Friday, 1 April 2016

My Nan, My Hero

Jo and her NanOn Monday 4th April, it will be a year since my nan died. She had lung cancer, which she had fought and was told she had beat, and was in remission - only to be told about a month later that it had actually spread to her brain, and she had six months left. She was here for another nine. As I have recently talked about how hard it is to be without her already, I thought that I would instead talk to you about how she was - and is - my hero, my role model, and my inspiration.

People are multifaceted, complicated beings, and Nan was no different. The overall image I have always had of her is: my Nan, the party animal; strappy heels and low cut tops; perfume, lipstick and chewing gum; a dry martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Dancing, flirting, swearing like a trooper, and bragging that she could drink anyone under the table. She was a good ol' cockney bird; confident, fierce and wouldn't take any crap from anyone, and I was in awe her.

Nan was confident in how she didn't care what anyone thought of her. She lived very much by the saying, "If you've got it, flaunt it," and she definitely had it. People were drawn to her; she was always laughing, never taking herself too seriously, and would flirt with anyone. She was fierce in that she had a voice and she used it. If you wound her up, you would bloody know about it. She was assertive, and would stand up for herself and hold her ground, and defend whoever she felt needed and deserved to be defended. When I was younger, I always wanted to be just like her when I grew up; just as confident, just as fierce.

But there was another side to Nan; a gentler, softer side. Nan had a huge capacity to love. She had two daughters and four grandchildren, and you could never doubt how much she loved us. She would do anything for us, and at times, she did go above and beyond. But she loved far more than just us six. As a child minder and a foster carer, she opened her heart and home to countless children for around 20 years. I can't imagine what it was like to have these children come to live with her, get to know them and love them, and then say goodbye - over and over again. I remember her breaking her heart when one baby, Chloe, and, later another, Grace, had to move on.

But there are those who never did leave, those she has always considered family. One girl, Debbie, became a woman who Nan considered a daughter, who considered Nan her mum, whose children were Nan's grandchildren - who I now consider my aunt. Nan also stayed in touch with a family whose three children she child minded, one from when he was a baby right up until he finished school. They were also "hers", and they felt the same; I've heard one of the three talk about how she was raised by two strong women - her mother and my Nan. Besides those people, I don't think it's possible to count the number of children who have called Nan "Nannie" over the years; her actual grandchildren, Debbie's children, great-nieces and -nephews, and those who stayed with her for only a short while. She's touched more lives in her 70 years than most of us could hope to.

When it came to those she loved, Nan was generous and forgiving, more so than she would be to anyone outside her unconventional family who might hurt her. And she had, at times, been hurt. But with us, her capacity to love was matched by her capacity to forgive. And I sincerely hope I do and will always love as fiercely and as openly as she did.

At 00.19am on Saturday 4th April 2015, she passed away, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her. Her hands were held, and she was told how much she was loved. She was there, and then she wasn't. I will never forget that night.

The past year has been hard and painful, and I miss her more than I could ever explain. But I remember who she was: the woman who danced and laughed. The woman who wore self-confidence like a second skin. The woman who loved with her whole heart. The woman who changed lives. The woman who taught me so much, and who, without knowing, showed me the kind of person I wanted to be.

My nan was an amazing, incredible lady. And I want to be just like her.

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