About a month ago I was on E-bay when I came across a set of three antique-y porcelain jugs. I say antique-y because on E-bay one can never be sure of authenticity. When I saw them, regardless of whether or not they were the real deal, to my mind they had my Grandmother’s name written all over them. I knew she would love them and so, with her in mind I bought them.
Duly arrived, carefully packaged in yards of bubble wrap, and were even prettier in reality than the picture had suggested. For a week or two they moved around the dining room table, being relegated to a chair here and there when they got in the way, but never quite making it to the boot of the car. Then one weekday recently I was passing her house and a thought came to mind that I should drop in and say hello, but that thought was quickly dispatched by several others.
I didn’t have the jugs with me/it would be better if I dropped up on Sunday/ I’d have more time then and besides I was on my way somewhere else and had one hundred things to do; it was a busy work day! Sadly that following Sunday visit wasn’t to be as she died, unexpectedly, on Saturday of the same week. A sharp and poignant lesson from life delivered directly to one Nichola Beresford.
I may not have learned much in my tenure on this planet but I do know that guilt and regret are at best useless and at their worst highly destructive, so I have consciously avoided them, despite the temptation to sit and indulge in salty tears every time I see the box of jugs. I share this, not because I feel ashamed that I didn’t visit when I thought about her that day and that somehow makes me a ‘bad’ person, but because I realise that ultimately I was the one who lost out, not my Grandmother.
My tears wouldn’t be for her but selfishly for myself. She has no use of the jugs where she is now and even if she had enjoyed having them here for a short week or two they wouldn’t have necessarily enriched her life in any way. I, however, missed out completely on so much; the memory of the smile as she opened the box, the silly conversation that would have taken place as to where I had found them, her careful examination of them and possibly the realisation that they were reproductions (she had an educated eye for that sort of thing) and then the gracious, “it doesn’t matter, they’re lovely anyway”.
Even if I hadn’t brought the jugs, just spending some time would have meant we enjoyed a cup of tea together and I would have gone on my way with that happy, warm, fuzzy feeling of believing I had brought someone a little bit of joy. It’s the type of thing that you just can’t pop into a shop and buy or replace. Maybe that is why we sometimes put such little value in seemingly insignificant memories at the time of their making. You see they are given for free and they don’t cost any money but, a little like antiques, it is only with time and when the person is gone that you realise just how precious, priceless and irreplaceable they are.
Now I realise, on reflection, that my Grandmother was an expert at creating those special memories. If you brought a present, no matter how pitiful, she would make a big deal of opening and admiring it, appearing excited even if she wasn’t. It was a beautiful character trait that she possessed and it meant there was always much more in it for the giver than for herself. And it wasn’t only about presents, just turning up would put a smile on her face. It’s only now I recognise and appreciate her generous and beautiful reactions. The ones I have I’ll savour. Had I known before of their great value I might have made an effort to create more.
When a family member dies the entire unit is the poorer for it, but there is no tragedy in my Grandmother’s death. She was 89 years old with a wonderfully sharp and active mind and pretty good health bar the last two days. She knew, by name, fourteen great grandchildren and was very well up on current affairs. The suddenness is, perhaps, where the great sadness lies and yet I am very grateful that it happened the way it did. It also pushes you to think about your own mortality.
As someone pointed out to me, having a grandparent and parents into your late thirties gives you a false sense of youth, there are still two layers of generation above you. I have now, without warning, been jerked up a wrung and while I am not morbidly pondering my own demise I am very aware that the hour glass has been turned on its head and the sands are pouring through; it’s time for choices.
Do I want to be remembered for being a very busy and industrious person or would I prefer to be thought of as kind, loving, generous and a gracious creator of lovely memories? When I think about it like that there is no contest. We constantly misuse the word success as relating only to our worldly and material achievements. Our identity is in our qualifications, our jobs and our stuff, when to be a successful human being is so much more and often the qualities and traits of one are quite intangible.
Something else that struck me during the funeral is just how quickly we will drop whatever we are doing when someone dies. I had several things planned and in my diary that had to be cancelled immediately to make time for the funeral, nothing else was more important over those few days. As I sat in the church pew I thought about how such rescheduling would be out of the question when a person is still alive and yet surely that is when it is most important. What a weird bunch we are and how upside down our view of the world and relationships is. While taking time to go to funerals is very nice for the living family members, it is of little benefit to the dead.
And so normality returns and life goes on. Thoughts of work, the budget and the mortgage muscle into the empty space once more – it was actually nice to take a break from them for a few days. Learning life’s lessons while often a bitter pill to swallow is so much easier than remembering them and remembering them is where their value lies. Right now I genuinely can’t recall why exactly I was ‘too busy’ that day I passed my Grandmother’s house and decided not to drop in.
It was most definitely a mistake on my part, not one to chalk in the column of regret but one to learn from. Inevitably I will make similar poor choices in the future but hopefully they will be fewer as now I am more conscious of it. As a wise old sage once remarked, everyone should take the time to be a better human ‘being’ rather than the constant concern of being a human ‘doing’!