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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 27-Aug-15 18:28:27

The loss of a grandparent

Rachel Elliott describes the special relationship she had with her grandmother and how, 34 years after her death, she still feels that the loss of a grandparent isn't taken seriously enough.

Rachel Elliott

The loss of a grandparent

Posted on: Thu 27-Aug-15 18:28:27

(1 comment )

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Is the loss of a grandparent taken seriously enough?

There are some relationships in life that never stop influencing us, no matter how short-lived they are. From 1972 to 1981, until I was eight years old, my best friend was a woman called Doris Elliott, otherwise known as Nan – my dad's mum. Doris was daft. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying that. She had a mischievous glint in her eye, she giggled all the time, and if she had a few minutes to spare she would settle into an armchair and make dresses for dolls that covered toilet rolls. In a nutshell, she was fun.

As an adult, I often wished that I could let her know how much she had meant to me, or honour her memory. I hadn’t realised that this is something we can do in simple ways, without any effort at all.

What I remember of her is unlikely to be the truth. The Doris Elliott I knew was not the same woman that other people knew. All memories are reconstructions, after all – we all see something different in each other. As a fellow psychotherapist once said to me, a woman can have six children and they will all have a different mother. This is why it’s sometimes strange when we invite all of our friends to a party. Each one has a unique relationship with us, sees a different side of our personality, depending on where we met and what we do together. But it doesn’t matter that other people may not have found Nan giggly or daft – what’s important is me retaining my version of Doris.

The loss of a grandparent is often deemed less than the loss of a parent, but this diminishes it – it isn't less, it's just different, which is exactly why it should be taken seriously.

As a child I had chronic asthma, and my mother was understandably protective. This meant that my nan didn’t need to be. She would lay her knitting needles on the grass to make a hopscotch course and we would leap about like fools, not paying much attention to where we were supposed to be landing. We were raucous, stupid. We would mess about and be silly until I had a coughing fit and started wheezing – at which point, I went home to Mum to calm down. My mother is now Grandma to my two nephews, a role she gleefully describes as liberating: "It’s the most wonderful experience," she says.

"We just have the pleasure of being together, without the ultimate responsibility. We have so much fun."

Thirty-four years after her death in 1981, just being someone who values humour, silliness and mischief – someone who knows how vital it is to be playful and daft – is a way of honouring my grandmother.

The loss of a grandparent is often deemed less than the loss of a parent, but this diminishes it – it isn’t less, it’s just different, which is exactly why it should be taken seriously.

Rachel's new book Whispers Through a Megaphone is published by Pushkin Press and available from Amazon.

By Rachel Elliott

Twitter: @PushkinPress

NanKate Fri 28-Aug-15 16:17:30

I only met my Great Aunt Dorrie 4 or 5 times when I was in my early teens.

She had lived in India and had led a pretty privileged life until her husband died and she returned to the UK. She came to stay with us a few times and did expect to be waited upon and served food at set times, which would annoy my mother who felt she was being treated as a servant.

However My Great Aunt and myself were kindred spirits we laughed at the same things and I remember her with great affection.

Recently I came across my second cousin who was the GS of my Great Aunt. I had hoped for lots of interesting exchanges between us about his Gran but he really isn't interested. There was no spark between us.

I would just love to sit down with her tonight with a nice glass of something and have a good reminisce and fall about in fits of laughter, what a lady she was !!!