29 Nov 2014

"What'll it be, lass?"

I've been toying with whether or not to write this post for a while and I've decided that, although it's personal (or perhaps, because it's personal, this is my blog - a record of me and my experiences - afterall), I want to talk about her.

A few weeks ago my grandmother passed away. She fell over at home, broke her pelvis and was recovering from a successful operation in Norwich hospital when, on the morning of November 8th, she died.

I saw her a week before the 8th and I'm doing my utmost to forget what I saw because it was heart-breaking. There was nothing left of the woman I knew in that hospital bed. Nana had been suffering from dementia for the last few years, and it had rapidly been getting worse. Conversation was practically impossible towards the end, you would ask her a question and she'd respond with something completely unrelated. Then she'd keep on talking as if having a converstation with someone only she could see. It wasn't just the fact that she didn't recognise us anymore, it was that many of the traits I'd know her for, my whole life, were gone. That day I saw her in the hospital was horrible. A combination of drugs and the dementia had left her almost entirely cut off from us, (she was rambling and reaching out for something in front of her a lot), lost in a past we couldn't connect to. We held her hand and talked to her for a while but only at the mention of grandad did we witness a very brief moment of lucidity and we were, for a minute, all together in the present.

I've talked to a few people who've also had close family and friends suffer from dementia which, oddly, has helped. It's a devastating condition which seems to affect each individual sufferer in different ways, some worse than others. Uncharacteristically aggressive behaviour being one of the side-effects we, thankfully, didn't have to experience. The best thing I took from my cathartic conversations with people about dementia is the importance of remembering how the sufferer was before it takes hold. I have so many great memories of Nana: paddling in the sea with me at Great Yarmouth (while my grandad looked on, sitting as far from the water as possible, refusing to take his shoes off), teaching us tongue-twisters (she sells sea shells on the seashore), her Sunday lunches (I don't know how she cooked it but her cabbage was the best, even as a small vegetable-hating child I loved it) her voice and sayings ("what'll it be lass?", "let's be having you", "God bless" - although my grandad is v.much a south Londoner, Nana's roots were in Staffordshire), her laugh and expressions - she had a wonderfully expressive face and a big ready smile. She could also touch the tip of her nose with her tongue - we'd ask her to do it all the time when we were little.

In the lead-up to her funeral my dad, who was putting together the order of service and writing the eulogy, asked for our memories of Nana. We also spent time looking through his childhood family album for early pictures of her (the one above is of her on her 1st wedding anniversary). Dad had stories about her I'd never heard before as did others at the funeral. She was 91 when she died; I'd only known her for less than a third of her life. During the lead up and at her funeral I learned a lot about Nancy before she became my grandmother - her role as a Radar Operator in World War II and the medals she was awarded, about her working for the Ministry of Defence, that she could play the piano, that she married grandad aged 22.

The funeral went as well as it could have, with the family all together to celebrate her amazing life. It was a very emotional day but I found that a lot of my sadness was not for Nana, as grandad said, at 91 "she did well". She'd lived a full life and given us so many wonderful memories but, her quality of life was not great towards the end. I honestly believe that her passing would have given her some relief. I cried for our loss, for my dad's loss, for grandad's loss. As I've always known since I was little and again from old pictures and the eulogy at the funeral, Nana and grandad were close. Last Monday would have been their 69th wedding anniversary. It's grandad I cried for the most.

Nana had a strong faith and, although I'm not sure what to think about God, heaven and the like, I hope she's found peace.

I was asked to read something at the funeral and chose a well known poem by Ellen Brennemen. It's short but beautifully uplifting and true, loved ones are never truly lost so long as the memories of them are shared and talked about. I'll leave you with these words:

Don't think of her as gone away
her journey's just begun,
life holds so many facets
this earth is only one.

Just think of her as resting
from the sorrows and the tears,
in a place of warmth and comfort
where there are no days and years.

Think how she must be wishing
that we could know today,
how nothing but our sadness
can really pass away.

And think of her as living
in the hearts of those she touched...
for nothing loved is ever lost
and she was loved so much.


  1. My heart goes out to you in such a way that I don't think can be summed up in one single blog comment. Thank you for sharing memories of your grandmother, it brought a tear to my eye. The one thing that made me smile was the mention of the phrase 'God Bless', as this is one of the many sayings I associate with my Great Nan. It's funny what you remember.
    Thinking of you x

  2. What a beautiful piece and a wonderful tribute to your Nana. My granny passed away last year at the age of 92; shed also been suffering from dementia towards the end of her life. I didn't see her often- she'd lived back in Cape Town for the past 20 years - but whenever I did I found it very hard to reconcile the shell of a woman with the strong, feisty granny I remembered from childhood.

  3. I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing how much you loved each other and how much she enriched all your lives. She's definitely a hero for her war efforts. An amazing woman indeed. Hug your grandpa and your family a little tighter these days. We never know how long we have with the people we love.


Ta v.much :)

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