This is a short story I wrote for, The NSW School Magazine. Based on a true story, it covers the grief and confusion a child may experience when losing a grandparent.
by Jane Bloomfield
Mum got the call one afternoon before school was out. Lucy and Ben had to wait with the next door neighbour. When she got home she held their hands too tightly and said, “Chester died this afternoon – I'm sorry.”
Chester – was our grandfather and the maker of swings and silly songs. He was also the grower of beans, all sorts of beans, most especially Broad Beans.
Over the next few days people kept bringing casseroles and lumps of meat. Lucy wondered who would eat them. She felt empty but she wasn't hungry. It must have been all those tears inside her.
“What's all that food for?” said Lucy to Gran, who was trying to stuff a piece of corned beef into the fridge.
“Darn it!” said Gran. She pushed her shoulder into the fridge door then slipped quietly onto the floor. Lucy curled into her lap and Gran gently rocked her, like she used to when she was a baby. They stayed like that for a while. Then, as if nothing had happened Gran scrambled up and said, “People always bring food at a time like this.”
The next morning she overheard Gran saying; funeral and 1pm and church and wake at the cottage. When Ben yelled, “Luce, time for school,” his voice sounded different.
“I don't want to go,” said Lucy.
“We have to go,” said Ben. “Come on.”
Lucy let him drag her backwards down the path, while she kept an eye on more strangers arriving with plates.
At lunch, Lucy went to look for Ben. “Want your brother?” said a big boy swinging on the maypole. “He went home.”
The school bell rang the end of lunch. 1pm - church – funeral. Ben must have gone without me. They've all gone without me. Everything became incredibly bright, as if the sun had pierced Lucy's eyes and was shining inside her head. The twirling maypole sprinkled white stars. A wild roar rang in her ears all the way home.
The little cottage was empty. They must be still at the church. Lucy crouched beside the grapefruit tree and waited. Soon cars started arriving. Men in dark suits and pale women in stiff dresses with matching hats filed in.
Chatting, laughing people spilled onto the front lawn. Gran handed around sandwiches and her Mum handed around drinks in crystal glasses. This must be the a-wake part – it's more like a party. Everyone was talking about the same thing, about Chester. They chinked their glasses for him. They said: “What a good joker he was” - “a real family man” - “loved his grandkids” - “especially Lucy” - “a pity to bury him so young” - “I always hate the church bit” - “poor bugger” ...
Lucy found it comforting listening to the grownups talk about Chester. But spying was wrong, so she made a run for it down the side of the house and hid behind the compost heap. The warm grass clippings sweated in the sun and gave off a strange musty odour - a bit like Chester's work socks used to.
As the afternoon wore on she took shelter in the corrugated iron woodshed. Just as she'd settled into to her new hiding place she heard footsteps – and sobs. Ben appeared at the entrance of the shed and plonked himself down on the chopping block. His back was towards Lucy hidden in the shadows, his head hung in his hands.
Lucy had been so busy feeling sorry for herself; she hadn't thought what anyone else might be feeling. “Do you want to borrow this Ben?” she said, offering him her soggy hanky.
Ben jumped up. “What are you doing here? Why aren't you at school?”
“Why aren't you?” said Lucy.
“Because I'm older,” said Ben. “I guess.”
“Does that mean you don't get sad,” said Lucy.
“No,” said Ben, sucking in his tears and spitting into the dust.
“You're only ten,” said Lucy.
“I know,” said Ben.
As the last of the mourners left the cottage through the front door, Lucy and Ben appeared at the back, their faces smudged brown with dust and dried tears. The fronts of their shirts bulged with broad beans.
Gran was putting some leftovers into the fridge. “Any lemonade left Gran I'm really thirsty,” said Lucy.
“Yes dear. Hot day at school by the looks,” said Gran.
“Yep, really hot,” said Lucy. “Ben helped me pick some beans for Chester. I'd like to go and see him,” said Lucy.
“You mean see his grave, up at the cemetery?” said Gran.
“Yes, his grave. To say goodbye,” said Lucy.
At that moment Mum walked into the kitchen and hugged Lucy and Ben close.
“We'd probably all like to say a quiet goodbye now, wouldn't we,” said Gran.
So Lucy and her Mum packed a bottle of lemonade and some leftover sandwiches into a wicker basket. While Ben helped Gran back out the Holden. Then they drove up the hill to the cemetery – as the sun set they scattered Chester's beans on the fresh mound of dirt. And said goodbye.