My grandmother passed away back in July of this year. She was 88, but I kind of always thought of her as being about 60. I haven’t really spoken about her passing because, well, it just wasn’t meant to happen yet. I’d have placed firm money on her living to be over 100. She drove, she wore Ray Bans, she once kicked my ass so bad at bowling I’ve never looked at 10 pins quite the same way again. Sure, she’d slowed down a fair bit over the past couple of years, but she was fine. Until, all of a sudden, she wasn’t.
Grammie lived and died on basically the same street in rural Nova Scotia, Canada. I left there as a child, so our relationship had been long distance for most of my life. We’d speak on the phone, we’d write letters. It can be hard to build a bond that way. The same blood runs through your veins but this big damn ocean keeps getting in the way.
She and I were from different worlds. Grammie was the ultimate country girl. She was raised on a farm. I was the cocky, city slicker kid. For a long while, I thought she didn’t like me. We just didn’t get each other. She was married with two children by the time she was 21. I couldn’t have been further from that.
In my mid-twenties, I moved back to Canada and got to spend a significant chunk of time with her. It was our first chance to really get to know each other. I was desperate to find some sort of common ground with her, a way for us to bond – and I found it, when I suggested we make a quilt together. We’d listen to country music on the radio as we cut fabric and she’d giggle at my terrible sewing techniques.
Ever since then, something shifted in our relationship – we understood each other more, we loved each other deeper.
When I got my dog Stringer Bell, she was so excited – it turns out that she’d had Boston Terriers when she was growing up, so she had a special place in her heart for Stringer. I’d print pictures of him and send them to her. She’d put them up on her fridge with the pics of all the rest of her grandkids. When Stringer passed away last year, she was devastated.
Grammie’s husband died about 17 years ago and the past few years, all her friends have slowly died off too. These are friends she’d known since childhood. I can’t actually begin to imagine the impact that must have on a person. When I think about it now, she definitely seemed to have been losing interest in life, kind of giving up I guess, because hell, whatever way you look at it, 88 years is a long time.
My parents went out to see her in the summer. The day before they left, they told me she was in hospital, she’d been there for a couple of weeks and it didn’t look good. I kinda shrugged it off, ’cause this is Grammie we’re talking about and I was convinced she was going to live to 100. My parents were there for two weeks and spent the majority of that time in the hospital with her. My mother had made a scrap book of all the columns I wrote for ELLE magazine and some articles that had been written about me – she read them to Grammie at her bedside and they made her smile.
Twenty four hours after my parents landed back in England, Grammie died. It’s as if she was waiting to hear they got home safe before she made her exit. A classic Grammie move.
We couldn’t make it over for the funeral – one of her friends Facetimed me from the service so I could watch. It was a small, simple, no fuss affair, much like the woman herself.
And then, that was kind of it. I’ve found it hard to find a way to grieve because I didn’t get to see her before she passed and I didn’t get to see her off. There was just this distance hanging in the air. Before Stringer Bell passed, before I even knew he was sick, I was making plans to go to Canada and take him with me so Grammie could meet him. She would’ve loved that so much. And I never got the chance to do it. When I got my new puppy, Biggie Smalls, as we were driving home from the breeder after seeing him for the first time, the only person I wanted to call was Grammie. She would’ve been so happy.
A few weeks ago, I came home from a walk with Biggie Smalls and noticed a piece of paper on the bookshelf. I sat on my bed, opened it up and read it. It was a letter from Grammie that she’d sent last year. I remember the moment I opened it a year ago and a cheque fell out.
‘I’m sending a little help for you for Stringer. I hope the little fellow is doing OK. It must be hard on you to see him failing. I think of you every day and I know how you must feel.’
I looked at the date the letter was sent, October 14th 2016. Stringer died two weeks later. I had been drowning in vet bills around that time and I remember weeping as I held the cheque last year, because she’d never even had the chance to meet that crazy mutt, but she knew how much he meant to me. She loved him like he was her own without ever having met him.
And now, as I read the letter again, tears fall even harder because I think about all the time I spent worrying that we didn’t get each other or she didn’t like me. Here in a few lines of scrawled cursive is everything I needed to know.