Today, 12 months ago, Nan passed away. It was at around 10:30PM. I remember this because when the call came through I was having dinner with Cynthia in Chatswood and I remember seeing the time on the phone when it rang and knowing it could only really be one thing. I remember taking the call, telling Cynthia what happened, and then reassuring her because she seemed more upset than I did. I said goodbye to her, wished her luck on her journey into the German unknown, and walked to my car. I opened the door, sat in the drivers seat and then closed it behind me. I remember thinking how I was sure the temperature outside had got warmer rather than cooler, and I could smell rain on the air. I remember putting my hands on the steering wheel without starting my car and just sitting there, willing the tears to come. But there was nothing. Nothing save an overall numbness and a faint, distant feeling of relief.
I called Mum again and sat in the car listening to her cry. I had no words for her because really there was nothing I could say to stop it. Nor should she. I remember driving home that night and before I even hit the M2 turning off Damien Rice and putting on talk back radio, because I needed to feel like there were people out in the world functioning as normal.
Tonight is a night for remembering how strong she was. For remembering the trips we used to take to Faulconbridge to see Ivy when I was a kid, and our last trip to Woy Woy and Newcastle. It was to be her last trip away from Wagga and I know that she knew it at the time – each place we went she would sit quietly – taking in the places of her childhood and early adult life, remembering friends and feelings and experiences and silently saying goodbye. She used to come up to Sydney on her own and stay in hotels she’d never seen before. She used to spend all day riding public transport – from a bus, to a train, to a bus, to a ferry. She told me more than once it was the best way to see the city and meet people. She was the first experience I had of Newtown – seeing where she lived, where she grew up, and where she was first married. She once came up without telling anyone where she was going or where she was staying, and we spent a frantic two days trying to track her down. She finally called me from a hotel in Kent Street and told me she was in town and asked if I’d like to have lunch. I got off the phone, fell down on the couch and laughed until I cried. When I told her off for worrying us like that she called me daft and told me she always carried her umbrella with her and she could handle herself. I never doubted it.
She lived more heartache and pain and sorrow than anyone else I’ve known. But she lived, and as much as she was the first to admit she had made mistakes she had no regrets. And the woman had JOY.
She gave me so much, and the one on one time I spent with her in my early 20’s played no small part in the woman I am today. I had the enviable position of growing closer to her at a time in her life when many people were drifting away – I am forever grateful for that. There is a lot of her in me – when I’m challenged I feel her strength rise up in me. If I’m pissed off it’s her anger people are dealing with. I also see so much of her in my mother it’s sometimes scary.
There’s no way I can articulate how much I miss her, so I’m not going to try. 12 months ago tonight the tears wouldn’t come, but now they won’t stop. And I guess that’s some sort of progress.