“You need to come home early, you need to come home now…”
I knew something was wrong as soon as I heard her shaky voice, but these words took a moment to sink in. I denied the possibility of a swift return like I thought that would change the dark reality. “It’s probably crazy expensive Mum, I can’t just change flights. It’s only a week until I get there…” I was just hoping she realised that it’s plenty of time and she shouldn’t even have worried me… Instead she just left me with a harrowing plea “Try, please”. I get the flight quotes then called my Grandmother, my Northern star, I hoped she will balance, I hope she’ll tell me it’s not so bad that Mum was overreacting. “If that’s the earliest you can do… I can’t guarantee she’ll be alive” Every bit of me shattered. No, that wasn’t what she was meant to say. I howled, I hit out around me which was mostly pillows. I felt so helpless, so far away, a world away. The next day as I yell at my travel agents to get me an even earlier flight, Mum called… I assumed it was to get a travel update, it wasn’t. She can barley say the words through her tears, as soon as I hear her cry I’m sobbing too. No, no it can’t happen like this, I was meant to make it in time. I was meant to make it at the last second and save the day. There wasn’t enough time. Mum passes around the phone so I can hear the grief of my whole family. Maybe to share it so I didn’t feel so far away. I felt that every person I spoke to just made it more real, there was no denying all these tears. Mum made me speak to my Uncle, I didn’t want to, I didn’t want him to have to console me, not when I should be there supporting him and his kids. I told him that I was sorry that I wasn’t there, I couldn’t breath properly through my wrenching sobs. “Shhhh, slow down, slow down. There is nothing you could have done.” I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on work and making internal lists of everything I had to do before I flew the next day. “Look at it this way, the worst has already happened, you are not racing home hopping you’ll make it on time. You just need to do what you can and you’ll get there when you do.” Hopeless, helpless, sorrow and guilt all on rotation.
Then I did something I am so glad I pushed myself to do. I let him in. I am so used to dealing with all my problems myself or with close family and friends. Then I thought if our roles were reversed I’d want to know. He was perfect. A perfect distraction, a perfect listener, consoling and sharing. He spoke of his young loss and his experiences. He told me off when I went into a full guilt spiral on the morning of the flight. I just moved overseas, 25 hours away from home. To what? Follow my dreams? I should have been helping their household, I should have been there for my cousins for my Uncle. I should of seen her in the last two years, before it was too late. He didn’t let me keep that narrative, the ‘What if’s’ the ‘I should of’. He just held me. He spent a lot of the day stroking my hair and keeping me calm. I didn’t need him, I have worked hard not to need anyone. He indulged me in my selfish and personal aspects of my grief. I spent a day that was just about me and my tears and oh so many of my feelings. He let me have stillness, calm before the inevitable storm. Regardless of whatever this does or does not become I will always be grateful for him, for this time.
The last time I spoke to my her: I was chatting to Mum about that fact that I am not a ‘Free Spirit’ that in fact I thought I was a ‘Planned spirit’ she popped her head into frame and said “Don’t worry Jas, I’m a planned spirit too!” A week after she died I found the last thing she said to me, it was a birthday message on Skype sent the day before she went into hospital “Happy birthday, lovely niece! We all miss you and can’t wait to see you xx” I never saw this message so didn’t reply. I have never known grief like this, the injustice heightened it all. She was 44, a mother of two young kids, a wife of my brilliant Uncle, a powerhouse to be reckoned with, a fighter, a teacher, one of mine.