My lovely Nan, Patricia Dowell, died in April 2019. She had just turned 80 years old, and both her physical and mental health had started to decline since my Mum died little over a year earlier.
Nan was always there, no matter what we needed. She was a great cook, seamstress, a fierce friend and a strong disciplinarian. She was an incredibly hard worker, an idea she instilled in my cousins and me. Nan had a wickedly quick wit and sense of humour. Always a welcoming host, she accepted all of our friends, no matter their colour, creed, sexuality or family background. Everyone was welcome at her table, so long as they washed up afterwards! She had a hard-wired honesty about her and a painfully sharp tongue at times, she demanded respect and hard work. For my brother and me, she was like our second parent whilst we were growing up. When Mum and Dad broke up, it was Nan who would pick us up from school, make us our tea, we’d be with her over school holidays, she’d take us on days out. If Mum was unable to do something for us (because of work commitments, financial issues etc), it was Nan who we’d go to first. When we lost her, it felt as though our whole parental unit had gone.*
In the final year of her life, I spent a lot of time with her. I knew how lonely she had felt since both Deda (my Grandad) and Mum had both passed away, and I wanted to make sure I could help her and be there for her. We sometimes clashed, and there were times I felt like I was annoying or frustrating her. A couple of weeks after she died, when I was calling relevant companies to inform them of her passing, one of the women I spoke to on the phone told me how much she’d heard about me from Nan, how warmly she spoke of me and how proud of me she was. It really touched my heart and made me realise that I was more important to her than I had previously realised.
In December 2018, Nan had been having headaches, felt generally ‘unwell’, and her vision was funny. She had some tests done and found out she’d had a really minor stroke. This started the snowball of her health decline. The doctors advised her not to drive for at least a month – which, for a very socially active woman, can be really demoralising, and caused her to feel lonely and almost “trapped” in her own home. That month, I made sure to see her a few times a week, and I would take her somewhere every weekend. Thank goodness she was able to drive in January again.
In February 2019 was her 80th birthday. I arranged a surprise party for her with 20 of her closest friends and family. She loved seeing everyone (and not having to clean up at the end!). Shortly after her birthday, she started to feel unwell again. She went into her local hospital on 5th April 2019, and was diagnosed with vascular phlebitis. Her blood couldn’t get around her body properly, so soon she needed to be on dialysis treatment.
She got transferred to a hospital that was over an hours’ drive from where I lived, and over 3 hours’ drive from my uncle and cousins. I tried to see her as often as I could, but around working full time, I could only spend time with her at weekends. Other family members went and saw her during the week which kept her spirits up, but it was difficult knowing how lonely she must have felt during that time.
I saw Nan on Saturday 20th April and she was in good spirits. It was the Easter weekend and she asked me to bring her a hot cross bun with some jam and butter, and when I got there she told me she liked the colour of my nail varnish and asked me to bring it back next time I saw her. So on Monday 22nd April, I visited Nan with my nail varnish. She was hooked up to the dialysis machine as I arrived and she looked rough. I painted her nails and spoke to the nurses. The nurses reassured me that when people are on dialysis, it takes them a bit of time to “get over” each treatment because it makes you feel awful. I felt eased by what they said, stayed with Nan for another hour or so, and then had to leave.
And then she said “don’t go Rosie, I don’t want to die on my own.”
I will never forget those words, they were the last ones she ever said to me. My heart shattered hearing those words come out of her mouth. The strongest and most fiercely independent woman I’d ever known.
Nan died the next day. I was in the hospital with her when she died, with my cousin and uncle, but Nan was heavily sedated and I don’t think she knew I was there.
Dealing with Nan’s death put my grief journey right back at square one, and I lost myself in grief for a short time. I felt sad and empty for a little while after she died, and I needed to do something to get myself out of that wallowing pit. The inheritance I got from my Nan paid for five months worth of private counselling sessions with an amazing counsellor who really helped me turn my grief around and get back to feeling like myself. With Nan’s inheritance, my partner and I also booked a holiday to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco (now to be taken in 2021…hopefully), which we see as an homage to my grandparents who went on a two week California road trip for their honeymoon.
I miss gossiping with her, her teaching me something new, and our shopping, tea and cake, or dinner dates.
Patricia Ann Dowell, 15/02/1939 – 23/04/2019
* Since losing Mum and Nan, my relationship with my Dad has been rekindled and he is very much active in my life.