LET THE MUSIC PLAY!

I wanted to share my Grandma Jo’s eulogy with you.

I sent this to a few friends ahead of her funeral and I’ve never before received such beautiful, heartfelt messages. I hope you enjoy it.

And it’s okay – grandma was ready to go (she was 95) and, as quite the show-off, I believe she’d be happy for me to do this.

For context, I bought myself a splendid hat bearing the words ‘Let The Music Play’ while musing about this eulogy and then wore/took this to the funeral.

My grandma loved clothes and accessories and, though I usually plan every last detail, I found myself plopping the hat on the foot of her coffin after delivering this. It was agreed this was a lovely gesture, but then I spent the rest of the service, and subsequent cremation, conspiring to get my (rather expensive) hat back. It went through the crematorium curtain and everything. Praise be to the chief mourner for fetching it back!

FYI, this followed on from my uncle’s more biographical eulogy. So this is just a partial glimpse into the life of a truly awesome woman.

Here’s to grandmas everywhere – and lives less ordinary!

PS – Do listen to the song at the end. :-)

For J.

 


 

I’m fond of the simple truth that no one person sees the same thing from the same perspective. So I’d like to take a moment to share some of the stories that my Grandma Jo leaves me with.

I say stories, instead of memories, because the more I learn about memory, the more I realise how fallible our remembering selves are. My ‘memories’ are stories; I curate them, edit them, embellish them, forget them and forge them anew. Same as you.

Seriously: one of my formative and favourite ‘memories’ of grandma isn’t even a memory – it’s a photograph. I’m two-years-old, standing on a chair in her kitchen during one of many cookery lessons. I’m wearing my green patterned pinny and am staring at a warm apple pie dusted with sugar. I’m feeling a glowing sense of pride at having helped her make this perfect pie. Surely I deserve a taste? Confident I’m alone, I dab a finger into the sugar and pop it in my mouth. My secret…

Were it not for the fact that this moment is the photo that made my ‘memory’.

Grandma loved to tell the story behind that snap whenever we flipped to it in the album. It brings back all those collaborative cooking lessons I know all Jo’s grandchildren share:

– of making ‘Singing Hinnies’ and drop scones – the taste and texture of raisins in raw dough, stolen when she wasn’t looking;

– the smell of her pantry, and the feel of the sticky glace cherries and angelica waiting to be also stolen from inside;

– the sound of the green and cream enamel cake tin as you pried it open;

– of little fingers exploring cutters and moulds and forbidden sharp objects – culinary contraptions galore;

– of leafing through retro recipe books;

– of stirring cake batter as she shared stories – of her mother, the great cook; of wartime in the countryside; of exotic dishes from her foreign travels with Granddad Jack and Uncle John…

– …all while Doris Day played in the background; grandma humming along to ‘Que Sera, Sera’, betraying her true feelings for Doris, Vera Lynn and co for what could have been her singing career (much as I feel about Beyoncé);

– and of learning that the great secret to grandma’s ‘famed’ asparagus soup was simply to add some fresh asparagus to a packet of Knorr’s.

(Ah, let me leave you with a far better tip from grandma: the secret to her famed fruit salad was a generous splash of Cointreau – now that’s one worth remembering.)

I say my stories and my grandma, because that’s almost all I can offer you.

My brother Chris cannot be here today. As most of you know, he’s currently living in Australia with his wife Kate and two-year-old son (now the proud owner of the green pinny, incidentally), with a daughter due end of August.

I collected some of his favourite memories of grandma, which he asked me to share…

Legend has it that we arrived at grandma and granddad’s at short notice. Now, Chris had never known a visit to our grandparents without jelly and ice cream. (Specifically, jelly moulded into a bunny shape.) When grandma broke the news that no such treat would be forthcoming, young Chris – as grandma oft liked to recall – said: “But you knows I was coming!”.

He also remembers her holding forth in her front room, watching John Wayne movies, flanked by copies of the ‘Radio Times’ and ‘Reader’s Digest’, showing holiday photos, and watching the world through her front window. Chris and Kate both have vivid recollections of grandma’s running commentary on the comings and goings of neighbours; she had a front-row seat to life (as well as the kamikaze deaths of many a bird fooled by the patio windows beyond).

