Tag Archives: Gran

HF: Another Letter

Haiku FridayAble to see her
Through an ’06 letter
She wrote a copy

A headstrong lady
Took things lying down? Not her
She let them have it

Ian had found it
Was in her magazine rack
What a real treasure

Told her I’d found it
Gran smiled and backed up her words
“Yes, all by myself”*

Gran had to have some work done in her flat in 2004. She had asbestos in one of her kitchen and bathroom walls, respectively, and it needed to be removed. She was displaced to another home for three days and the workmen came over and fixed the walls, then, in turn, left her bathroom floor damaged beyond repair.

Since she paid for housing insurance religiously, she first sought relief from them, only to be turned down in writing because her claim didn’t meet guidelines for section such-and-such under clause bah-de-blah of her policy. She/he, ended the letter by stating:

“We must advise, we are not in a position to recommend any payment to you on this occasion. We hope that the above is self-explanatory and would confirm that we are now closing our file.”

My Gran, headstrong and forthright, went about to put right what she thought was an injustice (and quite rightly so) and sent them a letter in response, voicing her opinion and disgust. I am more than happy to share this, highlighting her personality in one easy swoop.

Dear L.D. Smith,

To tell you I am disgusted with your letter is putting it mildly. Why do you not think it is an insured event? I was under the impression that when I took out house insurance that I was covered for things like this, or why would our Council encourage us to deal with a firm as useless as yours? And when I make a claim I’m told I’m not covered; you take the money from an 84-year-old pensioner and do nothing. Are you not ashamed to be conning people in this way? I think I’d be better going to a reputable company that will help people when it’s needed. I guess the shareholders are the people you take care of, not folk like me who made the country safe during the last war*, and then are treated like this.

Not to worry, you might live to be 84 yourself one day and need help. You won’t get it from your firm, that’s for sure.


Mrs. B. R.

Now you can close your file.

She later got compensation from elsewhere…


Because I Still Need to Talk…

I haven’t been able to bring myself to the computer, I just couldn’t face it. I took care of the boys and just got on with my business. Yesterday was especially tough, and with no rationale. If the truth be told, I thought I would be fine; that I would return to Montana and somehow slide slowly back into life. I knew the transition might be a bit rough and I’d probably experience some homesickness, but I had no idea how awful I would feel or just how long it would persist.

I was expecting some culture shock, in fact, I knew it would be inevitable. There really are no similarities between Scotland and Montana — even the grass is bright green this time of year over there. Then again, I’d never seen dead dormant grass before I came to the States.

But it’s not just the feeling of not being somewhere that I know and am drawn to, I now feel disconnected and, if I’m truthful, isolated and maybe even abandoned. Apart from a gaggle of friends, it’s just Bryan, me and the boys here, and there’s nothing like no family around to solidify the reality that you’re in the middle of nowhere. I grew accustomed to seeing my family everyday, especially my Mum, and never really realised how the full impact of not having that connection would affect me.

My Mum had exhausted herself. Ever since Gran was admitted on 30th October last year, she went and visited her every day, relentlessly for five-and-a-half months. She’d buy a weekly bus pass and ride two buses just to get there every day by 3 p.m. A nurse, Paul, later related that they held her in high regard for her dedicated visits. No other patient, I presume, was as fortunate.

The day after I first saw Gran, they moved her into her own room; something I soon realised was not a good sign. They told Mum it was because she had a “little bug” (read: C. difficile), and she did, but I knew better than that. I accepted a while ago that she was dying and I came to terms with it before I even set foot in the hospital. (She didn’t want to move to a hospice, and quite frankly, who can blame her? I wouldn’t have either. When Mum told me that, I said, “think about it though, you’re admitting that you’re done. It’s the last port and call.”] I was even composed during the funeral, which I was not expecting. I felt at peace though, I knew she was around and that she could see us all. It was raining quite heavily that day and the ground was especially sodden. I think Gran had the last laugh though.

Unlike American funerals (which I actually prefer, if you forgive the expression), the pall bearers are the ones to lower the coffin into the ground, it doesn’t sit on a low platform on top of artificial grass, closed from unimagining eyes and the stark reality of the situation.

The cemetery is on a hill overlooking the entire town, with a great view of the coastline and across the (mile-wide) river. It’s beautiful, and I’m sure even a lot more pleasant on a clear day too. Gran’s plot, therefore, is on an upward slant too, which I thought was rather cool, that was, until seven pall bearers had to stand at various locations around the grave site on planks of wood (I know…) in the sopping rain and attempt to lower her coffin into the ground on the slope. As they were steadily lowering it, I’d hazard a guess that about half of them lost their footing on the wet planks and slid a good half a foot, accompanied by a resounding gasp from the women, myself included. Bryan mentioned if it hadn’t have been for the leather strap he was holding that he used to counter-support his weight as he slipped, his grip may have slackened, and well…  Minutes later uncle Billy joked about it saying Gran “was just trying to pull Denis (my step-dad) in there along with her.” We all laughed pretty hard knowing how true that statement could have been.

