The Story of a Life

I don’t know what to title this. I don’t know if I can give a title to all my conflicting emotions. Whatever this ends up saying, it’ll be simple words for a complicated story – not my story – that I feel like I need to tell. I don’t know who else is going to tell it but I want to, anyway.

I don’t want to ask you to do something but if you could, would you read to the end of this? This is the story of a woman I barely knew; this is the story of someone who appeared to have such little hope left but this is a story that, for all its unhappiness, needs to be told.

My grandmother on my father’s side came to England in her early twenties, shortly after she married my grandfather. It was the 60s and she, coming from Sweden, knew a bit of English and learned it from the television. She’s deaf, with her hearing having got worse throughout her lifetime. But this is not her story. This is the story of someone she knew.

My grandma went to work in translation. It was her first job in England and there, she met a woman called Inga-Britta. Her boss, Inga-Britta was also Swedish and at some point in her life, whether before or long after she met Grandma, she became deaf as well. They were friends and as first friends often do, they stayed in contact. They had known each other for over 50 years.

I won’t say much about Inga-Britta’s life. I don’t feel like it would be respectful to her or the people she knew to reveal the details, like it’s some kind of thing to be whispered about. It was not a happy life by any means but it was a life, the little I know of it. She had a son who passed away; she had friends; she had my Grandmother and a woman called Beryl, her next-door neighbour called Joan. I won’t pretend to know her likes, dislikes or anything like that. All of what I know has been pieced together over the last few years.

Long ago, perhaps 10-15 years ago, she moved into a care home. She had dementia but she could remember Swedish, a little English; she knew my Grandmother but not my dad. For years, she’d been ill, in and out of hospital but it was what it was and she carried on. She’d forget key details about her life but she always remembered my Grandma and I suppose it was because it was an old memory.

I grew up hearing her name, from my Grandma going to visit her and then, later, my father and I going to see her. My dad used to go to bookshops and ask for large print books (her sight deteriorated) and whenever they had them, he’d take them to her. It was memories like that that made her stick in my mind: she was my dad’s “Auntie Inga-Britta” and that was how it was.

One day, we went to see her and brought books, a lamp which my dad helped put up on the wall and some biscuits. I held her hand, smiled at her and listened to her talking. Although she forgot who we were halfway through, it was okay because it was Inga-Britta and she was there. My grandmother had explained to me that would be how it would be. That’s the last memory I have of Inga-Britta; it’s one of my only memories aside from remembering Grandma and her speaking Swedish.

Yesterday evening, she died. It wasn’t unexpected; she had been ill for months, getting worse. I only found this out after I heard but my grandma had gone to see her, holding her hand and talking in Swedish even though she couldn’t hear. Grandma told me that herself, that it was sad but that it was the best thing under her circumstances. It would have been more cruel for her to keep living and she’s now at peace, whatever peace is. She died peacefully, in her sleep I think and whether it was a nurse or a staff member, she always had people holding her hand.

I cried, partly out of shock. Inga-Britta was someone who I thought, perhaps naively, wouldn’t pass away for years to come. She was always there and awfully, when she wasn’t, it made me realise the sheer mortality of myself. I cried for that and Cried for her and I suppose, Cried for the people who’d never be cried over. Even though she wasn’t one of them. Even though I had little right, not knowing her or them or the stories of anyone.

I am sad. I’ve been unable to concentrate, from a mix of strange grief and contemplative silences. I almost feel like I’ve got no right to mourn her when I only knew her as Inga-Britta, my grandma’s friend.

The tragedy for me was not in her passing but rather in the life she had before it. It was okay, true, but it wasn’t something happy or joyous. It was sad and it was a life in a sea of lives but to me, it means something. To people, it may be just an old woman who had dementia, who passed away peacefully but to me? She was Inga-Britta, just that, and she was a friend of my Grandmother’s.

I want you to understand something. Everyone has a right to grieve; everyone has a right to be sad over a life of which they’ve maybe, only, seen a corner. I may not know anything about Inga-Britta really and perhaps I’m making awful assumptions, telling a story that isn’t real but to me, it was and is real.

This was not a story of someone who fought. This was not a story of someone who gave up and was weak. This is a story of someone who just was. There will always be stories like that and that’s okay.

I’m sorry if this has affected you in a negative way. I’m always here to talk and listen if you’re grieving.

There are some stories – some lives – I’ll never forget. Hers is one of them. I hope, in some way, you’ll remember her too if only in snatches of thought.

