My beloved Grandma Constance died on 24th February, four days after her 93rd birthday. She was an incredible woman and I am exceptionally proud to have called her my family. Here are two pieces of writing that I put together before and after her death. The first, I read at her funeral, the second I wrote as she was on palliative care, towards the last days of her life. I saw her last on her birthday. The final thing I said to her was “I love you”. The final thing she said to me was “I love you”. I will hang onto that forever.
My Grandma Constance
My Grandma Constance was a tour de force. I have admired her for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if she ever realised how responsible she was for shaping me into the human I have become.
I have been moulded by her love of words and reading. This made me into a voracious devotee of the written word myself and an avid writer. She bought me my first thesaurus when I asked her what another word for “kerfuffle” was. I think I was about six.
Her intense attention to detail when it came to spelling and grammar made me a total pedant when it comes to accuracy. She taught me to spell and she taught me the right place to put a comma for both practical and poetic reasons.
Her insatiable curiosity fed my innate need to ask questions. I want to know more, to experience more, to live life in a state of constant inquiry because of her. I remember the time she read Harry Potter, because she wanted to know what all the fuss was about. She never got past The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third in a seven book series because the Dementors gave her nightmares. But her need to know meant she had to find out why everyone was talking about “this Harry Potter boy”.
Her baking taught me to love the attention to detail required to make culinary delights, but I carry it with me in my every day life too. I used to sit on a stool in the kitchen as she pottered around and watching her make delicious treats out of raw ingredients seemed like magic to me. That’s not even mentioning the results of her time near the cooker – my favourites will always be her Smartie topped chocolate buns and the crunchy, rich fridge cake she’d rustle up from a hand written recipe. I’d live on the fruits of Grandma’s labour in the kitchen until I turned 93 myself, given half the chance.
I have acquired her fiery streak, her sharp tongue, her cold hands and her warm heart and her love of daffodils. Chris jokes that I am going to bypass turning into either of my parents because I am already my paternal Grandma.
She was the very best of the humans. Kind to the core, compassionate, brilliant, determined, warm and fierce. She was stubborn and she was witty and she was effortlessly intelligent. I often wonder what she would have done with her brain had she been born 60 years later.
Losing my Grandma has broken my heart. But in losing her, I’ve taken some time for reflection, time that we’re all guilty of not granting ourselves often enough. I have sat back and looked at our whole picture together, a picture spanning almost 30 years. It is a beautiful picture. Full of love, laughter, joy, goodness – and chocolate buns.
I loved her very much. I love her very much. I will miss her immeasurably. But I am so very grateful for every single minute I got to spend with her.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years grieving. Cancer takes so much from you that with every piece that is removed, there is a process of grief. I have grieved for my hair, for what my body used to be and all of the phases it has been, I grieve for the time when I didn’t worry about cancer reappearing in my life, and the times when I hadn’t confronted my own mortality head on. I grieve for the career I might have had, the things I might have achieved. I have become very familiar with grief in the almost three years since they told me it was cancer.
But I had forgotten how it feels to grieve for a person. I had forgotten the all encompassing, enveloping heartache that comes with losing a person you love. I had forgotten the breath-snatching feeling of getting a call to say that someone you’ve had in your life, for your whole life, is fading. I had forgotten that even though you spend your whole life preparing for your grandparents not to be here, when one of them begins the process of leaving, a world without them in it seems inconceivable and ugly and harsh.
And while this falls under the same umbrella term of “grief”, the two are worlds apart. There are oceans between the feeling of losing yourself and losing a loved one. The number of capital cities between the two is overwhelmingly high – there are vast continents stretched out between the state of Self Grief and the feeling of saying “I love you” to someone for the last time.
I had forgotten what it was like to grieve for a person. But this week I am remembering as my Grandma lies and fades in a hospital bed, 53 miles away. But I am remembering her chocolate buns – my favourite baked treat, the fluffy Easter chicks on her April cakes, her jokes about feeding me boiled eggs, her insatiably curious mind, her warmth and her love of words. Her stubbornness and her fiery streak, her sharp tongue. The blurry days of my childhood when she sang “I thought I saw Puddytat”.
I had forgotten what it is like to grieve for a person. But I had forgotten what it is like to sit back and see our whole picture together too. And what a beautiful picture it is.