4 years ago today, was one of the worst days of my life.
It was a crisp Saturday morning, and I can still vividly recall walking Bexley back down our road towards home, oblivious (because my headphones were in) to my wife frantically shouting and waving at me from our front doorstep. In fact, it wasn’t until I was nearly at our drive, that I glanced up and saw her, clearly in some distress.
Ollie would have been 8-and-a-half months at the time, coincidentally almost exactly the same age as Isaac is now, and my first thought was that something had happened to him. I ran towards her, pulling my headphones out of my ears in a panic.
“I’m really sorry. Your Nan just died.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, and still remember dropping to the ground behind our car, completely in shock. Nan, my maternal grandmother, had been fighting fit when we had seen her just a week or so before. In contrast, my maternal grandfather, who we’d lost about five years earlier, had been very poorly in the weeks and months before he died, but that had meant we had all been there at the hospital to say our goodbyes when he passed away. I’m not saying that was any easier, in some respects it was more traumatic, but it hadn’t been such a shock as we’d had time to prepare.
We had been due to head over to Mum’s house later that morning anyway, to see her and Nan, but immediately threw everything we thought we would need into the car, and set off. In all honesty, I was in no fit state to drive, and couldn’t see the road half the time through crying, but we knew Mum had been the one to find Nan, and was still at the house on her own. My sister was at University in Newcastle, and my brother lives in Preston, so we were able to get to Mum the quickest.
The worst part was, Mum had tried to get hold of me on my mobile, but I’d left it at home when I walked the dog, so I hadn’t answered. She had managed to speak to my brother, but not my sister, so we had to pull over in Alderley Edge in order that I could phone her and pass on the news. How do you start a conversation like that? Honestly, I can’t remember a word of what I said.
I also remember the guilt. I’d never been nasty to Nan, and loved her to bits, but in the years before she died, she had an incredible knack of winding you up and there had been occasions when I’d got frustrated with her. Partly, this was through having the same conversations over and over, due to her fading memory. At times, though, this was also the source of much amusement.
Whenever we would talk about my university life, for example, she would always, without fail, regale us with her memories of my first day at Lancaster. She would recall being sat in Mum’s car, watching me walk back to my new room in County College all alone, with Mum crying as her eldest child left home.
“But Nan, we’ve been through this before, you weren’t there.”
She’d just heard the story, and over time she’d let herself believe that she’d been in the car at the time. Her patchy memory was a bit creative like that.
She was always convinced I’d be a doctor, too. Despite not being bright enough, and more importantly having no interest in going into medicine whatsoever, she clearly felt this was the only profession befitting of me. Even in my third year of a law degree, she overheard me say that I had opted to do a ‘Medicine and the Law’ course, and her immediate (and hopeful) reaction was “So, you can still be a doctor then?” I hope the career path I ended up taking, didn’t disappoint her too much.
When she finally gave up on me being a doctor, her attention was then focussed on my younger sister marrying one instead. It never occurred to her that Kerrie was actually brighter than me, and could perhaps be a doctor herself, had she wanted. No, Kerrie could be a secretary, or something else suitable for a woman.
Nan was also convinced that my wife and I should buy a house on a particular road in Bramhall (the village where she lived) that we would often drive past. I’m sure the houses were lovely, but with my wife not driving, and with us both working miles in either direction, it would have been a bitch of a commute. Still, never let convenience get in the way of a dream. Only, it was never our dream, it was hers. I think she just wanted to tell everyone that her grandson was a doctor and lived in one of those big houses on Queensgate.
It was the same with holidays. It wouldn’t matter where we wanted to go, what type of holiday we were after, or our budget, she would always insist that we should go to Malta. God knows why. I’m sure Malta, like the big houses on Queensgate, is lovely, and we may well go one day, but it was like she had shares in the damn place.
But, my favourite story about Nan, and one that will surely endear her to all of you who never met her, was when we believed, for a few brief minutes, that she had truly fucking lost the plot. I mentioned previously that we had a Yorkshire Terrier, Toby, when I was growing up, and she loved that dog. When Toby died, that love was passed on to Bexley. She’d always loved animals.
On this one occasion, we were all in Mum’s living room, when Nan decided she would pick up Toby’s favourite toy, which was a bright orange, squeaky, cat. Clearly, as she picked it up and launched it across the room, it didn’t occur to her that perhaps the toy felt different somehow, or was heavier than usual. And made of glass. So, as far as the rest of us were concerned, we were sat there quietly during a lull in the conversation, only for Nan to pick up the glass of orange juice that was next to her, and hurl it into the wall, sending liquid and shards of glass in all directions.
So, yeah, like all elderly people, she had her quirks. She would refuse to start bagging up her shopping until it had all been processed through the checkout and she had paid. She would always ask, with no subtlety whatsoever, whether the clothes you bought her for Christmas or her Birthday “came in another colour”. She would be extremely selective in the things you’d told her a hundred times before, and I’m sure she knew what she was doing.
But, God I miss her.
Sleep well, Nan. I hope it’s like Malta for you.