My Gran’s death isn’t the first for me to experience in the family, but it has impacted me the deepest. It’ll be four weeks tomorrow since she died, and although I’m OK with it, I wasn’t really prepared for realising the entire ramifications of it all.

Days after we arrived home and while we were slowly still unpacking our things (seven suitcases, the majority being baby things, like the playpen, the fold up highchair, the back of Ian’s carseat…), I came across an old letter from her. My Gran has been writing to me since I was eleven (yes, OK twenty-two years), ever since she moved to Australia when she married a native and remained there for the ensuing fifteen years. We used to correspond frequently all throughout my adolescent and not-so-teenagery years too.

I looked at the date and it hit me: it was the last letter she ever wrote to me.

22nd Sept. 2007

She didn’t mention that she was now mostly house-bound and unable to go for her daily brisk walks. She didn’t talk about how she was in remission from the throat cancer after her recent bout of radiation. And she didn’t mention that she now had stomach cancer, if in fact she even knew at that point. As I read through her pages, it hit me: I’d never get another letter from Gran again. Ever. And that, was completely devastating. What a mind-numbing thought.

I was lucky enough to have my Mum and uncle say I was free to take any keepsakes I wished. There weren’t many things left over from when she had her home in Scotland in the 80’s, but a few select trinkets that made many great memories come rushing back. I’d go sleep over at my Gran’s every Saturday night, so I grew up being really close to her; pair that with seeing her usually two to three times a week and being her only grand-daughter and it may give a glimpse into the kind of relationship I had with her.

I am amazed at how grief affects us, me. It’s hard to explain. I’m not sad that she’s passed, but that the physical connection — even just a letter, has gone and won’t be returning. I suppose you could say it has made me view quite a few things differently now, and that’s why I’ve been so absent, at least from here. I just needed time to sort out everything and work through it. I can’t say I won’t have more bad days – especially like yesterday – but I feel better prepared now to tackle them on head first, just like I know she would have.

An Update from Scotland

My brother doesn’t have a wireless modem and we haven’t had as much time as I would have thought, so it’s been hard to get online.

Surprisingly after a five year absence, I haven’t experienced any culture shock, I have been fine and swung right back into life here in Scotland.  If the truth be told, I realised quickly how much I had actually watered down my accent, but after just two days had gained it back.

If I’m honest, I worried that coming back to Scotland I would feel fat and out of place, but surprisingly, I’m one of the thinner ones now.  So that’s made me feel better no end.

My Gran is up and down day-to-day.  Some days I am preparing myself for the worst, and the next day I go in, she’s much better and able to talk more.  It’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster and much harder to deal with than I had anticipated.  I have been to see her seven times now, and I think I can say with conscience that I’ve said everything to her that I wanted to.

It has been difficult and yet a blessing at the same time to stay in her home with her at hospital.  I have been looking through her photos and looking at her things that I remember from a child.  But it’s heart-wrenching to walk past her calendars (she has five of them) and see it still on October of last year (she went into hospital on the 30th of that month).  Time has stood still there and I feel almost guilty for carrying on with my life there.

Today I asked her how she was doing, and in true Gran style she told me “not so good”.  She always kept that stiff upper lip, and she is a fighter, that’s for sure.  Most would have given up, but she has worked against the odds so many times and is still with us to tell the tale.

It’s hard to know where things are from this point, but if we are here and she passes, we will most definitely extend our stay a week.

It’s Already Been Boughten (x4)

The decision’s madeHaiku Friday
No regrets this time around
A huge, happy step

Ten, Three, Twenty-five [10-25 March]
The deed done, no looking back
Scotland, here we come

A babe? No worries!
Apprehension for Ian
Eighteen hours on plane

*Sigh* “Are we there yet?”
He’s wound tight, I’ll go insane
Moaning kid on plane

March, a Spring prelude
It’s also Easter this year
I want me some choc

I recorded the conversations of me telling my Mum. I downloaded free software to do it. Now if I could just figure out how to add it to this blog, you could all finally hear my fake Scottish accent.


We were gone most of the day in Missoula getting passport photos taken of the boys (picture Cameron sitting on a high, no back stool. He was easier than Ian though. He kept doing the 3-year-old scary grin. If you have or have had one you know exactly the look I’m talking about), getting a copy of Cameron’s birth certificate (how sad is it that we never got one when he was born?) and filing the applications with the post office–hence the late posting of this blog. It’s nice to know it’s all done now, I can’t believe a kid’s passport is the same price as an adult’s though. Oh, the humanity!

