It comes in waves.
The first time it was the sight of the menthol filters left on the side in the hallway. I’d walked over to see her and amongst the chatter about holidays, old memories and a furious discussion about why there are so many cars on the road, she’d slyly looked at me and said “Shall we go out for a puff?”. We’d always shared the odd sneaky cigarette over a cup of tea but this was the first time we’d gone for one since she moved into the residential home. I had to fetch the wheelchair to take her outside (“It’s the black one!” “They’re all black, nanny!”) and we were cackling with laughter at how long it had taken me to manoeuvre her into the chair. Not because she was fragile and slow but because she was bloody stubborn and kept wriggling around and demanding that I pushed the wheelchair faster. And after I’d finally managed to steer the wheelchair out of the room and down the hallway, as she leaned out laughing to one of the staff members “She needs warning lights on this! It’s taken her twenty minutes to get me out here!” and we finally got outside, I told her that we’d get better at it once we’d had some practice. “Don’t worry, eventually we’ll have this down to a fine art and we’ll be out in minutes. I’ll even bring you some menthol filters next time”.
Those stupid filters. I saw them out the corner of my eye as I put my keys down and all I could think about was the fact that I didn’t get to keep my promise because there would never be a next time. I didn’t know there wouldn’t be a next time. I’d seen my uncle on that day as we stood outside with a cigarette and we’d whispered to each other about how good she looked, how healthy. I’d messaged my mum and told her: “Nanny looks amazing!! Best she’s looked in ages!”. It seems impossible to think that just under three weeks later she was gone.
The second time was in the car. We drove past the road that leads to Tansley and I was seized with sudden realisation that I would never have another reason to go there again. Tansley was my home, briefly, but most importantly it was where nanny lived. I would walk there at weekends taking the back route through the woods, walking through the village and then up to her house to surprise her. No matter how busy she was or how ill she was feeling, her face would always light up in exactly the same way when she saw me. We would pop in on the way back home from shopping and my nanny would always descend on me and my sister, lifting up the bottoms of our tops and scolding us because we weren’t wearing thermal vests (“It’s July, nanny!” “Och, you’ll catch your death!”).
I spent so many nights sleeping over at her house, sneaking biscuits from the tin and watching Homeward Bound and Jurassic Park on repeat. She always had a paper copy of the TV guide and we’d read through it circling things that we wanted to watch. We’d spend the evenings watching TV, me on the armchair, my nanny and Arthur holding hands on the sofa, and eating chocolate that she always seemed to magic from nowhere. Arthur would take the cats a walk before bed and my nanny and I would watch from the window, giggling at the odd procession of the man and the two cats walking side by side.
She would always buy Babybels and Capri Suns when she knew me and my sister were coming to stay and I would tease her about when I was young fussy eater and the only thing I wanted to eat was grated cheese so out of relief that I was finally going to eat something, she grated an entire block for me.
Although my early years at Mais Close where my grandpa and nanny lived are hazy to me, I can remember the smell of sweet peas and rhubarb and the mole hills that used to appear in the garden. I can remember the tiny bowl that she used to fill with Smarties to keep me quiet and the snap dragons in the front garden and the memory of nanny waving goodbye from the door as we walked up the path towards home. I used to walk past it sometimes on my way to nanny’s house, I’d take a detour so that I could look at the bungalow and the garden where I spent so much of my early childhood. It looks different with adult eyes, as things always do, but I can still remember how happy I was there.
And even when I was older and I was away at university, I used to love the long summers back at home where I’d hear the sound of the door opening and then a shout of “Yoohoo!” as nanny would make her way into the house wrestling with shopping bags stuffed full of flowers and Mini Rolls. We’d sit in the garden for hours with a cup of tea talking about everything and anything. She used to tell me stories about her time in the RAF during World War II and the friends that she made there. One of her dearest friends was a young Canadian pilot that she met in the queue for breakfast one morning. My nanny was too short to reach the cream cakes so he fetched one down for her and this started their daily tradition of having a black coffee and a cream cake together. This continued for several months but one morning she came down for breakfast and he wasn’t there. She found out that a plane that had been returning from Germany had crashed into the nearby mountains and though she crossed her fingers and prayed it wasn’t him, she was devastated to be told that unfortunately he’d died on impact. I can remember asking her about this story when I was going through a rough patch in my life and I asked her how she managed to move on from something so devastating. She looked at me and said so fiercely “You’ve just got to grit your teeth and move through it. There’s no use worrying about what’s already happened”. She always used to tell me that things would look brighter in the morning and she’s not been wrong yet.
We used to visit the garden centre so we could buy flowers to plant as a surprise for mum when she was on holiday. I refused to let her garden so she would stand above me shouting at me to “Dig deeper! Dig faster!” and I’d be shouting back at her “I can’t dig any bloody faster, nanny!”. We used to reward ourselves with lemonade and smoked salmon sandwiches. I can remember when she was in hospital last year and she was very poorly, lost in her own head. I smuggled in some smoked salmon for her to eat and she cracked one eye open, looked straight at me and said “Good girl, that’s spot on! That’s just what I needed”.
I still can’t believe she’s gone.
Sometimes I’m so gripped with anger at the unfairness of it all that I just want to scream. It’s like this hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that just builds and builds until I just want to howl because it’s so unfair, I didn’t know she was going to die. She had 91 amazing years but she could have lived 91 more and that still wouldn’t have been enough. She was nanny and she was unstoppable and she was always supposed to be here. It’s so unfair that she’s not.
I miss everything about her. I miss her smell and her laugh and the faces she used to pull and her sense of humour. I miss her calling me pet and her smile and the funny impressions she used to do of her cats. I miss sitting in the garden drinking tea and I miss sneaky cigarettes in the shed and I miss her just being here, I miss talking to her.
I’m trying to remember everything about her, trying to imprint it on my brain because I can’t bear the thought of forgetting anything.
I will miss her forever.