Nana Gwyn, 1921-2013

Well, it’s been an awfully long time since I blogged. And I was doing so well…

Hello Faithful Blog followers and happen-to-passer-by-ers! How the devil are we? I apologise for the radio-silence of late. Despite the fact that I don’t have to provide an excuse for not blogging to you, I feel I need to justify to myself why it’s been so long.

Unfortunately, it is not because I’ve been amidst a tornado of creativity and book writing – I wish it had been that. I haven’t opened my laptop for months (except that it’s open right now – duh) and my only real excuse is that I’ve been working and trying to live my life. I haven’t had a holiday this year yet and I have to say I’m nearly at breaking point as far as work is concerned. I’m desperate for a week or two off, and as luck would have it approach-eth the the end of July where I have 2 glorious weeks off from the land of retail.

Before I look forwards to what is to come in the coming weeks, I’d like to take a moment to let you all know about something major that has happened to me and my family in the last few weeks. Alas this isn’t happy news, but this blog is a place for me to open up and document my life as I live it – isn’t that what authors do?

A few weeks a go now, sadly, my grandmother passed away.

She was in no pain and was surrounded by her children, and all of our immediate family was given the opportunity to say our goodbyes. The call came on a Sunday night. My sister and I were planning to visit her on the Monday morning, just a normal visit when my father phoned me and said that Nana had taken a turn for the worst and they didn’t think she would last the night. So he urged me and my sister to go and see her then. So we did and she had become very thin. She was weak and was in and out of consciousness.

We talked to her for a while before we gave her a kiss on the forehead and told her that we loved her. I will always remember my aunt was stood next to Nana’s bed and was holding her hand. She looked up and told us that there was no point in the three of us staying there as it could happen any time. She held onto my cousin Becky’s hand and said,

“Come on now, you just have to pretend you’re a pair of curtains.”

To which Becky replied,

“Pull yourself together.”

There were many tears. Becky and Emily, my sister who is heavily pregnant by the way, were very upset. Somehow I managed to hold it together in the room. I’m not sure how. But as we were leaving, put it this way, I will always remember the walk down that corridor. It was like a darkness descended and completely engulfed me. Like suddenly I was in a tunnel and there wasn’t any light at the end.

Don’t get me wrong, the care-home was lovely and the people who worked there were fantastic. But it doesn’t stop the place feeling like a glorified waiting room. We turned the corner and emerged into another corridor which was just as dark as the first. I remember being behind Emily and Becky and linking arms with Emily to walk the rest of the way. As much as I was helping her, or thought that I was helping her because she was so emotional (and pregnant) I think she was holding me up really. I remember it wasn’t just darkness that seemed to swirl in front of my eyes, it was tears too.

We got outside and hugged again. I was worried about Becky driving home on her own but she said she was fine. So I took Emily home all the while checking my mirror to see Becky’s car. Silly, I know, but seeing her car behind us made me feel like she was OK. Emily and I realised how lucky we were that we had had the chance to say goodbye to her; this was no life. She was holding on, and she was so strong, but this wasn’t living.

Emily got out of the car and I pulled away. This moment has been burnt into my memory because the song that was playing that I had always heard as a happy song about finding the love of your life (When The Right One Comes Along – Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio from the Nashville Soundtrack) suddenly had a new meaning. Suddenly it was the saddest song I had ever heard. I drove down the hill and around the corner and my eyes were brimming with tears like I’ve never experienced before. I had to open the windows to feel the air on my face. The air had never been so necessary in my life before.

I re-joined the main road and drove up the hill towards the setting sun. I was so grateful for the warm evening air blowing through the car, and sorry that Becky still wasn’t driving behind me.

It took an entire week for Nana to finally be at peace. All of my cousins made it to her in time to say their goodbyes. In fact we were positive that she was waiting for my cousin Nicholas to come home from London before she went. That day I had been working. It was father’s day. I got home, changed, and went to see my Dad with a little gift. Emily had done the same. We were there till about 7pm when I decided to go home to have some food. J and I hadn’t long finished eating and doing the dishes when the house-phone rang. It was my Mam. She told me that Nana had gone. I could hear in her voice that she was crying. It was a brief conversation. J comforted me.

