Something I Could Never Forget

July 2016

I went to see my Nan alone one sunny Sunday evening on my own. I felt that it was important that I went alone. I remember that Nanny talked about random things and I went along with it. I told her random things about my life that I knew she wouldn’t remember just to keep her engaged. When the doctors and nurses came round for the routine checks, Nanny became unsettled. She always does now with people she does not know. I talked to my Nan whilst they did what they needed to do in regards to changing her etc. and they said that she was so much calmer in my presence. They jokingly asked if I ‘could come more often and sit with the other patients.’ My Nan would always tell people how ‘clever’ her grandchildren were and the doctor started to ask me about my degree. She was really impressed about my time studying abroad (Mississippi isn’t your typical place to study abroad, let’s face it haha) and that she wanted her daughter to follow in my footsteps. I was hugely flattered by her words. It was obvious even through the dementia that we were my Nan’s pride and joy.

I sat with my Nan watching Wimbledon after that (it was something we used to do together at her house) before making my way back to Burbage for dinner. As I was leaving the ward, my Nan was watching me walk away and kept repeatedly shouting “I LOVE YOU!” I stopped at the door of the ward and shouted back “I love you too Nanny.” The making of eye contact was like a window into her soul, her way of telling me that she was still in there and she loved me very much. It was a hugely heart-warming moment for me. It was like the sun had briefly reassuringly shone on my back and tried to fill a section of the cracks in my heart. ♥

February 5th 2017

It feels strange saying that I have come to terms with how things are now. In fact, it feels incredibly cold but I feel as though I have done some of my grieving already. The old equilibrium of my life before May 2016 has gone and I have come to accept the new equilibrium because in both of them, I get to have my Nan in my life and that will always be priceless. That isn’t to say that I won’t be devastated when I don’t get to have her in my life anymore, but I am coping a lot better than I was before. I’ve come to realise that being so devastated about the sudden decline of my Nan’s health was a sign of how blessed I’d been to have so many memories of and with her. And even with this new equilibrium, I’m blessed that I still get make more.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so savour the sweetness of your yesterdays. 

-Lisa Berrie 2017.

 

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Dumped by Normality

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. ❤

A Park Full of Memories

Monday 27th June 2016.

A lot can happen in a day. A lot can happen in a week. A lot can happen in a year. So seven years after your death, it’s fair to say that many things have changed, in England, in the world, in our lives and in our beliefs. But when I come back to Dollis Hill, it’s a rare moment in my life where reality almost matches with my past memories. The willow tree at the bottom of the road that’s always long and overgrown, yet still a great green giant that provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. The tightness of the road as the car bumbles up towards the house. The difference between now and then being that I’m the driver more often than not when I visit London, rather than the passenger. The bedding in the top room (attic room) is the same now when I bring various friends from all over the world to England’s remarkable capital city for a visit as it was when we cousins would have our infamous sleepovers at Nana and Granddad’s house. Those days before social media and adult responsibilities crept up on us and took away the simplicity of simple tomorrows. I loved the top room because in the days before the trees grew taller, you’d get a straight view into the capital, into the heart of London. And whether you’re in London, New York or any major city, it is hard not to be absorbed into a world of vibrant potential and excitement. The home of football (Wembley Stadium) still earns a surge of love from me every time I see that arch from the streets of London. I’ve dragged many friends down there to walk around the stadium and take photos of the national team’s home stadium, but I’ve yet to enter the building since we did that tour all those years ago when the new Wembley was first opened to the public.

