On 18 May 2018, my paternal grandmother ‘Ma’ passed away. She’d just turned 95, had been in an aged care home for the past 4 years, and had receded into dementia gradually over that time. Honestly, we were impressed she’d come back from her deathbed in 2004 when she’d been in Canberra looking after my brother and I and ended up in a coma with massive organ failure. Well, over the past 14 years she managed to not only get better but return to her home, see (pictures of) the weddings of three grandchildren, and have regular visits of two of her beautiful great grandchildren. What I’m saying is, and my father put it best, “it wasn’t a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.”
We said farewell in a ceremony conducted by my mother, for which she asked that we provide some words that we associate with Ma. Mine were:
Sunflowers. Tall, beautiful, and always looking toward the sun, sunflowers are my strongest affiliation with Ma. When I was little, she made me not one but two hand-crafted straw hats, with sunflowers fastened on the front. I loved those hats, and they remained in our home for a long time after they stopped fitting. Her kitchen was also a place of sunflowers, with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and cupboard decals abound.
Beach Holidays. I grew up going to Ettalong Beach with my family, to visit Ma and enjoy the central coast in school holidays. When I was old enough, I caught the bus to Sydney and train to Woy Woy to go see her on my own. I drove up with my first boyfriend for an adventure at the beach, showing him the place so dear to me. I took my now-husband for a trip, and he was long and fondly known as the one who fixed her clock.
Pen Pals. At two separate stages in my life I was a regular pen-pal with Ma, reporting on my (surely uneventful) life, with news of school, boyfriends, achievements. Awaiting her letters in the post, decoding the elaborate cursive, which became just a little easier as I got older. There were whited-out corrections, the rare mis-spelled word that she’d missed, and most of all the tangible love with which she wrote to me, and with which I know she received my letters. The title of this blog is attributed to the sign off I would use whenever I wrote her. My nod to our letters and a way to continue writing to her, long after she could receive or send a note.
Those are my quick, three-word-response answers, but there are other things that I don’t want to forget, that I felt the need to record, and that I’m choosing to share here, as always for my own record more than anyone else’s.
She told me a poem/song which has been stuck in my head for years, and that, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I recently tracked down in full:
There was always a poem or tune, endless hymns and songs I didn’t know, that she would always be singing. Whether she was happy or sad, sick or well, there would be a tune in her head that she wanted to get out.
She was also a great talker, there were of course the long chats and stories. In recent years, with the lines of past and present blurring, there were some great stories from her past that came out, her prided time as a ticket write featuring heavily. Then when the history became fantastical fiction, it was still so interesting to listen and hear her journey through the world as she understood it, as it appeared to her.
Her artworks and her talents were evident throughout her home. I only discovered at her funeral that some cross-stitch pieces that sat on her wall in Ettalong for as long as I can remember were not just enjoyed but made by her. Alongside her beautiful paintings.
I remember the joy when we took Patch and Wicket to visit her. When we gifted her with a sheep-shaped bag which earned pride of place on the couch and was of course named ‘Shaun’.
My brother reminded me of the video tapes she’d have ready for our visits, painstakingly recorded from the TV, and in a technical marvel, for some she’d even skipped the ads.
I remember playing office in her lounge room; the old alphabet-clip address book, receipt books, notepaper and pens always in their place.
I remember heading through her house to visit Bill, the grandfather-figure in the cabin out the back, who’d always have soft drink in the fridge for us. I remember the early morning the ambulance came for him and Ma was distressed so Evan and I made cups of tea and massaged her feet and looked after her for the day.
I remember looking through her bedroom drawer at her scarves, jewellery, and admiring the photographs of her dearly departed husband and son on the dresser.
I remember her shelves of photos of children and grandchildren, the pride of place for university graduations.
I remember the walks to the Chinese or chicken take-away, whatever our treat dinner was for that night, followed by the slices or cakes that she’d prepared earlier. The old op-shop which was so great for a time, and the regular market trips, although it never really changed.
I remember when she came to look after us, that we were at the bus stop together and she told me later that all she wanted was for me to come hold her tight and keep her warm in the cold air. But she hadn’t said it out loud, and I hadn’t done it.
Even though it hurts, I am grateful for remembering, because she is these memories and so much more. I am grateful that when we went to visit and say our goodbyes just a week before she let go, I was able to sit and hold her hand for what felt like just long enough.