January 8, 2011 by Rhi
Well, the writers block has been biting pretty hard recently. This has been a combination of things.
Christmas has been pretty crap, this time, all things considered. My Gran died a week before the main day, which meant a funeral the day before Christmas Eve. Which wasn’t as depressing as it sounds. There’s something nice about sitting in a church with the Christmas tree and poinsettia surrounding the coffin of someone you love. She’d been ill for some time, and we had a few days warning when the end was nigh. The trouble with the death of someone you’re so close to, even when it’s expect, is that nothing can prepare you for the hole left in your life. Gran has been such a strong feature the whole time I’ve been on this earth – almost like a second mother, in a lot of ways. She was the lynchpin of the family, the sun around which the rest of us revolved. I may not have spent as much time with her as others in the last decade, but there were very few days went by when I didn’t pick up the phone to say “Hello, Grandma!” in the particular way that made her laugh, and reply “Hello, darling!” before telling me what she’d read in the Daily Mail that morning. We’re all just finding that gap hard to get hold of now. There’s still so many things that occur to me to share with her, except there’s no physical presence there to share it with.
And the other big thing is the house. My family have lived in Gran’s house for nigh on 70 years, and she herself lived there for over 60 of them. That’s a lot of stuff to clear out – especially when she was someone for whom the concept of nick-nacks could have been invented. It’s hard – you want to keep everything – but it’s just not possible. There just physically isn’t the space. For both my mother and myself, our childhoods are tied up in that three bedroomed apartment. Every piece of furniture holds a memory. Each door a tale of trapped fingers, the bathroom memories of showers and baths after summers spent outside in the fresh air and mud. My pet canary lies somewhere in the backgarden (although little probably remains of him now). Christmas mornings in the living room, Hogmanay’s punctuated by the click and tinkle of the drinks cabinet being opened at 6 o’clock to toast my Grandparent’s anniversary. Although the memories are all safely tucked up in our heads, the fact that this house which we’ve all been around for our whole lives will no longer be a place we visit, is hard to come to terms with. The walls my Grandfather decorated will be stripped in the coming months, the kitchen cupboards ripped out, the whole place made clean and pristine for a new family to take ownership of. A blank canvas. Even the street itself, with it’s recollection of bike rides, skint knees, and long, warm, happy days spent with friends, will no longer be a place we see regularly. You have to be mercenary – for even the most innocuous of things hold a special recollection of childhood, but you can’t take it all. And there is no point in trying to keep everything. There are heirlooms which will be saved to be passed on, and things of value – and a few special things which one of us particularly likes and would do well in our home. But for the most part, what we’re talking about here really are only possessions. And holding onto them won’t make it any easier to deal with her passing. So bags and boxes are filled with crystal vases and china ornaments, and more antimacassars* that you can shake a stick at. Someone will find use for them, and that’s the best thing. To think of these cherished possessions being bought and used by someone else, giving them a sense of purpose, rather than being kept as mementos, divorced from the reason for their existence.
Gran’s house, for me, had come to represent journey’s end. During my long time away from Glasgow, it was the end point after hours spent in a car or on a train. Whether I’d travelled up the M6, the M1 or up the West Coast Mainline on an overcrowded train, Gran was waiting (almost!) patiently for our arrival – meeting us at the top of the stairs, looking slightly shorter than I remembered, hair in a slightly different style, but still with the same combination of hugs, love and gentle bristling at the invasion of her personal space. Coming home from spending New Year at my fiance’s family’s home 400 miles away, it was hard to bear continuing along the main road past her turning, until I reached my own house.
She’s still here, of course. After years of being berated for looking like my father, we’re beginning to realise that I actually look a lot like her. Turns out that her keenness on my having short hair came from the fact that I reminded her of herself when it was like that. That makes me feel quite proud. I certainly have her temper, and her guts. Hopefully I’m slightly more diplomatic than she was – although one of the things I’ve heard most from people who knew her since she died, was that “You always knew where you were with Clem”. I think that’s a fairly good epitaph. You did know where you were, even when in the middle of an apocalyptic argument (of which all of us had many), you knew she still loved you.
And there’s been a shift in my relationship with my Mum as well, which has been lovely. I think this has partly been because of my being closer, and I think because we shared the care of Gran as much as possibly. But she’s stepping out from under the shadow now, the head of the family, and it suits her. For the first time in my adult life, I feel as though I have a proper mother/daughter connection, rather than one that was often influenced by the presence of an older version in the background, calling the shots.
It’s true, that those we love never truly leave us. They can’t. Because they are so much a part of who we are, if they left, we’d cease to exist. And the same goes for the physical things – they are still all there intact in their memories. If I close my eyes, I can still walk round my old secondary school in my head, even though it was demolished years ago. I can still visualise the interior of our SU, even though it’s ceased to be. No doubt, through sharing with family, and my own memories, I’ll recall each detail of the house without ever seeing it again.
The old life has gone, and 2011 holds many exciting challenges for me. New job, and a new marriage – preparations for which are beginning to come to the fore. New friends to meet, and new contacts to make. I have big plans for this year, to move on and achieve things I always meant to, but haven’t had the chance to. Most importantly, though, I want to make new memories. New things to cherish and remember and recall in the years yet to come. I’ve started well – a lovely peaceful Christmas Day spent visiting family, but most of all in the company of the man whom I love, and who I have been planning a life with in the last few months. Walks with future in-laws, and being further accepted into their warm, welcoming family, as someone trusted to respect and cherish their own loved one, my fiance. And soon it will be time to meet up with old friends, for a week of talking about the old days, catching up on the current days, and meeting new people who are just started out on the journey which gave us all so many good times and great friends. Life goes on, and I don’t think I’d want to have it any other way.
Happy New Year, folks.
*Those lacy bits old ladies put on the back of their sofas and on the arms of chairs.