Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Two Dresses, Side by Side (2)

The first time I went to the chapel of rest to see Emily, I took her long multi-coloured maxi dress and her favourite bottle of perfume. As I’ve said, she hated the bloody nightie she had on. It was grey and black. Emily loved bright colours. It’s why we asked people to wear bright clothes at her funeral, and why we had orange and yellow roses spelling her name. She wanted an orange coffin. We couldn’t find one, so we bought a white one instead and my Mum, my boyfriend and I went traipsing around fabric shops until we found a nice orange sheet to wrap it in.

The dress I handed over to the lady at the chapel of rest was the one Emily was buried in a week later. The choice had not been a difficult one to make, as the day Emily died was the day on which I was due to graduate from University with a degree in English Literature. Emily had been planning the day for months, getting excited at the prospect of getting dressed up, doing her hair and make-up.

After the official ceremony, the entire family were coming over to our house in Stalybridge to celebrate. Emily had organised the party with my Mum and Grandma in the months approaching July. There was to be pimms in large plastic jugs, loads of bright cakes, and colourful bunting.

Emily died in the early hours of the morning. I text my best-friend to let her know that she couldn’t come round to do my make-up for the day anymore. I dropped onto the edge of my bed, and turned to look up at my huge white wardrobe doors.

Hung there were mine and Emily’s freshly ironed dresses. Hers long and bursting with colour, mine short and black with minimal lace detail.

The dresses were ready for a future that would never happen.

I went downstairs and asked my Grandma to go and take them both down and put them away.

Then I went back into Emily’s bedroom and sat with my Mum and Dad.

I went to bed for a few hours. I was still crying when I woke up again.

As I walked back down the stairs, I could still hear Eva Cassidy songs playing on the Ipad next to Em’s bed.

I think it was Fields of Gold. 

Five Hours Raw (1)

Today a company van came to remove Emily’s medical equipment, her shower stool and her automated hospital bed. This was far too similar to the smaller van that parked outside our house in the exact same spot only eight days ago, its purpose to take Emily’s still body to the chapel of rest. 

The blanket the undertakers had placed over her would not have been to her liking at all, and I remember thinking so as they carefully carried her body over the door threshold, taking her to where she would lie in a bed for a week. Looking like sleeping beauty, with snow white’s complexion, she held the teddy she had taken to bed with her for years under her left arm.

She hated the nightie she was wearing the night she died. Gran hadn’t been able to keep on top of the washing due to the increased demand on her. The last few weeks were hard.


Often, and as I have learnt, when someone close to you dies, the phrase you are most likely to hear is ‘they were such a loving person’. In the case of my recent bereavement, I believe this was repeated at least four times approximately per day. At first I understood this as being an easy way of filling the dreaded awkward silence felt by guests as they came to pay their respects in a house that despite their constant presence felt empty in ways that prior to a few days ago I had not even thought possible.

 These people traipse in and out, kindly trying to fill a void in your life that as you sit and nod and force smiles you absolutely and undoubtedly know will never be fixed. These guests it seems are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. A couple will tell you, whilst staring into your vacant, stinging eyes that the pain you are feeling will soon ease, that you will become accustomed to the changes in your life.

 It is these words that irk me the most, as I stare back and attempt to restrain myself from leaning forward and screeching in their faces. I inwardly contemplate the way in which a week from now, after the funeral, these people will return to the comfort of their homes, the normality of their jobs, and the blanket of love their full families provide for them.

I get this exact same feeling at the end of the day, when I find myself sat in my living room, staring at the space on the sofa where my little sister should be sat beside me. The empty space there, still indented slightly from the weight of her over the years is a perfect representation of the void Emily’s death has left inside of me.

There is not a time in my life that I can remember being without Emily. I was only two years and three months old when she was born into our family. The result of this is that a life without her seems simply incomprehensible. I am, however, now forced to accept this as a reality not only from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, but also in the hours of REM, where I am faced with gut wrenchingly painful dreams.

Please do not think I am arrogant enough to believe that I am the only one to ever have experienced this pain, for I know many are facing it around the world at this exact moment in time, perhaps that even you, my reader, as your eyes flick along the lines of my words, are facing it now. It is only that in these early stages of grief in which I find myself encased, it is hard to consider or recognize that there is a world continuing and existing outside of mine. The one shrouded in loss, anger and confusion.

Primarily, grief is all consuming.

Notes From Me

Hello, I'm Beth (If you didn't already know)

Over the years I have continually tried and failed to find words adequate enough to express to my Mum just how grateful I am for her unwavering bravery, love and dedication. The way in which she nursed Emily at home constantly throughout her short nineteen years on this earth was so greatly impressive in such a multitude of ways, and yet she never saw it as anything less than her duty.

It was my Mother’s emotional strength which allowed Emily to die peacefully at home, with her close family sat around her in her cosy bedroom. As Emily drew her very last breaths on this earth I was able to be beside her, to talk to her and to hold her hand in mine. For this I will be forever thankful.

The writing of this piece has many purposes, for many different people. For me, the English Graduate of the family, it seems a fitting way to work through the many emotions I am currently battling.

For my Mum, it serves as a way of letting the world know about her amazingly brave, wise before her time, sassy youngest daughter.

 For my youngest sister, Molly, it will serve as a way of allowing her to gain an insight into the years of Emily’s life before she arrived on the planet.

 For my Dad, who himself admits having horrible difficulty remembering the past, it will serve as a way for him to relive the happiest, and the most challenging times of our lives.

For my Uncle, Auntie and little cousins, it will be a way of keeping Emily’s memory alive as they grow. They will be able to read it and re-read it whenever they wish to.

For my loving Gran, it will be a way to reflect on the multiple ways in which she looked after both Emily and I as we grew up, even when her memory starts to fail her.

For my friends, maybe this will provide you with some answers to questions I have never had the patience or time before to respond to.

For some of you, maybe this can provide some relief.
For most of you, it’ll give you a good chance to laugh and cry either with us, or at us, we don’t mind!

I need to tell you at this point however that this will not be an easy read. In order to make this a tale of purely happy moments I would have had to leave out some of the most important moments in Emily’s life. It would be heart-warming throughout, there is no doubt of that, and most likely it would thus appeal to a far larger number of readers.

 It would also be untruthful, and be an entirely false representation of Emily herself. She was imperfect, beautiful, mean at times, just like the rest of us. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to write a soppy story about a lovely, caring, dying girl. Emily wouldn’t want me to either. Parts of this story are embarrassing, parts are hilarious, and some parts are hard to stomach.

 That is the reality of the life of someone living with such a rare and debilitating disease.

Lastly, I must apologise to my University lecturers, to my college teachers, and to my future potential English students, (I have in the past month finished my qualification to teach English to college age students). Though I have studied creative writing in great depth, and have picked apart the different possible uses of structure and innovative methods to intrigue and entertain readers from around the globe, this piece will not be polished.

I don’t want it to be. Emily wasn’t polished, our lives together weren’t polished. I’m not going to smooth and polish the memories I have of us together, and I’m not even going to attempt to order them correctly. Grief brings things back to you at the most ridiculous times, in the most obscene orders. I don’t understand it, so I’m certainly not going to try and alter it.

 Actually, come to think of it, I make no apologies for that at all.

Emily Rose Cavanagh (1996- 2015)