In mem­ory of Jane

An ode to Jane

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Claire Gre­nier

Con­tent warn­ing: death, de­scrip­tions of self-harm, sui­cide

It wasn’t the heart at­tack that killed her; it was the stress put on her al­ready frag­ile aorta that caused her to slip away. Her heart had ripped, and it was far too dam­aged to be put back to­gether. The stitches wouldn’t even hold. The doc­tors as­sured us that they had done ev­ery­thing they pos­si­bly could, but ev­ery­thing still wasn’t enough. She died. She dies all over again in my mind when­ever I think back on this time. All those feel­ings and me­mories are still sharp and vivid like stained glass shrap­nel. In the first week af­ter her death ev­ery­thing hap­pened at breakneck speed. Af­ter the ini­tial scram­ble of a changed life sub­sided, grief be­came more me­thod­i­cal. Grief chose when to at­tack rather than be­ing a con­stant com­pan­ion to ev­ery­day ac­tions.

I just can’t wrap my head around her be­ing gone. I thought I un­der­stood death. I thought I would han­dle my first fam­ily death well. I was wrong.

Novem­ber 13, 2015:

We let the phone ring. And ring. It was fam­ily movie night: a rare luxury in our fam­ily. There was no is­sue, at least no one ex­pected one. Juras­sic World played on.

When the movie was over, we turned on CBC news, like the standup in­formed Cana­dian cit­i­zens that we are. Paris, the city my un­cle and his wife were stay­ing in, had been vic­tim to a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

We checked the phone mes­sages, my un­cle had called to say that he was al­right, and my grand­fa­ther Skip­per had called to tell us that Grandma Jane had had a heart at­tack. She was sched­uled for surgery later that night, with a full re­cov­ery pre­dicted. I was ter­ri­fied, ex­tremely ter­ri­fied. I went to sleep scared, and de­spite the cir­cum­stances, op­ti­mistic. I would go with my mom to Ot­tawa the next day to help my grand­mother in her re­cov­ery. She was go­ing to sur­vive.

She was go­ing to sur­vive; she had to. I wasn’t ready for her not to.

I un­der­stand that she died, but I don’t yet un­der­stand that I will never see her again, hear her again, hug her again. To me - that seems im­pos­si­ble, but I need to get used to it be­cause it’s the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion.

Novem­ber 14, 2015:

In the morn­ing, I woke up with my lights still on. In my haste to for­get the pre­vi­ous evening, turn­ing them off had slipped my mind.

No one told me that she had died: I knew. I knew be­cause I heard my mom mak­ing plans for some­one to take care of our cats for awhile. That meant that the whole fam­ily was go­ing away, which meant...

Ten­ta­tively, I en­tered my mom’s room. I saw her face, and then I knew for sure. No words needed to be spo­ken. She was vis­i­bly bro­ken, and that said it all. Her mom was gone. I didn’t have any words ei­ther. I crawled into her bed like a kid es­cap­ing a night­mare, be­cause that’s ex­actly what I was.

I emailed my teach­ers, I called my work, I made ev­ery pain pol­ished and for­mal. This only alien­ated my re­al­ity more; it was all so of­fi­cial. and that de­nied the raw­ness of my pain.

My mom, my dad, my brother, and I climbed into our last-minute rental to make our way to Ot­tawa. It was time to pick up the pieces of our fam­ily.

My dad drove, my brother slept, I wrote, and my mother made the calls. My grand­mother’s best friend, and my mom’s god­mother, screamed when we called her. Loud, deaf­en­ing and filled with an­guish; it was un­for­get­table. She threw the phone away from her­self too, but we could still hear her weep­ing through the speak­ers.

“Hi, it’s Wendy, Jane’s daugh­ter…no ev­ery­thing is not al­right; my mother had a heart at­tack… they tried ev­ery­thing, but it wasn’t enough to save her.” It would never be enough. Over and over again these calls were made. Same tone, same cold prickly sen­sa­tion drip­ping in ev­ery somber syl­la­ble, same end­ing to the same story. Our story, our re­al­ity, no mat­ter how des­per­ately I wished it wasn’t.

