The Lovely Monsters

As a grieving man I am no different to a storm chaser. Terrified but compelled to move in closer, to be intimately aligned with something I hope can heal me but that has the power to completely destroy me.

As a grieving man I am no different to a storm chaser. Terrified but compelled to move in closer, to be intimately aligned with something I hope can heal me but that has the power to completely destroy me.

"Ah tired!"

Those words closed her sentence and opened my eyes.

In eighteen years of knowing her, this was the first time I had ever heard granny complain of fatigue. It was an early Sunday afternoon in May 1998. She loved the youthfulness of contemporary music channels, so MTV was blaring music back when MTV still played music and I was sat in the middle of the living room floor with my 9 year old brother doing something that now means nothing because I cannot recall it.

"Julli (that's what she called him). You too close to the telly!"

He backed away from the 32in screen.

"Min' me drink!"

I spat darts of prickly laughter. He was miles away from her drink but granny was always warning the washbelly to be aware of the Draught Guinness where it stood at the corner of her feet. Back then I thought she was teasing him; now that I have begun to unravel the many wisdoms she showered me with throughout the years I am certain this was a caveat, cautioning us of the dangers of impending adulthood, alcohol and addiction that have all reared their monstrous heads in friendships and in foes throughout the years.

Wisdom was the most abstract thing about my great granny, everything else - her kindness, compassion, love, strength and empathy were all so conspicuous all of the time. Every Sunday, randomly, she would cut through the crap music and ask:

"You goh cry when me dead!"

Words falling from her tongue like a tiny avalanche of crumbling patois. Deliberate, forward and funny. What was she talking about! She wouldn't die. She is far too kind to inflict something so agonising on us. Granny wouldn't dare die and leave the body without its head.

At 10.30am. 22 June 1998 she proved me wrong. Headless and struggling to keep my head together, I kicked off my shoes to feel the cold from the tiles between my toes. I needed to feel something to remind me to live; to remind me that I was alive; to remind me that my Aunt had just told me in a corridor (how unbefitting I thought later), that granny was dead.

I didn't cry. I looked at the lifts.

The lifts opened. People got in. The lifts closed. The lifts opened again. The people had disappeared.

A chill crept into my ankles and arrested them like cuffs. I ran through the ICU and stood staring at my granny's dead body with cold feet wondering where I had left my black suede loafers. I thought superheroes lived forever but when I saw my gran's empty body lying behind that cheap blue curtain I realised, too late, that she was human. She looked tired. She needed rest. I was happy then that she was sleeping.

Her death humanised me. I became scared, fearful and angry. Every Sunday for the four years prior to her passing, I had walked her from our living room to her own along the Old Kent Road. Eighteen months after her passing I was still making the same journey, every Sunday.

To me, death is really just bad magic. Just like the lifts that open, consume people whole, close and open again having swallowed them, death tries to convince us the people it carries away are gone forever, but the thing is, granny is just in the next province. She can't talk or show herself to me in the language we once shared but she's there on the other side, stuck in some shit magic trick.

A few months back, I saw my grandmother at her home (granny's daughter). Mid-conversation she asked me to reach for a bag behind the sofa, so I did. A few moments after I handed it to her she began to extract assorted papers from it. Her driver's license from when she lived in New York, her Canadian passport, her American social security card, several photos and two pieces of folded paper.

One of those pieces of paper was granny's handwritten birth certificate from Jamaica, held together with yellowed tape in a plastic wallet. The death certificate was as good as new. I read it; confronted with closure, that is when I cried.

I had always assumed she was as "tired" as she told me she was that Sunday afternoon in May. It wasn't until the death certificate was produced 15 years later that I realised she had Carcinomatosis.

Here's what I remember most.

Every time a storm comes it carries the scent of roasted breadfruit coming off her breath as she sits, stitches and says:

"It sound like God is moving some almighty furniture".

The weight of her yellow breasts was not what broke her bra strap. It was the age of the thing. It was the creeping cancer of penury. Seated on the ground, the dining table chairs are starved of our little black arses and I'm squinting with the eye of the needle, just as it is obscured between her teeth. In one admirable motion she manages to pull the thread through the needle, knot the loose end and starts to stitch up her ripped brassiere.

I had laid my head on my granny's breasts more times than I was capable of remembering. They were full of wisdom. I imagined if she let go of the broken strap a million poignancies and prolific patois quotes would spill out onto the kitchen table, but that day she kept them ensconced in her brassiere.

I never considered the lovely monsters again until they made me cry with the proof that death isn't just some shit magic trick.

Death is no different to a storm - beautiful but scary - and the grief that chases us.

My granny died of breast cancer.

There, I finally said it.