Goodbye Granny

My mum lost her battle with cancer last week in a beautifully serene hospice staffed by some of the most caring people I have ever met. She passed away without pain or fear for which I will be eternally grateful and already I miss her more than I ever thought possible. I do not want to talk about her as a mum however, I want to speak of her greatest role, that of Granny.
I was sitting holding her hand sometime around dawn listening to her breaths become shallower and farther apart when I was hit with a thought like a hammer blow.
How was I going to tell Leon?
Leon is my five year old and he had an incredibly close and special relationship with his Granny. They absolutely adored each other. They had little in-jokes and traditions which my wife and I were excluded from.
Leon spent the last few miles of every drive to granny’s house with his nose pressed up against the window, desperately searching for some familiar landmark that let him know that we were almost there. When Granny came to visit she always brought presents but Leon never looked for them, he was honestly just happy to see her.
In my mum’s eyes, Leon could do no wrong.
When Leon first saw my mum after chemotherapy had taken her hair she was wearing a woolly hat as she had done since the first strand fell out. She was very careful not to let anyone see her without it so it was a shock to all of us when she agreed to let Leon.
I will never forget the incredibly gentle way he took the hat from her head and then kissed her. No one else on earth could have gotten her to allow that and equally, no one else could have done it with such honest tender compassion. She always tried to hide the worst aspects of her illness from him, little did any of us know that he was the one person who could handle it best.
So, there I was, sitting alone with my own grief under control trying to come up with a way of explaining the finality of death to a five year old. I knew I would have to deal with this some day but I shied away from it and all the inherent questions and anxieties. We all want to avoid this talk, none of us want to upset our children and lets face it, if we could we would keep every painful aspect of life away from them. We all know they have to learn sometime, just not today.
No one ever wants to have to answer these questions so we avoid them. In our house the only emotionally fraught situation we have had to deal with was the disappearance of Sparky our runaway rescue dog.  I was able to paint an idyllic scene of the dog getting lost but being taken in by a loving family and spending his days chasing rabbits on a farm and occasionally missing us, his former family.
Now, I had to tell Leon that his granny would not be coming to see him again, that there would be no more presents or sneaking into her bed at dawn for stories when she stayed up with us.
I was filled with questions of my own. Should I bring Leon to the removal? Should I bring him to the cemetery? How do I explain the coffin? How can I reassure him that we are not all going to die and leave him alone?
How was I going to answer any of these questions when my own grief was burning hot under the surface, threatening to erupt at any moment?
In the end we did it. My beautiful and supportive wife broke the news to Leon while I was driving up from Limerick to collect them. I came home to a huge hug and kiss from him and a reassurance that even though we would miss her, that granny was with Jesus now and very happy. I spent the next few days waiting for the barrage of macabre questions I had been expecting but they never came. He handled the funeral and burial like a champ and enjoyed playing with his cousins afterwards.
While we spend our time trying in vain to protect our children from the realities of the world we forget that they are more resilient and understanding than we can ever hope to be.
My wife’s mother died a number of years ago and that means that wee Sam, my four month old, will never have a granny. I suppose the old adage about not missing something you never had will apply here but it’s a pity that he will never experience that wonderfully specific love only a granny can offer.
Both he and Leon are blessed however as they have a loving granddad and a slew of aunties and uncles to love and spoil them.
I feel that the present generation of grandparents are the most loving and influential one. Our parents raised most of us in an Ireland that had never even dreamt of a Celtic Tiger. Parents had to work very hard just to make ends meet and as a result missed out on a lot of the nicer parts of childrearing. Now they are retired and have the time and in a lot of cases, the money, to really enjoy being a part of their grandchildren’s lives.
Grandparents are unpaid childminders, babysitters, help lines for parents and confidants for the children. I cannot stress enough the importance of encouraging the relationship between your parents and your kids. It will be immensely enriching and rewarding for both.
As a comedian, I think the epitaph that will stick in my mind always comes from Leon. He was sitting at home and said “I’m going to miss Granny, She made me laugh, she used to call me, twit”
Me too Leon, me too.

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