Goodbye, My Queen

Today, I said my final goodbye to the most influential woman I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.

She was my grandmother.

She was my Queen.

She was a proud, yet troubled women, who struggled with her mental health since the sudden death of her brother over 50 years ago. She always kept her “front” immaculate.

Nanny didn’t leave the house for a long time. Most of my adult life. She only went to medical appointments or “out out” for very special occasions.

She had her hairdresser round every week for her hair done and always presented herself well, despite having little chance of being seen.

I believe she did it for her husband. She adored her man, she’d do anything to keep him happy. It was all for him.

She wore the most convincing of masks. Her make up was her armour. It hid the pain she held.

She had an amazing marriage to My Grandad. They created two children, a girl – my mother. Followed by a boy, my uncle.

Grandad was a very devoted husband. Very loving towards her. She was the sparkle in his eye. They kissed often, they remained romantic even in their final years. They were a sight to behold when they danced.

They were known as local celebrities in their younger years when they attended their usual dance hall.

They had a good life together. An ideal marriage to the view of many.

However, he worked long hours a lot when the children were young. He missed a lot of family time and she often felt that she was living the life of a single mother- in the way that the children’s care was only her responsibility. He often got home after the children had been put to bed. I’m sure that had an effect on the family dynamics.

My Nan and I used to spend hours talking together. To me she was history. Asking her questions about her youth and her life to me was just amazing. I loved it. I could hear the same story a thousand times and ask more questions and widen the memory she had to share.

That’s why I stayed in my job as a carer for so long, despite some of the awful conditions I worked in and the low pay. They fascinated me when they talked of “the old days.”

Nan often spoke to me in brutal honesty. Never sugar coating sexual conquests or all her misbehaviours. She was a wild one for her time, in the most dignified way. She could make you tear up and laugh in one sentence.

I used to care for her friend who she travelled with before she settled down with her husband. I had already heard all the details of their wild adventures. My Nan told me all about her.

When I told my nan’s friend who I was (the granddaughter of..) it changed this woman’s whole face. She lit up. She couldn’t believe it. She held my hand so tightly, like I l had ignited this section of her memory she had no reason to access for many years. I asked her to tell me honestly if it would affect her relationship with me as a carer, I’d understand if it made her uncomfortable and I’ll not pick her round to respect her wishes.

She wanted me there. The other carer whom I worked with said “ooh someone’s got a new favourite” and I said, she’s always free to change her mind. I wasn’t a regular, but if her regulars were on holiday, I picked them up, gladly.

I brought a lot back to her. I never shared the stories with her in detail, but I’d give a vague trigger about a specific beach, or the nationality of the person they’d met. I didn’t want to embarrass her or let her secrets out. But we were both in acknowledgment of what the stories contained without the need to voice them.

Her friends husband was a bit of an idiot. Nan told me the gossip behind it and her friend was not shy in her annoyance towards him. There were times when I was jokingly “extra professional” in my conversations with him. Yes sir, thank you sir etc. Or I’d often say something overly kind to her in his earshot if he made a comment that was demeaning to her, in my presence.

Our eyes would meet and I’d roll my eyes so only she could she and it used to make her laugh so hard. She often said “you’re very like your Nan.”

I used to pass on messages between them when I’d see them both. It made them happy to have that connection back without ever revealing to each other how ill they both were and how much they had changed. They remained in their minds eye as the young women they once were.

Getting ready for her funeral today was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I sobbed while in the bath thinking of the bath times she gave to me at sleepovers on a Thursday night. Nanny’s night.

How I loved them. I looked forward to Thursday end of school day, all week. Nan was picking us up. I loved the way she spoke to me. So kind and gentle. So happy to see us.

She never really had to tell me off. I didn’t misbehave for her, why would I? She was my favourite person. I wasn’t wasting the chance of the good time.

I remember so much the feeling my Nan created in me. She made me feel a million dollars. Always. She built me up so much. She loved me unconditionally. She made me feel safe, secure and valued.

Something I lacked at home.

My parents did not have a happy marriage. I can’t describe their relationship, or the specific events because the physical acts were never in our presence. Arguments were. But I remember well the toxic atmosphere that surrounded it all.

It was shouty and loud. Things got smashed. People got hurt. Physically and mentally. Individually they were good parents. Mother for the shopping, food cooked and clean clothes, image presentation- the graft. Dad for the emotional development and self esteem.

Both raised their hands to us “as punishment.” Mother more so. Mothers “smacks” came from temper, loss of control- not an act of punishment. She ruled with fear of her anger. Father gained cooperation, mostly. When he asked for your hand so he could smack it, he’d often smack his own- it sent the same “I’m guilty” message without the pain on my hands. I smile when he does it to my children.

I discovered officially they had a “domestic violent relationship” when I was aged 11. I overheard a phone conversation my mum was having telling a friend of the abuse she experienced and it was described as pretty brutal. I told her to leave him if she felt so unhappy. That it is not OK.

