Saturday, 31 August 2013

My Granny

I hesitated before writing this post.  My Granny was not involved in my divorce, nor my relationships since; she is not my child (obviously) and, very sadly, not part of my day-to-day life.

And yet she shaped me.

And although she has been dead for nearly two years now, I often think about her.  I miss her.

Granny wrote a book about her life when she was 70.  It's a big book.  But instead of regaling you with her entire life history, I just wanted to talk a little bit about why she was so special - and how her upbringing influenced her character.

As a Derbyshire farmer's daughter, she was not impressed with money, frills and spills (she said she thought my wedding was too posh - she'd rather have gone to the pub.  She was right.)  She 'spoke as she saw', but always with a sense of humour.  When I was at University and hadn't written for a while, she sent me a postcard.  It said, simply, "Have you died?  Love Granny xxx".  And if she didn't like the look of you in a photo, she would cut you out and request another.

And yet she wasn't someone who blarted at every opportunity; she was the most emotionally intelligent person I ever knew.  She would know exactly how you were feeling before you even realised yourself.

She stuck up for the underdog and, of her grandchildren, had a soft spot for the quietest, most shy.  Always encouraging them.  And although she had little money, she would scavenge the pound shops of Sheffield every Christmas and birthday to buy them little things that they would love.

She would talk openly about her illnesses, embarrassing or not, and wouldn't be afraid of discussing the amount of sex she had with Grandpa.  I would nod sagely and then run away, shaking.

Granny was a good Christian.  I'm sure that all Christians are good, but what I mean is, she was a true Christian, would help anyone, would talk to anyone, would trust everyone.  She was Christian Aid's regional secretary and quite often would take in African missionaries to their small semi in Sheffield.  I remember as a little girl being amazed by this 10 foot tall ebony man sitting at their dinner table on one visit.  I followed him around for the entire week; he seemed god-like to me, unearthly.

But here's the main thing.  Granny was a manic depressive; perhaps triggered by post-natal depression, perhaps by the birth of her stillborn daugther, certainly in her genes (as her mother was a depressive, too).  She had electric shock treatment ("best thing that ever happened to me") and was on lithium for most of her life.  She battled with demons and frequently told me that she had been a bad mother (my dad remembers nothing of the sort).

She was also left handed - forced to use her right; was offered a teaching assistant position at 14 but had to work on the farm; felt a poor second compared to her younger brother; suffered from migraines; lost her second son when he was just 40.

And I think that all these hardships contributed to the wonderful, caring, warm and big-hearted woman that she was.

She developed dementia in her last couple of years and became angry at times with her carers ("GET OFF, YOU BUGGER").  I felt ashamed because I didn't know how to calm her, soothe her.  Dementia is an awful disease and eventually, when she died, we were sad but relieved.

I love my Granny.  She was an inspiration to me and so many others.  I am left handed, I get migraines, and I try try try to be as wonderful as she was.  But I am nowhere near.   Not even close.

I wish she was still here.










* The word 'left' comes from the Anglo Saxon word 'lyft', meaning weak or broken.

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