A Time for Sorrow, A Time for Joy

After 2.5 days of wallowing, neglecting the wash (should I mention there were wet clothes in there? Nah. But, I will say how much I love the wonders of baking soda and vinegar), ignoring the kitchen sink (and the treadmill), not showering for 3 days and walking around in the clothes I wore to bed for as many days; I feel better. All I wanted was to be left alone with my thoughts do a lot of serious contemplation. It has sunk in and now I can think clearly. Surprisingly, I still made room to laugh, giggle and chortle. Guffaws were off limits.

Now I have two choices: Go it alone or whack out $3500 for all four of us.

I’m thinking I need to phone my Mum.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Life suddenly stoppedHaiku Friday
I hear it whirling around
Seems like slow motion

In quiet moments
It’s all I can think about
Painful heart, wet face

Although this is intensely personal for me, I feel the need to get it out, to write it down and give a voice to my broken thoughts.

My Gran’s been quite ill, and more so recently. Her health has really declined just in these past five months. It’s unbelievable to think that in such a short time she has went from leaving her home at 6:30 a.m. to go out for her daily walk and having lunch at restaurants with my Mum a few times a week, to how she is now. It’s such a shock to the system for me. She’s always been walking. Always. It’s what she does every day. She’d take me on walks to the harbour close to our house and we’d throw bread to the seagulls, wrens and pigeons. It was a highlight growing up.

Then one day in early November last year, my Mum mentioned to me that she hadn’t been out for four weeks because she was weak and falling down a lot because of her pacemaker. She was later hospitalised with a pneumonal chest infection. She wasn’t able to swallow fluids properly and they were diverting into her lungs. As I contemplated my Mum’s statement over the next few days, I realised the ramifications of it. She hadn’t been out for her walk in four weeks! It’s a cold day in Hell before my Gran lets anything stop her for getting outdoors. She’d go out in a blizzard if you’d let her.

She overcame colon cancer in the late 90’s while she was living in Australia. After the death of her husband (Burge[ss]) in 2000, she moved back to Scotland and found a place quite close to my Mum’s home. Last year they found she had cancer in her throat and connecting to her stomach. She went through another series of Chemotherapy and was given the all clear recently. They decided to feed her by a tube through her nose and down her throat. But still her food wasn’t travelling down her esophagus properly. She was still throwing up and couldn’t digest much. They tried to connect the feeding tube plug on the outside but were having difficulties with it. It was then they did another scan.

I phoned my Mum yesterday to thank her for Cameron’s card, but really I wanted to talk to her. She’d told me early December that they were keeping Gran in hospital over Christmas and New Year because of staffing issues in case the tube came out while she was asleep and needed to be re-admitted. Since then I thought about my Gran off and on and have felt something was wrong for the past two weeks.

The tone in Mum’s voice changed when I asked about Gran. She said she didn’t want to spoil my Christmas and Cameron’s first birthday by having me worry about her. She then told me that after they did another scan they found my Gran had cancer in her stomach. She didn’t ask, so she doesn’t know (but I’m sure she does–she saw Burge go through it), but her life expectancy is anywhere from 2-3 months to 2 years.

It has been a huge shock to the system. My Gran is a fighter; as tough as they get. She has been the one grandparent that I have gotten the closest to, and the last one I have. I can’t tell you how far away I suddenly feel; how feelings of helplessness and solitude have rushed over me. I just feel consumed by it all. I cry and I don’t even realise I’m doing it. It comes and goes, but especially when it’s quiet. I sat and watched Cameron in his bath last night, but my mind was elsewhere.

Mum gave me the number to the ward she is in. I was surprisingly nervous as I dialled the numbers. It took a while, but I managed to get through and talked with her three hours ago. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to tell her and wasn’t able to. I knew she was tired and it was a little difficult for her to speak too. So I’m planning on writing her a letter and sending it through to my family to print off and read to her. It’s faster than posting it and waiting a week for them to receive it.

I want to go see her but I don’t know if I could make the trip alone. I’ve done it seven times total (five alone), but this is different. I want her to see my boys, to meet them. I want my Mum to see Cameron too. I really need Bryan by my side but I doubt if any of that is feasible. It’s just too expensive.

Time feels like it did again when I was a kid–it’s ticking by slowly. But it affords me the ability to make some decisions that I know I need to think about.

Health and Well-being

I think I’m starting to fall into the birthdays-are-just-another-day downtrodden mindset. As much as I tried to convince him yesterday, Bryan was far too persuasive for me and I ashamedly backed down. His birthday was yesterday and mine is in 5 weeks. I’m sensing I’ll be full-blown indifferent by then.

