My first brush with mortality came at the age of three, when my Wee Gran died.
Wee Gran was actually my great-grandmother – known as “Wee Gran” purely to differentiate her from my other two grandmothers (Neither of whom was known as “Big Gran,” just FYI: I know they’d both want me to make that fact crystal-clear…). And also because she was pretty short, let’s be honest.
Wee Gran died, as I said, when I was three, and my mum gently informed me of this sad event by telling me Wee Gran had gone to live in a place called Heaven, which was filled with the most wonderful things: Wee Gran would surely love it there! To my three-year-old self, this seemed like no big deal, really: Wee Gran had “flitted,” just like some people in our street had “flitted,” and we would obviously just visit her at her new house in this “Heaven,” place, from now on.
But of course, it was not to be. No, my mum sadly informed me: we wouldn’t be able to visit Wee Gran in Heaven, unfortunately – it was Not Allowed. There were Rules. I privately thought Heaven sounded like a bit of a bind, really, but accepted this fact without comment, and my mum was just congratulating herself on how well she’d handled the situation, when I appeared with the phone in my hand, and asked if we could call Wee Gran instead.
I was less willing to accept the idea that Heaven did not have phones. In fact, it seemed blatantly obvious to me that Heaven could not, in fact BE “heaven,” if it didn’t have all mod cons. If Wee Gran didn’t even have a phone there, after all, she presumably wouldn’t have a TV or a washing machine either, and how would Wee Gran cope without these things? Most crucially of all, with visits and phone calls Not Allowed, how would she cope without US: her people?
It seemed to me that Heaven could only be heaven if all of your people were there, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Wee Gran would have chosen to move somewhere so cut off from the rest of the world – somewhere she would not be able to see any of the people she loved until that mysterious time when we would all “flit” there with her, as I now learned, to my utmost surprise. Even my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Fiona, who’d moved to Canada shortly after I was born (I’m assured these two events were unrelated, by the way…), were able to call us at least once a week, and the previous year, my Gran and Grandad had gotten on a plane and flown there to see them. Wherever Heaven was, it was obviously not like Canada, then, and this struck me as a terrible shame. I made up my mind then and there that I would not be going there – and, let’s face it, if heaven does exist, I probably won’t be, now that I’ve questioned its existence, and criticised it for not having good cellphone reception, will I?
Heaven is not like Canada, though: and that sad fact has never been more apparent to me than it is right now.
Terry’s mum passed peacefully away in the early hours of yesterday morning.
We were expecting this, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, and while we’re relieved that she’s no longer suffering – and she suffered terribly these past few months – we’re absolutely heartbroken to be without her.
Last June, when Soula was given six months to live, just three months into my pregnancy with Max, it was impossible for us not to do the maths, and worry that she’d never get to meet him. Soula, however, was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known: she was determined to meet her 7th grandchild, and have one last Christmas with her family, and she was as good as her word. We will always treasure the photos and memories we have of her, and we’ll make sure that, although he only got to meet her for a few short weeks, Max will grow up knowing this amazing woman, who was abandoned as a baby on an Athens doorstep, and who, despite never knowing her own parents, went on to build a family of her own, who were her absolute pride and joy, and reason for living.
We’ll tell him about her amazing cooking, which meant that we can’t ever eat in a Greek restaurant without saying, “Well, it was OK, but it wasn’t a patch on Soula’s pasticho…” The way she’d aways insist that you sit in THIS seat – no, not THAT seat, but THIS one, because THIS was the best seat, and Soula was never happier than when she was making other people happy: it was all that really mattered to her. We’ll tell him about her kindness and generosity, and how, despite living in Scotland for over 60 years, she never lost her Greek accent – which gave us a ton of brand new words, like “planget” (blanket), “chestadraw” (chest of drawers), and “Shona” (sauna).
We’ll tell him all of these things and more, and honestly, it won’t even come close to doing justice to the person she was, or how much we loved her, but we’ll do our best to make sure that she’ll always be a part of his life – just as she’ll always be a part of ours.
The next few days and weeks (and months and years) are going to be harder than I can even imagine right now, but Soula leaves behind her a wonderful legacy, in the shape of the family she cherished, and whose closeness and love for each other will help us all through the dark days ahead. Things will never be quite the same again for us now that she’s gone, but I know family was the most important thing in the world to Soula, and that hers will cherish her memory, and make sure she lives on in the stories and memories we’ll share of her.
Sweet dreams, Soula: we’re going to miss you so much…