At the beginning of November my Grandmother (my fathers mother and my last remaining grandparent) passed away at the age of 98. It was not unexpected and in many ways had been willed onwards by the family general – she had been in an unhappy and uncomfortable state in a nursing home for some years now and that state had gradually become a state of almost total absence. I have had difficulty pinning down my feelings since her death but it feels wrong not to talk about it at all. My brother Chris already eulogised her beautifully on his blog HERE.
This morning I’m just making the space to write about it a little with a plan to blog whatever ensues so here goes…
We always knew her as Ibey – a mutation of her name that came about with my older sisters early attempts at speech. Her husband, Elliot Elwood Rees, known to the family as Dids (I have no idea how that name came about – must ask – in fact as I type I realise I don’t even know how to spell it. I’ve only heard it spoken.), died before I was born, although he knew Mum was pregnant with me. She lived in the one house that Dids built for her all the time I knew her until her health demanded round-the-clock nursing home care and she was moved into Aldersgate Nursing Home, in 2004 I think. I took a series of photos in the almost empty house with a borrowed camera in a super hurry (Mum and Dad were trying to clean it and get it on the market in order to be able to pay for her care). I love the series but the images are very small because I rushed and made an error with the unfamiliar gear. The house (this is me in the front yard HERE) is on top of a steep street called Belle Vue Avenue in Launceston. Until the age of about 94 she walked up and down that steep hill most days. Her sharpness of mind and spryness of limb were a source of great family pride and as we kids got older we would agree that our genetic inheritance was something to be proud of.
Ibey was as sharp as a tack for a good 92 of her 98 years at least and did not suffer fools gladly. Her sense of humour was dry, dry, dusty dry and positively wicked at times. She loved the cricket, an occasional glass of stout and a good poke around in the garden and never slept much. Getting up in the middle of the night you would see her light emitting from her open doorway and spy her still reading large print books late into the morning. She was not a cuddly grandma, she was often kind of spiky and I was sometimes scared of her as a child. In later life (Maybe always? Not sure…) she distrusted strangers and as a result, as her existing network of friends and neighbours (not similarly blessed with her awesome longevity) passed away, she became very lonely I think. A drunken, bumbling attempt at a burglary where her front door (next to the bedroom where she lay probably reading – not sleeping) was smashed in, scared her and sent her further irretrievably inwards even though she bravely scared the intruder away. I recognise her discomfort with and inability to trust strangers in myself.
I went through quite a few years of feeling firmly disapproved of – my weight, my hair and my manner of dress were never NOT commented upon and compared unfavourably to those of my siblings and cousins – and I now feel like I wasted quite a few good years of knowing this very interesting woman who held the keys to so many aspects of my heritage, by simply being reluctant to spend time with her.
Gladly, I reached a point where I grew up and was able to see the superficiality of these remarks and recognise that she was actually quite fond of me. I threw my wobbly self-confidence in a corner and right up to the last times I saw her we got on really well and laughed a lot. She thought Matt was terrific (I DID get full marks from her for boyfriend/husband choice) and she proudly clipped him out from newspaper when he won his Samstag scholarship.
The photo above is from her 80th birthday party where she’s flanked by Dad and her daughter (my Aunt), Wendy. We all had a great time out for dinner at Woofies in Launceston that night.
Mum is certain Ibey regained some awareness and recognised Dad on their last visit to her. She adored Dad and we have always been aware of it. She became a Great Great Grandmother a couple of days before she died when my niece, Pip gave birth to her son, Alexander although she didn’t know this.
At the funeral there were only the four of us, Dad, Mum, Chris and Me in a tiny crematorium chapel in a little bit of pretty, rural nowheresville outside of Launceston. It felt like a scene from a film. I know my sister Jacki was probably devastated she couldn’t be there – the family pride in Ibey runs even deeper in Jack than the rest of us I think – but she lives in NSW now.
I will ALWAYS associate her with berries and my warmest, fuzziest memories are of her wiping my fingers free of juice after letting me raid the patches of raspberry blackberry and boysenberry and giving me tea in the tiniest, most delicate cup and saucer with a little blue flower for a handle. If she was afraid I’d break it she never let it show.
She was tiny and positively formidable.