From Elm

17 thoughts on “The Story of a Life

  1. Wow, that’s heavy. Having people die, even if it is just around you, is something which is always going to cause greif, and if not, the body undergoes trauma. Greiving is the bodies natural way of coping with this, and if not, it can have long-lasting affects.

    I like that the message through this wasn’t, “Oh, she had such a horrible life.” or “How sad that this happened.”, this gave message into how important it is to greive and that it shouldn’t be weird to grieve someone, even if it was just a family friend.

    If my sister’s friend died, that WOULD impact me, completely. I would most likely mourn too. I can’t imagine a reality where I wouldn’t. It’s okay to mourn, Elm. Never feel silly about that, and thank you, that even in mourning, you spread a message that can help people grow. You are special for it, and I will be praying for you and your grandma.

    • Thank you, James. I suppose that in all life, there will be mourning and people need to remember that IT IS OKAY. It is natural even if that person was just one star in the sky for you or a tiny part of your life. They’re still gone.

      I’m glad my message could come across. I want to help others, even though my experiences may not be relative to theirs. Lives go all the time but it doesn’t mean that one life should be mourned differently just because you didn’t know them that well. It’s not linear in any way but grief is still grief

  2. I understand what you mean by this. I have distant, distant relatives who I’ve barely met, but if one of them died I would be in pieces. The same goes for a neighbour who I’d only talked to once or twice, or a substitute teacher I had in school for just three days.

    This post has really made me think about my life, and I want to thank you for sharing it. It’s posts like this one that really allow me to change and develop as a person, and to get an idea of how other people are dealing with things, and how I can deal with them too.

    It is ALWAYS right to express your feelings. You are allowed to grieve, and to mourn, and it’s okay to feel sad. But never forget the importance of looking to the future once everything’s cleared up. It will be alright in the end.

    Sending you and your family my best wishes ❤

    Incomplete Thinker xx

    • This comment has truly made me remember why I share such stories. Even if people touch your lives in the smallest way, you can still mourn them; grief is grief no matter the level. I want to show people that by explaining things that have happened in my own life, to tell people that they aren’t alone.

      I’m happy that I could let you think. If something like this happens to you, remember that it’s okay to be upset.

      We’re doing alright now; my dad went round to her room to pick up her things and he’s bringing them to our house later. There are a lot of sentimental things which will be hard to sort through. Thank you though ❤

      From Elm xx

      • That is such a good message to be spreading. I believe you’re right – by sharing your own experiences, people can begin to realize they’re not the only ones going through bad times. At some point, everyone falls apart. But by allowing them to mourn, you are lifting them back up, putting them together again piece by piece. Eventually, they will overcome the troubles or the sadness, and they will finish off their repairs.

        You’re very welcome, I’m happy to talk anytime ❤ xx

  3. This makes me so happy and so sad, Elm. I understand what it must be like. In the very end, we`re all human beings. By sharing this, you showed how much you care about other people. You don`t need to perfectly know someone, in order to have the permission to mourn. It`s sad to lose someone, no matter who it is. Thank you so much for writing this – it`s not only a reminder of what kind of lives some people live, but also of how important it is to love one another and be kind, because you never know when it might be over.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this. I don’t know why but it made me feel less alone in my grief by reading it. It was such a thoughtful idea to write a post dedicated to your Grandmother’s friend. I’m thinking of you and your family at this time. Take care. My grandad has dementia and I can understand how tough it is. Your Grandmother’s friend was lucky to have such kind people to visit her like yourself and your Grandmother. I can definitely relate to what you mentioned about not expecting the person to pass away. When my Great Aunt who was like another Grandmother to me passed away a few months ago I was so shocked, she was someone who was always sick but would bounce back to her usual self. Grief takes time as they say and it hurt a lot. I can honestly say that from experience, especially with my Grandad. So I want you to know that I’m here too if you need anything. 😊 Thinking of you. Well done for writing this post, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that. That took a lot of strength. Sending you and your family my condolences. Kate

    • Ohh Kate, thank you for writing such a thoughtful comment. We’re doing better; it’s still a little bit of a shock when I think about it. Grief, in whatever form, is so hard to deal with. Especially when it’s a close relative xx

  5. Thanks for sharing. Something similarly terrible to this happened a couple of weeks back. Far more terrible possiblly because she was my friend. 😭😭😭😭

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