Last weekend I said goodbye to my Gran. I am surprised how hard her passing has hit me. She was 93 years old and had struggled with her health for a little while now. It was a relief in the end, and for the last week it was inevitable – there was no surprise here but when I got the news I sat and bawled for 20 minutes. Then (I can see looking back) I shut my emotions down completely until the funeral a week later. I couldn’t deal with her not being around. Couldn’t deal with one of the most stable and loving influences in my life no longer being here to chat to. On top of still grieving my mum, it was too much. So I ‘zombied’.
My Gran and I always got on really well. When I was seven we moved to the same town she lived in so there was heaps of time with her growing up. Gran lived in the same flat in my living memory until about five years ago. Nothing changed – not the furniture, the smells, the garden, the blankets on the back of her mustard-coloured Lazy-boy. It was pretty much always the same. And so was Gran. She was always there with a ready smile, excited to spend time with her grandchildren.
She would apologise if the baking wasn’t fresh – but even the ‘old’ baking was great, and there was always baking! If I was ever home sick from school and Mum had to work, I would be tucked up on Gran’s couch. She was always at our birthday parties, even as grown ups. Gran had a great collection of Disney comics which I loved to read and an eclectic old box of toys that even my daughter loved playing with. I enjoyed going to church with her and as I got older it really just became about spending time chatting to her. We would play cards a lot too. My first ride in an ambulance was with Gran when she collapsed at church one Sunday and there were plenty of opportunities to visit her in hospital. She said she was making the most of the taxes she paid over the years!
As a teenager, when I thought my parents were horrid (reality: I was full of hormones and mostly the horrid one) and didn’t think I could talk to them, Gran stood in the gap and was my safe place, my person to talk to. A lot of people talked to Gran, she was a great listener. I will always hear her voice when she said “you always need to step out of a situation, walk all the way around it, and look at it from every perspective”. This has been good in conflict, in demanding situations and in making decisions. My Gran was wise.
No matter where I’ve been in the world, we’ve always kept in touch. She hated technology – she barely had a push button phone, thought email was airmail, and when she did get a clothes dryer with her new flat, she used it to store the toilet paper! But she would spend hours chatting on the phone quite happily. It was her connection to the rest of the world. For me, going home to Hawke’s Bay also meant a visit to Gran. I remember taking a friend with me once when I was in my early 20’s. As we drove away she said ‘you are so lucky, you have a real proper gran, like a TV gran’. I pondered this for a bit but did need to ask for clarification. Apparently because my gran knitted and baked, was ‘cute’ in her rocking chair, went out of her way to make our favourite things for our visit (I loved her meringues), loved to hear all our (grandchildren) news and clearly adored us, this made her special. To me, this was just the Gran I grew up with. But I don’t disagree, she was totally special.
My mum and Gran had a VERY special bond. Gran always said my mum was the daughter she never had, as she had known my mum since she was a tween (not that they used that term in the 60’s!). My parents separated when I was six – so technically Gran was my mum’s ex-mother-in-law. But they remained extremely close right to the end of my mum’s life despite the fact that my biological father (Gran’s son) as good as dropped out of my life decades ago. Mum and I would often pop around and spend a Saturday afternoon chatting with Gran. Gran included photos of mum among her family pictures in her room. Some women can’t stand their mother/daughter in-law so to see these two love each other in these circumstances, just shows what amazing role models I grew up with – and why I miss them both so blimen much!!!
My granddad passed away 38 years ago, the year before I was born – Gran never stopped missing him. I know now that she is in heaven with him, and no longer troubled by physical ailments. And probably with proper teeth (I learned at her funeral that she lost all hers when she was 13!). So now, Gran is in the best place ever, and someday, far away, I will join her. In the meantime, as with my mum, I carry in my heart the amazing memories and lessons she has given me.