This has been a sad week for us. We’ve said goodbye to two of the oldest members of our extended family, and Arthur has had his first experiences of the bittersweetness that comes with family funerals.
On Wednesday we travelled to Cardiff, where most of my Dad’s family are based, to attend the memorial service for my Great Aunty Gwen. She was ninety one when she died, and right to the end exuded a glamour reminiscent of times gone by. She was a wonderful musician, and though her natural home was in the classical world she still very much appreciated the more modern sound of my brother’s band and offered her advice as they readied themselves to release their music to the world.
Aunty Gwen never married, but as the sister of my late Granny she has always been a part of our family. She was a very private person, but in recent years, particularly around the time of my wedding, she began to talk of her lost love and the flame she still carried for him. I found it hard not to feel sad for her, often sitting alone at family gatherings. But as well as having the support of our extended family – particularly my Aunt and Uncle who still live in Cardiff – her memorial service brought home the important place she held in her local church and community.
I will miss her gentle, softly spoken manner, and the twinkle in her eye whenever she was reminded of her youth.
Then on Thursday we headed to The Lizard, the furthest reaches of Cornwall where most of my Mum’s family live. There we were to celebrate the incredible eighty five years lived by my Nanny, Dora, and to say our final goodbyes.
Even as we were travelling down it was clear this was going to be hard. I’m finding it difficult to know what to type now as the words keep catching in my throat and I feel tears pricking behind my eyes. She has been such an important presence in my life, so immensely inspiring in the strength and determination that saw her through some terrible tragedies and yet so calm and comforting too. Her pride in each and every one of her grandchildren was palpable, and I am so glad that Arthur got to meet her several times too over the past two years. Watching her sit with him on her knee was so magical – he seemed to ignite yet another side of her that I’d never seen before.
I read the eulogy at her funeral, and was astounded again at the life she lived. Looking round the packed church (they even had speakers outside for those who could not squeeze in) it was clear that she’d touched and inspired so many. I’m not going to retell her whole story here, but I am very, very grateful to the strangers who pushed a teenage Dora out of the path of a flying bomb in wartime Walthamstow.
My mum was so brave through it all, sharing a poem which urged us to focus on her legacy, on living our lives rather than dwelling on the passing of hers, and on doing so with love and happiness.
And my resounding memories of this week are of family coming together, solidarity in the face of sadness, with laughs as well as tears.
Sitting in my Grampa’s house with all the history it holds, watching Arthur weave between the legs of his aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles and high-fiving his great grandfather when it was eventually time to leave.
Poring over all the incredible images my Mum’s brother had collected of their mother’s life, capturing so many family gatherings over the years. One of my favourites shows Nanny surrounded by the eldest of her many grandchildren, cousins proud as we said hello to the newest addition to our family. We’re all in our thirties now, and we were all there in that little Cornish village to say farewell to the grandmother we shared.
I know that I am very lucky to have such a wonderful extended family. And I’ve never been more grateful for my immediate family either, my parents, and my brothers, the women who’ve chosen to spend their lives with them and of course the gorgeous man who chose me, and our beautiful son.
We all gathered at my parents’ house on Wednesday evening, had a late supper and raised toasts to those who are no longer with us.
There was something magical in the air that night, and I think it is what people call love.
Goodbye Aunty Gwen, and goodbye dear Nanny. Thank you for the lives you lived. We will do our very best to live ours in a way that will continue to make you feel proud.