The majority of my introductions of late seem to begin with the prefix “when I was a kid” or “when I was younger”, and today is no exception. In fact I can think of no better opening when it comes to writing about my Grandmother. You see growing up I always considered my Nan to be rather frail individual. She always seemed to posses this kind of natural fragility that you’d normally associate with an elderly relative. She’d forget the punchline to jokes, items on a shopping list or even her own grandsons name, referring to me as every male member of our immediate family, before finally arriving at my middle name. “Close enough” I’d often remark, providing hours of face palming remarks and bouts of senility that she found just as amusing. But she has always been a considerate, big-hearted women who would dedicate a considerable effort to ensure that everyone around her was happy, even if it was at her own expense. It wasn’t until last Friday however that I discovered how her outwardly diminishing figure belies the truly formidable women below the surface and the ardent constitutions that compel her.
My Nan’s eldest daughter, by extension my Aunt sadly passed away on Friday afternoon after a protracted battle against cancer. Having been diagnosed with the malignancy over a year ago she had undergone rigorous sessions of chemotherapy to regress the tumour, with my Nan there at every session. My Aunt suffered through the subsequent hair loss and intense sickness that supplements such an aggressive method of treatment, with a resistant bravery I couldn’t possibly understand. And for a spell the cancer had rescinded, but not for long. Unfortunately it had already metastasized beyond any medical aid leaving nature to take its course.
For a time you wouldn’t even had known she had cancer. You observed glimpses of the diseases effects through strained and wincing facial expressions from my Aunt, but nothing outwardly that resembled any permanent malady. Yet in her last months the affliction made itself more apparent, crippling her in ways that I don’t feel comfortable elaborating on. Suffice to say that her deterioration was so emphatically swift, that it really progressed within a matter of weeks. Though she received great care at our local hospice I can imagine that by the end an eternal slumber may have been a relief for her.
It’s fair to say that she hadn’t been dealt the best hand in life, though she made the best of it with the loving support of her family, particularly my Nan. Amongst other underlying medical conditions that had plagued her since she was a child such as fits and an incessant shaking in her hands, brought on by a prolonged diabetic condition, she had certain mental health problems that meant she wasn’t always the most socially virile or receptive to human interaction. She wasn’t a bad person, just one of very singular persuasions, often ill-tempered or irritable. But my Aunt was always very reliant on the devoted support of my Nan, providing all the care and amenities that a mother would provide for her child. Tending to her needs however trivial. So when she inevitably passed away I was concerned for Nan’s wellbeing. It was after all her daughter, her first-born no less. Burying your child is not something any parent should ever have to do. I thought my Nan would crumble under the sheer weight of such a burden, but has instead shown great resiliency where many, myself included would fail.
My Nan has conducted herself with a kind of conservative thrust, like someone who is grievously wounded but determined to ensure everything is arranged methodically and responsibly before allowing herself the “luxury” to stop and mourn. She has demonstrated a tremendous courageousness through her assertive disposition despite the loss that has affected her deeply. The fact that she has nullified the interventions of the more antagonist divisions in our family, making a concerted effort to appease the disparate sects that form the scattered relations in our kindred tribe is nothing short of a miracle! She has been pragmatic, composed and assured, making the necessary funeral arrangements to begin the expensive process of burial.
She has of course received the support of the entire family, whether that’s a shoulder to bear the encumbering emotional weight or a shoulder to cry on. Make no mistake this Christmas isn’t going to be one of particular festive mirth. And I’m sure my Nan will be grieving over the festive period, shedding mournful tears when no one is around to see, not least because her daughter won’t be laid to rest until after the holidays. But rest assured that whatever she needs, she will get. Her spirited resolve and refusal to be beaten down by remorse, but also harness that heartbreak into something practical is truly inspirational to me. I often wondered where my mother inherited such an earnest stubbornness reflected in my Nan’s actions? Not anymore I don’t.
All I can really say is that I’m privileged to know and be related to so many profoundly influential women. You are and continue to be the most inspiring contributors in my life, as well as my daughters.