Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Saying goodbye to Nan.

"Time for me to go now, I won't say goodbye
Look for me in rainbows way up in the sky.
In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,
Just look for me and love me as you know I loved you" - Look for Me in Rainbows, Vicki Brown.

My family and I buried my Nan today. She'd died a couple of weeks ago after four years in a nursing home. It wasn't a surprise and I'm fully aware that many of my friends have lost parents recently or, in several instances, many years ago. I was very lucky, at the age of 49, to have one of my grandparents still alive. We got to spend more time on this planet together than most grandparents and grandchildren do.

But still, obviously, it would be a sad day in places. Mitigated slightly by the clement weather, the beautiful surroundings of St Peter's church in old Tadley, as well as catching up with family members and family friends that, in some cases, I'd not seen in years.

Nan is now buried with Grandad just behind my friend Adam's grandparents and not far from my brother, her own mother, and her own grandmother - my great great grandmother. Sometimes it feels like I've got more family in that graveyard than out of it. Friends too, no less a man than Pat 'The Rockin' Maniac' Still is buried there too.

The coffin arrived to the strains of the White Cliffs of Dover before the vicar said a few words about Nan, about the church, and about keeping our mobiles on silent or, preferably, turned off. He offered prayers for the family and prayers for the departed. I'm not a remotely religious person but some are, and I was in a church, so I kept quiet and listened.

Besides, I was nervous. I was going to be reading a eulogy for the first time in my life and though I'm getting more and more used to public speaking this was a bit different than repeating some archiectural facts to a group of friends. I didn't know if I'd start crying, start giggling, seize up, rush through it, or deliver an epic worthy of Martin Luther King!

Before I spoke we had a poem by Vicki Brown. I wasn't familiar with her nor the poem but it set the right tone of sadness, letting go, and reflection. Which is no doubt why it has become so popular at funerals. I tried to listen in but I was getting nervous about my eulogy. I thumbed through the order of service several times just to check but I was soon summoned to the pulpit to read my bit. As I read my right leg was shakin' like Stevens and, at one point, I had to compose myself before carrying on. I tried not to catch anyone's eye and I tried not to talk too fast. As I stared out into the distance I read these words. People were kind about them afterwards.

I could be a right pain in the arse when I was younger. There's too many stories to go into but my mum likes to remind me of one particular occasion when I managed to draw people, people in buses no less, all over my parents new orange walls, hey it was the seventies, much to their horror. As everybody else panicked Nan just got on with it and redecorated the entire wall. Nan never seemed judgemental, just pragmatic, and she never seemed one to let a problem defeat her. She preferred to be practical, fair, and find solutions to problems when they arose.

When she was born, Hazel Trussler on the 25th October 1924 the world was a very different place to the one we live in now. Stanley Baldwin was in his first year as prime minister, George V was halfway through his reign, Calvin Coolidge had just become American president, and in Russia some guy called Lenin had just taken charge. The big films of the year were The Covered Wagon and The Ten Commandments, both silent, and the popular music of the time was the Charleston and Yes! We Have No Bananas.

Meanwhile in Tadley it would've seemed like everybody, if they weren't actually related, still knew each other. It's hard for me to imagine what the village, and it was still a village then, would've been like at the time. My nan told me once about the occasion when, as a little girl, she and some of her friends walked all the way out to the Bath Road in Aldermaston because they'd heard a motor car was due to pass.

Nan was great at telling me all about the old times in Tadley. She told me about seeing Ruth Ellis as a little girl walking up Newtown, she told me about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show coming to Tadley and she told me about the story of a hot air balloon crash landing in Tadley. When the occupants of the balloon found out where they were their shocked reply was 'Tadley! God Help Us' and so the legend was born.

Whether these stories, or yarns, were true or not it didn't matter. She continued this well into my adult life when I'd go and visit her to hear tales of the olden days and even after I moved to London she used to post me copies of the Basingstoke Gazette, which she still insisted on calling the Hants & Berks, to keep me abreast of the local news.

It's strange to think that I'm now about the same age as Nan was when I was a toddler, about the same age I was when I have my first memories of her. Zipping down the shops on her little moped she seemed so cool for her age. When all of Grandad's Irish relations came over at Xmas it felt like an introduction to a wider world, and when Nan and Den would play the organ and accordion to me when I visited it was my first introduction to the world of live music. Something I've devoted, or even wasted, a great deal of my life with ever since so thanks for that, Nan!

