Tuesday 28th JuneCrash. Bang. Wollop. Normality was over in a one short phone call. I was standing in McDonald’s by Wembley Stadium getting some breakfast with Madison before we set out on our final day of adventures when Nana rang me, asking me where I was before stating: “I’ve got some bad news.” I thought she was going to tell me that I couldn’t park my car at the house that night or something similar, so when the words: “Roger just rang and said that Nanny has had a stroke and she’s at Leicester Royal Infirmary,” I couldn’t believe it. Immediately the shock turns into hot panicked tears, and I’m crying my eyes out in McDonald’s whilst getting more frustrated with the inadequate service of the employees. When Madison realises I’m really crying she pulls me into a hug but I don’t let it last long because I’ve got my glasses on and it’s uncomfortable, not to mention the fact we’re in public. My chest feels raw, like a cactus lodged in my airways reminding me that the dark cloud of grief is on my tail, waiting to break my heart once more. A stranger asks me I’m okay and I tell her what I’ve just been told. She takes my hand in hers and does her best to comfort me, asking me about university and not at all being the kind of person I’d expect to meet in McDonald’s. I call both of my sisters and I get their voicemails. They either know what’s happened, are at the hospital or they’re not awake yet. In a panic I call Katrina, choking on my tears because I don’t know what to do and my parents are out of the country. She repeatedly mentions putting me on a train there and then to go back home a day early because driving is not recommended by the DVLA when you’re upset and unable to focus. I know that seeing Nanny immediately will bring out the rawest of cries from my chest and make other loved ones around me feel even worse, because that’s how it was last time Nanny was in hospital and the thought of an extra drive to London to get the rest of my things is unbearable. I agree to go home the next day, even though I can feel the weight of withheld judgement from Katrina and Madison for not going immediately, even though there is nothing I can do to help at this stage. I finally manage to get hold of my sister Louise and Katrina is a Godsend, taking them both to the hospital and checking up on me throughout the entire day.
Only last month Nanny had fallen and broken her hip. The fall brought some other health problems to light and I was in a flood of tears when in one indescribable scene, we thought we’d lost her for good. She was making good progress in her own home now with Roger having returned from India, so the stroke is a huge blow. Only a few days ago I’d gone round in a hung-over state and had a cup of tea and some breakfast with Nanny before the drive down to London and she asked me about the extensive travelling I’d undertaken with Madison all across England. I sat on the sofa and confessed and complained about how tired and unwell I felt each day at driving more frequently than I’d ever done in my life, despite the fact I’d enjoyed being busy with new adventures and new places. We talked about the EU referendum and she felt sorry for David Cameron, claiming that: ‘he seemed a nice chap’, to which I responded: ‘Nanny, it’s not about who’s nice and who isn’t.’ My Nan is the kind of person that would buy us all presents on one of our birthdays so that the other two don’t feel left out or any less special. I’m convinced that she literally has a heart of gold and I’ve got letters sent to me in America and a lifetime of memories to know that she is the person I get my ‘gentle nature’ from.
As I slowly chomp on my meal, Madison says: “it’s not your fault this happened, I don’t want you to think that.” I don’t respond. What can I say? It’s obvious that she’s uncomfortable, who wouldn’t be? I can’t find the words to warrant any kind of response so I let the silence fall around us. It hits me that I’ve been well and truly dumped by normality and it’s unlikely we’ll be the same once we get back together in the future. It strikes me how we leave the days or normality without a second thought, but we never know when the days of normality are going to leave us. So my guilt is placed in what I perceive in hindsight to be wasted moments of my life, with temporary friendships and hasty drives back to Stoke to finish my readings for the upcoming week, when I could’ve spent lost minutes with my Nanny Pat. Something is my fault, and the guilt is ringing in my ears as the cactus in my chest continues physically remind me of my devastation.
When we eventually leave McDonald’s, Madison says that she we should just go back to Nana’s house because I’m just going to be thinking about this all day and she isn’t interested in seeing Wembley. That stung. Wembley is important to me and I love having a 5 minute walk around the outside of the stadium when the opportunity presents itself, but I get in the car and drive back, knowing that she must be thinking awful things about me right now but Nana already told us she’d be out all day so we’ll have to continue with our plans and head for the tube station. I’m also not ready to say goodbye to her before necessary, even if I do go and visit her in Paris. The thing about having international friends is that every goodbye you have could potentially be the final one and after 2016, I’ve no idea when/if our paths will cross again. It takes reaching our destination and answering a few phone calls before I’m fully composed and we end up having a really good last day together, even getting to watch Coldplay warm-up for a concert in Kensington Gardens. I get my university results and it takes a spike or two off the cactus in my chest- a 2:1 in English and American Literatures and a 1st in my dissertation, which I wasn’t at all expecting!
The next few days that follow upon returning home are difficult. I quickly learn how to get around Leicester Royal Infirmary and Roger prepares me for what I’m about to see when I visit Nanny. As the days pass, the visits become more difficult as Nanny refuses to be helped by the doctors and nurses and keeps taking out the force feeding tube. Her mood varies daily due to the medication for the stroke and it’s not easy to make sense of the words she’s saying to you. It’s incredibly difficult to watch someone you love more than life itself deteriorate in front of your eyes. My heart doesn’t feel like a jenga wall anymore but a burst dam, with every crack of heartbreak leaving tears surging from my eyes or forcing my throat and I into silence before we draw attention to ourselves. I stop wearing my glasses during visitation because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t recognise me with them on anymore and that’s not because of the onset dementia. Whilst I acknowledge my sensitive nature, others do not and I’m constantly bombarded with the lines of ‘she’s had a good life’ and ‘that’s life, Lisa’, when I confess that I’ve never known life without Nanny and I’m ready to find out what that’s like. It’s not like I expect Nanny to live forever, but after every health scare and fall over the years she’s gotten back up and continued to live her life, so I’ve come to expect her to always be okay. She even refused morphine when she broke her hip!
Losing someone in stages is just as difficult as losing them all at once, regardless of their age. Long gone are days of normality where I could pop round to Nanny’s for tea and chat aimlessly. Long gone are the days when Nanny would be so happy to have company that she’d stock the house with all the junk food your heart desires and you’d go home 3lbs heavier the next morning. Long gone are the days when I’d get a phone call each time Keele University was on the television. It’s hard not to feel robbed of the future photographs I intended to take with Nanny. I knew she was unsteady on her feet so I’d planned to spend more time there once university was over and take her back to the cities and towns she had fond memories of from thirty odd years ago. That was supposed to be our quality time, not endless hours on hospital wards watching her slowly give up the fight and I’ve a right to mourn what won’t now be and the loss of normality. I know that I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to form such strong attachments to my grandparents, but it doesn’t make the pain any easier to deal with, even if things ‘could’ve been worse.’ It doesn’t matter how many times you experience grief, (or even end up writing a 12,000 word dissertation about the representations of grief in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees) it doesn’t make it any easier knowing that the dark cloud will eventually envelop you. Because at the end of the day, ‘nothing hurts like love.’ So for now we continue to run the hamster wheel of not knowing what is going to happen, but sitting at her bedside remaining positive that she’ll make enough progress and return home to Burbage, to the place where she belongs. ❤