I wrote a poem in that car ride which I later read at her funeral. I needed to con­stantly re­mind my­self of re­al­ity, if not, I feared that I’d slip away. Writ­ing was an ef­fec­tive and calm­ing way to re­as­sure my­self of these events, an­other way was to take pic­tures. It sounds hor­ri­bly nar­cis­sis­tic, but I took self­ies on that car ride, and yes, they did help.

I can­not stress enough how noth­ing felt real. With a selfie, you can eas­ily iden­tify your own face, it grounds you. I know the an­gles of my eye­brows, the bump of my nose, the slope of my eye­lids, the dim­ple in my left cheek that is so much like the one my grand­mother had. In that mo­ment I knew what my face looked like, even if my emo­tional con­text was scary and sur­real. See­ing my very rec­og­niz­able face in a very un­rec­og­niz­able sit­u­a­tion helped me process the heart-break­ing re­al­ity of it all. Those self­ies let me re­al­ize where I was, and what had hap­pened; they fa­cil­i­tated a (still) con­tin­u­ous and com­pletely shat­ter­ing real­iza­tion. So, I kept one as a re­minder and as a relic.

We got to Ot­tawa around 6pm that night. My grand­fa­ther was ab­so­lutely bro­ken. Skip­per had al­ways man­aged to put up a front of a pic­ture-per­fect, manly man who drank whisky, hunted, had fought in wars, etc. Now, he sat crum­pled in the cen­tre of the house that he and his dearly loved wife raised their kids in. Both he and the house looked so ghoul­ish and empty with­out Grandma Jane. He couldn’t stop cry­ing.

The me­mories of the days be­tween her death and her funeral are a bit blurred around the edges. Ev­ery­one was do­ing their own thing, just go­ing through the mo­tions, or drink­ing, or clean­ing. We all ex­plored the house in an ef­fort to try and get used to it with­out the warmth of Grandma Jane fill­ing each room, even though it all still smelled like her. In­di­vid­u­ally, me­mories of our lives with Grandma Jane flooded over us with each aim­less wan­der.

Some dis­cov­er­ies from that time: her prayer book, ev­ery day for close to 20 years there was an en­try; a note­book de­tail­ing the lives of ev­ery per­son she called reg­u­larly, so she would al­ways know what to talk about.

Small ironies. The only car we could rent was black. The closer we got to the house the more it rained. The sun­set made ev­ery­thing rose gold. The day af­ter her funeral it rained all day, al­most as if the city was wash­ing our grief away.

Novem­ber 18, 2015:

300 peo­ple showed up. My grand­mother was a mu­sic teacher, and was beloved by all whom she taught and touched. Her true im­pact on peo­ple had never been made clearer.

I don’t ever want to go to church again af­ter that funeral. Partly be­cause it was my grand­moth­erís funeral, but mainly be­cause the funeral was so sur­real and is so ce­mented in my mem­ory that no fu­ture ven­ture into a church would feel right. It was sur­real for a few rea­sons. Firstly, 300 peo­ple, most of whom I had never met be­fore, were in at­ten­dance. They were all there to cel­e­brate the life of my grandma. All these strangers un­der­stood how spe­cial she was.

Se­condly, see­ing as my cousin and I are more like sib­lings, the two of us de­vel­oped a wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate sense of hu­mour that can only be birthed from a shared tragedy. Whis­pered jokes about us­ing the ashes as ‘sad con­fetti’ for the cel­e­bra­tion abounded. My mom had to shush our gig­gles dur­ing the ser­mon, but she did it with a smile, just like her mom would have.

Thirdly, there were pup­pets. The church’s pas­tor typ­i­cally used pup­pets in his reg­u­lar ser­vices and my grand­mother loved them; she of­ten counted the pup­pets as the high­light of her Sun­days. So, there were pup­pets at her funeral. The story of a cater­pil­lar (life on earth) who en­ters its co­coon (death), then be­comes a flour­ish­ing but­ter­fly (life in heaven) was re­counted to the guests in oddly cutesy, com­fort­ing lan­guage. At the end, the beau­ti­ful but­ter­fly pup­pet was gifted to my grand­fa­ther. I think he still has it.

