Thursday, 20 August 2015
Happy 103rd Birthday!
If my Grandmother was still alive, she would have been 103 today. (coinciding with my 103rd day sober!) She died when she was 99.
She was a Londoner. She was born in Stepney, a small suburb I guess, in the East End of London. She was married quite young and had my Dad, and then sadly, my Grandfather died of TB - a common disease that had not, at that time, been contained.
As a single mum, she worked as a housemaid. She met her second husband, who was also widowed, they married, and my Dad had an instant family of two stepbrothers.
In the years that followed, my Grandmother raised her family, and ran several very successful businesses with my step grandfather, before retiring in Worthing, a small seaside town. She was widowed for the second time, when I was about six years old. She had eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren when she passed away.
My mother was introduced to her as my Dad's girlfriend, and then fiance. My Mum's family was Irish. At that time, there was considerable prejudice towards the Irish, they were generally considered dirty and drunkards.
At their first meeting, my mother tells how my Grandmother gave her a withering stare and said "I suppose some Irish families are clean"
That was not a Good Start. I don't know the whole story, but as I got older, I was more aware that my Mum had quite a tough time of it, due to her outrageous sin of stealing away my Dad, my grandmother's Golden Boy.
When my grandmother reached her eighties, it was obvious she was starting to suffer from dementia. There were many discussions in our household of how best to care for her.
My mother (wisely) put one boundary in place. She would do whatever was necessary to look after my Grandmother, but she could not come and live with her and Dad.
My Dad agreed, and so began nearly twenty years of caring for my elderly grandmother.
We tag-teamed. My Mum and Dad ( newly retired themselves) would visit almost every day during the week. Myself and my brother would take turns at the weekends. My lovely sister-in-law, even with a new born baby would drive two hours to visit, if my brother was away working.
She was insistent that her new daughter should get to know her Great Grandmother.
Notably absent from this arrangement were my step uncles and their families. Rarely would they visit. I was angry about this. My Dad tried to explain.
"It was difficult. They both lost their own mum, and they thought that mum favoured me. She tried to treat us all the same, but it was hard for all of us."
But she loved them, fed them, clothed them, made sure they went to school, did everything she could. And then she adored all her grandchildren.
I was still pissed.
My mother took on the greatest burden. Nearing the end, before Nan had to go into a nursing home, my mum would bathe her and dress her. She also did most of the laundry, cleaning and cooking.
I worried about my parents. They were exhausted. They had so little time to enjoy their retirement. Looking after Nan was all consuming.
Not once did her sister in laws offer to help.
After Nan died, there was the obligatory family gathering, and as my brother watched my anger rise as my cousins wept their phony tears, he took me by the hand, and said'
"We have the best memories"
A couple of years later, I asked Mum
"How did you do it? Nan was never that nice to you, but you did everything for her"
She was genuinely surprised.
"Your Grandmother was an old lady who needed help. She was also the only mum I knew for most of my life (Her own mum died when she was eighteen), and she was your grandmother. She was my family. I only did for Nan what I would have done for my own mum"
Part of getting sober for me is not just putting down the bottle, as hard as that is. It's also working through all the bullshit and deciding what kind of person I want to be. It's letting go of old anger and recriminations, and realizing that the only control I have, is over my own life and my own actions.
It's behaving in a way that doesn't keep me awake at night.
And it's not giving a shit about how other people decide to live their lives.
Happy Birthday Nan.xx