It’s been one year since I last updated my blog, and a lot has happened in that year. I lost a job, I found a new job, I quit that job, and I finally discovered the importance of applying primer before foundation (I know).
Through the highs and lows, undoubtedly the saddest point was marked by the death of my wonderful grandma, Rose.
When someone tells you their grandparent has passed away, it’s almost treated with an expected nonchalance – that’s just what happens when you’re old. But in my eyes, my grandma was invincible.
She stood at an unassertive 4′ 10”, which was ironic to say the least. You always knew when my grandma was in the room, usually because she was arguing with someone about football or politics (most likely, my dad), or complaining about the unacceptable addition of sugar to cheese scones. We shared the same shoe size, and she insisted on trying on every pair of shoes I owned. She spent about three-years of her life attempting to set me up with a fishmonger’s son, and used to tell me how her old house was haunted by monks. She was also a natural brunette, even in her nineties.
‘I hope I don’t make it to 91’ – that’s what my grandma said on her 90th birthday, as we sat with family and friends to enjoy a celebratory dinner. Well, she did. On Friday 21st September, my grandma turned 91; on Saturday 22nd September, she passed away.
Even though my grandma would buoyantly comment that we all die someday, there’s no amount of preparation that can, well, prepare you for it. Now I can’t stop replaying how I hurried out her front-door after only 15 minutes when I last visited, how I could have taken her to lunch more, and how I refused to go on another two-week cruise. But mourners are just gluttons for punishment. Instead of focusing on the warm moments, like ending every weekly phone call with ‘I love you’, we choose to contemplate those insignificant what ifs.
She wasn’t like any grandma I’d ever met, in fact she wasn’t like anyone I’d ever met. Yes, she did those typical grandma things, like keep a pudding in her cupboard with an expiry date of January 1990 (just in case), but she wasn’t soft and vulnerable like we assume most ‘old ladies’ to be. She was a force to be reckoned with: ‘a tough old bird’ as my dad would say, who grew up in the heart Walthamstow and spent much of her youth sheltering from the threat of impending air raids in London.
It became difficult to watch her in her last two years. Although she remained physically active, her brain was deteriorating. It was heartbreaking to see such a proud and astute woman crying because she’d lost her teeth, or couldn’t remember where she’d left her keys. I’d never seen this vulnerable side to her. When I first visited her in hospital, the moment I saw her I wanted to cry; her mane of curly brown hair, and her tiny frame, doubled-over like a fragile doll that might break from the softest touch.
My grandma was cantankerous, opinionated and stubborn. For birthdays and Christmas, she’d re-gift us cards with her name scratched out and ours written beside it. No apologies were necessary. After the Brexit result was announced, World War III broke out between my grandma and her 80-something-year-old brother – they didn’t speak for weeks, and needed to be (physically) separated at family affairs.
She would never admit it, because she hated that word, but she was a feminist through-and-through. Growing up, I never understood that a girl could be treated differently to her brothers, because in my grandma’s eyes, women ran the show.
She proudly spoke about her grandma: a tiny, fearless lady, who owned a shop in East London and fought for named ownership of the business back when only her husband had any rights. When the windows of her shop were shattered during the Blitz, she took a butcher’s knife to bed with her to ward off straying visitors. She thought of her as a one-off, but that’s exactly how I think of my grandma.
A fiercely independent woman, she spent the last 30 years of her life living on her own, after my grandpa passed away. When you’re a child, you don’t really consider the stoicism and strength it must take to do that, to be alone for decades. But she lived life to the fullest; spoiling her grandchildren with chocolates and sweets, placing bets, playing bridge and spending her money on holidays and diamonds (you go girl).
There really are not enough words in the world to describe my grandma, and anyone who had the pleasure of knowing her would certainly never forget her. We may have had different views (she loved jellied eels and Margaret Thatcher, and hated the Queen), but she was a sharp, intelligent and audacious woman, who I loved very deeply.
I don’t believe in heaven, but I’m sure my grandma is out there somewhere, picking fights with cooks that put sugar in savoury goods, and teaching other little girls to stand up for what they believe in.