Two weeks ago, on 19th March 2019, my Grannie left this earth. She was just six weeks short of her 99th birthday.
She was an incredible character in so many different ways. She out-lived two of her four children and leaves behind her a legacy of eight grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. Family was everything to her.
Grannie lived in Spain for the latter years of her life, moving out there in her seventieth decade after her husband (my Grandpa) died. At a time where most people would be thinking of settling down for retirement and a quiet life, she started a whole new adventure in a brand new country. She had a small flat in Nerja that she had decorated in a traditionally English way, complete with wall to wall carpets. She enjoyed a large brandy most lunchtimes and when she eventually became too frail physically and mentally to live on her own any more she caused complete and utter chaos in the nursing home. We heard stories of her screwing up her spectacles and flushing them down the toilet; of vases being smashed; of the other residents having to use plastic plates because she had broken all of the crockery – she was a real rebel (and a bit of a legend)!
We all thought she would make it to be 100.
The photo below is my most favourite photo of Grannie and I. It was taken in September 2006 at big family lunch in Spain. I was six months pregnant with Ella and the husband and I had flown out for one last holiday before becoming parents for the first time. This is how I will always remember Grannie – elegantly painted nails in her trademark red polish, a big smile on her face, joyfully surrounded by family.
The girls only ever met Grannie once in person: six years ago in mid-2013. Ella was six and a half, Mimi had just turned five, and Lola was three and a half years old. Spending the afternoon with her must have made a big impression on them though, even at their young ages, because they talked curiously about her all the time from then on, absolutely fascinated by this lady who was almost a hundred years old.
This is EXACTLY why I take photos, even if they’re not the most technically correct. It’s so very important to capture these moments before it’s too late and they’re gone. It’s essential to pass down the stories, the memories. Because Grannie’s story is part of my story and my story will be passed down through my girls and we all live forever in a strange sort of way. I love these photos so much – Grannie was just as thrilled to meet her great-granddaughters as they were to meet her. I hope some part of the memory stayed with her, even when all of her other memories were fading.
The last time I saw Grannie in person was at my Dad’s funeral four years ago. She was in a wheelchair and very confused, not really understanding what was happening and plaintively asking when she was going to get to see her son. There are all sorts of feelings mixed up in that jumble of events, suddenly combined with the sadness that she’s gone now as well.
There is definitely a lesson in all of this about not leaving family get-togethers too long so that they end up becoming funerals instead.
Grannie’s funeral took place a week after she died. I flew out with my cousin, Kate, for a whirlwind 24 hours in Spain, spending a grand total of 20 hours of travelling in planes, trains, buses, taxis and cars either side of that to get there and back. It was completely worth it. Other cousins had flown in from London, Paris and Australia, all of us gathering together to say goodbye to this woman who, in her own unique way, had helped to shape each of us.
Kate and I arrived late Monday evening and stayed overnight at Hotel Villa Flamenca in Nerja, which was beautiful. Apparently it’s been recently refurbished and it showed. We both said that we would be more than happy to stay there again – it was quirky and individual, our room was spotlessly clean, the beds were comfortable and the breakfast selection was impressive.
We both woke early on Tuesday morning and decided to go for a walk down to Burriana Beach before breakfast to catch the sunrise. All of my childhood memories of holidays spent in Spain came flooding back as we wandered down the steep streets. We passed beautifully tiled steps that led to carved wooden doorways; ornate wrought-iron gates that gave tantalising glimpses of lush oasis-like gardens that lay beyond; and bougainvillea spilling over whitewashed walls releasing it’s heady scent into the early morning atmosphere. We talked and talked about anything and everything – it was so good to spend some real quality time with her.
The quiet calm of the beach was soothing, almost as if it was preparing us for the rest of the day ahead. We pressed our toes into the sand and watched the sky light up with golden tones as the dawn broke. It was magical.
As we walked back to the hotel under blue skies and palm trees, we spotted a small cluster of poppies by the side of the road. Usually flowering in summer, this surprised us. Poppies were Grannie’s favourite flower so we took it to be a signal that she was there with us in some way.
The funeral service was lovely. The whole family (apart from one or two who were unable to make it) were there, along with some friends. Grannie’s remaining son and daughter (my Uncle and Aunt) both spoke, sharing their memories of her as well as some of her history that I didn’t know – I learned that she was a nurse in World War Two and drove ambulances during the Blitz. My Aunt also shared a heartfelt poem that resonated with all of us.
After the service the family, all eleven of us, had lunch at her best-loved restaurant overlooking the sea in Nerja. We had a feast of tapas and dover sole – her absolute favourite meal. Grannie made her presence known in a way that only she could: the wind outside became fiercely strong soon after our arrival at the restaurant, with one particularly enormous gust actually blowing open one of the heavy glass doors that separated us from the clifftops. It took three of us to push it shut again, such was the force of the wind. We’re all convinced that it was Grannie demanding her seat at the table with us.
Grannie would have absolutely loved that everyone gathered together just for her. It was a real celebration of her life. After the tears at her funeral, the lunch (or ‘luncheon’ as she would have called it) was a joyous occasion full of copious amounts of laughter, large quantities of food and hours spent telling stories and sharing memories we each had of her. Many photos were taken of everyone together which she would have been pleased about – Grannie diligently kept detailed, annotated photo-albums throughout her life, a couple of which we had the chance to look through after the funeral.
As Kate and I flew home on Tuesday evening after the funeral, we were both fairly quiet and contemplative. I thought about how good it had been to be back in Nerja after so long, and how important it is to me that I take my girls there and show them all the places that hold memories for me, that are part of my story (and, as a consequence, their stories too). I thought about Grannie and how many lives she must have touched in her almost-ninety-nine years on this planet. It really is quite remarkable when you think about it.
She truly was one of a kind. She will be forever missed.