On a brighter note, my Gran is doing well. She doesn’t have pneumonia, but a pneumonal chest infection. Due to her asthma, they admitted her to get the right medication to her and give her some rest. My mum tells me she hasn’t been outdoors in 4 weeks and, I’m slowly realising, life is catching up to her.

For as far back as I can recall, my Gran has been out walking every day, rain (but when has that stopped a Scot from going outside) or snow, she’s been out there. Even on Christmas Day when I was 14, she tried to convince me that going out in the freezing rain for a 30-minute jaunt around the streets was the best idea I had heard in a very long time.

She has always looked younger than her years, and I think getting her daily exercise in and being exposed to the fresh air every day has been a huge catalyst for that “plight”. You’d think I’d learn something. Sadly not. Although, by my own admission, I do go out walking twice a week with the boys. Rather than cave in and buy a double stroller, Ian has opted to ride in the basket under Cameron’s bum. He quite likes it, and it makes for a much shorter, but definitely less interrupted walk.

Ask me if I’m still doing it when the two weeks of Arctic temperatures roll in.

So Near, So Far

My 85-year-old Gran back in Scotland, was hospitalised with a pneumonal chest infection.  I don’t know anything of her condition right now, and not being able to get a hold of my family isn’t helping my imagination much.

Miracles Do Happen

My Gran’s the type that sends birthday cards two weeks early – even if you live just down the road from her.  It’s how she’s always been, you learn to expect it.  For Christmas cards, she pushes the envelope (no pun intended, I think) a little further.  Those you’ll expect to receive a good 2 months in advance.  It’s not uncommon to get those at the end of October and of course, by the time Christmas actually rolls around, you’ve forgotten where you’ve stashed it.
If you may all recall, my birthday is in the first week of December.  The end of November came and went with no card materialising from Gran.  The days were whittling away, and still no card.  I remember laughing and remarking to my Mum that that was the first time in my entire life that Gran’s card hadn’t arrived before anyone else’s.  You see, it’s a running joke in my family that my Gran has to be first for anything: first in the bathroom in the morning if she’s visiting anyone, first to meet my husband, first to meet great-grand kids – you get the idea.
I held out for that card for a few weeks, telling myself that the post is slower here in Montana and that it would show up.  It did, afterall, contain $50 inside that she’d exchanged over there for me so I wouldn’t have to.
I was already spending it in my mind.
The days past slowly, every day walking to the (locked) community mailboxes hoping to see something from my Gran, and every day being that little more disappointed.
One day, during a conversation with my wee brother he remarked, (not unlike the tone Happy Gilmore heard when he was told to “send the ball home, it’s bags are packed…”) “Let it go Siobhan…it’s gone.  Hold a service for it, because it’s never coming back.”
I love him.  Really.
Last Saturday evening, I got a letter from my Gran, which was a welcome surprise because I’ve been worrying about her.  It was postmarked the 24th February and took the normal 7 days to get here.  I opened it to reveal $50.
“Wow, my Gran sent me another $50!”
“She loves you, Siobhan”, said Bryan delicately.
I began reading the letter and paused when I got to this part:
How are you keeping Siobhan?  I hope everything is going smoothly and no hiccups.  You haven’t so long now till the birth.  To me the time has flown by.
Once Christmas is over…”
I flicked the paper over fast and read the date she’d put under her address “21st Nov 2006“.
“Oh my gosh Bryan, this is the same $50, it finally got here!”
But that didn’t explain why it took so long to get postmarked.  Well, maybe the letter got stuck behind a table somewhere in a post office in the U.K. and somebody found it.  My adrenalin was pumping and I blurted out, “What time is it?  I need to phone my Mum and let her know it came…2 a.m. there?  She’s probably still up.”
So after talking to my Mum about it, I found out what really happened.
My birthday card, letter and $50 DID make it to the U.S. afterall, only, my Gran had written the ZIP code wrong, adding an extra digit: 598928.  (It’s happened since then too, and I’m a little confused as to why everything else made it here okay.)  So they rejected it.  My Gran rarely makes a point of adding a return address to envelopes and packages and so some postal worker somewhere here opened up the card, saw her address on the letter and forwarded it all back to her (stamping unknown ZIP code on a new envelope), with the $50 included.
Everything was going well with it heading back to her, except the postman delivered it to the wrong high rise flat but the right house number, and so the woman living above my mother’s place got it, instead of my Gran.  So she (“Kim”, apparently) promptly gave it to my Mum and Mum surprised my Gran with the news.  THEN, my Gran wrote another letter, added it to the original and sent it off to me again, including the $50 and discarding the birthday card.
She also made sure to write the proper ZIP code.
The letter and envelope sits pride of place in my kitchen, a small reminder that there are honest people left in the world.  And of course, I’ve already devised new plans with what to do with the $50 again, 3 months later.