On Sunday, when I opened my phone and saw that my mum was calling, I knew what she was going to say before I even answered.
The sun was slanting through the windows of our favorite sushi take-out, and we were the only ones there, chatting with the owners as they rolled our order. It was a moment that had occurred a hundred times before. But on Sunday afternoon, it was different. Because at that moment, I knew that my Granny was no longer with us.
Life is funny; families are funny. There are layers upon layers of emotion, memories, misunderstandings, triumphs, trials, tribulations. In the moment you say goodbye, it’s all distilled down into one clarifying thought. The journey as you’d known it is over.
I grew up in America, the daughter of a man from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and a woman from Edinburgh Scotland. My father is an only child; my mother is dead center of five siblings – 4 girls, 1 boy. Moving around every few years, my brother and I never really had a strong connection with either side of the family — distance being the major factor. We were lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the English countryside as youngsters — but we were never English and an inability to fully understand our family always existed. My brother — always the diplomat — will most likely remember things differently than I do.
I have wonderful memories — picking baskets upon baskets of raspberries right across the border in Scotland, and gorging myself at the dining room table after dinner. (Nothing is quite as decadent as clotted cream and fresh raspberries.) Sitting in my grandparents living room listening to a crackling radio, doing crossword puzzles and hoping that Granny would bring the tin out with Kit Kat bars as an evening treat. Driving up to Inverness one summer, stopping along the highway at a Loch and enjoying a fully home-cooked picnic of sarnies, Scotch eggs, pork pies …. raspberry fluff. As I got older, and went to visit my Gran over spring break during college (when most people my age were partying on the beaches in Mexico) I remember sitting on a step in the kitchen as she made tea, or cooked dinner and she told me story after story of when my mum was a little girl, or stories of during the war when she met my Grandpa — who gave up his seat on a train to her. Some of her best stories were when they all lived in Malaysia for a few years — the journey by steamliner from England all the way around to the other side of the world, skinning snakes to make shoes and purses, armoured cars gliding along rain drenched roads in the dark of night.
My Granny didn’t live an easy life. I know there were struggles that I will never truly understand. She was a tough woman, a strong woman, a stubborn woman. She was above all else — a survivor.
I didn’t know her very well — sporadic visits across my thirty-four years of life never allowed for a closeness that exists between some grandparents and grandchildren. I know she loved me — even if she didn’t always understand me. She loved all her children and grandchildren fiercely — the only way she knew how. She lived ninety-two years; ninety-two years of memories, laughter, tears, struggle. My heart broke on Sunday, not because it was too soon, but because for the eleven direct descendents left behind, a hole was created that will never again be filled. And while that is an easy idea to understand on a purely intellectual level, when has life ever been purely intellectual?
My mother’s voice broke on the phone, cracked open momentarily with the raw emotion of losing a person who had been so far away for so long — but always there, a steady heartbeat creating the rhythm of life. We all stare down the truth of death — but no one is ever prepared to walk through the door of acceptance until we have no other choice. And we are left, full of stories, full of justification … full of words to ease the unwanted pain.