On Thursday the 21st of November 2019 at 7:40 am, my wonderful grandmother left this world, took a piece of me with her, and left so many unexpected gifts behind.
I find it so hard to talk about her now because I feel like quick words here and there just can not and will not do her the justice she deserves. My nanny was a force of nature. Absolutely fierce in the defense of those who she loved and when she put her mind to it there wasn’t a person on God’s green earth who could stand in her way. Sometimes she was terrifying, I won’t lie but I will have a little giggle.
She was brave, loving, kind and by far and away from the strongest person I have ever met in my whole life. She fought for me always, sometimes even when I was wrong but when she was around I never felt alone or unsupported because I always knew, no matter what, that she would be there. I always knew that no matter what, she would always love me.
I was bullied growing up and I remember the first time it got physical in secondary school. A girl tried to push me down the stairs. I had been begging to be moved into a different class for weeks but it was falling on deaf ears. This particular incident took place just before 9 am and I didn’t tell anyone. What I didn’t realise is someone else had seen. A text message was sent to someone who knew me from outside school who then went to my nanny’s house and told her. What ensued from the minute my nanny got wind of what was happening and, 10.20 am is still up for debate, but all I know is at 10.20 am my year head was waiting outside my classroom to bring me to my new class. That’s the first time I remember her really going to blows with others to keep me safe, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
My nanny suffered from debilitating bouts of depression at various points throughout my life. I only have memories of it from after she lost her mother when I was 15 but I know that she had been experiencing mental health struggles long and ever before that. It was around this time that I also started to suffer from depression, anxiety and developed an eating disorder. At that time mental health was still quite a touchy subject and something that was kept very quiet or spoken about performatively. The stigma that was attached to this kind of suffering was very prevalent even for me as a young person so I can’t even begin to imagine what it felt like for her. But even at her worst when she was in complete mental anguish, she was always there for me.
Unlike a lot of people at the time, she never treated me like a project, like a broken thing that needed to be fixed, like I was insane, dramatic, or a nuisance. She always made sure at every turn that I felt loved and normal. She was just there. She knew what it was to feel like your mind was trying to swallow you whole and more importantly she knew that it wasn’t permanent. She knew that not every problem needed to be fixed, that sometimes it just needed to be cried out, hugged out, and walked off. She knew how to listen. She knew how to hold space before there was even a term for it.
Life wasn’t always perfect and that’s ok because life isn’t supposed to be perfect. That’s what makes it beautiful. We screamed at each other a lot over the silliest of things such as my obsession with keeping doors closed and her obsession with leaving them open. We also had differing views on my proclivity for bringing home random injured animals even though she always helped me reunite them with their owners or find them great homes. But she taught me how to apologise when I was wrong. She taught me the healing power of acknowledging wrongdoing even when it’s hard. She taught me how to accept an apology with grace, as she did with mine on many occasions.
There were days where the world was so dark, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in it anymore and then I would see her face and hear her words “I love you girl” and that was all I needed. It didn’t take the pain away but it made the next breath bearable and sometimes all you need is a second of reprieve. She was my home and now I live in hers.
She left me many gifts. Her intolerance for BS, her bravery in standing her ground, a firm understanding that life is too short to be anything but yourself and to do anything but that which you love, a fridge full of magnets that have been curated since I was a child, a life of wonderful memories. But there are two that I am most grateful for at this stage in my life and grief. The first is a text message she sent me a few weeks before she died. The words ring around my head any time I think of her with her voice as clear as day “Grace always remember I love you loads”. The second is her lovely little dog, Poppy. Poppy is a living, breathing reminder of my nanny that I am lucky enough to be able to hug whenever I’m missing her. For these gifts, I am most grateful. I am so grateful to have had her. I am so grateful to still have her in my heart.
Mary, I love you now and I love you always. Grace x
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