Today is the funeral of my beloved Grandma, know to everyone as Doody. She passed away quietly last week aged 100 years old. She was the last of her generation.
I feel melancholy rather than out and out sad. I’m not upset. I’ve hardly cried. It’s not what I expected, and I feel conflicted. I feel that I ought to be sadder, but actually I feel relieved, for her and all those that loved her. Maybe it’s because it was her time, or well beyond her time really. She lived her life well and fully, and left behind 3 generations that have felt her wonderful warmth. OK, now I’ crying.
The last 4 years, since Pappa died, have been awful for her. He was the lucky one – he had a massive stroke and died the next day. Quick and clean, the way he would have wanted. They were a formidable team and a lesson to all on how to build and maintain a marriage over a very, very long time. They had celebrated their Diamond wedding anniversary and more.
When Pappa farewelled this mortal coil, Doody found herself drifting, rudderless in a bewildering sea of loss. It was no longer possible for her to live independently, so she moved to a home for the elderly. She was a social lady, and we hoped for new friends and another episode in her twilight years, but it wasn’t to be. After a nasty fall she was bedridden and dementia soon took hold. There followed four years of confusion and heartache, but it is how she lived that showed her calibre.
From the moment she welcomed my Mum, 5 years older than my Dad, a different nationality and a different religion, she showed her true warmth and strength. The expectation had been that my Dad marry his sweetheart, the daughter of a close family friend. Instead his adventurous spirit took him to Hong Kong to join the HK police, where he fell in love with a beautiful and exotic local girl from a good family. Doody fell completely in love with my Mum from the very start. There was not a drop of stuffy British prejudice in her, and so her loving and staunch support of my family began.
My childhood memories of Doody are pure magic. She was a young granny by today’s standards, at 52, and we all benefited from her energy and vigour. I was the first grandchild. Lucky me. I had her for the longest.
My cousin, Kate, was next in line and only 18 months younger. Doody paired us up early on, and we would often stay with her together, just the two of us. I remember the long summers we spent, and all the brilliant and often hilarious stories we have to tell.
On one lunch outing, when we were very young, Doody wore a rather sophisticated turban style hat. We were nonplussed. I was anxious. “Doody, have you broken your head?” Kate piped up, “Don’t be silly, can’t you see she’s a magician!” Doody told us she never wore that hat again.
She fostered a close, life long bond between us. We are like sisters, even now with me in Australia and Kate in the USA.
2 summers running, some time in the 1970’s, Doody and her sister, Aunty Mary, gave my parents a much needed break and took me and my siblings, 4 of us, on holiday to a fantastic old house, The White House, right on the beach at a tiny hamlet called Lee Bay in Devon. Aunty Mary’s house keeper and her two sons came with us. We were a jolly party. The fortnight was spent picnicking on the beach, catching unfortunate crabs and tiny shrimps in the rock pools, and walking over the cliffs to the enchantingly gorgeous twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth – 6 children – toddlers, strollers, the lot. Women were made of hardy stuff in those days! They were magical times, and not a theme park or iphone in sight. We visited Lee Bay last year on our UK visit. It’s almost exactly the same and we re-created an iconic family photo right in the front garden of The White House. So many happy memories.
Our family moved around the country quite a bit when we were kids, so when it came to choosing a location for our wedding, Mr.B and I chose the my grandparents parish church. The roots I had there were stronger than anywhere else. Dood and Pop were delighted, and hosted a special family party in their garden the day after the event. No caterers here, Doody and other family members prepared all the scrumptious food themselves. It was an event in itself. Think clipped lawns, a white marquee, Pimms and smoked salmon – a perfect English summer garden party to welcome Mr.B’s family to ours.
Doody and Pappa were so excited to welcome great-grand children, and the Misses Sand E were the first of their generation. We visited when the girls were 10 months. The oldies were beside themselves when we arrived, late, after the car broke down, with hungry babies. There was no time for proper introductions. Doody and Pappa got straight to it with a baby and a bottle each. The expressions on the faces of all 4 of them were priceless.
We visited several more times, but not as much as we should have or wished for. That’s the price you pay for living so far away from family. The last time we saw Doody and Pappa was 5 years ago, when they were both still pretty sprightly. Our last goodbyes were raw and emotional. They knew it was the last time and held me so tight I thought I would pass out.
Today is bittersweet. They will be together again in a woodland grave site carefully planned by Pappa. Let’s hope he’s still in there and hasn’t been too badly damaged by badgers that have been digging in the area. His sister, my Great Aunty Gwen, will join them when her ashes are scattered there today too. It’ll be nice for her to get out from under my Aunty’s stairs after all these years!
So farewell, Doody. Here’s to you, and hoping that the 3 of you are up there with a glass of sherry and a good game of Scrabble.
Originally published 04/03/2014