Queen Victoria and My Grandmother

Write hard and clear about what hurts .

-Earnest Hemingway

My grandmother passed away three days ago. That’s what hurts, Earnest Hemingway. It hurts really badly. So I’m going to write about it because I don’t know how else to understand it. I’m confused, and it doesn’t make any sense.

One of the most important times in my relationship with Grammy was the trip to London she took with me in the spring of 2012. This was my 16th birthday present. Okay, so I was 19, but we were making up for my 16th because I had gone through a hard time with the death of her husband, my Granddaddy,  years ago and also struggled to understand some things she did to cope with it. That’s a completely different conversation, but long story short, we had come to a place where we were closer and more understanding and we had decided to go on the adventure she offered me when I turned 16.

Death was surprisingly a significant presence on the course of this adventure in London. I don’t think I quite recognized this before the reflection that I have been plummeted into due to her own death, but looking back, I recognize a lot of connections, conversations, comments, and experiences relating to death that were a part of that experience.

We’ll start with probably the most significant: Grammy had been taking care of a woman, Ruby, who was really like her mother – she was the nanny for her and her siblings, and she even saved her life once.  Grammy just adored Ruby and would talk about her all the time and you could tell it was just a joy for Grammy to take care of her and see her every day. Ruby hadn’t been doing so well when we took off for London, but she was in the care of her family for the two weeks we would be away. I remember Grammy saying “Don’t let her die while I’m gone, okay?”

One evening on our trip, we were both sitting in our hotel room. She was journaling and I was editing the day’s photos. My mom messaged me on Facebook and told me she me she needed to talk to Grammy on the phone because Ruby had passed.  Grammy’s initial reaction was to call the family. I remember she was really mad. “Didn’t you hear me say not to let her die? What didn’t you understand about that? You couldn’t keep her on machines until I could come to her?” I’m sure losing Ruby felt like losing a mother for Grammy, and looking back, there’s so much more I wish I had done or been for her in that time. The more I think about it, the more I feel tempted to feel guilty that I wasn’t what she needed me to be for her in that time. This is something I have to just let go.

Another experience was in St. Paul’s Cathedral. We lit a candle there for Granddaddy. This sparked a lot of conversations, including airing out the issues I had gone through with some of the things she needed to to move on after he died. This is one of the most comforting things for me in this time right now – I know that we got the chance to air out and discuss all of the stress that our relationship had been through. This was healing for me and for our relationship; I let myself be vulnerable and talk about this, and it means a lot to me now that I don’t have to deal with harboring these emotions or know that I never cleared those issues with her.

Kensington Palace was gorgeous. It has a few different exhibitions within it, including one about Princess Diana and also a very beautiful and extensive exhibition about Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was queen for 64 years, including 21 years of marriage, and 40 years of mourning the death of hear husband in 1861. The exhibition included many letters from Victoria’s mother, diary entries from Victoria, little dolls she made and named as a girl, her wedding dress, and it really leads you through her life and reign. It was really powerful to read her diary entries about how excited she was to marry Albert, and how he made her feel. Beautiful script of quotes from these letters and diary entries are shone onto walls and the floor with lights and engraved in mirrors.

Grammy was especially fascinated with Queen Victoria’s story. We stood and talked to one of the tour guides for a long while. Grammy saw Victoria as very strong for wearing black and mourning for 40 years. This sparked a conversation about whether it took more strength and courage to stay in mourning or to find a way to move on. I think ultimately, the ones who love us would want us to find ways to enjoy our lives even if they can’t be here with us. I feel like I have to stand with that at this point in time, but it’s more than hard to even think about being really happy again while grieving. But Grammy spent so much time traveling, serving others, and going on adventures. Those are things I can do.

Both of my mom’s parents (Grammy and Granddaddy) passed very suddenly and unexpectedly.  One thing Grammy said to me while on our trip that really freaked me out was that she wanted to be kept on machines or cryogenically frozen when she died – “I want you do to whatever you have to so I can come back.” This is particularly hard to think about right now because it makes me feel like she must be sad she’s not here anymore. Although sudden deaths lead to more shock and zero time to prepare yourself for coping with the grief, I’m glad they never had to spend time suffering, sick or in hospital beds, because she would have wanted to stay here, and we would have had to be left with the decision of when to let her go.

But I have to to turn to the faith I was raised in for comfort with this idea. I know many people who might read this and be rolling their eyes right now, but they also have to realize that there are few things that help with grief, and believing that the one who left you is in a beautiful place with other people that they once lost, too, is one of the best ways. I have to just think about her being off on another adventure – this time with Ruby and Granddaddy and a daughter she never got the chance to know.

And I know that, next time I go to London, I’m lighting a candle for her, too.

Grammy, at the Kensington Palace Orangery

Grammy, at the Kensington Palace Orangery

One of the inscriptions of text from Queen Victoria’s diary entries, on a mirror.

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