On the twenty-third of April this year, my Finnish grandmother
, known to me as 'Mummi
' died suddenly.
April is the cruellest month
, and, as she had recently been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease
- the same debilitating, cruel affliction that ravages Steven Hawking
- I had been preparing myself for the first death
of someone close to me. When it came, however, I felt numb, and denied myself any sentimentality, going about my schooldays much as usual; sharing an in-joke over a crafty cigarette, trying to get to grips with Gulliver's Travels
and listening to my summer mix tape
On Thursday, May Day, my brother and I made our way from school to London on a ten o'clock train. In a dispute over the validity of our tickets, resulting in me having to shell out for another ticket even though I had already paid for two, I suddenly felt a wave of melancholy welling up in the pit of my stomach. On the tube to Camden Town, where my now-widowed grandfather lives, I fished a book out of my bag to try and distract myself from the poignancies I was beginning to dwell on. It was an edition of Rilke's selected poems. I happened upon a poem called 'Parting' which I had not previously noticed.
It describes a sudden separation from a loved one better than I ever could,as 'a waving, now already unrelatedto me, a slight, continuing wave, - scarce now explainable: perhaps a plum tree boughsome perching cuckoo's hastily vacated'.
This seemed to encapsulate beautifully what I was feeling, her passing. That plum tree bough was still quavering, that slight wave still continuing. At the funeral, Finnish folk-songs were played and a translation provided by my father. The words were full of hazy lakes and sensations of wood smoke, evocative glimpses of a beautiful country. It was when the coffin (bedecked with lilacs - yes, the lilacs that cruel April breeds from the 'dead ground' in T.S. Eliot's opening installment of 'The Wasteland'. They were her favourite flowers) that I was overcome with grief. I thought tears would come, but there was only heavy breathing and misty eyes. I pictured the bough quavering, and felt the last time I embraced her. We left the chapel and were bathed in the warmth of an unreal summery day. Most of my family were weeping.
What is the point of this node? Simply that it is possible to find great comfort in symbols. For me, it was that quavering bough that had been recently vacated and the lilacs, which I returned to whenever my spirits fell. Terttu Kaarina R.I.P.