Hi everyone. I’ve not blogged for a while. I was getting into the swing of it too. Then my Nan died suddenly on 2nd July 2016. There seemed nothing much worth saying anymore for a while. The shock is clearing a little now, three weeks later and I am happy to say that routine has started to creep back in within the last few days.Just enough to feel I would like to share my experience of this process if anyone would like to listen.This is quite a lengthy one. Read it if you have time.
This is my first experience of losing anyone close to me in terms of death. I have known friends who have lost a Grandparent, a Wife, an Uncle.You find yourself saying the usual “I am so sorry for your loss”. Then you hug them, turn around, get on with your own life and don’t really think anymore about it. It’s not that I didn’t mean it when I said I was sorry for them. I could see the pain on their faces. I could see the tears rolling down their cheeks. I said I understood and reassured them I was there for them. But death never really felt real to me before now. It’s not something I had ever experienced myself personally. I never, and couldn’t have, felt what they were feeling, because it hadn’t happened to me yet.Having now lost Nan quite unexpectedly, I have some understanding of the pain experienced when a loved one passes. If life is about learning, then I have gained a new level of feeling in terms of grief. Its something I have found really difficult to understand, if I am honest, death that is. How someone can be there one minute, then suddenly be dead the next. Where did all that restless energy go Nan.
Me and my Nan, Irene, had become really close this last year. I had been her registered carer since July 2015, although she was so fiercely independent that I struggled to allow her to let me do as much as I should or could have been. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer about 18 months ago, undergoing two major operations within a four-week period, then simply coming home and getting on with things, no chemotherapy, no pain relief, she just wanted to come home and get on. She refused any help from the hospital in terms of aftercare,getting on with each day as she had before, proving to herself and everyone around her that even the dreaded C-word was not going to stop her from living her life on her terms. She had looked and seemed generally well in the few days before her death, with many neighbours seeing her out gardening. (Doing a first class job of trimming the Holly hedge, something she assured me we would do together when the weather was better!)Above: Her last big job. So pleased you finished this one Nan x
Her latest scan from only a week before her death was not bad at all, with the area originally effected being clear. She still had cancer, but it wasn’t raging through her as far as we knew. So it has definitely come as a shock to the family. To her friends also. We expected it. But we didn’t expect it yet. This was Nan. Who had escaped death several times. (Gangrenous Gallbladder, Burst Appendix, Electrocution…She would be proudly smiling at that list I just wrote if she could hear me reeling them off, as she did in life. She used to chuckle at it all. I think she might have almost believed her own immortality herself sometimes.) We always joked that Nan couldn’t die. So when I popped in late Saturday afternoon with a bag of shopping for her, to find her tiny lifeless body cold on her bed, suddenly very still, eyes slightly ajar, not responding to my words, I had to take a few minutes just to breathe myself and check it was all real. The hard part was, I had found her looking more than a bit dead on many occasions before, with her mouth wide open, head flung back, not much movement going on. I would cautiously approach her and talk to her quietly and she would jolt up from her chair really quickly which always made me jump! I would always be so relieved and would always tell her she looked like she was dead, which often made her laugh, with her saying something like “Not this time love”, before patting my back and going to put the kettle on for us. Living next door, I knew deep down that when the time came, it would be me that found her. So for her to not get up this time, to not move, it all felt very real, yet completely surreal at the same time.
I remained in a shock for about 5 days afterwards, whilst trying to be of use with all the practical things that needed doing. I don’t remember much of that first week if I am honest. Above: Nan and Emi, taken June 2016
Me and my daughter saw her everyday, sometimes for 5 hours to help sort her house out, other days just for a cup of tea and a quick chat (always followed by at least two phone calls as the day went on.) Some days we went shopping together, other days she was too ill to shop and I would go alone, then just go and sit with her for a while afterwards, her talking to me whilst I restocked her fridge, with Emi in the background causing havoc. We would often do her garden with her. Two weeks before she died I took some gorgeous photos of my girl smiling lovingly at someone out of shot. It was Nan. So many photos I have of just her hand, aiding something Emi was doing at the time. She was always just there.
Some days I combed her hair for her like I used to do as a child (She found it relaxing) whilst others she very clearly wasnt ok and wanted to be alone. Me and Emi being under her feet would get on her nerves at times. (She didn’t hide it well!) Other days she would ring me three times or more just to tell me random bits and bobs that didn’t really matter, the sort of stuff that could wait. I would roll my eyes at the fourth phone call per hour some days, annoyed with her for flapping or being forgetful. Now I look at my phone, still expecting her name to pop up. Now its just silent. It’s very hard to get your head around. I knew those times she was really calling because she was lonely and wondered what I was up to.We were not too affectionate by any means. On a day-to-day basis we didn’t kiss or hug. But I like to think we didn’t have to. She was always the first to my door on my birthday with my card and a big hug and a reassuring Nan back rub as she pulled you in. She showed affection when she wanted to, when she felt comfortable doing so. I never pushed for her. That was enough for me. When my parter left me, she didn’t say much. Just enough to quietly let me know that she was there, if I needed it. Some days I would go round and she could just tell I was about to cry or just feeling low in the early days after he went. Those days she said nothing, but those days she did hug me, then switch the kettle on and make me some tea. I needed her too more than I knew. To know she was there was a great comfort.
