After much aimlessly floating about on my part and being incapable of focusing on the uni work I was supposed to be doing, I ended up taking three days leave and heading to SA on Wednesday morning. It was as simple as these things get, got my boarding pass straight away (shock and awe) and there were tons of empty seats. I managed to get a couple hours sleep, watched Iron Man 2 (again) and Get Him To The Greek and helped myself to a large number of Lindt chocolates and chocolate chip cookies. Pause for a first world problem - has Qantas changed executive chefs or something? The new menu is so utterly unappetising. Blah. And some fourteen hours later I disembarked at OR Tambo and was collected by the parental unit and my aunt J, mum's youngest sister (mum has two other siblings, older sister C and younger brother T.) I have never gone through customs in that country so quickly - the World Cup has clearly helped organise something.
Everything was fine at first - people were obviously upset, but nobody was crying and that was a win in my book. I was sharing a room with my aunt J in my grandmother's house and everything was going pretty uneventfully until my cousin J and uncle A arrived from Cape Town around 10pm, joining my aunt C who was already there. We were all sitting away chatting about things when the inevitable happened and I had my first take at being the soothing, shoulder to cry on. This would set the tone for the following day.
Needless to say, there wasn't much sleep to be had and it was all a bit surreal as Thursday, the day of the funeral, dawned. My grandmother, aforementioned aunts and mum went to view the body and my poor dad was asked to accompany by my uncle T who didn't want to go himself. The rest of us weren't keen either, and thankfully there wasn't any room in the car otherwise I'd have had to go and that's not something I think I'm entirely equipped to deal with.
Emotions were already running high but when they returned it was steadily downhill. My dad was by far more upset than anyone I think, I guess because he hasn't seen my grandfather in well over a year. I was expecting it though - my father is very brash and bold, he talks big and makes a lot of angry noise, but he has the softest, sweetest heart and hurts really, really easily though I don't think even he really realises it. He was shattered, I mean completely and utterly shattered. My uncle A was also very upset - he'd only lost his own father in February - and it was sort of ironic that the brothers-in-law were crying way more than the son was.
I found some black humour in proceedings as everyone kept handing out these homeopathic pills that were meant to calm you down and my cousin J was just running around before the actual service handing it to anyone who even looked like they wouldn't keep it together - as I repeatedly told her, she looked like a drug dealer.
I don't have words to explain how shattered the family was. I don't have words to explain how much it hurts seeing the people you love hurt so much and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. I got through the entire thing without taking any of the little calming pills, and without a single tear, because lord knows, someone had to keep it together. I nearly lost it when my great-grandmother showed up crying, but I managed to maintain my composure.
I don't know if anyone appreciates what I did, how hard it was, or whether I just seemed indifferent and uncaring, but this isn't about me, so it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I held my uncle A's eye as he read the tribute and smiled at the happy memories so that he could get through it without crying; that I kept my mum calm as we drove to the graveyard and hugged my dad, let him cry and shielded him as he dried his eyes after he carried the coffin to its final resting place; that I made sure everyone knew I was there for them whenever they stood looking lost; and that I held my aunt J's hand and hugged her for the entire burial as she sobbed. I was not meant to see my family this broken, this family who have always been so close and so accepting of each other and our individual weirdness, but I am glad that I could be there for them so they could be broken, so that they could have that opportunity to acknowledge their hurt.
Things will probably never be the same, and it will take a long time for the hurt to dull - only dull as I know it will never truly fade. It will be hard on my grandmother now, when everyone has left or gone to work and she is left in her home alone where there had been only routine for years. That hurts me too because if ever there was a fairytale romance, it was in my grandparents. My grandfather was wholly, utterly in love with her every single day of his life and it never faded, never grew less. I wish I could spare her from going through this, but there's nothing I can do.