Fourthly, some­one thought it was a good idea to let my old­est un­cle speak with­out him writ­ing any­thing down first. There is no of­fi­cial time count, but I would guess that he spoke for around half an hour. In those odd 30 min­utes he

Af­ter the ini­tial scram­ble of a changed life sub­sided, grief be­came more me­thod­i­cal. Grief chose when to at­tack rather than be­ing a con­stant com­pan­ion to ev­ery day ac­tions. In that mo­ment I knew what my face looked like, even if my emo­tional con­text was scary and sur­real. See­ing my very recog­nis­able face in a very un­recog­nis­able sit­u­a­tion helped me process the heart-break­ing re­al­ity.

in­cluded many touch­ing sto­ries about his mom, but those were mainly drowned out by his shame­less self-pro­mo­tion. Most no­tably for his book on tantric In­dian sex prac­tices (if you truly want to hon­our my grand­mother’s mem­ory, never read chap­ter four).

Fi­nally, I read too. That poem I wrote in the car, I read it for ev­ery­one as part of the ser­vice. I let my bro­ken heart seep into ev­ery­one’s bones.

I re­mem­ber my read­ing from an out­sider’s point of view. I was deeply af­fected by this ac­tion, yet it doesn’t feel like some­thing I’ve done. I don’t re­mem­ber walk­ing up to the stand, or my awk­ward in­tro­duc­tion for the piece, but I do re­mem­ber my walk back. I col­lapsed into my dad and he wrapped his arms tight around me as the whole church rose to sing hymns. I know that hymns are sup­posed to be beau­ti­ful, but I had never heard a harsher cho­rus.

When I was ten, my dad took me to see the mu­si­cal Les Misérables at the lo­cal high school. It’s his favourite mu­si­cal. He knows all the lyrics, and was not afraid to use them. Half-way through the show, I leaned over to him and huffed a now in­fa­mous quote among my fam­ily: “You know that you’re sup­posed to sing the words in your head, right?”

So as my dad held me, with tears and sobs com­pletely rak­ing my body, I felt even more des­o­lated and bro­ken and small. Yet, he made me laugh. He stopped singing, leaned down and whis­pered to me: “I’m sorry. I know I should be singing the words in my head.”

I can ac­cept that my grand­mother is dead; I can’t ac­cept that Grandma Jane is.

Novem­ber 20, 2015:

We left. By then I was left dull and com­pletely wrought by the week. Ev­ery ac­tion was an echo of my­self, prickly numb­ing at­tempts at nor­malcy. We were leav­ing our bub­ble of sor­row, where tragedy was al­lowed to en­velop us, for our ev­ery­day lives where we were ex­pected to act like we had be­fore. I had to re­turn to a life I was al­ready strug­gling so deeply to live.

When my grand­mother died, I was in the mid­dle of a hor­ren­dous and all en­croach­ing de­pres­sive episode. My then pre­car­i­ous men­tal health be­came in­trin­si­cally linked with my nar­ra­tive of her death - I can’t sep­a­rate them.

For most of 2015, my grade 11 year, I wanted to die. Since I was 12 I’d been hav­ing brushes with sui­ci­dal thoughts. I was usu­ally able to chase them away with small mo­ti­va­tors, like a list of things I would miss and a short list of the peo­ple who would miss me. This worked swim­mingly un­til Oc­to­ber of 2015. I tried all my usual ways to pull my­self out of it, but it wasn’t work­ing this time; it was con­tin­u­ous, and it only got worse. I had an iso­lat­ing job, a new and de­mand­ing course load, and was in the mid­dle of re­al­iz­ing that I had no healthy re­la­tion­ships I could rely on. Ev­ery­thing made me tired. I was mo­ti­vated, but had lost the phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity to act on it. I spi­ralled and was too em­bar­rassed to ask for help. I was the one that helped peo­ple; I didn’t want to need some­one to help me.