I went back to my parents house then and Mam was on the phone. So I walked into the family-room and saw my sister sitting on the sofa with her back to me. I knew she couldn’t turn around to look at me, just as much as I don’t think I could have coped if she had. So I sat on the arm of the sofa and hugged her from behind. She started to cry as she grabbed hold of my arm. There was nothing to say. I remember Mason coming over and he could see me smoothing Emily’s arm so he did too. He knew his Mammy needed some reassurance, bless him.

Mam went to be with Dad in the home then. We decided to stay. After Emily and I had composed ourselves, we went upstairs to see Matt (our brother) and just had a massive sibling group hug. We were all crying but we had each other. Then it was time for a nice cup of tea.

Becky and Shaun joined us a little while later. I don’t really remember much about those hours. I remember we were selling things on eBay so we were wondering what to price things at. I remember having a little chat with Shaun in the kitchen about when he lost his grandfather whilst we were making more tea. Tea is the answer to everything.

Needless to say I physically couldn’t make it to work the next day. I waited for Mam to come home before I left, I didn’t want to leave Matt on his own.

A week later found us all back in my parent’s house for Sunday Lunch. We were joined by aunts, uncles and cousins and we spent HOURS looking through loads of old pictures that my Nana had collected and put into albums. Amazing old pictures that brought back so many memories and so many fashion mistakes…

My Mam, Auntie and I spent further hours after everyone went home creating a collage for the funeral. It was The Diplomat’s idea (the venue for the wake) which is apparently a popular thing these days. In making it, it felt like a brilliant idea. It made me feel less sad about her passing; being able to see her life in pictures – and what a life!

Collage

My Nana was from Penclawdd. She grew up in a big family on a farm called Brig-Y-Don; it means Crest of the Wave. She had an unquestioning faith and attended Chapel, well, religiously. Her faith was with her all of her life. She trained to become a nurse and when the second world war came she was stationed in Swansea and Morriston Hospital. Apparently, she was stationed in the children’s ward and has recounted nights when Swansea was bombed where she had to rouse the children and get them underneath the beds. There she would comfort them.

I didn’t know this, but she was engaged when she worked as a nurse. I’m not sure to who, but as fate would step in I don’t need to know.

A young solider named Victor was wounded in the Battle of Dunkirk. He took up command when his superior officer was struck down and got his platoon to safety; not before being shot in the chest. The bullet missed his heart by a quarter of an inch (!!) before leaving through his shoulder.

He was sent to Morriston Hospital and was treated by Nurse Gwyneth Williams. They fell in love. They got married. Gwyneth Williams became Gwyneth Honour, and that’s how this branch of my family started.

They moved to Llanelli where Victor became a fireman and Gwyneth remained a district nurse. They went on to have 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren (and counting – Emily is still pregnant!)

Grampy Vic passed away in 1995. I remember that too. It was VE Day and we had a street party to celebrate 50 years of the end of the war. Talk about ironic. Nana went on after he passed. That’s no small sentence – we all hope we can go on after the love of our lives has gone. She went on and she shone.

Nana Gwyn used to look after my sister and I (and my brother only many years later) after school. We used to walk there and there was a magical moment when we got to the end of the drive… If she was cooking a dinner you could smell it metres away. I remember her gravy was amazing. If we weren’t eating chicken dinner, it was toast; copious amounts of toast made with brown bread, butter and orange marmalade; there is no better combination. Emily and I would go through half a loaf of bread, no problem.

And tea, well, it was like air to Nana. I think if twitter had been around years ago, and Nana could handle a mobile phone, I’m sure all she would have tweeted about would be having a nice cup of tea. It was and still is the answer to all of life’s ills; this is her advice that she passed down to all of us, and I trust in that advice; she was a nurse after all.

