The last two weeks have been hard.

When I try to write it up, as I have many times now, I’m hit with a wave of weariness. Inside and out, everything seems drained of colour and vitality. It’s hard to do anything but sit and scroll, even though that brings me no fulfilment and is close to the last thing I want to be doing.

And writing a piece about the madding world of self-improvement that still exists outside grief’s orbit is definitely the last thing I want to do. The mantra when things like this happen is “take care of yourself” but sometimes it’s very hard to know what self-care looks like.

And it’s at times like this that I always feel most confused and uncertain about what I should be doing at any given time. Should I be working? On this project or that project? Or this other thing? Or this message that just came in? Or the emails I missed when I was at the funeral? Or should I be doing the dishes or cleaning the kitchen? Leo just cried out, does Louise need a hand? Or should I be working on those paintings or going for a walk to clear my head or cleaning the kitchen or picking up the toys I just tripped over or going to the gym or…?

And all I can think of when all this floods in, every thirty seconds or so, is shut up, leave me alone, I am tired, I am sad.

And days of sitting and driving and sitting and trying to catch up on work and sitting in churches and sitting and scrolling because I can’t focus on anything has left my spine crimped and tight, spurring a daily series of headaches that start as a kind of gently nauseous heat at the back of my neck and graduate to a titanic welt behind my eyes.

I want to post on social media and on the funeral home’s tribute page and and everywhere else, write it on the surface of the world, scorch it across the stars, but whenever I start I find I can’t say anything.

Words flee. This happens in conversation; I’ll be talking and suddenly not know what I’m talking about. I’m forgetting what people say, mid-sentence. I know, roughly, what’s going on: the rotisserie chicken of grief has spun out something new and it’s taken me a moment to process. A memory, a thought, a feeling, often grasping at something indefinable, like a lost dream.

Before the funeral I say to the family: I’ll say something. But I need something to say.

The words arrive in snatches, often with tears. Ordering them about is hard work; it’s like herding cats with a laser pointer attached to a ceiling fan.

My brother drives us to the funeral and I sit in the front seat with my laptop, chasing down the words. After a while they settle. They are raw and drafty and they do an utterly imperfect job but I know she would have liked them, and that is enough.

That thought is what helps in the following weeks. The couch doldrums are replaced with an urgent need to do.

I start work on the long-overdue painting, and think: would Nana like this?

A painting I completed, which (in a break with tradition) I also quite liked.

She would. She loved to paint, and in her retirement she did beautiful watercolours. She taught me when I was little.

I shovel and barrow the green waste from behind the house, a project I’d not quit years ago, and think: would Nana like this?

She would. She loved her garden; she was proud of it, and I would like to be proud of mine.

Would Nana like the crumble I just made, with rhubarb I grew myself?1 Yes. She taught me how to cook when I was young, and so was she; morning sun on the yard, the pips and bird-calls of National Radio on the ancient valve set she and Grandad kept in the kitchen.

Would she like me bellowing Chocolate Salty Balls as I cook? Almost certainly not! But some things aren’t for Nanas, and that’s OK.

There is still so much I would love to show her.

My Nana, Del Drummond, passed away on 24 August, 2023. She was 96 and the last thing she said to me, when I visited to say goodbye, was “I love you so much.”

This is the poem I wrote for her on the way to the funeral.

when heaven heard,
and opened up its doors
its host declared
two full eternal spans of joy

but here where time holds life in sway
and sunset and sunrise mark the day:

all mortal creation

sitting in a tree she planted
the tui ceased their singing
a ruru held off during its hunt

the tides cancelled both in and out
and in oceans, seas and lakes
the waves decided not to break

the planets, in their courses, paused
effect took a short break from cause
for a moment, stars chose not to shine

and protons, neutrons, electrons and quarks
suspended strong and weak nuclear forces
physics hung up a sign that read
“temporarily out of office”

the moot point, the debate, was this:
how long a moment could be held
what single silence could mark the passing
what mere words, what song, what speech, what spell
could ever equal Nana Del

(but I’ll try)

on crisp cold mornings, touched by frost
off we go, collecting eggs from unwilling hens
or on another morning:
a swim in the river, or a chat at the caravan
gooseberries picked from under hedges
feijoas preserved in perfection
(bananas slightly past the point of rotten)
watercolours and art exhibitions
gardening, outdoors, even during showers
the clock that chimed at inappropriate hours
stories, always stories told
points made with sharply indrawn breath
tales of children who tempted fate
the phone answered with 4077078
the world’s most more-ish tomato sauce
concern for all creatures from birds to trees
3.8 million cups of tea
forever patient, patient, loving, kind
always listening
always there
when the time came to say goodbye
she and Granddad stood on the porch, or lawn,
waving cheerio, hooray, farewell
until they were gone

and now?
the debate settled
the split second mended, ended
the tui sang a brand new song
creation reached its ruling, decided anew
for a life so long and lived so well
multiplied ten thousand fold in the memories of all who knew
the tribute due her
is to continue

And here, because I love it, and I loved her, is one of her poems.

Early morning sun
makes shadowed hills mysterious
enfolding ancient tales.
Shoreline dwellings and anchored boats
across the water
glisten white against the bush background

An overnight yacht glides as serenely
as the gulls down the harbour
while the first ‘tinny’ returns from successful pre-dawn fishing

Not many stir from their tents before seven
except walkers from hills and bays
refreshed from the first swim of the day

What can possibly be a more peaceful beginning
to the day than the murmur of children’s
linking, renewing yesterday’s activities

Grandparents at their ‘halfway house’
along the beachfront
loving every precious face
that pops in for a casual word
first aid, refreshments, or a spell or reminiscence
and sharing plans for the day

Cries of ‘look at me Grandad’
‘Watch this Nana’
along the beach,
Whanau is our treasure… our memories are blessed

One of Nana’s watercolours hangs on my wall. Her note on the back reads “The road to the future. Travel it well, Josh.”

  1. Don’t be too impressed. Rhubarb is easy to grow; you just stick it in the ground and it does its thing. I know this because, apart from the mint, it is the only thing in my garden that has survived my gardening.