the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living

So, where have we been? Well, if you’re following us on Facebook, you’ll know that we posted a post to say we’d be away for a few days as we had received some bad news. My nana was taken into hospital on Friday morning, ostensibly with a bit of constipation (I had the first few numbers of Dynorod’s number already dialled on my phone for once we got the news of a ‘delivery’). I then got a text on Friday evening to say things were so much worse than we had imagined, and in the early hours of Saturday morning, she rolled a seven and shuffled off the mortal coil. My parents were by her side and she died peacefully, painlessly in her sleep, tripping the light fantastic on all the good strong drugs the NHS could muster. It’s the way we all wished for her to go. She’d been diagnosed with bladder cancer a few weeks before and had decided not to undergo any treatment – she was knocking on ninety, had most definitely had a good few innings, and couldn’t be chewed with the idea of being ill or a burden, which she never would have been. Anyway, there were Take a Break crosswords that needed filling in with all sorts of incorrect nonsense:

31 down. Auctioneer’s hammer (5): G-A-B-L-E

A good friend of mine messaged me and summed it up nicely – when someone dies, you expect the world to stop, people to be wailing in the street in their widow’s weeds, everyone to be so inconsolable that counting syns isn’t right and the only thing worth doing is eating Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter cup by the tubful with watery eyes. It’s what my nana would have wanted. But it’s not how it works – the world keeps turning, everyone still keeps going and a mortal love becomes a cherished memory, alive only in our minds rather than a slightly inconvenient thirty mile drive away. I never minded really, it gave me an opportunity to do 90mph on the military road. I’m slingshotting between being upbeat and chipper to being despondent and melancholy, which is probably why I’m up this morning at 4am writing this. This post may be incredibly self-indulgent – I’m aware of my wiffly-waffly prose, and any other time I’d be leaning on that delete key until the arrow wore off – but I express myself best through writing and it’s strangely cathartic.

See now, I grew up in the same village as my nana and saw her every day until I moved away – and even then, I was clearly a glutton for punishment and paper-thin pastry because we’d make the pilgrimage (first by three separate bus journeys and then finally, by car – she was the catalyst for me eventually learning to drive) to see her nearly every Sunday. My parents looked in on her every day, she had plenty of friends and she lived with my uncle, so she was well-liked, much-loved and well looked after. We were very close – I’d often spend an afternoon with her doing a jigsaw (her key tactic for completing a jigsaw seemed to be attaching random pieces to one another and then smashing them flat with her fist, so you’d end up with a charming vista of the River Avon only with one of the tiny picnickers on the bank of the river having the exhaust pipe of a Nissan Sunny for a head). We would chat about nonsense, she’d tell me the story of when she had to jump off the bus into a six foot snowdrift for the 376th time, my sister and I would wrap her Christmas presents for her as her approach was to use more sellotape than wrapping paper. All sorts.

Oh, it was definitely Nana, mind. It was never grandma, she said that aged her horribly, though at 89 I don’t think she was going to be fooling the Grim Reaper for especially long. She was an incredibly proud and wonderfully loyal person, with keen eyes and a sharp tongue. Her ears were fucked though – there could have been one of those gas explosions that rip a street asunder in the next room and she’d only think the phone was ringing. She never quite got on with her hearing aids, treating them as optional accessories the way one might keep a particularly ungainly set of beige earrings for best. We used to kid that she was receiving a fax when she had them in as they’d be whirring and whistling away. She couldn’t hear that, but by god she’d hear if you so much as mouthed a swear word. I use to mouth the word ‘VACUUM’ (which looks like FUCK YOU if you’re lipreading) at Paul across the room and she’d be up remonstrating at me for swearing at ‘Poor Paul’ and ‘Eeee Paul how you put up with him’.

She never had much – she was widowed young with three children and received very little in the way of support, so she had to balance working with raising children (long before it became socially acceptable to become a ‘STAY AT HOME MUVVA’ and let Jeremy Kyle and Quavers raise your son whilst you adorn yourself in rancid copperplate writing tattooes of your latest ballsack lover – sorry) and she did it with aplomb. And even then she’d turn that aplomb into aplomb jam. Haha, bit of wordplay for you there. What she did have she shared – you couldn’t escape the house without running the gauntlet of:

  • “have a slice of this cake, it’ll not get eaten”
  • “I’ve just baked this hundredweight of scones, but there’s no-one here to eat them”
  • “have a sandwich (a risk in itself, she remains the only person I’ve ever known to put her butter on with a plasterer’s trowel and apply salt like one might apply gravy)”
  • “I know you’re on a diet but I’ve made you an apple and blackberry pie and it seems a shame to chuck it out”
  • “Take this Breville sandwich toaster, last used for Queen Elizabeth’s Accession, works just fine as long as you change the plug and the wiring and prise off the half slice of National Loaf stuck to the plates”.

Ah it’s no wonder I’m fat. Of course, one of the very best things about my nana was her tolerance – I can’t remember how she found out I’m a mud-valve engineer but she welcomed Paul with open arms. How many people in their eighties can say they attended a civil partnership? To be fair she probably thought she was at a particularly low-budget version of Judge Rinder but she seems entertained enough. She’d talk of Paul as my husband or partner, none of this ‘good friends’ business. She did once ask me ‘who was the woman’ in our relationship but before I drew her a blisteringly hardcore and frank representation, Paul twigged on that she meant who did the cleaning and ironing (remember her age, now, before anyone goes all Millie Tant on me) and explained that heaven’s no, we had a cleaner.

So yes, I love my nana, with every part of me, and I can’t imagine her not being around. I’d swap anything to have her back for another few years of bellowing at me like she was hailing a taxi from across the Irish sea and trying to sneak an entire bag of Aldi Mint Imperials (Mint Industrials) into Paul’s pocket because “he doesn’t get his fair share”. If only she knew! But there’s no merit in wishing for the unobtainable, so, I’ll suck it up and on we go.


Tomorrow, back to normality. Rest in peace, Dorothy B.