Five years ago today I lost my hero; my wonderful gran. I thought I knew what real heartache was, but this was something else entirely. I was utterly devastated and looking back I didn’t really deal with it, I locked it all away and trained myself not to think about her, because when I did I broke down and still do. Even as I sit here typing this there are tears running down my face because I know I’ll never see her again and that’s something I can’t bear.
My grandmother really was one of a kind, so full of gumption, strength and pizzazz. She had an extraordinary life and quite how she got through everything that was thrown at her I’ll never know. My grandfather was a pilot in the RAF which led to them being apart for long periods of time as well as living in India. She had my mum later on in life but raised 4 other children during some very difficult times with my grandfather going to war and being posted to different corners of the globe. Her stories were incredible and used to leave me dumbfounded but what always shined through was her zest for life and her ability to show love and kindness to everyone she met. As a little girl I was totally inspired by her and vowed to live life just like her.
Unlike many of my other friends, my weekends wouldn’t be spent playing, they’d be spent at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather had developed cancer and later on dementia so my mum was taking on more and more of a carer’s role so my brother and I would go with her, and I can’t really I say I wanted to be anywhere else. I’d spend my weekends helping my gran in the kitchen, picking flowers from the garden and dressing up in her jewels and scarves and I loved it. She’d let me play with her make-up and paint her nails and I was fascinated by her. She was always incredibly well turned out; red lipstick and red nails were her staple as was a spritz of Chanel No.5.
As I got older I stayed over every Friday and Saturday night and it used to be the highlight of my week. I’d get to their house on a Friday evening and she’d cook me my favourite dinner and we’d play cards and watch TV and eat ice cream in bed with a film. By the time Sunday came around and I had to go home ready for school the next day I was devastated, I used to cry my eyes out as I didn’t want to leave her. I used to hide little notes in her bed telling her how much I loved her.
In hindsight I think I knew she enjoyed having me around just as much as I enjoyed being around and I hated thinking of her being on her own. She lived in a big house with my grandad but with my grandad’s health deteriorating he rarely went out and spent much of his day reading the paper or watching TV so she spent a lot of time on her own and it used to upset me greatly. Having spoken to my mum in the years since, it turns out my gran had her own anxiety issues and took medication and I hope in some small way I was a comfort to her.
Following the death of my grandad, my gran broke her hip and eventually the decision was made for her to go into a nursing home as it was impossible for my mum to give her the full time care she needed. This decision hit me hard. I was angry, I didn’t want her being looked after by strangers, I felt like the family had given up on her and it took me considerable time to realise that it was the best place for her. She was surrounded by people and had the specialist care she needed. That said, I found it terribly hard visiting her. I was wracked with guilt. Guilt that I went to university, guilt that I didn’t get to see her as often as I would have liked to and guilt that she wasn’t at home with her family. Every time I left the nursing home I cried and hated myself. I tried to never let her see how upset I was, I chatted about my life, painted her nails and watched TV with her. But as the years went on she became more and more frail, she became partially blind and conversations weren’t as easy as they used to be. Slowly I could see her slipping away but I refused to really acknowledge the fact that she wasn’t enjoying life anymore and that she was a shell of her former self.
The day I received the phone call to tell me that she had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia, I knew from the second my mum spoke that this was the moment I had been dreading my whole life. I’m so grateful to my mum for being so honest with me, she knew how much I doted on my gran and she knew how difficult it was me being hundreds of miles away. She told me I needed to go home so I jumped on a train as quickly as possible.
I was lucky to spend some quality time with my gran in hospital before she passed away. She was in a bad way but she was still as sharp as anything and remembered everything (especially the fact I didn’t have a boyfriend!). Having just started a new job I was only able to take 2 days holiday so I had to return to work on the Wednesday with the intention of returning on the Friday to spend the weekend with her. I was told that she was stable and that no-one could really tell how long she had left, it could have been days, it could have been weeks and I guess I chose not to believe that it might be the last time I saw her. I was coming back on Friday and I would get to tell her everything then . So I kissed her and told her I loved her and left.
I know you’re not meant to have regrets in life, but leaving that day and not staying is the biggest regret of my life and one that haunts me every day. She passed away peacefully the following day and I never got the chance to say all the things I wanted to. I never got the chance to tell her what she meant to me, how much I looked up to her or how much joy she brought to my life and that’s something I carry with me every day. People tell me she knew but it doesn’t make an ounce of difference in my head because I feel like I failed her and she’s the last person I would ever have wanted to fail.
I miss her every day and whenever anything good happens in my life I miss her more because I wish I could share it with her. Granted she was a great age and had a long and fulfilling life but it really doesn’t make the pain any easier when you lose someone who’s such a massive part of your life. I wish I could remember the happy times and look back on my time with her and smile but I can’t. A crippling pain surrounds me every time I think about the remarkable lady I was so lucky to call my gran.