I feel compelled to visit your bench every time I’m in Dollis Hill, regardless of the time or the weather or the company I’m currently maintaining. When I took Katie and Jana there, it rained and it literally put a ‘dampener’ on my annual visit to see you. You’re not buried here, this is merely a wooden bench and a plaque to serve as a dedication, but this is the one place I feel connected to you and no graveyard in the city could provide me with the same level of comfort. It’s playing tennis for hours on end with my sisters and cousins. It’s swinging as high as possible on the swings in the playground, soaring high into the air like the momentum provides a world of hope and potential. It’s the memory of you accidentally throwing the Frisbee to me and it hitting me full on in the mouth and me throwing it back to you and accidentally doing the same thing back to you. It’s the fallen tree near the front of the park that as children we would all try and walk across and jump to the log at the end. And most of all its the monkey bars- the one thing that I wanted to be good at like Louise and Millie, but would be terrified of falling and hurting myself. You would hold my legs so that I could join in and be like Louise and Millie, even though I weighed significantly more. And those monkey bars have become the metaphor of my life. I’ve been scared of falling in every part of my life because that is failing, but somehow I’ve managed to get by because ‘Berries don’t quit.’

I quite literally came apart on the day of your funeral, and it surprised me because it wasn’t my first experience of grief and we weren’t that close when you were alive, but your passing came as such a shock that my whole body didn’t know how to respond. The fact the whole family was devastated too only intensified the pain. The going about my life because I had to, but crying before sleeping at the alteration in the family. I gave a speech at your funeral, my throat at first sounding like I’d been slaughtered before I eventually got it together and finished saying my piece. It wasn’t my finest piece of writing, but people I didn’t know came up to me and said that you’d be proud of me for having done it  and that too helped with my grieving.

I guess I’m thinking about you today because Madison has slept so long and I feel that she probably needs to, so I took the opportunity for a quiet annual visit to the park. It’s sunny today and it’s so peaceful. It’s a turbulent time for British politics but you don’t feel that here at the park. As I ascend the hill to the courts, I wonder what you’d think about England leaving the EU. I wonder what you’d think about Leicester winning the Premier League. I wonder how our lives might be different if you were still here. I find the bench and read a little, before planting a kiss on your plaque, saying those 3 words that will never come easily vocally to me, and descend the hill and head back to the house. I’m at a crossroads in my life right now where I’m not sure what happens next, but there’s something about the park and being in London and the memory of you that tells me that I’ll figure everything out in time.

‘I love you more than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow.’ 

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Betty & the Nursing Home Days

Isn’t it funny how much the human memory remembers? Snapshots of lives and moments lost in the tide of time forever buried and stored in that little human filing cabinet. The older I got, the more I came to realise that although we as people move on from tragic and upsetting events in the tide of time, the artful digging in conversation of rehashing the moments could loosen the stitches of our tightly bounded ‘Exit Wounds.’ https://lisalaceberrie07.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/exit-wounds-i-love-how-it-hurts/

The best thing about my childhood is that it lacked today’s technology. Is it strange for someone who has lived in three different continents before the age of 20 that some of my favourite memories of innocence in my childhood were in one London flat and one room in a Hinckley nursing home? It goes without saying that these visits that my family and I made a decade ago would be completely different today. I’d have made sure to have taken more photos to treasure the moments spent with Betty. I’d have asked more questions and I’d have learned her lifestory.

Why did I ever spend any time at all in a nursing home? Well, on a basic level, my grandmother on my mother’s side died long before I was born in 1991 to cancer. Her best friend Betty was extremely close to the family before and after the death of Nanny Flo. So to me, she was a bit like a great-aunt and I therefore didn’t feel that absence in my family tree.

It saddens me to say that I don’t know an awful lot about Betty who passed away at the tender age of 89 years old. But it didn’t change the affect she had on my life and love she bought to our family. I remember her flat in London like it was yesterday. So high up and so nauseating to look down from. The red leather sofa, the plant pots on the balcony and insistence of having a pet budgie.  The framed photo of her late husband Jack and the lingering essence of tobacco. Her sweet and comforting smell of soap and her unforgettable tone of voice.

My entire family originates from North London. My father moving to Warwickshire in his teens is how I ended up growing up in Leicestershire.  It’s fair to say that my parents moved to Leicestershire to give us a better quality of life, and I appreciate the significance of that move now as a young adult. My mum adored Betty, to say the least. Looking back on those moments now, the thoughtful acts of kindness, like preparing a roast dinner in Leicester and then driving 100 miles south to cook it in Betty’s flat in London so we could have a traditional Sunday lunch as a family for Betty’s sake, were different ways of saying ‘I love you.’

