It’s difficult to put it into words, Nan, as to just how much you are still missed on this, your 101st, birthday, but I shall try my best. You are never far from my thoughts and, today on your birthday, my mind is full of wonderful memories.
Every year I write about you on your birthday, but I never seem to capture your essence – not quite. I don’t think I can ever capture your inner beauty, your kind and selfless soul, or your truly indomitable spirit in a few lines of text; I just can’t. Because you were so much more than anything I could ever possibly write, more than anyone could ever put into words. Your life contained so much tragedy over the years, and yet – somehow – you remained positive and strong. You were the perfect role model for my younger sister and myself, and you taught us so many valuable life lessons that we still carry with us to this day. My sister has passed these lessons to her children, and in turn her daughter is teaching those same lessons to her children.
Dom took me out into the garden last week, and showed me something, saying “I think it might be a weed, but it’s so pretty that I wanted you to see”. Do you know what I saw, Nan? This isn’t mine – just a picture I grabbed from Google – but you will recognise it:
You see, I never forgot the beautiful white Hellebore that volunteered by your compost heap. I remember telling you that I would have one, one day, and I also remember having to tell you, year by year, that it hadn’t come up. Well, this year it has, and so has the pink one. Who knows; maybe those seed stealing dunnocks decided to give me a break this year? Or maybe it was just cold enough for the seeds I planted to finally germinate. I even have some volunteer bleeding hearts that developed from the ones I bought because you loved them. I wish you could walk around my garden, Nan; you would be so pleased with what Dom and I have done with it.
I remember shelling peas and removing the stringy part from runner beans with you on a Sunday afternoon. I remember you teaching me to bake. Once a month or so, we would sit in the kitchen polishing either the brass or the silver, while I asked you about your childhood and you told me your memories. You couldn’t speak a word of Welsh, and we’d laugh about that before moving on to your days as a child on a farm in the Welsh Valleys. You were so descriptive, with such a clear memory, that you were able to take me there in my mind. I wonder if you knew that; I hope you do. You transported a troubled, bullied, autistic child to a safe place in her head, where everything was beautiful and nothing and nobody could hurt me. When I was curled up on the floor next to your favourite armchair, that is when I felt the safest whilst living with you.
Our lunch meetings were always something I looked forward to, when I was much older. We’d put the world to rights and generally have a bit of a laugh. You would always have coffee and a mushroom omelette, and I would always have a particular chicken dish – the staff came to know us so well that eventually they just knew what to bring us without asking. My hours as a carer meant that we couldn’t always get together, and so I would have to call and invite you when I was free, and I treasured those afternoons.
It broke my heart to see you in hospital, Nan. I knew it was our last goodbye because I wasn’t well, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to come back when it was your time; I cried all the way home. It wasn’t the goodbye I wanted, but at least I got to hug you and tell you just how very much I love you. I remember being upset because I wanted to brush out your hair and there wasn’t a hairbrush to be found. You took so much pride in looking neat, and I wanted you to look as neat and tidy as you possibly could in a hospital bed.
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to your funeral due to my health – but I know you understood. I held a vigil for you at home, though, as I needed to do something to remember you by.
There are so many things I wish I could tell you about now. I want to tell you about Dom’s job, about our trip to Sweden (and our forthcoming one too). I want to talk to you about my garden, my home – even my tarantulas! I bet you never saw that coming, did you? Your arachnophobic granddaughter beating it, and being all over the news trying to help others who want to be over their fear. I hope you would have been proud of me. I want to tell you about the anthologies I’ve been published in, and about the book I’m trying to write. I especially want to tell you how my health improved after you chased me out of your afterlife – but I think you probably know about that.
Happy birthday, Nan. I love you always xxx