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Monday, June 30, 2014

"I am Guarding Your Death"

   Saturday morning I was home, getting ready to head over to my friend's store when my mother called me. She and my oldest daughter had gone over to my grandmother's apartment, a few minutes drive from my house, to check on her. My mother's voice on the phone was small and hesitant, "Morgan, your grandmother's died. What do I do?"
   I took a deep breath and I told her to call the police department - I gave her the number - and assured her I'd be right there myself. Leaving my younger children with my friend who had come to watch them while I went out anyway, I drove over and found my mother and daughter standing on the expanse of grass at the senior housing complex, crying. The police were on the way. My mother needed my grandmother's address book to begin calling people to let everyone know what had happened, which is how my mother handles these things. I went in to the apartment to get it. I knelt down next to my grandmother and prayed, to her god and to mine, to our ancestors - especially my grandfather, great-grandfather, and father (her son-in-law).
   The fire department came. Paramedics came. Police came. Everyone was wonderful and kind. My daughter sat out on a bench, in the shade, drinking a soda that a neighbor had given her, next to my mother who clung to the phone like a lifeline. I tried to deal with all of the official things as best I could. The fire department left. The paramedics left. The police explained that the funeral home was tied up at a service and would be at least an hour, so we waited together. The police have to stay with the body until its removed; we didn't have to stay but chose to. I was thinking of the old practice of wakes, of staying with the body and of my father, who had served in Vietnam, telling me that you always stayed with people.
   We watched three turkey vultures circle overhead. An osprey with a fish in its talons flew directly over my grandmother's apartment, earning an exclamation of joy even through my daughter's tears. Later a hawk circled lazily through the dazzling blue sky. Dragonflies darted around and a variety of songbirds flitted in to the feeders set up in front of homes. Neighbors came one at a time to ask what was going on, offering support and cold drinks. We talked with the police officer about my grandmother, about how at 96 she still babysat my older daughters (10 and 6). Still lived on her own, still cooked for herself, still did the crossword everyday.
   Finally the men from the funeral home arrived, not in a hearse but in a nondescript grey van. I was disappointed by that; my grandmother deserved the pomp and style of a real hearse. My mother and daughter took a walk to avoid seeing her being taken out - I stayed. I stood, solemn, and prayed as the gurney went in and came out again with its burden. I tried praying to Manannan to help her soul find its way, but my head didn't want to cooperate. I kept thinking over and over of the line from the Tain Bo Regamna where the Morrigan tells Cu Chulain she is guarding his death, and then the way in the Aided Conculaind that she perches on his shoulder after he dies. I felt very much like I was guarding my grandmother's death. I found myself praying to Badb instead, to help my grandmother find her way, to carry her soul to the Otherworld. Somewhere in the woods behind me crows began calling, their voices a rough caw-caw as the van doors closed.
   This is only the beginning; we must get her apartment cleared out and her possessions dispersed. I must add her picture to my ancestor altar, a bittersweet prospect. She is to be cremated and the ashes divided - a task assigned to me - into three portions. The last is a daunting prospect to consider, but I will do what needs to be done as respectfully as I can.
   My grandmother was an amazing and wonderful person. I grew up with her as a part of my life and I have many happy memories. I am also glad that she was a significant part of my children's lives. I will miss her cooking corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick's Day. I will miss watching White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street with her every year. I will miss her forcing cookies and ice cream on me every time I visited. I will miss taking drives with her along the coast or just sitting in her apartment talking. I will miss the unconditional love. I will miss her, even knowing that she will never really be gone.
   Ochón! Ochón! Tá brón orm.


  1. You did well. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Cothú an talaimh duit;
    Soiléireacht an sholas duit;
    Saoráid an aigéin duit;
    Coimirce do shinsear duit

    Nar is did well, my friend. (((hugs)))