She taught me how to spell. I remember her doing spelling tests with us at the kitchen table. It’s odd, but I remember when I was first able to recount the word ‘beautiful’ back to her correctly. I remember being so happy, and she was too; beautiful.

It was Nana Gwyn who made me want to be a writer. She loved to read. She used to say “You’re never alone if you’e got a good book” and she was so right.

The funeral was a difficult day. I was a bearer and when you’re a bearer, I find that you don’t get to grieve like everyone else. I get so caught up with the task at hand and worried I suppose, that I’m going to somehow mess it up; I only start to grieve once my duties as bearer are complete. What the reverend said in the church service was lovely. I got a little teary when he listed our names but held it together otherwise. In the crematorium, there were four reverends who spoke and it actually was lovely. They were from Penclawdd too and they knew her, so what they said really meant something. I am grateful for those words.

After they had spoken and it was time to sing the last hymn, I have to say I was barely able to hold it together. As the first curtain closed around Nana I got very emotional and I couldn’t sing. It was too hard. We remained standing as her favourite song was played (Myfanwy) and the final curtain closed. I remember being flooded with emotion. I turned around to look at Emily and saw her and Becky in pieces and that tipped me over the edge.

I looked over and saw the doors open for us to leave and I couldn’t believe that it was time to say goodbye now. All the ritual and performance of the funeral was nearly over and it was time to leave. I don’t know how I stayed standing to be honest. I saw my Dad turn to leave but before he walked away he turned and looked at where Nana lay. He sort of smiled and nodded his head before he left.

The bearers were the next to leave and I was the last to step out. I have no idea if any of them were crying; all I knew was I was trying to keep it together enough to walk. I knew people were looking at me, or at least I thought people were looking at me. I heard my Nana Ve say my name but I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I kept walking and joined the queue to leave. I may have glanced back myself at the curtain but I’m not 100% sure that I did.

Standing there, waiting to get out was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It was like waves of emotion were sweeping over me and after each wave passed I tried to swallow and breathe and keep standing. I remember someone asking me if I was OK but I couldn’t turn around. I then felt someone rubbing my arms from behind but I still couldn’t turn. Eventually I must have, either that or J walked in front of me so I could see him. I was so grateful to see him. For him to be there and to be holding me up.

I wanted to keep it together to shake the reverends’ hands, because they said such lovely things. I did, just. Then I had to walk away. I was so close to completely breaking down. J hugged me. I remember looking out to the country side. I remember trying to turn around and see other members of my family before turning around again and hiding from them just how sad I was.

My mother eventually found me and came over to hold me. She told me to be strong and this gave me strength. After that moment I was able to face my family and give them some support. Lots of hugs and niceties before we all departed for The Diplomat.

The cars were boiling!!!! The windows didn’t work and the air con didn’t reach us in the back. I just remember that.

So, it’s been over a week now and I’ve written this essay! I apologise readers, I just really wanted to write all of this down. I didn’t intend for it to be so long and detailed, sorry if I’ve bored you; but I’m glad I have written it all down. Partly because I don’t want to forget the last few weeks; as sad as they were, I want to honour my grandmother by remembering her, her life and her death. Also, I think I’ll be able to rest easier knowing that I got this blog out of my system.

The collage was a success. Everyone really liked it. It occurred to me when I sat down to some food at the wake that perhaps some people may find this morbid; but actually, she was 92. She had lived a fantastic life and had brought so much joy to so many. The collage was our little way of showing everyone that; for people to see her life in pictures, and to remember how much she accomplished and how loved she was and will always be.

I find music a very emotive thing. Just as When The Right One Comes Along will always have a different meaning to me than everyone else; just as Myfanwy will always be Nana Gwyn’s song; the song that I found myself listening to over the last few weeks was KT Tunstall‘s new song Feel It All. There’s a few lines in the middle that really sum up how I feel about Nana Gwyn…

 

Do you know what you’ve done for me?

You made my branches grow.

Now they can play with the wind,

And they can carry the snow. 

 

Does anyone else want a nice cup of tea?

 

Rest now, Nana.

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