For the last few months, my eldest has been interested in death. Every time she opens up the photo book my Mum made her for her first birthday to the page with my Grandmother, she asks the same question.
‘That’s Gigi isn’t it.’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘Gigi isn’t alive anymore is she?’
‘No,’ I say, smiling at the last photograph I have of my grandmother. It was taken at my brother’s 30th birthday party, just six weeks before my grandmother died. She was holding my daughter, she looked awkward and sad as if she knew what was coming even if we didn’t. But she was smiling too, a brave smile. ‘She died when you were only four months old.’
‘Can we do something for her?’ she asks. I can see her mind trying to grapple with the ineffableness of death. What is it? What does it mean? Where do people go? She’s not asking these questions yet, but I know they are coming. I recognise the anxiety she has. It flares up at night when the world is quiet and the shadows come out to play. That’s when mine flares up too. I’ve always been terrified of death, for as far back as I can remember. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember waking up inconsolable from a dream. In it, I’d watched my entire life, myself as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, getting married, having children, having grandchildren, a long and glorious life, over in a flash. ‘It’s so quick,’ I remember saying over and over to my Mum. ‘Then it’s all over.’
‘Of course, we can do something for her,’ I say, hugging her tight. ‘I think that’s an excellent idea.’ I often think about my Grandmother. I think about the terrible sadness that shadowed so much of her life, and the soul-destroying anxiety that plagued her, till her last day. My grandmother was cremated, and I have some of her ashes in a small urn. They used to sit in my kitchen in Melbourne, we’d bring her out at family dinners so she could be part of the fun. Morbid, but it would have made her laugh. Her urn is in storage now. If I’d known we wouldn’t be back to Melbourne for this long, I would have brought her with me. She loved to travel, she loved adventure and I know she would have loved the house we are living in at the moment. I would have liked to spread her ashes in all the different places we visited.
My grandmother was cremated, and I have some of her ashes in a small urn. They used to sit in my kitchen in Melbourne, we’d bring her out at family dinners so she could be part of the fun. Morbid, but it would have made her laugh. Her urn is holidaying at my Mum’s. If I’d known we wouldn’t be back to Melbourne for this long, I would have brought her with me. She loved to travel, she loved adventure and I know she would have loved the house we are living in at the moment. I would have liked to spread her ashes in all the different places we visited.
Our AuPair is from Peru. ‘November 2nd is the day of the dead,’ I tell her. ‘But I don’t know anything about it.’
‘It’s a big celebration in Peru,’ she says, pushing her wild, dark curls back from her face. Her dark brown eyes light up, as she talks about how her family would get together in the morning to prepare for the day. Together they would bake bread, with fruit inside for luck, they would make candles, and tie dozens of posies, and then they would all sit quietly writing their letters to their dead. ‘Then we take a picnic and wine, lots of wine, the wine is very important, and we all go down to the cemetery and have a party.’
‘And you decorate the graves with the flowers and the candles?’
‘Yes,’ she laughs, ‘we leave flowers on the graves of people who don’t have anyone to celebrate them, and we light candles, and we drink.’
‘We could do that, maybe without the alcohol, we could have kombucha and mineral water instead! But we could definitely make candles, and posies and have a picnic at the cemetery.’ I google the nearest cemetery and find that it is only a 20-minute bike ride away. I really like cemeteries, I’ve always had a weird fascination for them. For the stories they tell. The lives that have been lived that I know nothing about. I used to spend hours walking around Melbourne cemetery when I lived in Carlton North.
‘What if we draw a picture for Gigi?’ I say to my eldest, who is busy playing shops with her sister, ‘and then we make a picnic to take to the cemetery and we bury it there, as a way to let her know we are thinking about her.’
My daughter’s smile grows wide, ‘Yes, let’s do that,’ she says so enthusiastically her sister begins to cheer also, despite not really knowing what we are talking about.