Monday, August 28, 2006

My Nan

It’s funny how certain events or conversations can conjure up all sorts of memories about people we care about who have passed away. It all started just before I went to Africa, when my mother gave me my Nan’s ring to wear, because she said my Nan would watch over me and keep me safe. My mum’s not at all a spiritual person in the religious sense, and if you asked her I don’t think she could explain to you what her true beliefs are, but one thing she is sure of is that people who have passed over to the other side become some one’s guardian, and watch over and protect the living as best they can. For her it’s my granddad who does this, and for me it’s my Nan. I too am sure of this, and even before I started wearing the ring, I have always felt my Nan’s presence close to me ever since she died.

My Nan was born in 1920 to a very poor family from the potteries, the place where me myself was born. She married my granddad fairly young, he was seven years older than she, and if my maths is correct she had her first of ten children when she was 26. I’m not sure what she did as a job if she ever worked at all, my graddad did something in the army, but unfortunately they both died when I was too young to take an interest in family history. My mum was the youngest of all her children, and I suspect her favourite in her own way. My Nan wasn’t a very affectionate person with words, she was one of those people who expected you to automatically know she cared about you without her saying so, but it showed in the things she did. Both she and my granddad doted on me as a child, and were very protective because I was blind. I used to go to their house all the time after school until my mum finished work, and my Nan would always have a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and some peanuts ready because she knew they were my favourite snacks to eat. She spoiled me rotten! I used to drive her mad I’m sure, I was a very noisy child, always bouncing around and singing and generally being very loud. I used to stand with her in the kitchen when she was preparing the dinner, and when she’d peeled the potatoes I used to role them noisily along the draining board by the sink because it sounded to me like trains on a track. I would also rifle through her jewellery box, ask her if I could call my friends on her phone, and pretend her walking stick was a broom stick and that I could fly on it. One thing I miss about my Nan was her cooking. She made the best chips in the world, and I haven’t tasted ones like it ever since, and doubt I ever will. She always had the kitchen door open, and when you walked up the street towards the house, you could catch the smell on the wind, and it used to make my mouth water. I think the reason I like chips so much as an adult is because they hold so much nostalgia for me more than anything else. My mum and I would walk in the house and my mum would always say, “don’t give her any chips, she hasn’t had her tea yet,” and then when she went through to say hello to granddad, my Nan would always whip some from the frying pan, wrap them in a piece of kitchen role and sprinkle them with salt and vinegar. My mum would always scold us both on her return, but it was always worth it.

I was also very close to my Nan, I told her everything that was going on at school, and in my home life which was often rocky as my mum and step dad faught a lot of the time. When I was ill it was always my Nan who would look after me if my mum had to work, and we used to walk to the local shop, me holding on to the side of her shopping trolley, and she would stop and talk to everyone, always telling them that I was her grand daughter and how wonderful I was. Towards the end of my granddad’s life he was very ill, and although she often complained about having to take care of him there was never a couple who loved each other more, and even when my mum had grown up she said she would go visit and walk in on them cuddling or catch him stroking her arse or something like that. My granddad spent a lot of time in hospital, and towards the very end was moved back home to die in peace. I was six at the time of his death, it was a Saturday night around Easter time, and we were just on the way out when we got a call from my Nan saying that she couldn’t get any response from my granddad. Both my mum and I went round there, to the consternation of my step dad who thought I shouldn’t go, but I was adamant that I wanted to be there. When we arrived, we found that he was dead in his bed in the living room, and the only thing I remember about the following few hours was my Nan hugging me while we both cried.

So my Nan spent the next three years living with the one son who hadn’t married or left home, and I spent a lot of time there, talking to her, playing games with her and just spending quality time. I guess at that age, even with the passing of my graddad, I thought she’d live forever. She actually deteriorated very quickly, which in one way was a blessing, but ironically it was me who noticed that something wasn’t right. I came home from school one day to find that she wasn’t walking very well, that she was slurring her words, and that she couldn’t really form a proper conversation. She also smelled like she hadn’t made it to the toilet in time, but being a nine year old, I didn’t really know what to do. She was a diabetic, and somehow, I can’t remember if she told me or if I guessed, but I knew that her sugar level was low and this was one of the reasons for her state. I made her a cup of tea with lots of sugar, and when she drank it she still wasn’t any better. Now my Nan was one of those people who would not go to the doctor for anything, and I knew that if I’d suggested phoning the doctor she would have been adamant that I shouldn’t. So I went in to the kitchen on the preteens of getting a drink, and called the doctors surgery. They were closed, and I was given another number which I then called, I was put through to a doctor who seemed amazed that he was speaking to a nine year old, and was asked to explain my Nan’s symptoms. I don’t really remember what I said to him, I just remember that my Nan kept calling to see where I was, and that I told the doctor she wouldn’t want me to call. Within the hour the doctor had arrived, and my Nan was furious that he had come. He examined her, and called the rest of the family woo all arrived, and insisted that she go in to hospital. I don’t remember what exactly was wrong with her, I just know that she went in and never came out.

That was a Friday night, and on the Sunday she had a heart attack which she survived. She was then moved to the cardiology department where her heart was monitored, and about a week and a half later she had a stroke, which she again survived. By then her speech was slurred, she was paralysed down one side, and she couldn’t swallow and so had to be fed intravenously. Death was all around me at that point in my life, I remember on one visit to the hospital the woman in the next bed passed away, and I sat and listened while the doctors tried to resuscitate her to no avail. Soon after that my Nan slipped in to a coma and remained like this for I think another week or so.

We spent all our free time at the hospital then, I remember talking to her, and when her fingers swelled the nurse’s took off her wedding ring and the ring I now wear. She must have been aware to some extent and there was evidently still some brain activity going on, because when they took off the rings she twisted her face and made a groaning noise, like she really didn’t want that to happen. The family was told to expect her death at literally any minute, and I believe they took turns staying with her through the night. To my best recollection it was a Sunday that she died. I was at the hospital, down the corridor with my mum and step dad getting a drink, and my uncle came running and said that she was going. We all ran back to her bedside, and we all lined up to kiss her goodbye as she died. After I’d kissed her, she made this rasping noise, which sounded a bit like she was choking, and then she was gone. I just remember sitting on a chair by her bed, and leant against her still body, buried my face in the cover and cried. Looking back I guess that I was so young to experience something like that, and I mourned her for a long time afterwards. That was also the time I knew I really didn’t believe in God, because I had made a bargain with him a few weeks before, that I would be good forever if he kept her alive, and I just remember being so angry with God and preying to him prayers of anger, saying how much I hated him and that I would never be his friend ever again for taking my Nan away.

Like I said before, ever since she died I have always felt her with me, watching over me, although I never even owned anything that belonged to her. All her things went to her children, my mum, aunts and uncles, and I clung desperately on to my memories of her. I often think about her, and try to tell my younger cousins what she was like, and I often wonder what she would have thought of me if she’d still been around. Would she be proud of what I’ve accomplished? How would she react to my lesbianism? Would she have liked my partner and my home? All these questions I know will never be answered, but now that I have it I often touch the ring and try to reach her in my mind. I know she’s there watching over me, I can truly feel it, and I feel such a strong love for her, and if there is such a thing as a place where we all meet after we’ve left this world I will run to her with open arms, a child once again.

I wanted to share these memories with you because she’s been on my mind lately, and I’ve even dreamed about her which I’ve not done in years.
I love you Nan!

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