I’m upset. For me, when I’m hurting it’s easier to show anger. Anger is strong and wilfully defiant. Being upset shows that you’re vulnerable or could even be perceived as weak. I think it’s Ok to default to anger sometimes. When you’re angry people leave you alone. When you’re upset people ask what’s wrong.
Since I had moved to London I had been faced with a lot of change. My life was very busy and full with weeknight socialising, hanging out with my housemates, weekends at home with my family and my lovely girlfriend and I couldn’t have been happier, although there had been moments however which have left their mark.
I’ve long suspected that I don’t quite have the typical reaction to grief. I’ve also long suspected that I’m getting a lot softer as I get older. An excellent example of this is when I’m watching a tear-jerker movie. I used to be so cold hearted, nothing could ever possibly move me to tears, not even when I watched The Green Mile when I was about twelve. Now, the opening scenes of Tarzan (yep, the Disney animation) will make me blub like a child.
So when I compare my reaction as a child to the horrific news that a beloved grandparent had died to the reaction experienced when my last surviving grandparent died it was quite astonishing. As a child, I cried because it was expected yet internally I was logical. I told myself that Nan had been ill and that she was old. In hindsight she wasn’t old and it was tragic, but as a child I was very pragmatic. I loved my Nanny Betty to bits and she had all the time in the world for me and my brother, I think I just dealt with it very differently then.
I am not now, nor will I ever be religious. Yet, as a child I clearly remember thinking after my Nan had died that if I wanted to still talk to her at night, wherever she was that she would still hear me. I have long since gotten over that romanticised notion, death to me as an adult is much more real, much more final.
My last surviving grandparent, my Mum’s mum, Nanny Mai had been in a nursing home for a long time. Her health was deteriorating at an alarming rate, she was confused a lot of the time and easily distressed by her confusion. There are a number of circumstances about her removal to a nursing home that were hard to handle, namely the fact that when the decision had been respectfully made, no one chose to tell us.
My Mum’s side of the family has a rift in it that is now never going to be mended. My Nan lived in a bungalow in Reading for many years, as I would pass through going to and from London or to Reading football matches when I was dating Lara I would often pop in and have a chat with her. When they moved her on to the nursing home we found out only when we couldn’t reach my Nan at her home anymore and when we were all pretty worried about why we couldn’t reach her. I think it was the final straw in already strained relations, I don’t know or really want to know the full details about all the fall-outs.
I hadn’t meant for it to happen, but my relationship with my Nan had been growing more distant in her final years. It’s probably my only true regret. Then eventually the news reached me that she was gone and there was never going to be any way to rectify that ever again. I was shocked, I was numb, I was angry at the way events unfolded, the lengths we had to go to just to find out what had happened and when and where the funeral service would be. None of that compared to the emptiness and frankly the guilt.
I loved my Nan’s wicked sense of humour. I have a million memories that I’ll cherish always, yet I’m still sad that there weren’t more. That I hadn’t made that extra special effort to see her when she had been moved into the home. My mum comforted me when I started down this path after the sad news had been delivered. In an effort to stop me from beating myself up over it, but the cold truth was I hadn’t gone to visit my Nan in more than a year.
My mum says it was perhaps even a good thing, that I alone get to remember her at her best, but I feel like I let her down. I remember one day I passed through Reading without stopping in to see her and she had taken that really hard, so I know deep down that it must have hurt her when I didn’t visit for so long.
When I hadn’t really cried as a child it was oddly ok, this time I felt like a fraud if I did. I had let us grow apart and had been a very detached granddaughter over her final years. I would always be sure to get her greeting-cards when it was mothers day, christmas or her birthday. They would always be delivered by my parents or my brother. I would chat with her on the phone whenever she remembered to call my mum and I happened to be home.
I would play with her on the phone as me and my mum sound so much alike most people can’t tell the difference. So I’d listen and talk away to her until she realised it wasn’t her daughter she was speaking to but me. I have to admit of all the people that call the house for my mum she always cottoned on the fastest.
