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I was forced to miss my gran's funeral, and I'm struggling to deal with her death Without the rituals of grief, I'm at a loss as to how to mourn my gran
(about 2 hours later)
The coronavirus restrictions didn’t allow a collective act of mourning for all the family. The grief feels lonely, says journalist James Greig Lockdown is a state of suspended reality during which I’ve struggled to process the fact of her dying, says journalist James Greig
For the last few years, every time my mum called me out of the blue I would brace myself for the news that my gran had died. A few weeks ago, after misfiring so many times, that premonition was finally proved correct.For the last few years, every time my mum called me out of the blue I would brace myself for the news that my gran had died. A few weeks ago, after misfiring so many times, that premonition was finally proved correct.
Because the country was under lockdown, and I was hundreds of miles from where she lived in Melrose in the Scottish Borders, there was never any question that I would attend the funeral. Immediately, I seized upon this as being “the hardest part”. It seemed like the only aspect of someone dying at 97 years old that could be thought of as unfair or tragic.Because the country was under lockdown, and I was hundreds of miles from where she lived in Melrose in the Scottish Borders, there was never any question that I would attend the funeral. Immediately, I seized upon this as being “the hardest part”. It seemed like the only aspect of someone dying at 97 years old that could be thought of as unfair or tragic.
After some consideration, we decided not to have a virtual funeral, on the basis that having to mess around with the necessary technology might detract from the solemnity of the occasion; it wouldn’t be very dignified if half the mourners were kicked off the Zoom call after 40 minutes. This decision made sense, I think; the last time I spoke to my family online we were accidentally Zoom-bombed by a bewildered stranger, something which would have been less funny in the context of a memorial service.After some consideration, we decided not to have a virtual funeral, on the basis that having to mess around with the necessary technology might detract from the solemnity of the occasion; it wouldn’t be very dignified if half the mourners were kicked off the Zoom call after 40 minutes. This decision made sense, I think; the last time I spoke to my family online we were accidentally Zoom-bombed by a bewildered stranger, something which would have been less funny in the context of a memorial service.
In the end, five people were allowed to attend. I’m told that it was a beautiful service; it was a bright, clear day and, from the crematorium, you could see the Eildon hills that my gran had loved so much.In the end, five people were allowed to attend. I’m told that it was a beautiful service; it was a bright, clear day and, from the crematorium, you could see the Eildon hills that my gran had loved so much.
But not being able to be there felt profoundly wrong, an insult to her memory that even the context didn’t quite excuse. I was also sad that we couldn’t have a wake, that we didn’t get the chance to get drunk as a family, tell sentimental stories and cry. Over the next week, my mum dug out old photos of her and sent them over WhatsApp: as a young woman in her nurse’s uniform, then, later in life, cradling my younger brother or smiling from a hilltop.But not being able to be there felt profoundly wrong, an insult to her memory that even the context didn’t quite excuse. I was also sad that we couldn’t have a wake, that we didn’t get the chance to get drunk as a family, tell sentimental stories and cry. Over the next week, my mum dug out old photos of her and sent them over WhatsApp: as a young woman in her nurse’s uniform, then, later in life, cradling my younger brother or smiling from a hilltop.
As nice as this was, it wasn’t quite the same as being able to pore over them together. Like so many other people this year, we missed out on the rituals of grief. I think that this, along with the death toll itself, is one of the cruellest aspects of the pandemic.As nice as this was, it wasn’t quite the same as being able to pore over them together. Like so many other people this year, we missed out on the rituals of grief. I think that this, along with the death toll itself, is one of the cruellest aspects of the pandemic.
Having been in the unusually fortunate position of getting to the age of 27 without experiencing a major bereavement, it’s possible that I have an inflated and naive sense of what attending a funeral can achieve. Elsewhere in my personal life, I’ve realised that the concept of closure never quite plays out as you’d like it to. If you feel bad about something, there’s never a silver bullet that will make that go away.Having been in the unusually fortunate position of getting to the age of 27 without experiencing a major bereavement, it’s possible that I have an inflated and naive sense of what attending a funeral can achieve. Elsewhere in my personal life, I’ve realised that the concept of closure never quite plays out as you’d like it to. If you feel bad about something, there’s never a silver bullet that will make that go away.
