Death. It’s a bastard, but it is something that happens to everybody else. It doesn’t happen to my family, or friends. It happens to other people’s brothers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, pets. The coffin in the back of the hearse is always somebody else’s relative. The obituary in the back of the paper is always about a stranger. Before 2012 death always felt like it was safely out of bounds, as if I was one step ahead of death, and could keep jumping out of its way time and time again. Like it would touch everyone else but me, never me. But 2012 has fucked my safe system. Death has stabbed me twice and has left me scarred.
My Granddad, Keith Metcalfe, was taken ill, suddenly, a number of weeks ago, with a bleed on the brain. The bleed, unfortunately, resulted in brain damage, and when we arrived at the hospital just after five pm, he couldn’t squeeze our hands.
Granddad’s room was small and hot, with a large framed picture of a sun dappled bluebell wood on the wall. Eleven of us squeezed into the tiny space and took turns holding Granddad’s hands and stroking his head, over the course of twelve hours. The debate over what the doctors could and should have done was furious, and the tears spilled hot and fast. I had never realised before how small Granddad’s hands were. But they were strong hands, very strong hands.
We drank tea out of small cups, and downed beakers of water. Silences were long and taught with emotion. It was the first time that the entire family had been together in at least two decades.
It took a number of hours for the severity of Granddad’s condition to hit, and for me to accept that he wasn’t going to wake up. Nanna kept on begging for a miracle, and her pleas made my heart hurt more. When my other Granddad died earlier on in the year, I was scared to tell him that I loved him, scared to kiss his face.
I kept nudging my Dad in the direction of Nanna (his Mum) and it was only towards the end that he ventured to the side of the bed where he could see his Dad’s face.
I found myself getting irate with every one of the nurses on the night shift. I was convinced they weren’t doing their job properly, that they didn’t give a shit. How could they be so indifferent as they checked his breathing or moved him so as to make him appear more comfortable? It was hard to get to grips with the fact that dealing with the dying and their families is what they’ve been trained to do. My respect for nurses has always been high, but when it is a member of your family dying in a hospital bed, rational thinking goes out of the window. You want these people to be sobbing with you.
After 3am, my sister and I shared a bakewell flapjack and I drank a cup of weak hot chocolate from the vending machine. The corridors were quiet and dark and smelled of disinfectant and antiseptic. We talked about Granddad’s advice on how to get rid of whitlows – to pick them out using tweezers, and how he used to get excited over the little things, like cherry tomatoes growing in his garden, or a path he’d managed to clear in the woods or the delicious caramel biscuits he’d managed to get at Home Bargains for forty nine pence.
The room was filled with the intense light of a early, hot July morning, when Granddad passed. It was just after six, the time he normally got up, so as not to waste any of the day.