emotion I’d been suppressing for the 2 and a bit months. I don’t even remember it now, but I do remember that as I read the last sentence, I threw the magazine back at Mum and ran from the kitchen. I had a cubby hole under my desk where I curled into as tight a ball as I could and I just cried. I cried because he was gone, and I cried because of the guilt I felt for not crying earlier.
As the years went on, I still struggled to talk about either of them without crying, however we went through a lucky patch of no deaths after June 2007. Well, until August 2015. I went home after some resits in Glasgow, and had a family day out. I was exhausted from pulling an all-nighter before travelling home, so I offered to be designated driver when we went out for dinner that night. I hid how tired I was quite well, so at 11pm we finally went home and I fell asleep, looking forward to my first official day of the summer holidays. I woke up the next day to the phone ringing. It was the local hospital, saying Dad’s Uncle Tom had been admitted during our meal out the night before, and asking for us to bring stuff to the hospital. I can’t remember where Rachel and Mum were, but I went with Dad to Tom’s house to look for pjs, a toothbrush, that kind of thing. We were making our usual comments about how dirty the house was, and how if Tom had died before Stella it would’ve been a different story all together. There were his false teeth sitting on the kitchen counter, so we phoned the hospital and were told to bring them for him. It was suspected food poisoning, and I was just annoyed to be spending my morning day of freedom running around after him. After lunch, Mum, Dad and Rachel were going to go visit him, but I had to stay home and go to work. I asked repeatedly to go with them, but was told no I couldn’t turn down a shift. Someone would come to the shop and fill me in when they got home.
Mum came in about an hour before the end of my shift, telling me it wasn’t great but they were hopeful. He had a hernia that had stopped his food from entering his stomach, and a bit of his oesophagus had died and his food was just trapped there, however when he stabilised they would operate and he should make a full recovery. The poor man was insisting it was just a bad fish supper from the chippy. Mum promised again and again that I could go visit him the next day, and assured me that I wouldn’t have liked to have seen him as he had looked awful. I accepted it and continued with my shift, working late to help the boss out. I ran home for dinner and we were watching TV when the phone rang around 8pm to say they were going to have to operate because something wasn’t right. Dad came back in saying they expected to be done around 10:30pm and if we didn’t hear by then then someone would be in touch as soon as possible with an update. Mum and Dad began to worry a little as they had had a few drinks with dinner and knew they couldn’t drive, so I reminded them that I could and it would be fine. 10pm came and we went to bed, and for the first time in years I didn’t close my door tight – I wanted to hear the phone ring. 10:30 came and passed, 11 o’clock came and still nothing. 11:45pm the phone call came that mum and dad should get down to the hospital as soon as possible. I drove down, and rachel and I were sent back to the house with the promise they would phone with news as soon as they could. We both tried to doze, but we were beginning to worry. After only being home about 20 minutes, I got a call from dad telling me Tom had died and that we should come collect Mum and Dad. Rachel and I agreed we couldn’t cry. I had to drive and I had to be able to see so neither of us were allowed to cry. Rachel broke down half way to the hospital. I was shaking, but I focused on the road, not allowing myself to think. They were waiting for us on the pavement, and mum made me get into the back of the car – she was okay to drive. On the journey back, they told us he had been on a ventilator when they arrived and basically they were just there to switch it off and be there with him. Still, I couldn’t cry. We got home, and everyone started to talk about whether to call people or leave it or what, and at that point I walked into the back garden. I started crying and shouting and getting so angry because I hadn’t seen him. I hadn’t been to see him since Christmas, and I hadn’t got to see him in the hospital. Everyone else got their chance to see him, but I wasn’t allowed. I felt so guilty, and still do, that I didn’t put my foot down and go see him. I feel guilty for not calling him more while I was at university. I was furious at myself for being angry at him for ruining my first morning off of the summer. And mum came out and just hugged me while I sobbed that it wasn’t fair, over and over again.
Once again, we had a funeral to prepare for. The house had to be tidied and cleaned, his will and other bits and pieces had to be found, and Dad was listed as his next of kin, while mum was the person in charge of his will. Rachel wanted to read at the service, and I was asked to but said no. We picked the perfect poem for her, and when the day came I couldn’t even wait for her to start reading it before I cried.
I’ve cried the whole way through writing this post, and that’s really what I started to write about. When will I be able to talk or write or think about them all without crying? Will it ever happen? When will I stop looking for Tom’s car parked outside the church? When will I walk past our family church without saying hello to Papa in the bit for the cremated parisheners? Will there come a time that I can go to Portrush and not feel sad remembering the day we spent there with Tom and Stella before she got sick? And more importantly, do I want that time to come?
These are the questions that haunt me at 2 o’clock in the morning.