My grandmother died this afternoon, at 103 years old.
Funny how even when you’re expecting a death – and have been, to an extent, hoping that it would happen in order to put an end to a life which was no longer really a life – you’re still saddened by it. That’s the last of my grandparents gone – in fact the last of that generation of my more immediate family – and whilst we had all been waiting for her death for 3 years, ever since she had a major stroke and was given two weeks to live (huh!), I still feel a gap now she’s gone.
I am really glad that I chose to go down to see my grandmother yesterday, and was able to tell her that I loved her and that she was an inspirational woman.
When my grandfather left her, when my mother was 12 (so 60+ years ago; it wasn’t the done thing in those days), my grandmother didn’t lie down and weep. Instead this remarkable woman who had been brought up not to have to work or to worry about career, picked herself up, dusted herself down and went about changing her life. She learnt to drive, learnt to swim (something she never, apparently, enjoyed) and qualified as a teacher; all the while bringing up three children. Ultimately she became an extremely well-known embroideress and home-craftsperson in Somerset if not further afield.
Holidays with my grandmother always included being able to raid her supplies to create things and being taken to historic and artistic sights, some of them places where her embroideries would be on display. One summer I embroidered a peacock, large shimmering sequins sewn in its tail feathers; another I made a rag doll. My grandmother took my sister and I to visit Mulcheney Abbey, Tor Steps, Glastonbury Tor, Minehead, Dunster, Holne Mill, Ham Hill, and an animal park which had coatimundis, amongst other places. Sometimes we met up with a family with other children our age; sometimes it was just my grandmother, my sister and me. One time I had been to guide camp the night before and was sick; in Dunster we saw glass being blown and also being made into little glass animals (I had an entire collection); we ate vegetarian sausages and dorset knobs, and of course were treated to ice cream. My grandmother also used to keep a supply of peanuts in a plastic drawer which hanged down under her cupboards: I seem to remember we were allowed to help ourselves, even though I think they were really meant for the birds. And she had a small but long and thin garden, the bottom of which seemed far away and mysterious through the plants, if not a little daunting.
As an ‘old’ lady my grandmother made several trips to Australia to see my uncle (while he was still alive) and aunt and cousins. She was well-travelled and I should have asked her more about the places she had been to, but in the self-centred way of the young I suppose I was more interested in what was immediately amusing for me than in learning about something through somebody else’s experiences. I then left home and saw less of my grandmother, though that is not to say that I did not wish to see her: when she had cancer in her 70s I took some time off work and went to stay with her to look after her briefly when she came out of hospital, and when I lived in Bristol I would sometimes take my great aunt (her sister) down from Bristol to see her, baby Alex in tow.
I believe her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were a source of great joy and pride to her. Being a positive person, she was always positive about us: always thinking that we were wonderful; effusively thanking us for presents or for taking her out for lunch. I am quite sure it was that positive attitude, and the fact that she kept active, that kept her alive so long, and living in her own house until after her 100th birthday. Despite being registered blind she still went for a walk almost every day: and I remember her being quite rude about ‘youngsters’ who weren’t as fit as her at the fitness classes she used to attend.
She particularly seemed to bond with my daughter, Isabella. Even though she couldn’t see her properly, she seemed to have some sort of connection with her from when Isabella was a tiny baby – calling her, quite accurately, a prima donna, or words to that effect, when she was only a few days old. The bond went both ways, with Bella being lovely with her went she came down with me to see my grandmother only months back: walking along beside her in her wheelchair and holding her hand. I saw a caring, mature side to my daughter which brought tears of pride to my eyes (as I write this those tears are there again). My Mum said my grandmother always asked after Isabella.
My grandmother also met my unplanned ‘surprise’ third child, Edward, at her 100th birthday, just after he had turned one. It’s the only time she ever saw him but I was pleased that I was able to take him to one of her parties (she had 7 in total: if you can’t when you’re 100, when can you). When I had him I was the same age that my grandmother was when I was born (49). She also lived to hear the very recent news that my cousin William’s girlfriend is expecting a baby: this would be my grand-mother’s ninth great-grandchild.
When I saw my grandmother yesterday I was telling her in my head that it was time to go: time to allow herself some rest. She appeared so, so tired. My mother and my sister were with her when she died this afternoon, peacefully and in her sleep. My sister said to my mother ‘is she still breathing?’ and she wasn’t: she had slipped away.
Farewell Nanny. Your body may be gone but you will continue to inspire me.