When I was growing up my grandmother played a big part in my life. Her death, when I was thirteen had a huge effect on me. The rituals around her dying - she being an Irish Catholic, are still clear to me now.
She had a stroke six weeks before
and slept downstairs
'So they could keep an eye on her
- my lovely grandmother, Elizabeth.
I would whisper
'Granny, are you alright?'
and be shushed out of the room.
On December 12th, 1961
she was dying. They knelt around the bed
and said the Rosary.
May and Lizzie, their husbands and children,
cousins and neighbours, droning their prayers.
As she struggled to breathe: loud then slow and slowing,
the candle flickered shadows on the wall.
Sad faces, some old and lined, anticipating
the arrival of the Monsignor - to give her Unction.
They hoped that she would live until he arrived.
'She had a good life - a long life' they said
'But some people live to be a hundred!'
my thirteen year old self shouted back -
My mother and the nurse laid her out
on her big mahogany bed.
'The ritual gave me comfort'
Mam said later -
Best linens, starched and waiting
for this time - her habit - a dress especially made for death
Beads entwined in her dear fingers.
These preparations a ceremony of love and care
I wouldn't, couldn't look at her
They did -
I hated them for that.