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.



35 thoughts on “the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living

  1. Your Nana sounds like a lovely lady, and I’m sure she’ll be missed by all her friends and family. Take care both of you – we are all thinking of you x

  2. God bless your nana and your family. She reminds me so much of my nana. Crying with sadness and laughter here. What a special lady. xx

  3. You obviously had a great relationship with your Nana – she sounds like a fabulous lady – she gave you lots of good memories – cherish them. xx

  4. Jamie, what wonderful words. Yes you have reduced me to a blubbering wreck, but I still have a smile on my face. Nana would have giggled at this 🙂 xxxx

  5. What beautiful things you say about your Nana, she sounds a lovely lady, you are fortunate to have had such gem in your life xx

  6. Very sorry to hear about your nana.
    I am new to your blog and loving it.
    Have just spotted a recipe for fake Ferrero Rocha chocolates on the slimming world website. Basically crushed Ryvita mixed with Nutella. Ripe for satire. Please have a go and cheer yourself up!!!!!

  7. What lovely memories you have to share with us, thank you. Im sure nana is extremely proud of you, remember her with the love you obviously feel and remember shes only around a corner. Xxxx

  8. What a lovely tribute you have written , brought a tear to my eye, such lovely memories , My Nana would have been 103 today , I miss her, she died February 2005 ,

  9. That was a brilliant tribute – laughing and crying. Your Nana sounds just like mine was. She died when my son was a baby in 2001. Thoughts to you and your family

  10. Sincerest condolences to you and your family. Isaac Asimov said, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. She was a beautiful lady.

  11. Your Nana sounds like she was an amazing lady. I lost mine (bloody careless of me, I know) when I was 10, but there were things you mentioned about yours that brought back memories of mine. Cheers Chap. I hope the memories stay sweet for you and keep you smiling.

  12. Had me crying and smiling at the same time – when (if!!?) I ever shuffle off this mortal coil (without tripping over it), I hope somebody writes about me with such love, pride and humour.

    (ps – would like to say I come from a long line of trowel-applied, slab thick bread and butter with salt, but we were strictly bread and dripping with a dense layer of salt [always on brown bread though … well, one must consider one’s health, right?]).

    Sending you both a big hug xx

  13. Bless your hearts. Only such prose written with humour, can be reserved for such a wonderful Nana.
    You have a lifetime of memories to keep you going on bad days and her love to live with you everyday.
    Take care of each other xXx

  14. What a fabulous tribute to someone who sounds like a lovely lady. Bet she would have been so thrilled to read that. God bless you and Paul at this time. Much chubby-cub love to you and your family xx

  15. I discovered your blog today linked to on my SW Facebook group and laughed so much till I read this post and I’m now crying. My Nan raised me when my parents couldn’t and as an adult I spoke to her every day on the phone (and would get shirty voicemails if I called late accusing me of being in the pub!). She also had bladder cancer and ended up dying in 2010 from a blocked bowel.

    Your beautiful Nana Dorothy sounds a lot like my Nan. I know you are probably on a bit of a roller coaster of emotions at the moment but I wanted to post and say how much I identified with your post.

    How lucky were we to have such great Nan’s? X

    • That’s a genuinely lovely comment to read – thank you 🙂 your nan sounds like she was an amazing, strong woman – and I love to see your reverence for her. Everyone thinks they have so long to show appreciation but there’s never enough time. I was feeling a bit blue today actually – and that’s really lifted my spirits! We could never phone my nana because she’d spend 40 minutes shouting various names of family members down the phone and then putting the phone down saying she couldn’t hear 😀

  16. Gosh this made me cry and then laugh and cry a bit more. My wee gran died 3 years ago and I’m still stopped in my tracks sometimes by how much I miss her. Truly though we ‘lost’ her about 3 years prior to that thanks to that evil bastard of a disease Alzheimers. She too, could not leave a person unfed. She famously had 3 bicuit tins, one for chocolate, one for plain and one (the holy grail) for home made. And also a home made cake tin. I have recollections of her making a ham salad and poking slices of ham into my gob while I was mid sentence…hopefully not because I was boring the pinny off her, but more that she was just generous with food to a fault. Trying to tell her that I was on a diet resulted in her breaking out the Go-Aheads because god forbid I had a cup of tea without a biscuit. Your Nana sounds like she was a top lady. xxxx

  17. This sound so much like my mum that I wonder if we may be related. She sounds like a fab woman. My family’s motto is never knowingly underfed. (No wonder I can blot out the sun ) . Big hugs x

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