Today is my Granny’s birthday. And her death day. Last year, on this day, she left her body on this earth, after managing to make it (just and no more) to the grand old age of 88. Like other distressing events, such as 9/11 or the news that Michael Jackson had died, I’ll never forget where I was when I found out. It was completely unexpected. I was on a shoot with work, staying alone in a hotel in London. I had an early start ahead of me and my alarm was set for 6.30am. When I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing my first feeling was that of panic, I assumed I must have slept in for my shoot. After I managed to focus my bleary morning eyes on the screen, I realized it was my Mum calling. Before 6.30am. My initial feeling of panic manifested itself in a sinking lurch in my stomach. Of course I knew straightaway something was wrong. My Mum would never call me at that ridiculous time. Nobody would, unless it was a Sunday and some of my friends were still up, having life changing discussions after a particularly heavy night out.
For a split second, I thought about not answering, knowing deep down that something terrible had happened and wanting to protect myself from whatever news was about to be bestowed upon me. Honestly, I didn’t expect that it would be about my Granny. Despite being 87 years old and having taken a bit of a downturn with her dementia recently, I still thought of her as being the strong willed, hilarious, lively woman, full of life and a passion for fashion, that she’d always been. Of course, she was absolutely still this woman but perhaps with me living in Glasgow, being very busy with work and my selfish twenty-something life, I had missed how bad her dementia had got and turned a bit of a blind eye to the decline in her general health. I have a tendency to bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening when it comes to things like that. Now, as so often is the way in this life, I wish that I had confronted the facts at hand and made the effort to go and visit her more often than I did, while I still had the chance. That’s not a nice feeling to address.
So, as I write, around this time, a year ago, I answered that phone call from my Mum. I immediately asked what was wrong and after a brief pause she just came right out and said it. “Granny died last night.” She had a stroke and it would have been fairly instantaneous with little or no pain, she reassured me.
They were words I hadn’t expected to hear for AT LEAST another five years and it took my brain a few minutes to process the information. I didn’t even cry at first. My throat ached and my head spun but I couldn’t quite translate these feelings in to physical tears. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I was leaving a voicemail for my boss, letting her know that I wouldn’t be able to make it to work that day, that the sadness was able to express itself in physical form. The tears started to flow and once the floodgate had opened I couldn’t stop. I can’t remember if I even made it to the end of my message but my work were completely lovely about the whole situation and arranged to get me on to the next flight back to Scotland.
Strangely, while on the Heathrow Express going to the airport, I ended up sitting across from a tiny, elderly lady who was sobbing uncontrollably, in complete silence. She looked heart-breakingly sad and usually, I would have been compelled to ask what was wrong and tried to comfort her. But on this same day last year, the tiny, upset lady and I sat across from one another in simultaneous silent tears, with only a brief single glance of understanding exchanged between us. I hoped she was OK but in a strange way, I felt that we comforted one another a little with our mutual sadness.
So, that’s how I spent this day last year.
This is a travel blog, you may be thinking. Where does the travel part come in? Well, one thing that makes me swell with pride when I think about my Granny, is how much she loved to travel. Alongside poppies, fashion and my Grandad Arthur, it was one of her long-term loves. At just the age of 28, her and my Grandad (30 at the time) packed up their lives, including a two year old Joyce (with a baby Bette soon to be on the way), and moved over to New York where they lived and worked for a total of five years. Back in the 50s, this was a completely unheard of thing for a couple of twenty-something’s from the small town of Brechin, Scotland to do. But they went and they did it. They defied the odds in pursuit of adventure, something they both sought out their whole life.
Throughout both my Granny and Grandad’s lives, they traveled a lot. A lot by anyone’s standards but particularly so for their generation, when it was still considered wildly exotic to cross the border in to North England for your honeymoon.
From the legendary road trip from Scotland to Majorca with five children, ranging from 3 months old to 13, crammed in to the back of a tiny Hillman Minx; to the round the world trip they took upon retirement which saw them conquer New York, LA, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Singapore; to everything else that came in between, their passion to see the world and everything in it was nothing short of inspirational.
Some of the other countries that they travelled to (the ones I am aware of) included France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Holland, Austria, Turkey, Egypt, Florida, Canada and the Caribbean, where they indulged in a fantastic cruise, worthy of a place on any self-respecting bucket list. My Grandad also saw a lot of the world during the Second World War, when he was placed on various ships in the Mediterranean and spent time in South Africa. Playing in the forces football team, he would often travel wherever the team was summoned for matches. He was once almost adopted by a South African, department-store owning, couple and I’m pretty sure he probably came close to adopting a couple of African children himself (that postcard is another story….).
Yes, it’s certainly fair to say that neither of them were ever short of a story or two. Their passion for travel and zest for life is something that will never be forgotten by me, my family or anyone who knew them.
What I’m trying to say is that, although I’m over here in Vietnam, while the rest of my family goes out for a celebratory happy birthday meal, I feel as close to my Granny as I ever could. As much as I wish I could join them and raise a glass of Baileys in memory of her genuinely inspiring life, I know, more than anyone else I have ever met, she would understand the need for adventure and my desire to travel. I just wish that she could have been here to hear my stories. I can only hope that they will live up to hers.
Happy Birthday Granny. I hope you guys are having the biggest adventure yet up there.