My Nan was a really complex character. She was frustrating and stubborn at times, going out of her way often to seemingly make life harder for herself by refusing to allow anyone else to help her, avoiding obvious solutions to problems or taking on a greater workload than was necessary. She started messy jobs like sanding her chairs in the house (again!) and never finished them. She would knit Emi a jumper, dislike her work, then completely undo it all, starting again and never finishing it in the process. I think she had three on the go at the time of her passing. She adopted nearly the entire ratio of cats to our avenue, raising her living costs in cat food and giving herself endless work to do night and day, something she continued right up until her death. We never understood it much. I suppose it doesn’t matter why in the end. It was her life and she did as she pleased with it. Above: Suki. Her last loyal friend to the end x
Seeing her daily gave me the advantage of really getting to see a different side to her personality each week, something I had never been able to do before. As a kid, for instance, when your Nan is just Nan, she’s just there isn’t she, to take money from when it’s offered on the sly behind your moms back,to empty her biscuit barrel with a cup of tea with more sugar in than you’re allowed at home, to be the one that lets you get away with not brushing your teeth when you stay over (After all that sugar!). Nan was always just Nan before. She looked after me. This last year, that role had been reversed and I know she struggled to come to terms with it initially. However, these last few months especially, she really started to open up to me, allow me to help more and let her guard down in terms of the situation she was in. She seemed calm the last time I saw her. She had come to terms with a lot I feel.I am grateful for that.
There were times of pure calmness also, happy moments spent laughing at something stupid Emi had done, like when she tried to fill Nans cat litter tray by herself and ended up falling in and crying because she was all dusty. Nan loved that. She liked to wind her up too by shouting “Nosey” every time Emi was lost in thought picking her nose. Emi would shout back “Dont look at me!” whilst pointing a stern finger in Nans direction. That particular game between them made Nan chuckle a lot.
There were other times there would be silence. On those days she was so tired. I sensed in those times she was happy just to have us around. For security, for company, I don’t know, just to be there really. I was happy to be. Those were the times I watched her in secret, without much to say, smiling at my daughter playing or singing to herself in her mirror. (Nan would clean that mirror everyday and everyday Emi would come in and smudge it all up again! It brought Nan humour and annoyance in equal measure!) She looked exhausted yet so full of joy watching my girl. She looked happy. Calm and happy. I would watch her face smile, really naturally, lost in her own thoughts. There was always a sadness to Nan, something unsettled within her that never quite went away. Other days she was so angry at life, unhappy with her circumstances or just down right fed up. So to witness these rare moments of pure relaxed happiness were very special to me, especially knowing how much my daughters birth healed a lot of personal things for her. I will cherish those memories forever.
Its funny really, since Nan passed, I have naturally looked through my calls and messages from her, re running everything over in my mind, like why didn’t I speak to her for longer on that phone call, or make more effort on a particular message in reply to hers. Of course I know that the answer is that life isn’t ideal most of the time, and if I only sent a three word reply back to one of her messages, it was more than likely because my daughter was hanging off me crying about something ridiculous whilst I tried to do eighteen other jobs at once being a single parent. I know that she would have completely understood that. She told me so often. It doesn’t stop the feeling of guilt though initially.
Guilt was my main feeling for the first week. The tears didn’t stop for 5 days or so. Then I was practical. Clearing her house, sorting her finances along with Mom. These jobs simply had to be done. After the guilt came anger, something that unfortunately I have had continued bouts of on and off. It’s settled a bit now.Right now, at least, I feel calm.
I didn’t cry again until 21st July, her funeral. It was simple, private and just how Nan would have wanted it (Well, we couldn’t ACTUALLY just put you in a bag and burn you Nan!). She wanted no fuss, straight to the point and practical to the end. We chose and arranged flowers ourselves, some from her own garden. We chose music she had liked that touched our hearts during this time. The strangest part was seeing the tiny coffin arriving, knowing that our Nan was inside and that she already wouldn’t have looked the way we remembered her. It was a simple Humanist ceremony, fuss free yet completely moving. My three-year old daughter put her arm around my neck and wiped away my tears as I cried. I loved her so much more than I thought possible that day. Having her there, running around the crematorium grounds also made us all aware that new life goes on. She made a lot of people feel happy that day. I am very proud of her for that.
It has not been easy after the day itself. The realisation of how much there is still to do has set in , tensions have been high and family has naturally fallen out on and off over the last few weeks.We have each been dealing with our own personal losses, finding it hard to see each others pain and points of view. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about or love each other. They do say that time is a healer and I can only wish that everyone takes the time and space they need after this intense time and come back together stronger in the end. Or at the very least find peace with their own loss. I do know that she was very proud of each of us in her own way too. That will help me ease any guilt I feel in time at not being with her in the end. Because I know its how she wanted it. Dignified and on her terms. Above: My brothers wedding last August. Nan did the flowers x
There is no right or wrong way to deal with death and even if there was, most of us would deal with it the wrong way anyway, because, how can you prepare for this? You can’t.We are human, we make mistakes, we feel pain. But if I have learned anything, it’s that life simply has to go on and it will go on regardless of whether you are continuing to join in with it or not. I found that when I tried to go shopping a few days after she died. I felt strange that the world was just carrying on as normal whilst Nan lay cold. Her life was over. I still had to take my daughter to feed the ducks as promised. Having a child has really helped me as I could have so easily just given up. I can’t. I see why some people do after a bereavement. We are, however, all stronger if we have someone by our sides to get us through it. I am so blessed to have my daughter during this time. It is a welcome distraction and has actually made me remember more of the funnier, happier times I had with Nan, rather than a lot of her illness. I had life with Nan. It’s the life I will choose to remember.
I will miss her pancakes (Perfectly browned and thin), her double ring at my door bell to let me know it was her in advance, her talented hands which started to teach me how to make cushions properly, her always being there when it was most counted for and her loyalty to her immediate family and friends. I have never known a loss until now Nan. Me and Emi will keep talking about your funny ways x