Monday, 27 August 2007
Gladys May Oakley
The loveliest person it has been my privilege to know is my Maternal Grandmother. She was a true lady. I never heard her curse or raise her voice. She was kind and loving, always supportive and never critical. Sometimes she would gently scold me but she was never angry with me. Like many women of her generation, she was not well educated but she was infinitely wise.
When I was young, I spent weeks at a time staying with her during my school holidays; such blissful days, when I was totally spoilt. Not with expensive gifts or indulgence but with loving attention. When I wasn’t playing with my good friend from two doors away, Nan and I filled our time with simple pleasures. During the morning we would do a few jobs. Monday was for washing, after which the kitchen floor was mopped. When the washing was dry, it was sprinkled with water and rolled ready for ironing on Tuesday. One day we would dust, sweep and vacuum, another we would do gardening, salt vegetables for storing, or make jam. After we made and ate lunch - either a light salad or cheese, biscuit, apple and celery - we would read a while or knit or crochet; more often that not Nan would fall asleep in her chair by the window and gently snore.
After dinner, we would watch a little television but if there were nothing interesting to watch we would play cards for pennies that were collected especially for that. At the end of the evening, no matter who had won what, all the pennies were collected together and put back into the bag ready to share out equally the next evening.
When I started work, I did not have enough holidays to stay with her so often. Mum and I would visit after dinner on a Thursday evening and the three of us would play cards at the kitchen table, catching up on family news and laughing together. And when I finally moved into my own home, I would go straight from work to have dinner with Nan and Mum would join us later.
For many years milk, bread and meat were delivered straight to her door and vegetables were grown in Granddad’s field along the road. A neighbour fetched small items from the local shop. Nan rarely had occasion to go the main shopping centre. On the rare occasion I drove her there, she would insist on paying me for my petrol even though I would insist I didn’t want paying for doing her a small favour. She was very independent and did not want to be a burden on anyone, but she could never be a burden to me, I loved her so much.
One Thursday evening, I went for my dinner as usual and Mum joined us later. We played cards, we chatted and we laughed together – Nan was always merry and had a lovely sense of humour. When we came to leave, we hugged and kissed and said "I love you" as we always did. At the door, I stopped and said that I had had a lovely evening, and that I wanted her to know that I did not simply SAY "I love you" but that I truly meant it. I told her that she had been an important part of my life and I was honoured to have known her. Those were the last words I spoke to her.
The following Saturday, Saturday 27 August 1994, my darling Nan died, aged 86.
The next time I saw her she was dead and, for a time, my whole world fell apart. Nothing I had ever experienced had prepared me for the pain I would feel in the following days and weeks. For a whole year, I cried every day and some days the pain was so numbing that I could hardly function. Gradually, I began to remember all those happy times we had shared, and I could think about her with a smile instead of tears. Sometimes I still cry when I think that we will never sit around the kitchen table again. I will never feel her warm hands patting my cheeks and see her dark eyes glinting with laughter. But mostly, now I remember her with real warmth and pleasure.
Death is a natural part of life. The death of those we love is something that we all have to deal with at some time, but learning to celebrate the time we had together, the love we shared, is something that comes out of the slow, painful process of grieving.
My Nan had six children and 25 grandchildren; she died two months before her first great grand child was born. If she had a favourite among us, she never let the others know; I truly believe that she loved us all equally, warts and all.
Gladys May Oakley, my life is richer for having known you. I will never forget you, and I will never stop loving you. Rest in Peace and God Bless You.