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Sunday, 23 June 2013

My Nan

Today marks what would have been my lovely Nan's 80th birthday. We should be eating birthday cake and celebrating, our chatter assisted by constant cups of tea. She liked tea, my Nan. And Marks & Spencer too. Did she love that shop! To the point where when my sister announced she was returning to college to enable her to go to university and retrain as a social worker, my Nan's immediate reaction was disbelief that she would leave a job in M&S to do so!

She was warm and cosy, always baking goodies like all good Nans should. If you were bored, she'd invite you to help with the baking - "Let's go and make some jam tarts / scones / a crumble". Half an hour or so later, you'd have forgotten you were ever bored and you'd have some warm baked goods to enjoy too. Her apple crumble in particular was amazing!

Whereas everyone else at school when I was a child seemed to have an elderly grandma, Nan was "young" (she was 49 when I was born) and still went to work. She worked in a school kitchen as a supervisor serving up goodies to lots of children - well, she'd have to with her love of cooking and baking, wouldn't she; it was the ideal job! As I got older and school kitchens were closed, she went to work in a nursery, cooking lunch for pre-school children who she referred to as "babies". When out shopping with Nan, we would often be stopped by a mum who would come up and tell Nan that their little one wouldn't eat a roast dinner at home because "it wasn't like June's". She didn't retire until she was 69.

She shopped in M&S (her favourite shop as I said before) and Wallis, and always looked smart and stylish, not old. She got her hair done every weekend and coloured it a particular shade of red, which to us was ginger!

She was good for days out and I have fond memories of trips to the zoo, to ice shows at Wembley, pantomimes, shopping and trips to London (including when she came with me and a Dutch penpal to Abbey Road when I was 14).

Me & Nan at London Zoo (c. 1984)

She would say funny things, and get things muddled up. As she got more grandchildren, I got used to answering to three other names as well as my own. But even as she got into her 70s she was still full of energy, and once ran for a bus aged 71 to stop it for me (aged 22).

Then, just before her 74th birthday she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Doctors had missed it for several months, despite her presenting with symptoms. It was stage 3 and she had to undergo a huge operation to remove her bladder as well as a full hysterectomy. The operation took hours and we were all terrified of losing her, but she pulled through and recovered well. For a woman in her mid 70s, her recovery was remarkable. Even her surgeon joked that she was like superwoman. I preferred to call her a "tough old bird". She was back to M&S in no time.

Of course even tough old birds aren't immortal though and in 2010 as she approached her 77th birthday, a routine check-up showed the cancer had returned, this time to her lungs. She was told that it was terminal, and given only a few sessions of radiotherapy to prolong the inevitable.We couldn't believe she had a terminal illness as she still looked so well.

Luckily, it was only the very end of her life where she was unable to carry on as normal. Even as she went into a hospice a month before she died, she got a hairdresser to make her hair look "presentable".

Watching my beautiful, amazing Nan fade away was horrendous. My Nan didn't belong in a hospice, or a nursing home. She belonged in M&S.

On her 78th birthday, two years ago today, I spoke to her on the telephone for the last time (I had seen her just five days before, but a cold meant I was unable to visit as those who are so ill obviously have weakened immune systems and cannot be exposed to germs). By now she could barely talk, and high on morphine, not everything she said was clear.But the last thing she said was very clear - "We'll meet again". Even at the end if her life, she wanted to reassure me that this wasn't the end. She died the next day, the day after her 78th birthday,

In the two years since she died I have started to research my family history, and found out lots of things I would love to share with her, as well as uncovered things she kept secret and which I may now never know the full story of. In life she gave me love and warmth, and in death she has given me an amazing hobby and interest.

RIP Nan x

Follow me on Twitter - @FamilyTreeNat

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