I’m sitting in the BA Lounge (I know, right) at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport, waiting for my flight to visit my parents for Christmas. They live just outside Glasgow.
One of the things I never really spoke about outside of my close group of friends this year was the impending and then very slow, and then very sudden, death of my Grandma in August – Margaret.
Margaret, or Mags, or Maggie (she hated those last two), was a complete tour de force. Everyone says that their family member is ‘one of a kind’, but Margaret literally was. A no nonsense, shoot from the hip, but don’t ask questions later, catchphrase generator. She pined for the good old days (her words, not mine), where wives stayed at home, husbands went to work and well, yeah. You get the message.
She was a constant source of amusement, most of the time not realising that some of the things that happened around her and some of the things that she said, unwittingly, were gold. She was the reason I began the annual #MaggiesMoments campaign on my social media feeds – because the woman simply could not compliment you without there being the slide sting of a backhand to it.
Here are some of my favourite examples.
- In her 91 years, Margaret never wore trousers and she certainly never wore flat shoes. Indeed, it ended up being so bad that the muscles in her ankles had changed so dramatically that she wouldn’t have been able to wear flats. She probably had about 30 or so black skirts from Marks and Spencer, all the same. Not that she wore them all. She even bought a pair of heels from Topshop. They were black and white zebra patterned and most of my school friends that met her thought that she was really cool. They were wrong. But hey, she did kind of rock them.
- Maggie had a number of run ins as a driver. One
of the most vivid memories of her driving was just after I had finished my
chemotherapy and decided to go up and visit her to get some rest bite from
London. She had been worried about me and I wanted to make sure that she could
see that I was okay after the relatively difficult three months our family had
endured. We took the drive from Dumfries to Moffat, which is pretty close, as
we were going to go out for afternoon tea in one of her favourite hotels. She
never got out of 2nd gear, and we were harassed into pulling over to
let a TRACTOR through because we were so slow. Maggie was one of those people
who didn’t believe in “mirror, signal, manoeuvre”. She was a “Manoeuvre,
mirror, signal” kind of gal.
- One more horror story. As previously discussed, Margaret wasn’t the best driver. One day, she was reversing out of her (albeit it very narrow driveway) and scratched the side of her car all down the side of her house. Never one to find the negative in a situation, she went straight to Homebase to buy grey emulation (it was a silver car), and she painted over the scratches with the emulsion and created a kind of polka-style Chevrolet. This was about 3 years after she pulled the radio aerial out of the car because it made it “unsymmetrical”.
- There was always one thing that Margaret wanted from me, and that was a wife. Everytime I mentioned that I was going for a drink with a friend who happened to be a girl, she would ask “so when should I buy a hat?” – but she was deadly serious about it. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well, but when I turned up on the doorstep with my husband one Christmas, she was surprisingly graceful (although I’m not entirely sure she understood the concept). The worst thing is that, to this day, she was more upset that I married a Catholic and an American, Hispanic man. Go figure, eh?
In the end, my Grandma had a very cruel and sad departure, which will stick with me for a very, very long time. She had vascular dementia that ate away at her memory and made her miss my granddad even more than before, not that that was possible.
Never one not to make a drama out of things, once she was moved out of her home in Dumfries and up to the wonderful care home in East Kilbride, just outside Glasgow, she had clearly decided that she wasn’t too keen on being here anymore and that she wanted to be with my grandad. I flew up the weekend before she died, spent as much time with her and spoke to her, although she was very unresponsive. The last words she ever spoke were “I love you”. And she muttered those to me.
Two days later, she passed away peacefully in her sleep, with my Mum and Dad by her side. The real hero in this entire story, and of the last 3 or 4 years whilst my Grandma hadn’t been well is my Mum. She drove a 150 mile round trip 2 or 3 times a week to make sure that Grandma was okay. She researched like crazy when it came to the best care that she could have provided for Margaret.
The funeral was about a week later. Margaret was 91 and still, with many of her friends already gone, over 50 people attended. It was wonderful to see her friends and hear stories of what she meant to them. It was truly touching.
This year will be the first Christmas that I have no surviving grandparents and Mum and Dad have no surviving parents. It’ll just be the three of us. Let’s face it, it will be nice, but I’ll always miss that odd comment and backhanded compliment that Margaret always afforded at exactly the right time.
I’ll leave you with the poem that I read at Margaret’s funeral. It’s pretty well known, but I think that it summed up how everyone felt about her.
She is Gone
can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray
that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because
you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on
tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only
that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.