I have just lost my grandmother. Already I hear her voice scoffing at my euphemism: “You didn’t lose me darling, I was right there, you couldn’t have lost me. I didn’t get lost or slip away or pass on. I just died, that’s all. I died.” That was her; always so tell-it-how-it-is-you-look-tired-darling-and-your-eyebrows-need-work.
But she is lost to me. It is a huge loss. I have had her for nearly forty years and now I don’t. All that time she was always there with a tim-tam and some straight-up advice. And while she was tiny in stature, she was sizeable in presence; and she has left a very large hole.
Losing grandparents (to death, as opposed to the temporary wandering off kind of losing) is not an uncommon business, it is pretty low on the scale of perceived bereavement, particularly if it is ‘old age’ that takes them and it is expected. A week ago I might have agreed with that, even said that a quiet fall from perch would probably be a blessing given the state of her health and quality of life. Today I say bugger that it’s no blessing and dammit I want her back. I want the vibrant, prickly, devoted, funny, opinionated, loving woman that she was in the days when she squeezed fresh orange juice every morning without fail and ensured the brass was perfectly shined. I want more of her hilarious, often shocking truisms, the ones we are still talking about, the ones I can’t talk about here because they might involve obscenities and improper sentiments – all so incongruous with her elegant presentation but not with her character once you knew it.
But that’s just being selfish I suppose, because while she said she wasn’t ready to go, I think she was. I guess I hadn’t thought that she might not stand up straight again and ask me to help her fold the sheets. That she might not look me in the eye and direct me to use less mascara. That she might not go to another party, have a few too many Champagnes and send out a few home truths. That she might not outwit a roomful of intellectuals or go shopping at Max Mara.
But I guess once you’re bed ridden and you’ve stopped eating there’s really no going back. I knew that but it was too sharp a thought to dwell on. That one day soon her heart will stop beating and she’ll never tell anyone off for poor grammar or laugh uproariously or be the best dressed person in the room ever again. Ever again. At least not in life.
In glorious, orange-squeeze-scented memory she can though. All that and more. That’s why I write about her here – not out of obligation or guilt or even sorrow, but for the memory, because she deserves to be written down and read by strangers. Because people say we are forgotten after just two generations and for my dear, spirited granny, that is simply not good enough. She is not just another granny dying, none of our grandparents are. They are stories that need to be told and told again and told well.
I will tell her well, not quiet and pale and ill as she was toward the end. Just as we have told her stories in the days since she died. Just as my mum and her brothers told them to us all at her funeral last Friday. They told her funny and stylish and feisty and loyal and well.
While her face may fade from the memories of my children, they will know her stories forever. And in honour of those stories I will keep my eyebrows shaped and my mascara light, I will laugh loudly, live vehemently and never be afraid to be me.
Pamela Mathwin Emily Friend 19/10/25 – 19/02/15.