I know, it’s Friday. And I’m not trying to mess with your head, but I need to publish this blog today. Today is a time to say goodbye. They say, when you reach a certain age, you attend more funerals than you do weddings. Sadly, that certainly seems to be the case for me. I haven’t been to a wedding in years and years (could somebody I know please get married…and invite me? I could do with a reason to buy a nice dress). But funerals seem to be all too regular an occurrence. And today is no exception. I’m travelling across the country as we speak; on my way to another funeral.
Today I am attending the funeral of my husband’s Granny – we all called her ‘Great Granny’ since the kids were born. Her name was Gillian (that’s Gillian with a G-sound, and not a J-sound – it’s important you know that as she wouldn’t have liked it one bit if you’d made that mistake, and let’s face it, Gillian is much more individual-sounding than Gillian – sorry Gillians…with a J…), and I like to think I knew her well.
Gillian passed away recently after a very short illness. She was ninety-seven years old. And I know what some of you might be thinking. That’s a good innings. But the loss of someone you love always hurts; the people left behind still suffer immensely no matter how old that person was. We don’t have her in our lives anymore, and that’s hard to come to terms with. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a Great Granny (I’ve never had a granny or a great granny – which was why I was so fond of Gillian), but my children were. She was a very regular presence in our lives – just like a Grandmother, really. Right up until very recently, she was still catching the National Express bus up from Harrow to visit us all in the West Country.
Gillian lived an extremely full life, and was fit and active almost right up until the very end. For many years, the only thing that seemed to be failing health-wise was her eyesight – she was registered blind towards the end. I think this got Gillian down a fair bit. Not being able to see is obviously terribly frustrating when trying to carry out the basic functions of life. But she was also a voracious reader, and although you can (and she did) buy talking books – which where an absolute lifeline to her – I always think there is nothing quite like reading a book to yourself; creating the individual voices of the characters in your head – never out loud – just those talking voices in your mind. She must have missed that. No famous actor/narrator can quite match up. Not even Stephen Fry.
One of the reasons I wanted to write this piece is that I understand Gillian was a reader of this blog. She read it (or rather, her daughter, Biddy, read it to her – the font on this blog site is very small) on a Saturday morning – if there was blog to read. I don’t know why; this blog is very random at best, but it seemed to amuse her. It’s very upsetting to me that Gillian won’t be reading this particular post. It’s upsetting that I didn’t write more often whilst she was alive.
Biddy (my husband’s aunt, and also a regular reader of this blog – again, I don’t know why – ‘hello, Biddy!’) said something very poignant on Facebook after the death of her mother:
‘My wonderful mum died yesterday. She was a really amazing woman who was interested in everything and everyone.’
Yes, that’s it; that was what I most liked about Gillian. She honestly was fascinated in people and their lives. When she spoke to you, she was genuinely interested in everything you had to say – not like some people (me), who often make conversation just to fill up an awkward silence, or listen without really listening (also me), because their mind is on other things. Gillian truly cared about what you had to say or what you had been up to. That is what I am going to miss most about her. Another thing I am going to miss is her very decided opinions. She knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to say so. She didn’t like playing bingo like old ladies are supposed to, she wasn’t fussed with photographs given as presents (you can’t blame her, she couldn’t really see them), and she thought flowers were a waste of money because they last for five minutes (which is true). So we’re all donating to talking books instead of buying flowers for the funeral (here’s the link if you fancy donating to their ‘Just Giving’ page, HERE).
My daughters and I were asked to sing something at Gillian’s funeral. I decided to let the children sing without me for these two reasons:-
1: My voice is a bit overpowering, and I’d drown the poor children out with – what some might (cruelly) describe as – a foghorn.
2: I’ve been requested to do readings/speeches at the last two funerals I’ve attended, and on both occasions I mucked it up a bit by getting too emotional and bursting into tears up on stage. I remember my brother giving me a fairly innocuous poem to read at my father’s funeral. I rehearsed it in the car, and thought, ‘yep, this poem isn’t too emotive, I can barely understand it; I can do this – no probs’. But I couldn’t. The words seemed to hit me full-force mid-reading. I was an emotional wreck by the second verse. My sister had to scurry up to finish it for me. However, I have promised to be on hand and step-up if the girls get too upset and can’t perform their song today. Game-face, everyone, deep breaths now – you can do this.
We’ve chosen Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ for the kids to sing. We wanted something a little upbeat and life-affirming. Plus, Gillian played a very active role during the second world war (a radar operator in the WAAF…oh, wait, maybe that was classified…I now may have to kill you…sorry). There had been one suggestion of singing Ed Sheeran’s ‘Supermarket Flowers’ at the funeral. But I don’t think the toughest person alive would get through that without dissolving into a gibbering mess on the floor.
The hardest part about saying goodbye to Gillian is knowing that my children are now going to lose her remarkable presence in their lives (we all are). My daughters are very cut up over this, but I hope they will find comfort in the memory of her; the way she used to complain, ‘Oh no, Judy!’ in her very high-pitched voice when bickering with my mother-in-law (they did love to bicker), or the way she would sit and marvel at their stories and goings-on; always eager to hear more. Gillian, probably my oldest reader, you will be missed for so many reasons. But never forgotten.