Before Christmas, I started writing a blog celebrating my beautiful Grandma, Brenda Elizabeth Hill. Her life struck me as pretty remarkable and I wanted to sing her praises, aware that so often we don’t let people know how we feel about them until a funeral.
Thankfully, we’re a pretty open family and always tell each other how we feel. So before Christmas we had long chats about the past and I told her how much I admired how she lived her life and she’s always known how much we all adore her.
Grandma turned 95 on Christmas Eve and then we had a magical Christmas Day as a family, in her retirement home. We took over a room and decked it out with decorations and had a wonderful Christmas lunch. Kaya did magic tricks and Grandma was on great form, full of wit and full of fun – as per usual. I made her a nostalgic Christmas Hamper containing all her favourites – Newberry Fruits, Walnut Whips, Turkish Delight – and her favourite perfume.
And then, in January, she passed away.
It was all very sudden. I got the call on the Friday and went straight to visit and we did a 24 hour bedside vigil as a family. Beautiful Grandma passed away that weekend.
Her life was remarkable.
A younger sister to three boys, she grew up envious of their lives. By all accounts she was a bit of a tomboy – like me. We always laughed as a family about one Christmas when she woke up early, only to see her brother had been given a train and she was miffed to see been given a sewing basket. So, she swapped the labels over! Of course, when her mum woke up she was made to swap back, by which time her brother had demolished all the chocolates that had filled the sewing basket. Sad times!
Grandma always had to fight her corner with older brothers to keep up with and held down two jobs to support her family and mother. Her life was never easy but she faced everything with grace, poise and a steel determination.
When she married my Grandad, as with so many couples who married during the war, he had to return to the frontline 2 days after their wedding.
When my dad arrived on the scene, like many women at the time, she pretty much brought him up single handedly till my Grandad returned from war, 3 years later.
Then, aged 47, she had one of the worlds first heart valve replacements. Back then, the operation was hugely risky to the point that my Grandad had to stay goodbye to her. Things were primitive as her body was packed with ice to slow her heart down, so they could operate but the operation was a great success. Ironically, throughout her subsequent life, my Grandad wrapped her in cotton wool and yet he passed away 18 years ago before her.
Throughout her life Grandma was often mistaken for The Queen! When I visited Buckingham Palace a few years ago to meet HRH, all I wanted to tell her was how much my Grandma looked like her. And how, in all honesty, the way my Grandma lived her life was way more royal than most royals! Fun loving, generous to the point that she’d give you the clothes off her back if she thought you needed them – Grandma was a true lady, through and through. She was also incredibly wise and I knew I could go to her with anything and she’d have an inspiring take on it.
My childhood memories with her are pretty magical: Clonking up her garden path in her high heels with their fur hearth rug around my shoulders, rolling down grassy slopes at their nearby Ham Hill, arriving at their house in Somerset and racing to the kitchen cupboard and raiding her tub of glace cherries, mornings in their bedroom where Grandad read Winnie the Pooh while Grandma got us Ribeena and chocolate digestives and resting my head on her chest and listening to her heart valve beating. All wonderful memories.
But one of my fondest memories will always be from last summer. I went to visit Grandma on a gorgeous summers day. She was getting increasingly nervous about venturing out but it was such a stunning day, I managed to convince her that a quick jaunt would do her good. I bundled her up and we headed over the road to the most beautiful park and had a wonderful 20 minutes, looking at the flowers and making memories and laughing about how badly I was driving her wheelchair! It was one of those perfect afternoons when you’re so glad you managed to get it to happen and I could tell she loved every second, as did I. We took a selfie, which she found hilarious, and now I’m so glad we did as it’s the last picture I took of us together.
Sweet Peas were Grandma’s favourite flower. On my childhood visits to their lovely home in Martock, Somerset, the house would be filled with glass jars of Sweet Peas that my Grandad would lovingly grow for her, knowing they were a favourite. My garden will be filled with sweet peas this summer, to keep the tradition going and to fill my heart with wonderful memories of a remarkable woman.
She was extra special, my Grandma. I’m glad that she and my equally wonderful Grandad are re-united once more but wow, do I miss her. I still pick up the phone to call her – then it hits me that I’ll never dial that number again. That’s what makes grief so hard.
I’m thrilled for her that she’s moved onto paradise, but I miss her like crazy and I know that now, a part of me will always be missing.
And if I can be anywhere near the woman she was, I’ll be doing OK.
Brenda Elizabeth Hill – she set the bar high and will always be SO loved.