The shock came first. Those of you who read my blog will remember me talking about my grandmother last month. While I knew she wasn’t well I hadn’t expected this. The panic came next. I was in Spain leading a yoga retreat. I couldn’t leave and go home and yet I felt torn; I wanted to see her and spend time with her; she was dying.
Death… it’s not exactly a conversation starter in this day and age with so much focus on living and being present to life. Defined in the dictionary, quite coldly in my opinion, as ‘a permanent cessation of all vital functions: the end of life’. And it was happening to someone who has always been a big part of my life.
She has always been there to come home to. I could always call and there would be a cup of tea and a slice of brown bread with marmalade. There would be morning mass with her, lunch in one of the many places in Carrickmacross she frequented, a walk to the graveyard to visit Granda’s grave and of course the old movies that were played on a regular basis. There would be her stories, her laughter, her singing, her sayings – “Okey Dokey”, “Ach sure you have what the cow died with…” (Translation: You’re joking!), and her reassurance that life would turn out well no matter what the problem.
And so the yoga retreat became an opportunity to embrace presence. My Granny was a strong woman and as with a lot of her generation she wasn’t about to head off without a story. The week that followed was about honesty, vulnerability, love, sharing, compassion and kindness. I received it in bucket loads from my wonderful students and my family back home and as I sat on the plane to fly back to Ireland some days later, I felt at peace with my choice to stay present and surrender to the flow of life.
Lizzie Drury died last Friday morning surrounded by her family. Given the events of the last week she did indeed leave this earth with a story and she left a legacy behind that touched the hearts of many. The 48 hours turned into a week, it turned into family from around the globe flying in to see her and honour her. It turned into a sharing of stories and singing at her hospital bedside as she slid further from this physical world. I am grateful to say that I had 2 wonderful days and nights to sit with her and hold her hand, to be with my family and to see how we all came together to support each other and to help her on her way.
I watched a documentary last year called Griefwalker, which is an insight into the life of a Canadian gentleman, Stephen Jenkinson. My understanding of his mission for his life is to shift our perception of the act of dying from one of denial and resistance into acceptance and for us to see death an essential part of life. What I took from it is that we need to learn to love the act of dying as much as we love the act of living. In the opening of the movie he says: “The cradle of your love of life is the fact that it ends.”
My Granny had a beautiful death. She left this world in peace and contentment, in full acceptance that she had fulfilled her soul’s purpose on this earth and it was obvious to everyone who came to pay their respects over the weekend. My uncle counted over a thousand people who came through the doors of her home during her wake. The church was full on Sunday morning for her funeral mass and while there was sadness there was also an overwhelming sense of celebration for a lady who was born in 1917, lived through so much change and was laid to rest in the very place where she had been born and had lived her whole life.
Whilst my Grandfather died 30 years ago she still embraced her life with gusto. Herself and her friend, Kitty, took many bus tours around the British Isles, fondly referred to as Carrick’s version of Thelma & Louise; she traveled to Rome and had a yearly pilgrimage to Lourdes. She was independent and had an inner strength that was visible throughout her journey. All weekend people spoke highly of her and more often than not had a story to share about their experience of her.
I will remember much of my Granny. Most of all I will remember her for love; love of her faith, her family, her friends; and her never ending love for my Grandfather even though he passed away quite a long time ago.
"Live happily and die majestically... No sorrow, no anxiety, no distress. Let me leave this Earth with hope."
BKS Iyengar (1918-2014)
She did indeed live happily in a time when there was hardship and life wasn’t always easy. She died majestically in the arms of her family and she left a legacy of respect and love in the hearts of all she met and that will live on in all of us. I can only hope that I do her justice and embrace my soul journey as she did hers.
Rest in peace my beautiful Granny. I love you always.