Anyway, at the wake I saw family I hadn't seen in years - it's kind of sad that this is the only way people really ever get together - but I had to leave well before it wound down as my flight left at 6. Mum stayed with the family, I said my goodbyes and made promises to return for my cousin L's wedding in February, and dad drove me back to the airport. His parents were there and so we spent a little time together, though there's a whole other world of drama in that - my grandfather has ongoing medical problems and my grandmother generally has no idea who I am, but I don't want to get into that. In the end we spent ages waiting around for a boarding pass as the plane was extremely full. An absolute angel of a woman was overseeing the flight however and after hearing my story and seeing that I'd only arrived the day before, she went all out to make sure I got a business class seat back home again, a minor miracle.
You cannot imagine how absolutely drained I was at this point, I hadn't slept properly in well over four days, the pent-up emotion of the day was thrumming through me and I was just feeling so, so tired. By now it was 5.30pm so I had to be escorted through security screening and customs or I wouldn't make the plane. There was some hiccup in the customs line however and the lady ended up saving me a spot in the normal line, so when they turned me away at the front, I just hopped over to where she was waiting. When she left me to go check up on the flight, I was chewed out by some burly South African lout for cutting in line. I'd like to think I thoroughly humiliated him in front of the other people lining up by heatedly explaining my situation and making him look like an insensitive arse, before promptly starting crying. Not that eyes screwed up crying, but the dignified standing tall while glaring at you as tears stream down my face kind of crying.
I couldn't take it anymore. I was all alone, everyone was out of sight, I didn't have to be strong anymore. The ground staff were so incredibly nice and supportive, and the nice lady even hugged me and told me to drink a lot of wine on the plane and get some sleep before letting me board. They virtually closed the doors behind me and before I knew it I was in the air again, alarming the man next to me as I resolutely sniffled and refused to cry as I attempted to read Fellowship of the Ring. This didn't last long however as I promptly passed out, forgoing another unappetising dinner, and didn't wake up again until breakfast, three hours prior to landing.
I believe I spent 26 hours in the air, and 25 on the actual ground in SA. I was entirely fragile when I arrived home on Friday, I couldn't muster the will to do much other than watch The Two Towers (yeah, I'm in the midst of a long overdue Lord of the Rings binge at the moment).
The entire experience was absolutely terrible and I would not recommend it to anyone.
My parents returned yesterday and mum looks awful. I don't know what I can do. What can you do? There's nothing you can say, nothing that will ever make this right with her. So I've booked her in for a massage on Saturday - I'd take her away for the weekend but I blew all my money on this plane ticket and my car needs a service. Also I'm scared of being alone with her, of having to talk about it, because I can't handle any more crying. I'm too drained, too numb, I don't have anything of myself left to give to others.
Work has been so uber nice about it all, just so by the by. The editor and subeditor even got me a card and a gorgeous pot plant - because it will flower every year around the anniversary and it will be something beautiful and happy to remember it by. Isn't that thoughtful and sweet?
Speaking of sweet, I just want to say thanks to all my friends who have been so understanding and willing to listen, and constantly offering to come over and make sure I'm okay, and those on twitter who have been so completely supportive. As you can tell, I tend to bottle things up and it's meant a lot to have that outlet there.
Now I am exhausted and probably done blogging about this. The backlog of everything else continues to grow, as does the backlog of uni work, not helped by my frayed temper and the overwhelming urge to throw books at tutors, but hopefully things will settle back into some semblance of normalcy now that everyone is back home at least and routine is forced to kick in again.
I'm glad that I was in the process of reading Lord of the Rings again now, and that I started re-watching the films a few weeks ago. I love the series and it has seen me through a lot, it'll see me through this. It's filled with such beauty, such sadness and so many brilliant quotes - and in the end it feels appropriate and bittersweet, and in the end we must all let go.
I kind of wish I could share the comfort I find in books and music with my family, it's how I recharge, how I rebuild myself after tearing myself down. Words saved my sanity all those years ago and I hope they have something similar they can hold on to, we must each find our own comfort in the end.
How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your
heart you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are somethings
that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep... that have taken hold.
Bilbo once told me his part in this tale would end, that each of us must come
and go in the telling. Bilbo's story was now over. There would be no more
journeys for him, save one. My dear Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You
will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to
be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.