18 December 2015

The space in between

This post has taken such a long time to compose, mostly because the words just wouldn't come. This time of the year always makes me feel contemplative and instead of staring at a blank screen as I have done so many times since my grandmother passed away six months ago, at last the words are coming.

Even after a dicky hip reduced her mobility and melanoma claimed part of her nose two years ago, she continued to live independently but we all knew there would be no coming back from her declining health that eventually forced her into a rest home. The matriarch of a sprawling family, she was a binding force that would bring us together from far-flung places to celebrate her milestone birthdays. We'd all had time to prepare and go and say our goodbyes before ill health could take its toll and reduce her to a frail, white-haired woman with a whisper of a voice.

Born at the tail-end of WWI in Hawera, she died just half an hour away from her birthplace, with a few of her most treasured family photographs and images of her beloved Saviour dotting the walls in her tiny room that backed onto a lake. Even with round-the-clock care and family coming and going, she died alone, as it happened. Strong-willed, determined and always one for not wanting fuss, maybe she designed it that way. 

When I think about what a treasure our family has lost, it helps me to look instead at the dash, the space in between her birth and her death. Although it is hard to forget how she was the very last time I saw her, reflecting on the space in between brings so much comfort. We'd jokingly refer to her sometimes as the Queen. Ever the Royalist, she followed all of the news out of the Palace with great interest. We all really hoped she'd be able to reach her 100th birthday to receive a telegram from Lizzie.

Hers was a life lived through great change. She grew up through the Depression, raised her own family on rations through World War II and witnessed huge advances in technology. Regardless, she had simple tastes, preferring to listen to the horse races on the wireless and peeling potatoes for her evening meal in front of the fire while she directed her outrage at someone's scandalous behaviour on Coro. 

The youngest of six children, she lived her life on her own terms. At a time when most girls her age were accepting marriage proposals, she went on a roadie with her brother riding his motorbike over shingle-covered backcountry roads. Even when it came time to settle down, she took an unorthodox approach, stealing one of her friend's boyfriends. His Protestant parents didn't approve, not because she was a boyfriend stealer, but because she was Catholic. In an era when marrying outside of their own religion was shunned, Grandma told his parents "I am marrying Bart, not you". That was Grandma, she was not one to conform or mince her words, and you could always be sure of an honest opinion even if you didn't ask for it.

She and Granddad moved into a house not far from Parihaka and raised their three sons and a daughter, my mother, on a farm against the backdrop of Mount Taranaki. When Granddad died suddenly in '78, the light in Grandma's eyes faded a little. As stoic as that generation is, she picked herself up and carried on, packing up her life and making a fresh start in Opunake. She loved her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and there have been many over the years - and she never forgot a birthday. Her mind was sharp and her soul was young, too young to be rattling around in an old woman's body. She was the proof that you can live a long life on a sugar and salt-laden diet interspersed with the odd cheeky shandy.

A woman of strong faith, she had waited 37 years to be reunited with her great love, and was laid to rest alongside Granddad in their beautifully peaceful spot with a view of the mountain. Together at last. We'll miss you Grandma, place a winning bet for us at that big racecourse in the sky.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

  2. I like her. She sounds like my Nana. I get what you mean and it reminded me of this awesome book we have: http://agreenandsometimesbluelife.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/beginnings-and-endings-with-lifetimes.html. It's good to remember that she had a lifetime in between her beginning and ending. Christmas is a good reminder to tell those we love that we love them and spent time with them if we can.

  3. I remember the couple of times I have met your Nana - one in particular was your 21st. I remember thinking she was sitting back observing everyone and having a bit of a chuckle at the chaos that is life! Thanks very much for sharing this with us - thinking about the amazing things that happen in everyday life between birth and death is a wonderful way to look at this time we have.

  4. What a wonderful person your grandmother was! So lovely of you to share her with us in this small way. I hope that you have a happy Christmas. xx

  5. Such a lovely tribute Leanne - what a life she lived! Hope your heart is healing xx