“I refused to believe that grandma could really go”EDEN KEILY-THURSTAIN

My grandma passed away two weeks ago. Even though for a few weeks we had known it may happen, I still felt hopelessly surprised when it did. Right up until the end, I clung onto hope that things would get better. I refused to believe that grandma could really go.

Grandma initially went into hospital after a fall. But as she was getting better, she contracted COVID. It was at this point that I really began to worry. Grandma wasn’t at her strongest, and (try as I might) I couldn’t give her my strength to fight the virus. As visits weren’t allowed, I couldn’t sit with her and hold her hand through it all. And so a great cloud settled over my shoulders. Each day I’d wait anxiously to hear news, any news, about grandma. My heart dropped on the days when she wasn’t doing too well and soared on the days when it looked like things may be okay after all.

Although they weren’t always easy, I came to treasure my daily conversations with grandma. I remember being shocked when I first called her, as I hadn’t realised she was quite so unwell. Breathing had evidently become a challenge for grandma, and she had frequent lapses of consciousness. On some days she struggled to speak, or I’d find it hard to understand her (and get upset with myself for not being able to). On others, she was confused and disorientated. It was agony to hear grandma suffering. I wanted more than anything to make it better, to take away her pain.

“My heart dropped on the days when she wasn’t doing too well and soared on the days when it looked like things may be okay after all”

We had good chats, though – grandma and me. We talked about tea and her delicious chicken soup, about coats and cardigans (a shared love), about the pretty field behind her garden and the Sylvanian Families that she always used to buy for us. I told her about my siblings and what we were all up to, and she said it’s lovely that we are all so close. I remember I wished she could be here with us all. Other times, we talked about grandma leaving hospital – something which she was always very excited about. My heart broke a little whenever we chatted about it though because I wanted to have the confidence to say ‘when’ you come home, but I couldn't bring myself to say ‘when’. “‘If’ you come out, I’ll make you tea”, I promised. “We can catch up on everything – it’s been so long now, hasn’t it? Now that I can drive, I’ll come see you more often”, I said. Grandma received these words with gratitude. She’d always tell me how much she loved me, and it made my heart sing. How lucky I am, I thought- to be so loved.

I remember one evening I called grandma and asked her if she’d like me to play some piano. Yes, she said generously (considering the fact I can hardly play). So I started playing Abide With Me very shakily, because I found that my hands were trembling. Then, about midway through the piece which hadn’t gone so well because I kept fumbling and pressing the wrong keys – the phone call cut out. Everything felt very silent all of a sudden. I called the nurses straight away. Is grandma ok? I asked. I was terrified that every phone call would be the last. The nurses said that she was, that she’d just fallen asleep. That made me smile (a real smile which crinkles the corners of the eyes) – my piano playing has never sent anyone to sleep before, you see.


Mountain View

Grief in the time of Coronavirus

It is strange that I cannot paint out in vivid detail the last phone call I had with grandma. I was a little distracted on that day, my thoughts were hovering in a tangled manner and I was struggling to find words to say. I felt nervous, on edge even. I tried my best to sound cheerful and animated in the hope that it would make grandma more comfortable. This was oddly exhausting, though, because I was so filled with worry for her, that sounding upbeat took all the energy I had.

That night, grandma fell into a deep sleep and stopped responding altogether. I called the hospital the next day soon after waking up. “She’s really unwell”, a worried nurse told me. I spent all afternoon in a haze; distracted and anxious. In the evening, the nurses said one of my siblings could visit. My brother went in and sat with grandma for nearly an hour. When he called us from inside the hospital, I couldn’t help my voice from wavering and faltering. The sheer finality of the situation had suddenly struck me. Grandma will probably never open her bright blue eyes again, I thought to myself; the knowledge of it all cut right through me. “Sweet dreams” is the last thing I ever said to her.

“How lucky I am, I thought – to be so loved”

That night I hardly slept. I felt restless and heavy with emotion, so I wrote grandma a letter saying all the things I wanted her to know and carefully folded it in an envelope. At 6am, we got a call from our uncle. The nurses said that we could visit right away because things were “really bad”. Just as I was leaving bed, however, we got another call. Grandma had passed away while sleeping (hopefully dreaming), just as the birds started to sing outside. 

I’ll always remember that day as the day the snow finally cleared. And I’ll always remember grandma as the lovely woman with watery blue eyes and a fountain of love to give.