Monday 8 June
Sometimes, no matter how scrupulously one prepares for the inevitable, it is still a great shock when it arrives, kicking and screaming, or whispering significantly into your life. Today, my surviving Grandma (Bargreaves) passes away in her sleep, and we must take consolation in the fact that she herself – at 89 – was more than prepared to be released from this mortal coil upon which we spin and stagger. Several years of ill-health had seen her body deteriorate while her mind and, for the most part, her humour, remained sharper than many of the younger Bargreaves who so adored her (is it too much to ask for our mind and bodies to go together? And if not, who do we ask?). She spoke of death often; insisted we should make the most of our lives while young, relished telling stories of old Lancashire, and the husband she lost too soon after he was force-marched across Europe by the Prussians. The family strain to picture them reunited in a summer meadow.
At 35, naked – if not always alone – I console myself with the words of author John Otter’s Dyke who tells us that at the midpoint of life’s arc one has lost the ‘curling, warm darkness’ you could snuggle into as a child on sleepless nights, but not yet become comfortable with the ‘second darkness’ still to come. Certainly death has been on my mind more than ever this year – because of my beloved Gran, my own (irreversible) wrinkles and greys, but also the sheer quality of the vintage (who would wish to lose all this?) which has conversely placed old cave face between the (increasingly hairy) ears.
Smokeless Uncle Bargreaves had been caring for his Mum, our matriarch, while the rest of us stayed on in Canadia. In hospital, so poorly, and with the doctors giving her only days, he recounts a dream she had. Offered, by a figure just out of shot, the choice between leaving right away and staying to see her ‘lambs’, she chose the latter – despite her readiness to go, despite her apparent lack of faith. Big, grey and wrinkled we may have become but it’s a privilege for Barton and I to see Grandma B on our return. Don’t bleat – look after each other, her last words to us. It’s hard to think of any simpler, more profound truth in life.