Sometimes, the biggest events in your life are the hardest to talk about, which is why I’ve been keeping a low profile for a little while. Besides, it’s never easy to say goodbye to someone you love, and I loved my Grandma A LOT.
For months … no, years… Grandma would get an infection and we’d leave her fearing the worst … only to find her the next morning, miraculously returned from death’s door, sitting up in bed eating tea and toast. Although, at 95 years old, I knew our days together were numbered, she’d defied the odds so many times that I still wasn’t quite prepared when it happened. But even the most resilient woman can’t go on forever, and one day – suddenly – that was it. She slipped into unconsciousness and never woke up.
If I’m honest, her abilities had been so reduced that it can’t have been much fun to be Grandma at the end. She couldn’t walk, her hearing was poor and her vision had become limited. One of her hands had almost no strength, and even eating became an effort that she was less and less willing to make.
Her pleasures were few: sitting in the garden with the sun on her face and hearing news of her great-grandchildren, whom she adored. Whenever we visited, the little guy would hold her hand, dispensing cuddles and kisses, and she’d exclaim what a little love he was to anyone who’d listen – even if she did sometimes get his name wrong towards the end.
Although, in recent years, Grandma had drifted into this weakened state, I don’t like to think of her that way. In my mind, she’s always a strong, vigorous woman – famous for long, energetic hikes across the moors and equally energetic catering for the troops once we’d all trailed back home and the rest of us were sprawled on the sofa, barely capable of speech – never mind whipping up a meat and potato pie.
Grandma was a Lancastrian lass through and through. Born in 1923, she started her working life at fourteen, in the laboratory of a local mill, and by seventeen she was managing a bakery, in charge of two members of staff. This goes some way to explaining her lifelong love of good bread and her tireless industry in the kitchen, never knowingly offering two menu choices where five would do.
Like most people of a distinguished age, Grandma lived a remarkable life. During the Second World War she dodged bullets from an enemy plane while visiting Grandad, who was stationed on the Isle of Wight; she was the driving force behind family holidays abroad – notably to Spain during the rule of Franco – in the days when foreign holidays were only slightly more common than hens’ teeth; and she learned to drive at the age of 55, getting fined for speeding at the age of 85. (I know. Speeding’s not cool, but … she was 85. 85!!!)
She was a thoroughly modern woman, even in the last years of her life, learning to use a computer and a tablet when she was already nudging 90, and was an avid consumer of news – not least the wins, draws and losses of her beloved Bolton Wanderers.
In short, she was a very special lady.
But one of the pleasures of growing up is realising that every one of us is special. Visiting Grandma in the home where she latterly resided, I’d often find her in the lounge, surrounded by the other residents in various states of depletion: some who’d call out to people only they could see; others who carried their doll with them at all times; still others who talked about getting back to the lives they’d left behind, no matter that the return was not likely to happen today, or any other day. On one level, you could read it as a tragedy.
And yet. And yet…
Getting to know this motley bunch of characters and gradually peeling back the layers, secret past lives were uncovered. The mayor, the chorister, the farmer, the flower arranger; those who had travelled and those who’d dodged death … every one of these residents – bound together by nothing more than circumstance – had lived fascinating lives, unique personal histories, deserving of celebration.
So celebrate we did. We gave Grandma the brightest, most uplifting send-off we could – or as joyful as you can be when all you want to do is cry. As I’ve mentioned before, she was a stylish dresser so drab colours were banned; everyone wore their brightest brights and the casket was adorned with flowers in vibrant shades.
No, it’s never easy to say goodbye to someone you love, but sometimes you have to focus on the person you knew and the influence they had on you, not on what you’ve lost. I loved my Grandma very much, and I was lucky to have her for as long as I did.