• Danielle Locke

Not the time or place for a black dress

I wrote this piece almost three years ago. Tomorrow, 1 August 2019 will mark three years since my nan's passing. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her. My second mother.

I never say "today is going to be a good day", but on Thursday 28 July, I did. I was so excited that an article of mine was going to be published and the following day was my middle daughters birthday. But Thursday 28 July was one of the worst days of my life.

I got a text from my sister that morning, telling me that my nan had been admitted to hospital. Going to hospital for my nan is a regular occurrence and in the past her being admitted to hospital was usually for something minor. So naturally, living so far away from my family I asked my sister to keep me updated. I continued at work like nothing was wrong.

My sister doesn't like to talk on the phone, she has the attention span of a toddler and gets easily distracted by the television or her dog. But when she called me that day, she was focused, she was worried and she needed me.

She told me that my nan was in bad shape and that she needed to flown out of our small country town so she could be at a better equipped hospital. That night, my nan was flown to Dubbo and we all thought she would be returning in a few days time. My nan is a fighter, after all.

Friday came, it was my Annabelle's third birthday and I couldn't face going to work that day. I needed to see my nan some five hours away, but I also knew that my daughter needed to enjoy her birthday. Instead of working I spent my entire day decorating her birthday cake. I was so worried that my nan would die on my daughters birthday that I didn't tell my girls that nan was sick until the following day.

Saturday morning I said goodbye to my children and drove to Dubbo with my cousin. I didn't know what shape my nan would be in and I knew that my girls didn’t need see their great grandmother in hospital with cords everywhere and breathing tubes.

We arrive in Dubbo and nan was being her hilarious self that I know and love. Nan said to me "I don't know why everyone is here, I'm not dying today". She was more concerned as to where my kids were and what our plans were then her own wellbeing.

That night, my parents, my sister, cousins, aunties, uncles went out to a local pub to let our hair down, we showed the locals how to have a good time. We had a fabulous night, a band was playing and at 7:10pm my Nan's song "Fly like a bird", by Boz Scaggs played, her song never gets played.

Sunday morning my sister and I arrived at the hospital bright and early. I panicked, I saw my nan with her eyes and mouth open; and I must admit I thought she had died. I couldn't move, I made my sister go up to her. Cass being Cass just told nan to wake up. Bloody nan was just sleeping. But nan didn't call my sister a bitch for waking her up; that wasn't like nan. My nan always called my sister a bitch, always. They have a relationship like no other. Cass once bet my nan that if she won cards nan would have to pop her dentures out, because betting five cent coins aren’t very high stakes. Let's just say Cass won that hand.

We told her about our night and she wanted to know all the details, the music that played, our crazy dance moves, but most importantly how late we got home.

Two hours later I returned to see my nan. She was sitting in a chair across from my grandfather and he was trying to give his wife of 64 years her lunch. He just burst into tears, he told me he couldn't see his girl like this. I gave my nan her lunch, and I knew in that moment that my nan would never have let me do that. Somehow in two hours, my nan had disappeared.

I kissed and hugged her, told her how much I loved her and that afternoon we drove back to Sydney.

Monday, 1 August I went to work. I told myself that my nan wouldn't want me to be sitting at a hospital waiting for her to die; nor would she want me to be crying at home. I could hear her voice in my head "stop that rot!" My nan believed that if something was going to happen, that it would occur no matter what you did to try and prevent it.

My mum rang me, she told me that they had a meeting with Nan's doctors and that there was nothing else they could do but to make her comfortable. Mum said she wouldn't speak to me until nan had passed.

Nan had a private room, the cords were removed, machines were turned off and she was able to be herself for the last time. Her favourite music was playing, very loudly, everyone chatting with their indoor voices - which happen to be the same level as outdoor voices, because we don't have a soft volume in our family.

I finished off my day at work, waiting for an update. I was determined not to call, no news is good news, right?

I was on the train, mid conversation with my friend from work when I got a call from my mum. When you receive a call like that you can remember exactly what you were doing, what you were wearing and what time it was. On Monday 1 August, not much after 5pm, that call changed my life.

My sister phoned my mum during the last hours of my Nan's life, her phone was placed up to my Nan's ear and my sister told nan "don't you die on my birthday”. An hour after that call, she passed away peacefully in her sleep.

I went to work the next day, my sisters birthday and besides a tear running down my cheek, I continued with my day like any other.

People have been shocked as to how strong I have been, but do you know why I am being strong? I need to be. My nan told me she was proud that I worked with young kids, that I was like her, that you need to look after yourself to help others. She would tell me that crying doesn't make the situation better, and it's true. I can feel, deep inside me the pain, the disbelief, the sadness, but tears will not magically take those feelings away. My nan wasn't well, she wasn't herself, wishing she was here would be purely for my own selfish needs.

I would like to know, I meant to speak in past tense? Am I meant to say things like “my nan was a wonderful woman?” Speaking in past tense makes it feel like its real, that she hasn’t been here. I don’t think I am ready to speak in past tense yet.

I thought that seeing her one last time would make it abundantly clear that she isn’t, but it didn’t. I saw her before her funeral, she looked so beautiful, so peaceful. I wanted to make sure she had tissues in her hand, like she always did and that she had her birthday card with her.

Nan told me, on numerous occasions that she didn’t want people wearing black to her funeral, after all she was too fabulous for black. Me being me and my strong dislike for shopping, I went to Myer, picked up two dresses and asked the assistant to pick a dress. First question, “What is the occasion?”

Now, let me make something perfectly clear, we are not your typical family. My nan gave me my first wine at 8 years old, lady time is vitally important as I have come to learn. She also didn’t measure medicine, told us that eating Vicks was perfectly fine and that you didn’t need a recipe to make a meal. She might not have done things by the book, but I think we turned out all right.

I have told myself that she has gone an extended holiday, somewhere fabulous with no phone reception. Or maybe she is playing the longest game of hide and seek ever? But before she got into her magical box she took lessons from a magician and actually escaped. These are all valid scenarios.

As you can tell, denial is the first stage of grief and I am well and truly still there and I'm not sure I'll be able to accept she isn’t here for some time.

Death is a part of life, I understand that, but nothing can prepare you for it. I have been telling myself for years that my grandparents are getting old and that they won’t be here forever, but mentally preparing yourself doesn’t actually do shit. For goodness sakes I went into my grandparents house and smelt my nan’s clothes, now if that doesn’t raise alarm bells I don’t know what will.

All I want is to call her.

God help us at Christmas, no one knows how to make the pudding!

D x


Be happy

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