She did. Very soon after.

While also painting the father I adored as a monster. The monster I never really saw with my own eyes. I saw his temper, but I didn’t see actual violence much. At all. I saw her tearing him down every day, he didn’t do things “right.” He brought daft things home from work he’d find or from skips, etc. That was always a target. Filling “her house with shit.” His parenting was a target. The way he dressed was a target. His achievements, or lack of, were a target.

She spoke of him like she hated him. We never saw them cuddle, or be loving to each other. Except once. It was so traumatic we locked ourselves in the car. We overheard them saying something sexual and hugging. We flipped. That’s how odd it was to see our parents being nice to each other.

I saw him at his flat every weekend after he left. I was very cruel to him. I felt justified telling him off for his “bad behaviour” when he was in the darkest time of his life. I have admitted my shame to him and begged forgiveness many times in adulthood. He understands and forgives without a bad word, every time.

Today, he attended your funeral too.

He came straight from a hospital appointment as a cancer patient and stood at the back of the church, until the end of the church service when we were all leaving.

That point I broke the procession and took him by the hand, led him in the line and he walked out the church with his heartbroken daughter, in his rightful place, at her side. The other side of me was the man who loves me and gave me my daughter and loves my son as his own.

My Nan would have wanted that. She would have smiled at seeing me so supported grieving her as hard as I did and my dad welcomed into the service as he should be.

I saw my mothers family treat him kindly today for the first time in 20+ years. They showed him they still cared after his health had deteriorated this year. I glowed seeing this.

My Nan would have loved giving him that welcome feeling while he’s in a low place. I know she would. He created her grandchildren. He done wrong in his marriage at times, but he never faulted as a father. She saw he loved us fiercely.

The church service was the process, the ritual, the act I’d dreaded. I little believe in god, but I had faith in my Nan and she in me. I heard that every time the priest described faith.

I’ve kept my grief under control in front of my children. They have seen my silent tears and heard my treasured stories I have of her. They haven’t seen me sob. Today, like the day you passed, I sobbed.

I wasn’t ashamed to sob. She deserved every tear. I grieved her they way my heart told me too. I wore no make up so I could cry and wipe my eyes without looking a fool.

Nan couldn’t have her lipstick on in her coffin, her lips did not show enough to apply it. To me, it felt like solidarity to her that I wasn’t going to paint myself either.

We were bare faced with beauty in our hearts, not applied on our faces.

The women in my family hugged me tight today. Mother hugs from each one. I thanked them each, as deserved. I needed that today. They all helped. Every time I received kindness, I felt Nan there. Keeping me going, holding my hand.

The last time I saw my Nan, I saw her in hospital after a fall. I only saw her in the place they housed her in the mental health unit once. She was broken. I left there so angry. It really bothered me. She wasn’t in her safe space. I believed he needed to go home.

She needed to be in a safe space with live in support. I saw this set up in my care work and knew it was a viable option. Supported carers come in several times a day, give meals, meds or simply a cuppa and a chat. While relatives live with them, often working but there when needed.

That place made her worse.

The carers coming in worked for a while, but “something happened” and she became admitted to the MH unit. She was told she was sectioned and couldn’t leave the mental health unit. I believe that was an intentional lie. My mother slipped up and told me and aggressively told me not to tell her.

Mum also once spoke of her coming to live with her in an isolated space of her house, like supported living granny flat type set up. I saw today the rooms had been redecorated, but was cold and empty. I offered a bed for the place, and was refused.

I offered for her to come and live with me and my family but was told no, I’m not “clean” enough. She wouldn’t like it. I have no idea if she was ever asked. I’d have adored having my Nan spend her last years here. I have cared for many people’s nans. I done it well. I would have done it for her in a heartbeat. I’d have moved, and offered to move to a house that would accommodate us all comfortably if I had help to.

During our last encounter, after visiting with my daughter and her father, I took her a card and made her smile. My daughter; how big and talkative she has become made her smile bright! That made me so happy.

I offered her help to dress or use the toilet, as I always did. She refused initially as she was delighted with seeing her great-granddaughter and needed her baby fix 😊 She loved little children.

As the visit wore on, I asked her again if she wanted help while I was there.

For the first time, in our lives, she said yes.

Honoured, I helped her change her pyjamas and use the toilet, fixing her pad in place for her. Something I’ve done a thousand times, but not for her.

She began to cry when I helped her and I assured her that this was normal to me, I was more than glad to do this for her and of all the people I’d want to help like this, it’d be her. I looked after other people’s nans, I always wanted to look after my own.

She turned to me and said “You’re going to be ok when I’m gone, y’know that don’t you?” with tears in her eyes. I assured her that her absence in my world would hurt a lot, but her finding her peace from her suffering would bring me such comfort. Be back in the arms of her husband, she missed so dearly and tormented her day to day life.

