Good-bye Glad

Yesterday we buried my grandmother-in-law. She isn’t actually my grandmother by birth or marriage but sometimes it takes someone’s passing to put things into perspective. I learned a bit more about her life and the impact she had on her family, my partner’s family, my family. She was a woman who spoke her mind, smoked and drank with a regularity almost like clockwork, not excessive, but often. Gladys Moll was loved by all who knew her. She was a country woman, with a knack for gardening and didn’t hesitate to shoot a snake if she saw one or thought she saw one.

Mixed-Colors-Purple-Yellow

Gladiolus, flower of her namesake.

She came down to our place a few times with her daughter, my partner’s mother on the Queen’s Birthday long weekends for a gardening fest and a visit. As the years wore on she didn’t cope with long drives so we only saw her when we went to Mildura for family gatherings and holiday visits. I watched her age a fair bit in the last few years. Her decline was evident in the reduced dexterity in her hands from arthritis and a year or so ago she had a small stroke which left her nearly blind, and sapping much of her vigour and will to live.

I remember one weekend of gardening she sat down with our orchids and separated the bulbs, I’d never grown orchids and the first year I lived in my house, it was a pleasant surprise to find them in bloom that first winter. I don’t know how it would have been for the orchids if she hadn’t separated them but I like to think she has helped me enjoy the orchids for longer than if she hadn’t done it. She loves to be helpful but doesn’t ask, just finds things to do and does them, pruning and weeding as she sees the need.

I didn’t have so much fondness for her at first. I really struggled with her smoking, found it hard to be around. She seemed to complain a lot, the thing I heard come out of her mouth most often, almost a habitual response to anything was “Oh gawd,” often followed by a little chuckle. I didn’t understand her little sayings either. Hearing the eulogy yesterday I appreciated her in a different way. I saw the silly little sayings as part of who she was. I think some of it was a product of her time and her way of making life interesting. I guess when you grow up in a remote farm there’s a need for that. Something our modern world with its technology and fast pace wouldn’t be able to appreciate so much.

When she’d say something that to me sounded odd, my partner would look at me and say, “Have you never heard that saying before.” No. I hadn’t. I didn’t grow up here, I miss a lot of cultural references. At least with things like “It’s going straight to the pool room.” I could watch the movie and understand it. Yesterday I had the funeral service to build more context for the sayings that made little sense to me at the time. It helped me understand who she was in ways I didn’t when she was alive.

We went to the viewing before the funeral, a chance to have a private, open-casket good-bye. I thought there’d be a few people there but it was just us, my partner’s mom and sisters, and brother-in-law. None of them had experienced this before. They were all a bit freaked out at the idea of seeing her dead. I was impressed, she looked very peaceful. It was a nice way for them all to see her looking better than she did in the hospital with tubes and stuff coming out of her. It can give a sense of relief to see a loved one who’s passed, without suffering, and even with out life as sad as it is.

I felt honoured to be able to share the grief with the family, this family I have become part of in the last 10 years. They never questioned my presence or role at the funeral and found myself sitting in the front row next to my partner who was next to her Mom, the other sisters didn’t want to be in the front. The pallbearers looked very smart as they carried the coffin over to the frame above the open ground. I swear the coffin would have weighed more than she did. She was a tiny woman with a big personality despite how unassuming she was. It still feels weird to refer to her in the past tense.

I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral. She died a couple of years after I came back to Australia. It was sad that my reality at the time meant it wasn’t affordable to fly back to Canada. But when I think of it now I could have asked the family to fly me back, if it was really important to me. At the time I guess I felt like it wasn’t or maybe I wasn’t.

Grieving Glad was a blessing. It felt a bit like I got to grieve my own grandmother as well as who Glad was in my life. I think I let go of a bunch of other stuff or at least released some of the sadness that had been sitting in me, unexpressed. Being able to grieve with the family at a time where sadness is appropriate felt like a gift. The domain the family primarily operates from is the physical and I’ve struggled in the past being comfortable expressing my emotional self among them. It felt good to be able to cry together. Especially sitting in the front row as the tiny coffin was brought onto the silver frame above the hole in the earth.

At the end of the service people were given a chance to pay their final respects, a basket of flowers and a tin tub of grain was available for people to put on the coffin. It had been lowered a bit but not right down, even that was an emotional thing to watch. It gave the reality of her being put in the ground a sharp edge but still respectful. We went up, took a flower and tossed it on top of the beautiful flower arrangement already on the coffin. And tossed some grain in, likely grown on the farm where she lived. It reminded me of how she was part of the great undeclared pillar of Australia that is its primary producers, growing food for our tables. It’s amazing how you can appreciate things in death in ways that life doesn’t seem to offer. It inspires me to make the most of my life, my relationships, and appreciate who each of them are while we are here, in life.

2 thoughts on “Good-bye Glad

  1. That was lovely Tathra. Pass on my condolemces to Emma. So was the funeral in Mildura or Bali
    You write really well Tathra. Grandma,’s are special people.

    • Thanks Carmel, the funeral was in Mildura, two days before we flew to Bali. Made it a bit stressful time wise but made more sense to have the funeral before we left. Was a lesson in surrender and focusing on what’s important, letting go of the rest.

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