January 5

My nanny died last week.

That’s the last of my grandparents. My parents are now orphans. Cast alone into the rest their lives. It’ll happen to me at some point. It’ll happen to you.


I wasn’t with her at the end. Had my Dad been later in arriving I would have, but when he (and mum) turned up I didn’t need to stay any longer. I left. She died about an hour later, while I sat alone in an Edinburgh street and ate a poor kebab (my first sustenance in fourteen hours). Her death was hard.

When I was in my late teens I would head up to Nanny’s (so I didn’t have to arrive home) at late hours, and a bit squiffy. She never judged, just let me drink tea, have a sandwich, and crash. But often, we sat and discussed our differing views, political, religious, etc. She was strident (an inspiration) and never gave way to bullshit. At the same time, she never decried my views, but gave them credence. It was a powerful lesson.

Giving others the power to own their beliefs, while holding your own, takes strength, power, and compassion.

So much of the shit we see on the internet today is about people regarding their beliefs as sacrosanct, inviolable. That is wrong.

I will discuss my beliefs with anyone. I’ll explain why I believe them to be correct. But I will not demand that others believe the same. We have free will. Whether you believe (like me) they came from a deity, or not is pretty much irrelevant. When you demand that others hold your belief system, you are in the wrong.

Hopefully I can retain the same equanimity in the face of my own mothers difficulties. Today I learned that she has a(nother)lump under her arm. Having just out my 90 year old nanny, the prospect of a similar occurrence with my mother is hard. Tonight I am drinking more than I should.

But here’s thing – and I don’t know if it is my Asperger’s, or a defense mechanism, or an aspect of sociopathy – but what I remember from the process of my Nanny’s death are definite, finite, moments. The first I saw her in the hospital bed I knew she was dying (I’d seen my wife’s grandparents at a similar juncture). When her blood pressure crashed and the nurses turned the monitor off I knew her demise was imminent. I was ahead of my aunt. It wasn’t fair to try and tell her so. About midnight my aunt lay her head on Nanny’s pillow and wept. The image is clear in my head, I locked it there. I consciously thought of the emotion on display, of the withered and fading mother, and the grief drawn daughter weeping with out succor.

The next time conscious grief grasped me it was more personal. Driving with my wife and children towards my Nanny’s house my youngest asked if we were stopping for lunch (she’s ten, but autistic). The response that rose within me was ‘No. We’re going to nanny’s first.’ Then I caught up with myself. We weren’t going to Nanny’s. She wasn’t there, would never be there again. I wept. From the Meadowbank Retail park  to Jock’s Lodge I wept (I wept writing this).

Never to have such a key part of your life interact again is a tragedy. Next week is my Nanny’s memorial (she’s being cremated). I’ll listen to a minister who didn’t know her waffle on about things that are non-scriptural, and weep again because I loved her and she meant a great deal to me. In six months, or a year, or more, I’ll be at another funeral. This will be the funeral of a friend, not related, and I’ll weep copiously. Not for them, but for my Nanny. All the memories I screwed down deep will demand a release and that will be it. It’s what happened with my grandad.

And all the time I’ll be locking emotions away, screwing down the things I’ve seen and making them part of a narrative. The narrative won’t be my Nanny’s demise, or my response to it, nor my Aunt’s. It will be the death and response of a character in a story.

Unless my mum dies.

Say what?

Yeh, I got a phone call from Dad this PM saying Mum has found lump, and is off for tests. This isn’t the first lump, or tests, or even medication. It is the first time I’ve been told at this stage of the event, and not well after (btw, I’m the firstborn, the oldest child).

I’m kind of worried. Two bottles of wine, and the writing stories, worried.

Thing is, I’m locking away memories of how it feels even now. Putting fingers to keyboard is part of the process. Whatever happens happens. But I never want to forget the depth of emotion, the rich breadth of feeling and action which comes from the end of life struggle. Until I write it out that is. When It comes out as words, the pale imitation of memory, then I’ll be happy to let it go, until I need it again, and again, and again. Constantly writing things I once felt, or imagined I may have felt, if I was another person, in another place, at another time.

I miss my Nanny.

She died last week.