One day, Betty had an accident whilst out food shopping. I don’t remember if she fell or was hit by a London bus but we would all pack ourselves into the car and visit her in every hospital she was in. I remember helping her sip water from a teacup and being so carefully determined not to spill it on her chin. I remember my dad watched me with adoration and said “look at Lisey, so gentle and caring, she’d make a great nurse.” And I remember feeling a great sense of pride at doing something small yet meaningful. My parents did everything they could so that Betty could stay in her beloved London flat but eventually this wasn’t doable anymore. So Betty moved into a nursing home in Hinckley where she would be in walking distance from us.

We would visit her a lot and I loved going to see Betty. She was funny, witty, naughty and fearless. She’d take out her dentures to scare you and threaten to chop off a boob and send it to you in the post if you misbehaved. The floors of the nursing home were heated and I really loved this in the winter. Sometimes we’d watch Emmerdale, look through photos, talk and play silly games like guessing which item had been removed from Betty’s trolley when you turned your back for 20 seconds. And we always did a food shop for Betty too, peanut cookies and granny smith apples an absolute essential for Betty. One Sunday we were fortunate to be able to have her over for Sunday lunch at our house. Temporary wheelchairs ramps were fitted to the doorways of the house and my mother beamed with pride as she showed Betty around the garden she laboured relentlessly to maintain of our relatively new family home that I, at the age of seven, declared was my dream house. From the photos stored away in albums and my memory, Betty looks so happy and that’s how I like to remember her; with a relentlessly witty sense of humour.

I vividly remember having dinner at the nursing home one day in my Manchester United football shirt. I was a huge tomboy back then and one resident mistakenly thought I was her grandson and started calling me “Lesley,” which startled me at the time. I’d never thought I would be mistaken for a boy despite my casual dress sense. Betty responded to her “shut up you stupid cow” and I felt relieved and honoured that I was sitting at the same table of such a fearless old lady.

I don’t remember the last time I saw Betty. I remember she was in hospital when we went on a Christmas holiday to Center Parcs with my cousins. One night I heard my parents crying in the living room and it was then I knew that Betty had lost her battle. It was the first time I could remember my parents crying. I saw an opened letter on the counter the next day. I didn’t read it. Seeing the hospital logo was enough to tell me what my gut already knew. They didn’t tell us about Betty passing away until we got home from our trip, so a part of me worried that I’d get in trouble if I mentioned her name.

At the funeral, I remember having an internal conflict with myself about crying openly. The loss of Betty was my first experience of grief. That version of me in that pew all those years ago was like a broken vase that had been super glued together and wouldn’t break so long as it wasn’t touched. My throat burned as the crippling emotion rendered me temporarily incapable of speaking. In front of me, my uncle Roger comforted my 8 year old sister who was in hysterics, as the vicar told stories about the sensational soul that was our Betty. But I couldn’t help but laugh at learning she’d wait until visitors to her flat were on the ground floor and then throw a bucket of water over them from the balcony for her own amusement and you’d travel home drenched.

Although a tomboy at heart, I grew up too squeamish to ever consider a career as a nurse or the medical field. As I grew up, I came to realise that I was a sensitive soul with a LOT of feelings. Whilst my parents gave me a drive of ambition, it also came an equal amount of compassion. Whatever I end up doing in life, I hope that it will be meaningful somehow. Despite not having a particular stance on religion, I like to tell myself that when I die, I’ll go back and watch the lives of the people I cared about on earth. A ‘netflix and chill’ from above, if you will. Switch the wires and circumstances and see just how different things would’ve been if things happened differently.

“They say that blood is thicker than water. But it’s also a lot harder to clear up when it spills.” -Gossip Girl.

Circumstances don’t dictate who you’ll love and care for in the duration of your time on earth. “Blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family.” And that’s exactly how it was with Betty. I’ve spent a lot of love in my life on souls I’ve met from around the world who somehow staked a claim to my big heart. And you know what? I’ve got a lot more to give.