My 16th birth­day, Oc­to­ber 29, 2015. My friends for­got it was my birth­day. I left the school dance early in the taxi my mom had called for me. The per­son who I’d gone with had ditched me. I was just wan­der­ing around the school alone, wait­ing for the hurt of be­ing ditched to pass so I could try and have some fun on my birth­day. It didn’t. In­stead, I started to re­al­ize that I only had one friend and she didn’t see me as a per­son, but rather as an as­set. I was gen­tle and car­ing, and the per­son who I had as­sumed was my best friend for the past decade was con­tent to take ad­van­tage of that. When I got home, I went straight up­stairs and took a long shower. I washed my makeup off with vigour, and scrubbed out the red hair­spray I had used as part of my cos­tume un­til my scalp bled. Then I took the first mildly sharp thing I could find, a comb, and at­tacked my wrists.

I made a coun­selling ap­point­ment through a sui­cide hot­line within a few days of that low point. At the ap­point­ment, I rolled out my prob­lems on the bright red car­pet of the of­fice un­til I lost the en­ergy to speak. The coun­sel­lor told me to get more vi­ta­min D and sent me on my way. I felt pa­thetic, and a lit­tle ripped off, but also re­lieved. Talk­ing felt so good. That ap­point­ment taught me the magic of talk­ing: how it makes ev­ery­thing real and thus eas­ier to deal with. I had no one to talk to, so I bought a note­book. I couldn’t con­tinue bot­tling ev­ery­thing up un­til my in­evitable burst; that way of liv­ing was not healthy.

Grandma Jane died just over a week af­ter my ap­point­ment.

Time doesn’t stop when you die; other peo­ple are left with the mess. Af­ter be­ing ex­posed to said mess, I lost the de­sire to leave one. I didn’t want to die any­more be­cause that would be too painful of an event for my fam­ily, but I didn’t want to be alive be­cause it was prov­ing too painful for me. Dur­ing the last half of 2015, I was sim­ply lost.

Slowly I bounced back, from ev­ery­thing. I found friends, and a way to be alone with­out hat­ing my­self for it. I dis­cov­ered how to en­joy the shim­mer­ing of the present, in­stead of wish­ing for grotesque es­capes. I walked out of my abu­sive friend­ship with liv­ing scars, but still in­tact. And fi­nally, I fell in with peo­ple who I en­joyed lis­ten­ing to and who let me talk.

Even though I still have those days where my bones fill with lead, and a foggy de­spair washes over my body, I can, and do, en­joy life now.

Find­ing “joie de vivre” meant I had to rec­on­cile the fact that some­one I loved dearly no longer had that plea­sure. I couldn’t get caught up in these crush­ing re­al­iza­tions; life was mov­ing on and I had to fol­low it. No mat­ter how ugly some of those changes were.

I know that she wouldn’t like the fact that I don’t go to church, that I swear like a sailor, that I hold grudges, or that my mom never made me play pi­ano, and most of all she wouldn’t like that her loss still hurts me. I also know that she didn’t care that much about mak­ing sure that I was the per­fect grand­daugh­ter. She was con­tent to let me ex­plore my ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

She loved that I wore lip­stick, that I sang the lul­la­bies she taught me, that I trea­sured the knick­knacks she gave me and the sto­ries she told, and that, to my mother’s dis­may, I fold nap­kins like she taught me. That woman was so full of love and pride; she had in­fi­nite ad­mi­ra­tion for the small things. She would be so proud of me. I spoke to her al­most ev­ery day. She lis­tened, and in turn I learned how to lis­ten to oth­ers. She was never aware of the fact that she taught me how to laugh rau­cously as well. When we talked I was en­er­getic, and her voice was honey, golden and soft. That ab­sence stings the most. I’m ro­man­ti­ciz­ing her, I know that. She de­serves it. She helped me grow into who I am to­day, both pre and post mortem. I’ll have to keep grow­ing up with­out her, and that’s okay. She’ll never be gone from me com­pletely, and that’s okay too (I never want her to leave). A year and a half later I’m still heal­ing.

And I still miss her.

I re­mem­ber your face the first time you tried a pump­kin spice latte. Some of my lip­stick trans­ferred from the cup to you and it matched the one you were al­ready wear­ing. I felt like I was sup­posed to be your grand­daugh­ter.

Time doesn’t stop when you die; other peo­ple are left with the mess. Af­ter be­ing ex­posed to said mess, I lost the de­sire to leave one.

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