Last week, my grandmother said the last words to me she ever will.
She’d had her second stroke, and seemed to be struggling with the recovery; unable to quite put her words together, unable to recognise her surroundings. My father, thanks to the words of the doctor, figured it best to get my attention, and, before gaming, I made the journey out to Kiama to see her.
I walked in to her hotel room, in which my family were doing what they normally do – talking, quite loudly. My mother was holding her mother’s hand, skin ruffled like damaged paper, showing the signs of her wear. Dark, purple and brown spots under her skin, her bones almost visible. The wrist that she broke on her trip to Wales had a noteworthy shift to the shape of it, bulging a little in the places it’d been repaired, and healed all those years ago. She sat in a warm bed, under knitted covers, in her newer pajamas, like a queen surrounded.
I didn’t know it as I entered, but she’d been unaware of most of the people around her. I learned this as my sister and I walked in the garden outside, crying on my shoulder about the agony she was going through with trying to spend her time with her, trying to ensure her children could remember their great-grandmother without being horrified at the starkness and sadness of the hospital that bothered them. I learned this while she told me about the travails that my uncle is going through trying to manage his own illness, and the illness of his father-in-law. Talking about how my grandmother had fought her way back from the last stroke, about how hard it had been, and now how her infection was making things impossible.
I didn’t stay in the doorway. I stepped in, reaching down to the bed to cradle the wrist of my grandmother, and smile at her. To tell her I loved her. She interrupted me, smiling, focusing on me, looking me in the eyes.
“I remember Richard.”
I remember her, too. I remember visiting nanna for weeks at a time when we were on school holidays. I remember setting up the old 386 in her guest room, and playing Lemmings 2. I remember laying on my belly in the living room, poring over books. I remember lying against the heater, trying to make every part of me as hot as the little line in my back, as Nanna laughingly teased my mother about the Tennis, sure that this year, this year, Britain would win. I remember sitting at the dinner table and watching my walnut-coloured Nanna mocking the cricket team, quoting years when Australia lost the Ashes – the only point of cricket that mattered, mind you.
I remember her quitting smoking. From having a regular smoke out in the patio, or in the living room to just one day, after a visit, bam. No more. I remember an iron will, a stubbornness that had her winning out tournament upon tournament of darts. I remember her crowing about hampers of food, of trays of chocolate. I remember how she and dad would routinely bring home the end-of-year specials, making Christmas mornings enormous cascades of rich food. I remember watching The Transformers Movie with her, again and again, while she failed to give a damn about what was on the screen, but happy to keep an eye on me…
I remember the night my nanna, with my mother watching, asked me to explain my faith.
It was fascinating in hindsight. I mean, I was giving Sunday School answers, but she seemed genuinely impressed by how well I justified my morality. And then she led me down a string of ‘Why?’s, asking me why that was necessary. Eventually, flummoxed, I started abdicating to authority – my mother says that, because my father says that, because the preacher says it, because the church says that, because the Bible says that.’
She doesn’t likely realise it, but that moment, when she hit the Bible, and threw her head back and cackled, really started something inside me.
Edna Button Brown, my grandmother, passed away at half-past midnight last night.
I already miss her dreadfully… but I do get to know that she remembered me.