Worse than my absence over her final months was my awkwardness in her final years. I promised my mum long ago that I wouldn’t ever tell my Nan that I was a lesbian. I think my mum thought the shock would be too much for her and it was just easier that way. Although nothing ever stopped my Nan from asking me if I was ‘courting’ every time I saw her. I hated lying to her, I hated not being able to tell her that I was happy and in love, that she didn’t have to worry about her granddaughter not finding someone, because I believed I had.
My Nan had even met two of the three of my past girlfriends, one of them had even been at her 80th birthday party. Yet, always presented as a close friend of mine. I do sometimes wonder if she’d ever figured it out and just not said anything, she certainly wasn’t clueless. Far from it, and my word she had a story or two to tell about her youth.
It was much easier to be angry with myself for not being there in her final months and years, for not being honest with her or sharing my life with her. It was so much easier than feeling sad. That was until I got into bed that evening after hearing the news, I had spent so much of the night comforting my bereft mother that I hadn’t noticed I hadn’t even reacted to the news myself.
It was when I got into bed that night beside Megan and her arms folded around me as she whispered in my ear ‘It’s Ok to be upset you know’ that I cried for the first time because someone I loved had died. I had spent the last days, weeks and months of my life supporting her as she dealt with set back after set back searching for jobs. I had never had anyone I love support me before, I hadn’t needed it.
Megan didn’t need to ask what was wrong because she new, she didn’t need me to be strong, she just wanted me to feel my way through whatever it was that I couldn’t seem to articulate and she would be there for me in whatever small way she could until I would feel better. Megan was there when I hadn’t even had to ask, even when faced with horrible grief somehow it was still inexplicably possible for her to become much more dear to me.
The worse was still to come. I’ll apologise now for the length of this post. I’m aware I’m rambling on, but if I don’t do this in one go I’ll never get it all out. The funeral was awful, it was not how my Nan should be remembered, but then maybe to me she was a different person. After all to me she was a Nan, to many others she was a mother, a sister and a colleague or dear friend.
We had no input what-so-ever and the account they gave to sum up my Nan’s life lacked the tenacity, spirit and wit of her character that I knew and loved. It was hard to believe I was even there to remember her. I might have thought I was in the wrong place if it weren’t for her picture plastered on the order of service.
I will not take cheap shots about the planning, organisation or what was said. If that’s how some people choose to remember her that’s fine with me. This however is how I will always remember my Nanny Mai:
I remember the stories she would tell, my favourite was about the American soldier who was a paratrooper that had been shot in the bum, although I never did ask how she knew about his injury. I loved how she looked younger as she told the story, it was always hard for me to imagine my Nan the age I am now, I’ve always known her with white fluffy hair and being called cotton-wool-bud by me and my cousins.
I remember her settling an argument my brother and I were having over how to split a five-pound note that left us speechless. She just leaned across us and whipped it out of our hands before ripping it in two and giving us half each and saying, ‘problem solved.’
Crystal clear memories of her asking my brother if he wanted a ‘bunch o’fives’ and clarifying for him that meant a pouch in the gob just to see his shock. Going on holiday with her to Cornwall where one night she wins a ‘Glamourous Gran’ competition and the next she’s popping out her dentures for a man on a treasure hunt. The gigantic pair of knickers she’d always hang on the inside of her front door at Christmas that had ‘Merry Christmas’ printed on them, that was an odd tradition.
I loved that she was proud of me, she had my art work framed and put pride of place in her living room. I loved that she cherished a photo album I made for her on her 80th birthday which showcased her wonderful life and family whether they were all on good terms now or not, they all had one thing in common, they all loved her. At least she had these parts of me with her until the end, I know that they had been packed up and gone with her to the nursing home where I never managed to visit.
Every one of these memories and many more besides tell the story of her character and her zest for life much better than any funeral service ever could have. I remember thinking of her and knowing where my family got our sense of humour. If I could ever do her any justice for not being there in the last of her days, I’ll do it in how I remember her. Just maybe, that might make up for the ludicrous funeral service too, I wish I had the courage to stand up and speak then, but no one expects to improvise at a funeral.
I’m wasn’t angry, I was upset.