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People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading*

Death Of A Matriarch

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I've been meaning to write something for a few weeks now but due to a combination of computer problems (grr), Christmas, and new distractions, I've never got round to it. And I've not been up to anything interesting anyway.

But my poor granny died yesterday. She was 91, and she was suffering, so it's kind of a blessing, but I also feel terrible for being ever so slightly relieved that she's gone. She deteriorated quite rapidly in the last year, and if I'm brutally honest with myself, I dreaded going to visit her. A series of small strokes left her unable to speak properly so it wasn't so much a case of making conversation with her as it was thinking of things to say that didn't require an answer, and yet would fill up the silence that would otherwise descend, during which she would glare at you with baleful eyes, making the occasional signal that it was about time you passed her the box of Maltesers.

But the worst thing about it was that she was still quite sharp mentally, so she was aware of the indignity of what was happening to her. It was awful to see her trapped in this frail little body that was gradually falling to pieces, but she seemed to see this as an opportunity to vent her frustration on anyone that was around. It's like she was surviving on pure bile (and Maltesers). She threw things clear across the room, with incredible strength for a frail old lady. She tripped people up by sticking her foot out as they passed. She hit people with her cane. Up until a couple of days ago, she was still giving attitude to her carers in the nursing home. She called people names, including one incident that is memorable for all the wrong reasons, when she called one of the carers in the home a 'black bitch'. This prompted the manager of the nursing home to call my aunt into her office, and ask her 'is your mother a racist?'. Needless to say we were all mortified about this particular episode. I don't think my granny really gave a shit though.

But she was also incredibly strong, and I respected her hugely. Two weeks after she and my grandad got married, he went off to fight in the second world war. Imagine watching your husband of just two weeks going off to fight in a war, not knowing if you would ever see him again? While he was away, she worked in a factory that made Lancaster bombers. My grandad survived the war, and brought home a respectable bundle of medals. He died 20 years ago so my granny was a widow for a long time but had he still been alive 3 years ago they would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

She used to take my sister and I out shopping at the weekends, and I remember many happy hours poking about the toy department in Poundstretchers with a crisp £5 note courtesy of my granny nestling in my pocket, or watching old Laurel and Hardy films with her in her big draughty old house, eating her chocolate biscuits (of which she always had copious supplies). One particular incident sticks in my mind when we got caught in the rain without an umbrella - my granny pulled three plastic shopping bags out of her handbag, put one on her own head to protect her newly permed hair, and then proceeded to put one onto my sister's head, then mine. We were both mortified (granted we were dry, but still mortified) and desperately hoping we wouldn't see anyone we knew.

So although she was ready to go it's still sad. Her final years on this earth were not happy ones. She lost her son (my dad) 2 years ago. Understandably, his death hit her particularly hard. She couldn't make sense of the fact that her eldest son died before he was 60, while she was still here, particularly given the state she was in.

But she had a pretty good innings - 91 years, 40 of those happily married. Plus three children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, all of whom will miss her.

Rest in peace, Granny.

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*Logan Pearsall Smith

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