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  • Gem

A Strange Kind of Grief

Losing a loved one is never easy, but the passing of my Gran has been an entirely new experience for me.


I started the Colour Cave shortly after the death of by beloved dog, Mist, and my Nana (Nona) in early 2018, when I found solace in art. I used to write fiction and did reasonably well with it, but dealing with two losses so close together left me with a hefty dose of writer's block. I tried and tried, and when I did manage to conquer the blank page taunting me, it was utter drivel. After many months I gave up. During that time I had turned to adult colouring as a coping mechanism, as both my Nona and Mist were unwell for many months before they passed. Interestingly, it was Gran who had gifted me a colouring book and started my entire art journey. It became a positive and enjoyable alternative way to express my creativity.


This time, things were different. Art has been a mainstay in my life since that horrible period, and losing my remaining grandmother was inevitable, having made it to the ripe age of 98. My family and I had prepared ourselves for this eventuality many years before, but I don't think any of us realised how it would affect us. I made the assumption that I would either bury myself in art and use it as an emotional crutch - or worse, revert to the previous situation and not want to/be able to create at all.


Neither of these things happened, and I was able to function relatively normally aside from a few bouts of tears. But there were different struggles. Gran literally died of old age. Her body slowed down and stopped, and it was really only the last few weeks when she was unable to care for herself that things became stressful. No terrible diseases, no heart attacks, just a very gradual and gentle end.


The difficulty came from within - both my mother and I struggled with the situation in how we thought we 'should' be feeling, which was a constant tug-of-war between someone living a full and wholesome 98 years ('she can't live forever') and being sensible about an old person dying, and this massive, gaping hole where our mother/grandmother used to be. My Gran, Mum and I are very close. We were both far too hard on ourselves regarding these feelings, feeling guilty for getting upset, thinking we were being 'silly'. The reality was, old or not, we were (and still are) grieving. My mother lost her mum, whom she was lucky to have for 68 years. Sometimes I think the longer you have something, the harder it is to let go of. Neither of us can change how we treated ourselves, it's done now, but it was a very important lesson for me.


I struggled to process a lot of my emotions. Normally talking it out helps me a lot (but you knew that, right?), and Mr Gem had endless patience for me in my neurotic states, but it didn't seem to help. I didn't really have anyone that understood my situation, and I realised why when I was talking to my Dad about it - Not many people have a long, close adult relationship with their grandparents. Many people lose their grandparents as children or teenagers. It's a foreign concept to my parents generation, but also to many of my own generation. Gran and I had rare and unique relationship in that respect, and the only other person that truly understood was my cousin - because he was in the same boat.


I spoke at the funeral, told funny stories about Gran, and my cousin approved, which comforted me no end, and I think it gave him some comfort too. The day of the funeral him and I talked and talked about it, sat in the car park of the crematorium, and it was a relief for both of us to realise this confusing jumble of feelings was shared - Gran was like a second mother to both of us.


From these conversations and shared experiences, I realised it's okay to be practical and talk frankly about the death of an elderly person, but it's also okay to grieve the loss of a very much loved person, old or not.