Sunday, 10 February 2013

And I Know There'll Be No More Tears In Heaven

I've been in a bit of a melancholy mood today and thinking a lot about my maternal grandparents.

The church where my
grandparents got married

When my granddad died a few years ago, I had a really bad ear infection and couldn't fly. I tried looking into ways to get to Norway in time for the funeral without flying, but as there are no boats from the UK to Norway any more, I couldn't make it to the funeral. Instead, I went to Exeter Cathedral and sat quietly in the Lady Chapel with my boyfriend at the same time as my beloved grandfather was being interred in Norway. I lit a candle and we both sat there without saying a word, my boyfriend holding my hand while tears filled my eyes and blurred my view of the beautiful stained glass window right in front of me. (At a later visit I noticed that much of this window depicts the story of Christ's birth, which is doubly remarkable as not only did my granddad help install the massive stained glass window in the cathedral back home, he was also born on Christmas Eve, like Jesus. Also, like Jesus, a church was built on the place where he was born - something I've always thought was a funny coincidence.)

I don't know how long we sat there for, but suddenly I heard my granddad's voice in my head, saying "That's enough now. Go home and look after Ben now." (Ben was my boyfriend at the time). It was so exactly what my granddad would have said that it didn't even feel strange. As I got up to leave, knowing my granddad didn't want me to sit there crying for him any longer, my boyfriend confusedly asked: "Already?". He had been prepared to sit there with me for much longer.

After my granddad died, my grandma became very old very quickly. Fast forward a few years, and she is now living in a care home, suffering from advanced Alzheimers, unable to look after herself and these days rarely even recognising her closest family. I saw her last February, during a good period, and she was so happy I had come to visit her. It was so lovely to see her again, take her cold hand in mine and tell her how much I love her. I'm hoping to be able to fly over to Norway again soon so I can see her again, but this time I know she is unlikely to know who I am, and she will probably think I am one of the nurses.

My grandma's old mittens keep me warm in winter

The last time I visited her while she was still living at home, she suddenly started asking me about my faith. I remember it vividly. She was sitting in her old chair, which was covered with a sheepskin rug and had been placed next to the heater, a bit cramped between the dining table and my granddad's old organ. Lots of photographs were resting against the music stand, and I noticed with a pang of affection mixed with sadness that most of them were of me, my boyfriend and our dogs. Knowing she was cold and wouldn't like to move, I sat down next to her. That's when she took my hand and started asking me about my beliefs. My grandma has always been very religious and she somehow thought I had stopped believing in God because I don't go to church here in the UK (I went once, but the Anglican church feels really alien compared to what I am used to from Norway). She explained that she had been praying for me and then broke down in tears because she so desperately wanted to see me again in heaven. I am crying now just thinking about this experience. I had only ever heard my grandma cry once before, and this was so touching yet so unnecessary at the same time. My faith is not exactly the same as hers, but I have never not believed in God. If only she would have asked sooner, she could have saved herself so much agony. But I am thrilled I got the chance to explain this to her while she could still understand and remember my answer. I don't know where she got the idea that heaven could be a sorrowful place, but her mind had already started playing a few tricks on her so maybe it was the Alzheimer that was muddling things up.

Until I get to see her again, I've been recording some of her favourite songs for her. She still enjoys listening to music, and the song I sang in my Season's Greetings blog post was dedicated to her.

The track below is called Redd for sterke ord and was recorded in one take in 1992 (my friend Linda, who was my choir leader at the time, plays the piano). I have converted it from cassette tape to MP3, so it's not the best quality, I'm afraid.

Here's a link in case the audio player isn't visible in your reader. 

The lyrics are in Norwegian and I think both music and lyrics are by Solveig Leithaug Henderson. It's strange to hear my 16 year old self singing, but I chose this track because it's a song my grandma watched me perform several times, and even though it is a religious song, the refrain could just as easily be about my feelings for my grandma:

I love you
I'm afraid of powerful words
But I'd really like to use them
Because the joy is so intense
I love you
There is no love like yours
I just wanted to say that I love you

It seems fitting to post this now as it is Mothering Sunday in Norway today. And speaking of mothers, my one has just ordered mobile broadband so hopefully I will be able to see my grandma via Skype soon! Happy Mother's Day!