Nan's first marriage took her to America, to Alabama. It must've been quite an eye opener for a girl from a small village in Hampshire. Something of a culture shock. That marriage also bought my mum and my uncle Mick into the world. I was as eager to hear Nan's stories about America as I was to hear her stories about Tadley.

Her second marriage to Tom, Grandad, bought the Irish into the family as well as my auntie Kathryn. Back in Tadley, Nan became a grandmother to me, Sarah, Andrew, Michael, and Steven, my brother who tragically died before her - and then, later a great grandmother to Daniel, Leon, and Alex. I'm probably supposed to say something about my nan's hobbies now but, to me, it seemed that her main interest was her family. She wanted to hear our news more than she ever wanted to tell us her own.

Nan and grandad called their house Shangana which I always mistook as Shangri La and if it's a stretch to imagine an unassuming bungalow on Fairlawn Road as an 'earthly paradise' then I'd have to disagree. For it was a place that both me, my brothers, my cousins, my parents, my aunties and uncles always felt welcome and were never made to feel like a burden. And Nan was never a burden to any of us. Even in her last years in Oak Lodge Nursing Home, where she was awarded the honour of being the 'cheekiest lady', she never complained and she refused to burden the staff and carers there. Nan always preferred to help other people than to be helped.

One particular memory I have is visiting Shangana and finding that Nan and Mrs Cripps next door had pulled the dividing wall between their gardens down. They'd realised that rather than having two small gardens they could share one large garden. It showed just how well Nan got on with everyone, friends and neighbours, and how sharing was second nature to her. In recent years, even when she was less able, I was barely through the door before the kettle was on.

Nan lived to be ninety-three years old which I think I'm safe in saying is an age we'd all be very happy to reach. But more important still I think is that in her entire life I never heard her say a bad word about a single person and I never heard a single person say a bad word about her. Even if we all make ninety-three I wonder how many of us will be able to put our hands on our hearts and say that about ourselves.

Bye Nan - and thanks for teaching me about live music, teaching me about the history of my local area, clearing up the mess I've made on more than one occasion but most of all, for showing me, my brothers, my cousins, my parents, my uncles and aunties, and even the next generation, Daniel, Leon, and Alex, kindness. 

After my eulogy it was my cousin Sarah's turn. She seemed far more confident than me (though, later she confessed her hands were shaking too) in the imposing old stone church and, having had my go, I was able to enjoy her eulogy a lot more than I did mine. It was similar in sentiment but very different anecdotally. Tales of Polly the parrot, eating ridiculously unhealthy sugary meals at Nan's behest, and learning to knit pom-poms all culminated in Sarah's rightful exhortation to not be too sad but to celebrate a long, worthwhile, loving, and much loved life.

I was very proud of Sarah and even a little proud of myself, managing to get through my five minutes. After that we listened to The Old Rugged Cross by Foster & Allen, had a reading from Ecclesiastes, an address from the vicar about Nan's life of 'service', more prayers for those of a religious bent (culminating in a Lord's Prayer, the one everyone knows), and a commendation.

With that we followed the pall bearers down to the graveyard itself as Nan was lowered down to be with Tom, her husband who predeceased her by twenty-four years. Mum and Dad, Mum's siblings and their partners, and my cousins threw roses and earth on the grave, and there were more than a few tears. A plane flew over and I realised that for everyone else, life continues. It has to.

The vicar checked we were fine, we thanked him, and my uncle Mick drove us to The Plough and Little London for a couple of beers, some sandwiches, spring rolls, and some delicious brie and cranberrry snacks. Soon the talk moved away from Nan to the World Cup, holiday plans, and work and, of course, that's how it should be. When I visit my brother's grave in the future I'll make a point of always checking on Nan too but other than that the best tribute we could give her is to get on with our lives the best we can and with some of the kindness we've hopefully inherited from her.

Thanks to Mick for the beers, thanks to Louise and Michael for the lift to Basingstoke station afterwards, thanks to the vicar, Charles Lewis, for making the speech, the prayers, the commendation, and the reading as much about my nan as it was about God, and thanks to all my family for being there. Most of all, thanks again to Nan - just for being Nan.

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