And yet still I imagine that mourning after a funeral would be something more pure and direct than what I feel now, which is not much of anything, that it would allow me to rise to a summit of grief and then descend. Maybe there’s an element of self-flagellation at play. Maybe I’m worried that I just don’t feel sad enough about the death of someone I loved. At least a funeral would have allowed me to weep in public and confirm it.And yet still I imagine that mourning after a funeral would be something more pure and direct than what I feel now, which is not much of anything, that it would allow me to rise to a summit of grief and then descend. Maybe there’s an element of self-flagellation at play. Maybe I’m worried that I just don’t feel sad enough about the death of someone I loved. At least a funeral would have allowed me to weep in public and confirm it.
In some ways, though, there could be worse times to be bereaved. At the time of the funeral, streets across the country were quiet, the headlines were grave, the world at large was imbued with a sense of loss. As far as we know she didn’t die of Covid-19, nor was she in a care home, which meant I felt a kind of imposter syndrome thinking of her death in this context. But still, grief felt like something that clicked into a larger narrative.In some ways, though, there could be worse times to be bereaved. At the time of the funeral, streets across the country were quiet, the headlines were grave, the world at large was imbued with a sense of loss. As far as we know she didn’t die of Covid-19, nor was she in a care home, which meant I felt a kind of imposter syndrome thinking of her death in this context. But still, grief felt like something that clicked into a larger narrative.
Now, just a few weeks later, that sense of national mourning has all but disappeared. The parks are filling up again, the newspapers are shifting to triumphant jingoism; on VE Day, people danced in the street. The fact that I had been unable to go to the funeral and then, less than a month later, people were breaking lockdown to do the conga and dress up as aeroplanes filled me with a finger-wagging self-righteousness. I will allow that there are greater tragedies than for a grown man to lose his 97-year-old grandmother and I don’t expect the nation to observe a period of mourning on my behalf, but sometimes the jolliness of the national mood feels like an insult to the dead, to all of them. The longer this goes on, the lonelier grief feels.Now, just a few weeks later, that sense of national mourning has all but disappeared. The parks are filling up again, the newspapers are shifting to triumphant jingoism; on VE Day, people danced in the street. The fact that I had been unable to go to the funeral and then, less than a month later, people were breaking lockdown to do the conga and dress up as aeroplanes filled me with a finger-wagging self-righteousness. I will allow that there are greater tragedies than for a grown man to lose his 97-year-old grandmother and I don’t expect the nation to observe a period of mourning on my behalf, but sometimes the jolliness of the national mood feels like an insult to the dead, to all of them. The longer this goes on, the lonelier grief feels.
How can you explain why your grandmother was a good person without sounding banal? She was kind, she was funny; she spent her life working in the NHS as a nurse; she told vivid, elaborate stories when I was young and once knitted my brothers and I a set of crocheted Teletubbies; she accepted it wholeheartedly when I came out as gay. I feel immensely lucky to have had my childhood blessed by the presence of someone I always considered magical. But, you know, most people love their grandparents; in that sense, our relationship was very special and not special at all.How can you explain why your grandmother was a good person without sounding banal? She was kind, she was funny; she spent her life working in the NHS as a nurse; she told vivid, elaborate stories when I was young and once knitted my brothers and I a set of crocheted Teletubbies; she accepted it wholeheartedly when I came out as gay. I feel immensely lucky to have had my childhood blessed by the presence of someone I always considered magical. But, you know, most people love their grandparents; in that sense, our relationship was very special and not special at all.
Lockdown is a state of suspended unreality. As such, I’ve struggled to process the fact of her dying. It hasn’t sunk in; I just don’t quite believe it. Without a funeral or people to grieve with, all I have are entry-level epiphanies about the nature of death. I wish I could speak to her one last time, while knowing that one last time wouldn’t be enough. Lockdown is a state of suspended reality. As such, I’ve struggled to process the fact of her dying. It hasn’t sunk in; I just don’t quite believe it. Without a funeral or people to grieve with, all I have are entry-level epiphanies about the nature of death. I wish I could speak to her one last time, while knowing that one last time wouldn’t be enough.
I try not to think of all the times, over the years, when I could have called her but didn’t, because I was hungover or caught up in some transient personal drama or simply couldn’t be bothered. While I’m still unable to go to her house and see that she isn’t there, her absence is abstract. As long as the lockdown lasts, it’s as if she isn’t dead at all.I try not to think of all the times, over the years, when I could have called her but didn’t, because I was hungover or caught up in some transient personal drama or simply couldn’t be bothered. While I’m still unable to go to her house and see that she isn’t there, her absence is abstract. As long as the lockdown lasts, it’s as if she isn’t dead at all.
• James Greig is a journalist based in London who writes for Vice, i-D and Huck• James Greig is a journalist based in London who writes for Vice, i-D and Huck