Name: Molly Mackay
Tell me about the person who died:
I grew up in a small village called Kilmalcolm in Scotland, and my grandfather was my closest friend when I was a child. He died when I was 7 on New Year's Eve. Every evening, my grandfather would ask me,”What shall I bring you home after work, Molly? Art supplies or chocolate?" Every day when he returned from work he would have something for me. We would sit in his room, talk about the world, and tell jokes, and he would talk about his life stories and ask me about my day. We would share a glass of Irun Bru or Lucozade (British pop drinks) and say "Cheers Beers” as we would clink our glasses. To this day I recall the sound of his voice. He was a tall, distinguished man, quiet, kind and a good friend to a small girl. I will always love him and remember him.
What was your experience of grief like after your loss? How did it change over time?
When my mom came into my room that New Year's Day to break the news that my grandfather had passed away I was devastated. I let out a loud scream.
The strange thing is the day before my grandfather died I had a sense that he was going to pass away. Even at age 7 I knew this. I have a memory of playing in the backyard and thinking to myself, "I need to go upstairs and see my grandfather one last time”. He was very ill and was too weak to get out of bed that day. I remember opening his bedroom door and asking him if he was ok and would he like a pencil and paper to draw with because drawing always made me feel better. He said no, that he just wanted to rest. I told him I loved him and closed the door. The next morning he passed away.
If you had to describe your grief as a literal landscape you've been passing through, what would it look like and feel like at different points in your journey?
There have been some dark clouded mountains to climb but also sunny memories to reflect upon.
How did the people in your life support you in your grief? What was helpful? What was frustrating?
My family didn't handle grief very well because they didn't acknowledge it. It was never spoken of or discussed after the person passed away. I guess in a weird way that was their way of coping with it. I have always been more of the kind of person who thinks talking about grief and letting yourself go through it is far healthier.
I was seven years old so I dealt with my grief through drawing and doing art every day. This helped me greatly.
In general since then, although I do cry and talk about it somewhat when I lose someone, I deal with grief mostly on my own. That way it slowly makes sense and I can eventually accept it. I spend time thinking about the person, how they lived, my sadness at losing them; I do eat a vast amount of chocolate while doing this.
Was there anything about your cultural or religious background that affected the grieving process for you?
In Scotland we have the tradition of having the person who has passed away lie in their home for 3 days. The person is laid in their coffin as an open casket and friends and family members pay their respects to the deceased. It is cold enough in Scotland that doing this in a home is no difficulty at all. The belief is that the soul of a person lingers for 3 days. Thus the soul is present when family and friends come by to pay their respects.
This tradition wasn't done for my Grandfather but it was done for my Grandmother. I found it gave me closure and I was able to say goodbye.
Did anything surprise you about your experience with grief?
I learned to take each day as it comes and to try and not take life and the people you love in your life for granted. I also learned that even though the ones you love will pass away they never really leave you.
Molly MacKay was born in Scotland and moved to Canada when she was twelve years old. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and her cat Toby. She enjoys playing her cello, ukulele & harmonica, painting from her home studio, and teaching art to children.
This post is part of Grief Landscapes, an evolving art project documenting the unique terrain of people’s grief. Participants share an experience with bereavement, and I then photograph an object that evokes the person who died, transforming it into an abstract landscape inspired by the story. I’m looking for many more submissions and for a range of experiences, so please share widely! Learn more about the project and submit your story. - Mindy Stricke