I’ve been a little quiet for a while on this blog, for many various reasons which I will just refer to as “life” but in part, my heart hasn’t been in it much. I lost my very loved Nan towards the end of last year and have spent a lot of time on and off reflecting on our relationship. Like most family relationships it was complicated, imperfect and full of love. Although I chose to have my child later in life, my extended family is young, so I am blessed that I have had my grandparents for far longer than many. When my Nan passed it was the first time I had lost someone that close to me.
I am a humanist, so I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe in Heaven, or a ‘better place’ after we pass on. This can make grieving hard, not least because one of the main ways people try to comfort you- ‘she’s in a better place now’- reminds you instead, quite starkly, of your own belief. For me, well meaning as the phrase is, in the darkest moments of my grief every time this was said to me, I felt her loss acutely, as something absolute and eternal. So I took comfort in other things, I love the physicist’s eulogy, this talks about how the energy of what makes us up, is never gone. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I loved her, and she loved me and that simple fact does not change because she is gone. Finally, one of the biggest comforts to me was in realising the impact she had on the way I choose to parent my little one. She lives on not just in me but in my little girl every day because of this. Nan taught me so much about what was important when raising a child. So this blog is my musings on those lessons.
1. Be their advocate
My Nan was always in my corner when I was a kid. It probably used to annoy my parents no end and I certainly took advantage of it as a kid! I remember many conversations though, where she would speak up for my point of view and remember so vividly how heard that made me feel as a child. How seen. That feeling of someone always being on your side is one I want my daughter to have from me and when it is me Miss A is testing, I try and stop and see things through her eyes. I do that because when I was small, my Nan taught me that was important.
2. You can’t spoil them with love
I remember being told my Nan spoiled me a lot but it wasn’t really in terms of “stuff” (aside from those little mini chocolate bars from the Woolie’s pick and mix which were always hidden about the house, and every grandparent’s house in the mid-80s I think!). Nan was generous with her love and her cuddles, and she tried to say yes as much as she could. She always had time for me. I look back and realise it wasn’t spoiling at all. The gift of love Nan gave was as essential as it was precious. My arms are always open for my little girl because my Nan taught me that was important.
3. Have adventures
Some of the happiest memories I made as a child were of going away with my Nan and Grandad in their caravan to see new and interesting places. It was always exciting to set off in the back of their estate car (usually un-seatbelted, sitting in the boot for some reason? Let’s just caveat that with ‘it was the 80s’.) Most of my memories are of exploring country fields or day trips out exploring little towns and endless transport museums (more beloved of my Grandad than me!). Many of these trips away have blended into the same place in my head, but I strive to create the same little adventures for my little girl whenever we have a day together. We might not have a caravan, but I want her to enjoy being out and about, seeing new things and new places with a sense of wonder. Another thing my Nan taught me that was important.
4. Memories of togetherness will transcend ‘stuff’
At some point my family stopped getting together for Christmas, I can’t remember why, probably it became very hard for my parents to gather up two kids, loads of presents and then sleep on an air-mattress on Christmas Eve, that plus inevitable Christmas arguments. I understand why those early Christmases became more of a nuclear affair, but I remember feeling (and still feel) very sad about it. Over the years our family became more distant, geographically and emotionally. Those early Christmases while we still did get together though, are fixed completely and utterly in my mind as a happy, exciting time. I couldn’t tell you more than maybe one or two of the presents I got, the memories of those gifts lost to time, it is the sense of love and sense of togetherness that remain with me. I still try to recreate those moments on special days now for my little girl and I hope she grows up with the same memories in her heart because my Nan taught me how important that is.
5. Small stuff is precious
I am not massively sentimental about stuff. Or I wasn’t. I keep the odd thing but otherwise, I can be somewhat brutal about what I throw out and what I keep. Now she has gone, every small thing I still have that Nan has given me is so precious. The little owls she knitted for my daughter’s room, a hurriedly scribbled birthday card (a rare thing, she always had my Grandad write the cards because she thought his handwriting was lovely), the few photos I have (why are there never enough photos?). Every single thing was given to me with love. I’ve realised I need to treasure my little one’s creations and funny little gifts of flowers and pebbles, her endless little drawings on post its. I’ve decided to work harder to make sure I don’t miss the precious treasures hidden which seem mundane. My Nan taught me those things are more important than I ever knew when she left us.
6. Let things go
My Nan was, like all of us, not perfect. She was passionate and protective and also stubborn and boy, could she could hold a grudge! I’m very like her in some ways! In the last few years of her life, her bugbear was the same as many a grandparent, we didn’t see her enough. We forgot things. And she was right. There were reasons for that- distance, busy lives, full-on careers, relationships, babies… but probably not good ones. Any resentment that may have built up between us is now such a regret. I will never know if she left with still a bit of disappointment in me because we left it too late to discuss it. I can’t change that but it has taught me, for my little one’s sake, I will have to let things go a bit more when inevitably my little girl grows up. When she doesn’t call me as much, doesn’t see me as much, doesn’t need me as much.
The truth is when you are young, the figures that loom large in your life, feel invincible. The idea that they won’t always be there, is just impossible to get your head around. So I will try my best not to dwell on the small arguments and resentments. You can’t know when it will be too late to tell someone that you are sorry, or it will be too late to ask them if they forgive you. This is the biggest thing my Nan taught me and it is so important.
7. You always think there is more time
I left my grandparents’ house the week before my Nan died. I will always remember the last hug I gave my Nan. I didn’t want to let her go. Or leave, but she was tired and needed to rest. Watching someone with end-stage cancer is… incredibly hard. But the day I saw her, though unwell, perhaps it was a good day. She didn’t seem too bad. I left part of me wondering would I be back in time to see her again (it was a significant distance to travel to see them), most of me shutting that thought out, thinking I would. I told myself we would have a couple of months. Within the week, she was gone.
It’s human nature to always think there is more time. As the song goes, every plan is a tiny deal with father time*. And while grief is hard, it is also a reminder to try and live more in the moment with those you love, because after we are gone, the love we have given to others is what remains behind and our lessons will endure. Because we taught them they were important.
Dedicated to Rose, my ever-loving Nan (never Gran), I miss you.
*The song referred to here is “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie