When I found out I was having Florence I remember telling my Grandma on the phone and she sounded gobsmacked. She could barely talk and told me she would ring me back.
Some minutes later the phone rang and it was Grandma. She said ‘I’m sorry I didn’t say the right thing, I just didn’t know what to say? You see, you’re just our little Ruth and it took me a moment to understand that really you’re grown up now and of course I am so thrilled we will have a new baby. Congratulations my darling, but you’re still our little Ruth, you know that don’t you?’
When I was 21 weeks pregnant, my Grandma, my lovely vibrant Grandma, who zipped around in her car picking us up, dropping us off and always just seeming so young, was diagnosed with cancer. I remember walking along Fenchurch Street where I was working at the time and my Mum ringing to tell me what the diagnosis was. Grandma had had a chest infection for a couple of weeks and she’d gone for tests to see if it was something more sinister. I knew it was before the results came in. Despite my Mum being super positive and reassuring I just knew. Still however, when my Mum rang and told me that she didn’t have very much time left at all, I crumpled, holding on to my little bump I sank to the floor in London and sobbed. I don’t remember much more from that day. Kind people comforting me. Work colleagues sending me home. My midwife maybe that day or maybe a day following, being so understanding.
I was very close to my Grandma and Grandpa. They looked after my Mum and I when my Dad left and probably, because of that, we were closer than Grandparents and Grandchildren might usually be. My Grandpa passed away suddenly when I was 18 and since then it was just the three of us and Grandma being diagnosed with this hideous illness was a very traumatic blow for us.
On the one hand my Grandpa going so suddenly was a shock but he didn’t suffer. My poor Grandma did. Terribly. My Mum looked after her at our house. She became weaker and weaker, she had a stoke we think but can’t be sure, she looked less and less like my Grandma. My Mum asked me how I felt about her dying in my bed where she was sleeping, wondering if that would freak me out somehow but of course it didn’t. She was my Grandma. If she died in my bed then she died in my bed. I didn’t care where she died I just wanted her not to do so.
But her sun set 9 weeks after we found out the terrible news. Not at home in the end but in a hospice for her final few days and I wasn’t there. I had said a last goodbye the night before. I held her hand, I kissed every finger on her right hand and I told her I loved her. I told her the baby would be Florence if she was a girl, I can’t remember saying a boy’s name as I don’t think I thought she would be one.
Grandma had moments of lucid thought although not many in those hours and she looked at me with pain in her eyes. I’d seen too much of that in this run up to her death. I won’t ever rid my memory of her being hoisted from chair to bed, her dignity taken away and her little frail body broken with the devil of what was killing her. But somehow after all that had taken her over she managed to look at me and tell me she loved me and that she liked the name Florence. I know she was there then and I know she understood.
My Mum was called the next evening and sped to be by her side. Grandma had told the nurse that Peter was there for her and that she just wanted to go now. My Grandpa was Peter and I have no doubt that he came. When we found out Grandma was ill we stood in the garden and in bewildered state tried to comprehend what was about to come. I said to my Mum then that Grandpa would be with us all and looking after Grandma. It was August, there was no breeze and the air was still but when my Mum asked me, with tears in her eyes ‘Do you really think so Ruth? Do you really believe that to be true?’ the tree on the patio rustled with a non existent breeze and in turn, like a Mexican wave, every tree in the garden shook as the one before it stopped, until the tree just above when we stood shook with an almighty and final forceful blow. I knew and my Mum knew, that it was him, my Grandma’s Peter come to say that yes, he was there.
So I feel comforted to know that just before she went he came to get her and I have no doubt, no wonder at all for if that is true. I just know it is.
It was very difficult losing my Grandma when pregnant but then it would have always been difficult, it’s not like you could pick a decent time. I know in the order of things it’s the right way. In the hospice there were families saying goodbye to a man of my age and a woman of my Mum’s. I know we are very lucky that she was older and had a good life. She missed my Grandpa terribly and I am pleased they are together again but hard it is still knowing all of that and hard it still remains. For me, for my Mum and for my children who never met their amazing Great Grandparents, I am sad.
She also made our lives with a new baby so much easier in one very big way, We didn’t have a car and she gave us hers before she died. It afforded us so much freedom which having a new baby was very welcome. And of course we got to drive to Norwich and back whenever we needed, which was often just before and after my Grandma died.
We still have her car and in it I have kept all her things. Her perfume. Her packet of imperial mints that were ever present in Grandma’s car. Her lipstick. A little drawstring leather bag with Grandma’s keys in it. A box with plasters and notes that she had written.
Those things were important to me. What touched them, made those letters and the lines from her lips on her lip stick is gone. I don’t know why I had to keep them but I did and it gave me comfort. When we drove I could smell her, feel her and whether it’s loony to you or anyone else I don’t know but I held her things and remembered her and I liked having them around, I liked having them and I needed them.
I know some might see it as a little strange, I also chose to give birth to my children in my Grandma’s night dress, the one she died in and lots of people just don’t get that but that’s me. That’s how I cope with losing her. To hold on to these things that she touched because they are so precious, so meaningful to me that I just feel comforted doing those things.
Last night someone broke into our car. They took nothing of any value. Our broken sat nav is gone. Fine. I don’t care. It is replaceable and just things.
But they also took the mints, the bag, the medical box, her lipstick and my Grandma’s handwriting.
Those things, my Grandma’s things are gone. No body but me wants them but still someone took them just because they could.
That person or those people won’t even understand how important the things they took were to me. They probably wouldn’t care but they still don’t know.
And I don’t know why I wanted to write all of this down but I did. I feel so sad today and I know, I know… In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing but I feel sad all the same and so angry that people are so feral, so horrid that they would so thoughtlessly do something like this.
I just feel sad today. And I miss my Grandma. That’s all…