Here is the final winner of the Mighty Pens/Herald short story contest. Lyn Crumlish, 51, is married to Michael, has four children and lives in the south side of Glasgow. She is a yoga teacher who studied with the Open University for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing.

Lyn walks her dog, Cara, daily through the local cemetery, so the concept of being among the dead doesn't faze her. She says in writing Grieve, she wanted to conjure a celestial presence who sees all human fragility, yet brings a sense of hope to both the dead and their surviving families. Along with short stories, she is currently writing her debut novel under the pen name LJ Sexton.


I hover with allure – my presence is quiescent, blown in on a soft sombre breeze, paralleling the mood of the morgue. I take my time reading the tags on their toes, the actions of one who is both atavistic and methodical, and I am curious, as always, as to why so many are unprepared for their own passing. One elderly lady’s face displays deep creases; valleys that she has ploughed in prayer and angst over nine decades. Perhaps the effects of having a troubled childhood? Evidence of marital abuse? Poverty?…I don’t know for sure as the tag doesn’t detail such information, but I pray her expression softens in her coffin.

No one should display a map of their life’s pain and suffering for all to see, so I make a mental note to do my best for her. Another lady illustrates varying signs of stress, a notable tension in her jaw, hair standing to attention and stiff-fisted hands like a baby who can’t communicate their pain. As I meander among this milieu of repose, drawing back sheet corners for closer inspection, I do wonder, if they were given notice of their passing would they have perhaps preened themselves a little more? Like self-indulgent cats. Colour their grey roots, exfoliate dead skin or take a pumice stone to their corned and calloused feet. One pair looks particularly neglected, as if barnacles have attached themselves pre-necrosis and made a home there. Another pair is garnished with blisters; I guessed a runner – I was right. The tag read massive coronary. Idiot probably took up running at 60 and ran a marathon. I’ve seen it all before.

I stop to appreciate how they’ve been laid out, like collimated beams of light on cold clinical marble, cauled in white Egyption cotton – their feet the only clue of what lies beneath. I peek at another pair. Divine. Long slender toes so equivalently sized and placed that they nestle together perfectly like a close knit family. It’s such a pity her choice of polish is in the purplish tones as it has clashed with her livor mortas. I smile, a seraphic smile and dismiss the idea that she would’ve known this beforehand.

An odd choice of occupation you might say, but I like to think it came with my name…Grieve, Euphemia Grieve. Grieve by name and by nature. Oh, I don’t mean all lachrymose and wailing, I’m much more pragmatic that that. I settle them in and sort them out, shawling them in mother’s nature you might say.

First of all I separate by gender and age. I am aghast at the numbers under 40; symptoms of societal overstretching – push push pushing themselves to the brink. I’ve no need to prod deeper, it’s like pulling weeds from soft damp soil, making it easier to recognise those who require my celestial intervention.

Some have arrived contorted in shame and scandal. There are those in shock and ill prepared. Others who were alone and quite terrified. Very occasionally – (usually the elderly or long term sick) are those who simply sat in an armchair of acceptance waiting for it to happen as if waiting for a bus.

I’ve seen it all amidst the finality. When needed, I lean closer, my breath at their ear, soothing as psithurism; ensuring them it will be alright. There was this one young man, I remember it so well. The banshee did not cry a warning, nor did Morrigan’s crow fly overhead. The soil had not yet been turned over in preparation for him, so he was a lost, not to mention a very distressed soul. It was painful to watch him, as well as the stinging soap filled eyes of his family with their shaking heads and their sorrow, the weight of great slabs of grey granite settling on their shoulders and pushing them down so far they could’ve been buried with him too.

But death becomes us all, and I say this with absolute certainty, and sometimes the finality is feral. Feral and so brutal that it leaves the living with scorched skin, like a self-afflicting flagellation. I know that there are some left behind who carry the burden well, or simply look as if they do, and others who bury it like seedlings, praying it never sprouts above the clay. Some dissolve into a deep depression that never leaves them; destined to carry the weight of an old rugged cross around for the remainder of their days.

They do not realise it, but I am an ever present mantilla of tenderness, a bud of hope, a feather of light and I never leave their side. I leave signs and symbols everywhere, feathers and pennies from heaven, robin red breasts fly close. I leave brush strokes across their cheeks and fleeting sensations that warm their hearts and cause them to smile at the memory of their loved one. I play pertinent songs on their radios and place numerical repetitions on everything from clocks to phones to washing machines to till receipts; all of them screaming, I AM HERE! I AM HERE! I AM HERE!

I know only too well what it is to grieve, to immerse oneself in the essential process of accepting death. For I too grieved my parents, my husband and two babies who never cried out on seeing sunlight. I grieved again when I passed on and left my children and grandchildren, my siblings and friends. However, we must never allow grief to drop anchor in our harbour forever, or let it move in permanently to our bodies and minds, like some dreadful unwanted house guest.

I have settled the new arrivals now, acclimatising them for their place of eternal rest. I go now and offer my help to their loved ones, relieving them of their own personal stigmata; at least those who are open to it. I’ll admit it can be frustrating when the grieving do nothing to avail of my services; ultimately their lack of faith in our existence.

Sometimes it manifests briefly around Christmas, when they settle down on the sofa with their families to watch, It’s a Wonderful Life, momentarily extinguishing guilt whilst sipping Prosecco and nodding in appreciation at the angelic significance of Clarence Odbody.

But ultimately, far too many revert back to their old ways. Back to shoving greedy fingers deep into buckets of chocolates, rummaging around in search of their immortal souls which are like deep wells, unfathomable and empty. Far too many of them rush to the drink, delusional that their grief will somehow dissipate along with the last few slugs of the bottle.

Many go to Facebook and Instagram, seeking solace in the “likes” of others, forever fearful of never ever getting or having enough. If they only knew they had it all in every breath they took – in every smile they shared and received – in every thank you they declared. If they only knew that heaven was already here – then they would never feel that separation. Indeed they would never grieve again.

JUDGES' COMMENT: This is one of those things that one feels that one shouldn’t like but cannot resist. It is quite gripping and you just have to read it to the end.