Chris also called this morning on reading this to say that he and Kate also spoke about how much grandma loved my granddad. ‘My Jack’, she called him. ‘My Jack’.

I imagine Chris’s stories are triggering all sorts of equivalent memories for my cousins. Perhaps also for our parents, who watched on as these moments unfolded.

The fact that there are so relatively few people here today is a testament to the long and rich life grandma lived. But those of you who knew her – as Jo, Joan, Aunty, Bunty, Mrs Freeman or mum – you will all have your own stories and perspectives.

And that’s right and as it should be.

Because something my grandma knew better than most, was the power of story. Yes, whether living it or telling it, she could mesmerise you. My favourites are:

– of a young woman who had ‘a good war’; of dressing up, sneaking out and dancing to Glenn Miller with American GIs; and of the ‘Dear John’ letter that never was that led to her marriage to granddad;

– of her children growing up, and my own mum’s mischievousness;

– of singing in working men’s clubs, and of raucous house parties thrown with Granddad Jack and Uncle John;

– of a vast tapestry of family and friends; of gossip and drama and corny jokes;

– of her grandchildren’s first garbled words;

– of fairies that lived at the bottom of the garden; ghosts and the Grey Lady; telling fortunes with cards and tea leaves; of mysteries and laughter;

– of our last Christmas together while she was a guest – me, mum, Chris and grandma dancing to ‘In The Mood’ while she reminisced;

– of reading between the lines, as I grew older, for secrets untold and dreams unfulfilled;

– of drinking one too many sherries;

– of a life less ordinary.

I say that grandma ‘left me’ with stories. This was also her gift, as it is the gift of all great storytellers: to make memories; to impart wisdom. The surety of knowing that the recipient of the story will come to understand the full meaning – in time.

When I was a little girl, I recall she once stopped me in my tracks in a forest to point out a red squirrel. “I want you to remember this, Amy,” she said. “Red squirrels are very rare. This may be the last time you see one in the wild.” And it was.

Similarly, Chris remembers grandma telling him of her mother prompting her to remember seeing the Hindenburg somewhere above England; an historic moment to be consciously committed to memory.

I invite you to remember this:

My penultimate visit to grandma was, to my shame and regret, the first and last time I visited her alone at her care home. We forget that elderly people have as rich internal lives and as unnourished spiritual needs as we do, despite the ravages of such conditions as dementia.

But, that day, I decided to slow down and spend ample time with grandma. Once I’d learned to navigate the time-travelling and surreal interruptions (like the squawking of the budgie next door), it was not so tough to speak to the lucid part of her.

And then it came.

“When would it… when would be a… good time… to go?” she asked.

I feel so privileged to have had an end-of-life conversation with my grandma. I recently read a book about happiness and what it means to be the author of our own death. I know that those of you who were part of grandma’s last weeks and days will be struggling with the meaning of a system that does not aid a person who tells us that they’re ready to go. But, in this moment, I felt that, here was this feisty woman, seizing back control of her story. “When would be a good time to go?” The implication being that it would still, ultimately, be her call.

The last time I saw grandma, around three weeks before she died, I visited with mum. Mum bustled in, understandably full of practicalities; the staff were putting grandma to bed at 4.30 PM – she’d said she was tired, by which, I believe, she meant she was tired of life and living it, but that nuance is easily missed.

As mum said her hellos, grandma focused in on me – and even I wondered if she was struggling to place me.

“It’s Amy?” said mum.

“I know that,” grandma retorted, sharp as a tack.

And then she looked at me and asked, with a twinkle in her fading eyes: “Is it time?”

It is not yet our time. But life is short. Push the boundaries of what society says you can be and do. Unburden yourself of imagined constraints and secrets. Don’t save outfits ‘for best’. Wear your pearls. Eat butter and cream. Be yourself. Tell us your story. Drink. Dance. Laugh. Love. Let the music play!

Let The Music Play

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