The other day when Rosamund was lying on the mat on the floor and I was playing with her she smiled and reminded me of someone. Rosamund has a different smile than Eleanor’s. Rosamund’s smile seems to come almost out of the sides of her mouth. Something about that smile on that day reminded me of my Gran. I was not surprised to see someone else in Rosamund’s face because it is one of the amazing things about having children: occasionally you see yourself, or your partner, or your mother, or your sister-in-law, pass through the face of your child. It is almost like watching a cloud that briefly resembles a duck, or a car, or a teapot, before it shifts back into being nothing more than a cloud. It was not surprising to see a familiar face in Rosamund’s, but it was surprising to see Gran there.
We have been watching Madmen. Somewhere in Season Four Don wakes in the middle of the night and sees an apparition of a woman he dearly loves on the night that she dies. It is a terribly sad, terribly touching moment, and we are unsure if it is simply the product of a drunken dream or something more than that. As I get older I begin to appreciate that these ghosts actually do have some kind of reality in our lives and are not just drunken dreams, or nice ideas for scriptwriters. In fact, I believe that one way we honour the dead is by living with them, and allowing them space in our lives. I suppose as we get older this space might become crowded, and existence on this side of the curtain a little lonelier.
My Gran died when I was at teachers’ college. Actually, while I was on my second placement. I flew down to Dunedin for the funeral. Specifically the hardest thing about this was when I and some of her other grandchildren carried the casket from the hearse into the crematorium. Something about that act, and the physical weight of the casket, bore heavily on me, and made her death an actual reality – a burden. Once she was resting inside the chapel and our small group were standing around her I realised the finality of the moment; the impossibility of communicating my feelings against the fact of the hole in the wall where she would shortly go and be taken forever. I touched the casket and said goodbye, and then I left with everyone else because there was nothing else to do.
I can’t really make sense of life. I have old photos of Gran holding me when I was baby, and it seems impossible to believe that this happened, and that it passed, and that there is no way back to it. Except, of course, when I hold my baby in my arms, and she smiles at me and I see – for an instant – my Gran’s smile. I suppose this is what is called a consolation. A consolation for loss. When I look at photos of myself as a two or three year old boy all I can see is Eleanor looking back at me. We looked almost identical at that age, and it makes me feel close to her. I wonder if she will see me in her child, or perhaps her mum.
Is this what we become? The trace of a smile in the face of another?