She told me to always look at my wonderful children. See the happiness I posses with them. Look for all the good I had in my life, not the bad stuff. Forget the bad stuff.

She told me to love strongly and take good care of my man, and he will care for you in return. She told me how happy she was I found a man who treasured me like she had been lucky with, after all the bad ones I’d encountered.

We cried together. We held each other so tightly. We left the toilet, hand in hand. Woman with woman. Proud, touched by each other’s words after confessing our great admiration for each other and the thankfulness of the lifelong bond we always shared. She looked really frail as I helped her back on to the bed.

Her at her most vulnerable, was how we connected. It was our adult bond. I let her see me at my most vulnerable and nodded and smiled when she knew I was hiding my pain. She knew when I was lying, and build me up twice as much.

She sometimes said old fashioned stuff that would have been good advice in her day. But she always did it kindly. Her tone, her concern, her love that came with the old-school advice was felt. Even if the advice wasn’t helpful. She tried. That was what she did.

She allowed her proud self be at her most vulnerable for me, after me offering help and being refused for 10 years. It meant so much. I knew when I walked away that day, that was going to be our last ever conversation. My heart knew.

We both talked about death often in our chats. I made her promise to visit me if ghosts are real, because I’d be glad to see her. Visit often. Live with me. Haunt me, it would comfort me.

She knew it worried me her being gone. She tried to give me the words of that conversation so it would echo in my head on the day of her funeral. To support me, even in death. It did.

As she did the day she died, as I sobbed over her lifeless body. I stared at her chest willing it to rise, in denial. I knew it wouldn’t.

I held her hand, just like I always did. She was warm. Her arthritis fingers curled around mine. It felt like she warmly held my hand back. I didn’t let go for what felt like hours. I sobbed loud and hard. I didn’t care. A&E was chaotic and hid my sobs well.

Not a single member of staff disturbed my time there. I was grateful for that.

After the time passed quickly, I was worried for my son who was earlier going to come and say goodbye to his little Nanny with me.

He was so brave to agree to come. I was so proud of him. I told him he could turn around at any point if he changed his mind. He was adamant to come and say goodbye and he knew she would probably “be sleeping.” Once he had said goodbye, I’d drop him off with his grandad so I could go back and be by her side.

Nan passed while we were in the car park outside the hospital. I told him this and offered to take him straight to grandads, so I could come back on my own. He said yes.

I was devastated. I missed her. He missed her. She was gone. I was so upset, so angry.

I rang his father and told him so after I’d earlier drove round my area looking for him at work because his phone battery died when I tried to call to say “get home now! My nans dying!”

It took over an hour to get the message to him once the phone was off and he was unreachable. Wasted precious time. Once he came back to be with our young daughter, we left straight away.

My son could hear the phone conversation as I drove to grandads. I was shook to the core.

However, I still managed to control myself and displayed no aggressive, inappropriate outburst beyond saying the words “I am so upset and angry!” because I knew he was watching.

I safely drove us across the city, dropped him with Grandad after preparing with my dad earlier in the day in how to support any questions or upset he may have while he was there. Dad agreed. I trusted him to do this well.

We went home together that night in grief and carried on our life with my nans words in my mind. Make the kids happy, that’s what makes me happy. So I did.

Nans passing opened the box of pain in my mind that had been closed for years.

This is well documented in my blog so I will not describe it here. That word doesn’t belong here. Not today.

Rather than let it eat away at me, I created this blog. I let my pain out. I’m releasing it. It’s lived too long here, uninvited, without consent.

This is why I’m writing. I’m not burying my pain behind a mask, I’m making peace with myself. My pain, my sorrow, my experiences, myself.

I’m remembering the good in me. The me she saw. The me she made me believe in.

I carry the strength she built in me, that SO MANY have tried to dismantle.

They failed. It’s had repairs, it’s been shaken, but it was there.

With her eternal help, I’m building back up.

For my kids.

And my man.

And me too.

My sons words to me when I came home were “I feel bad for you, mum” while I was complaining about getting out of the uncomfortable clothes we wore to the funeral. I said it’s ok, got my hoodie back on now. He said “No, about today.”

I thanked him, handed him his chicken I promised and he hugged me very tightly.

My daughter ran around shouting “Mummy!!!” and gave me extra squeezes because she’d missed me all day.

I’m going to be okay.

How can I not be having that as my welcome home?

We watched a movie, shared popcorn and little Nanny’s treats she gave to me as a child and spent time as a family, as long as it lasted.

Nan was right.

It’s easy when you look for the happiness that’s right before you ❤️

Settlemental x

Go to sleep my big girls,

Close them pretty eyes.

Nanny’s here to love you and kiss you.

Dee de dedildee dillideee ❤️

Que Sera Sera -Doris Day

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