My grandmother, for who I am named, is an amazing woman. She was born one of nine children a red headed force of nature. She grew up to be a talented linguist and passionate lover of God, venturing out to Kenya where she was married to my grandfather Peter, mothered four children and stayed for twenty years in the face of all sorts of trials and tribulations.
In her book ‘Where Love Leads You’ a contemporary of my grandmother, Ruth Strannox Deeth recalls her as energetic woman with a pronounced lisp, she writes about my grandfather becoming suddenly sick whilst far away in the African bush and my grandmothers response…
‘Liza was unique –no panic – no tears, she cooked a meal for the four children, put them to bed and prepared for the next days trip. At midnight, after everyone had gone to bed, the bishop saw a hurricane lamp bobbing up and down in the garden. He went to investigate. It was Liza. “I’m just planting beans in case it rains while I’m away” she explained’ p45-46
This makes me laugh so much as it’s a perfect representation of her priorities, she adores her garden and as long as I’ve known her she has found it a source of sustenance and great joy. Often I would call her for a chat late at night as she never seemed to go to bed before midnight even as an elderly woman!
My grandparents moved to Leeds after coming back from their missionary time in Africa 30 years ago, they made a home and a community there. My beloved grandpa died in 1998 and granny has been living alone ever since. Though she was getting older, her garden was still in magnificent shape, and when I went up to visit as a student I would inevitably be sent out and directed to do the digging and planting despite my sad lack of green fingers!
Fiercely independent and in the possession of a wonderful church family she has managed amazingly living alone these last 17 years, actively involved in serving the community and teaching English to foreign students. But now increasing frailty in her body and the distance of family members has meant she’s become ready to relinquish the house and move down south with my wonderful aunt and uncle in Gerards cross.
We passed through Leeds last weekend and popped in to the empty house for Dad to begin some sorting out. Within about two minutes of being there I was in uncharacteristic floods of tears that wouldn’t seem to abate.
Granny has come to a point where she needs care and family close by, it’s the right thing that she is moving. Nevertheless I’ll miss seeing her in her own small kingdom dreadfully, miss watching her slowly but determinedly walk to the corner shop and greet the family running it that she’s known for years. Also being unable to leave without having about a ton of fruit generously pressed upon me, and of course the memorable experience of watching her cause havoc on an electric scooter in the local Tesco!
We’re all changing and getting older, it is an immutable fact, but I think that as a culture we don’t give enough thought to the end of life.
When I do think of it I think I want to do it like her. Surrounded by friends and an amazing church family, not wallowing in self-pity but accepting Gods plan and knowing that I am drawing closer to finally seeing him face to face as my years diminish.
The day ended well, with two of granny’s friends who had selflessly come by and worked on the garden for four hours of the sunny Saturday.
They saw my emotional state and thoughtfully packed me off to the front garden with a pair of secateurs to pick a flower posy.
This is the bunch that I picked, a testament on my kitchen table to my grandmother’s hard work and commitment, not just in the garden but to everything she has achieved so far in her wonderful life.