Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sweet Rose

My great-grandma – Nana - died this morning. Ever since I can remember, she always called me her “sweet rose.” She was ninety-five: born in 1917 as the last flames of the First World War flared. She lived through almost a century of history, but to her it wasn’t history – merely life. She had a sweet, loving heart that was squeezed by her upbringing. Her father was a Methodist minister, and she grew up being taught that other people’s needs were more important than hers. Her parents expected their only child to have a smile for the public, practised in front of a mirror and then worn at all times like a paper cut-out. If she showed preference for certain toys then they were taken away and given to someone else deemed more needy. Her treasured dolls' house was a casualty of this process, something she never forgot. She was forbidden from forming any meaningful friendships – for if she favoured one girl then her parents claimed she would upset the others.
These rules and expectations echoed through the rest of her life. Nana had no space to flourish, and so developed a tendency towards self-destruction.  She was an extraordinarily talented painter and pianist. Despite such talents, at nineteen she was told she could not continue a study of music as it was time for her to become engaged. At twenty-one she married the man to whom she had been betrothed at birth. He was five years older than her, and had held her when she was a few days old – their parents setting out the future for the two of them. Nana was a product of the times; property handed from father to husband. She was expected to fulfill the twin roles of housewife and mother.  But there was luck. My great-grandfather was a considerate, sensitive man who had no desire to assert his power, and the two of them lived in a sibling-like relationship. He was a primary school teacher, on his way to becoming a head teacher, but joined the RAF at the start of WWII; making use of his Cambridge maths degree to train young men in radar use. He was barely home for six years, with only sporadic visits back to his wife and only child (my mum’s mum). But this was no exception, merely the rule of a time when everyone was working through varying degrees of personal loss and trauma.
At this point my great-grandma moved back in with her parents, who had an open-house policy for all servicemen passing through Stratford upon Avon. It was perhaps one of her happiest times, with the duties of war giving Nana a defined role. She had purpose - helping out in the canteen, and spending her evenings driving around a projectionist who set up film showings for troops. Once a young couple arrived at her parents’ house with nowhere to stay. They had been married that day, rushing into matrimony before the RAF pilot returned to duty the next morning. Nana gave up her bed – laying out fresh sheets and flowers – so that the newlyweds might have a proper wedding night.  It was a moment of true selflessness, my great-grandma wanting to be the agent of someone else’s brief happiness.

For the seventeen years I knew her, the last four were characterized by extreme dementia. She still referred to me as her “Rose” when I saw her, but she was confused – asking my mum how my career as a high court judge was going (when I was sixteen), and whether my brother enjoyed his job as an engineer (at age eleven). Her days were full of fantasy – populated with television personalities she regarded as personal friends, and family members who had long since died. There were flashes of warmth as she said “thank you duckie” or referred to my mum by her nickname. But she was frail, hanging onto life with ever-aging hands. The news today was sudden, but not unexpected. 

When my mum was with her this morning, she described Nana as looking like a “tiny alabaster saint”. It’s easy to glorify those who have passed away, as though the tensions and problems of previous years are cancelled out. But this is not a hymn to my great-grandma. Instead it is a folk-song: a narrative recalling her in all her beauty and her unhappiness. She was both extraordinary and ordinary, as perhaps we all are. She saw a country change from gas lights and horse-drawn milk-floats to the internet and fast cars. In fact, in the late 1970s she insisted that my great-grandpa bought a bright yellow TR7 sports car for them both to drive – upgrading from the rather more mundane mini. This is one of the many snapshot tales that define her. It is part of remembering and celebrating someone to share their stories, and we keep them as heirlooms – carefully folded; ready to shake out and to pass down.  

She is survived by her only grandchild (my mum), two great-grandchildren (me and my brother) and a niece.

Roses seemed particularly appropriate for this post. The vintage dress I'm wearing (in shots taken a few months ago) is very similar to one that we have slides of my great-grandma wearing. And at the moment there is a framed photo sitting on our kitchen table, the image showing my great-grandfather in his garden, framed by banks of bright flowers and roses. Nana had it in her bag when she was taken to hospital for the final time. 


Kate Sarah said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your Nana sounds like a truly wonderful, inspirational woman with a beautiful soul. As always, you look gorgeous. Lots of love to you and your family.

Love, Kate

Sara said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you and your family all the best, and strenght.

And you are beautiful.

Elizabeth said...

A beautiful poetic tribute to your Nana. I feel honoured to have read that.

I am so sorry for you loss.


Frances Davison said...

This is so beautiful, and I'm so sorry.
Makes me ashamed of how little I know about the lives of so many estranged family members. x

AVY said...

Sorry to hear that. The worst part of life is that it ends and I don't believe in heaven.



olivia grace said...

I am so sorry for your loss, but you have written the most beautiful tribute to her; which I am sure she would love xx

Willow said...

This is a really beautiful post, about who sounds like a beautiful, extraordinary and inspirational woman. I am so sorry for you and your family's loss.

Junaluska said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your great-grandmother. She sounds like an extraordinary woman. I love the story about her making a special wedding night for the couple.

Fashion Tales said...

I'm sad to hear about your loss dear, loved reading about the memories you had of her. Sending blessings to you and your family.

hayley said...

I'm so sorry for your loss Rosalind. It's so cute that she called you her "sweet rose".

Krystalle Teh said...

Sorry for your loss, Roz. Her story is extraordinarily beautiful, and this poignant tribute would have made her proud.

Thank you.

- Krystalle

Sacramento Amate said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your Nana. I never met any of mine, You are a SWEET ROSE, and she will always be close to you.
Much love, my dear Rosalind.

Zoë said...

This brought tears to my eyes, not least because you can tell you are the product of a wonderful familial upbringing, something i never had. This is a beautiful obituary, and I am sincerely sorry for your loss.

Maria Fallon said...

So sorry to hear about your Nana, it is always difficult but you have written a beautiful tribute to her.

Maria xxx

Emalina said...

What a moving and evocative tribute to your Nana. You write about the emotional complexities of her life in such an insightful, loving way, she would have been proud.

Chloe Likes To Talk said...

I'm sorry for your loss, although in my personal experience of demebtia, the loss seems to come a lot sooner than the actual passing.

It's a truly beautiful tribute that you've written, really touching, and a wonderful take on a person and her life.

Bella Q said...

One: You look beautiful, dear Rose-a-lin. Two: Thank you for sharing your Nana's story in such a touching and poignant manner. I believe when we honor our loved ones who've passed, we sketch out a bit more life for them. RIP Nana.
The observation and phrase "She was both extraordinary and ordinary, as perhaps we all are" is resoundingly true. And precious each life is, however lived, and should be cherished.

My condolences to you, your brother and mum, Roz.

Be good. -Bella Q

Closet Fashionista said...

I am so sorry for your loss! It's always hard to lose a loved one, but she will still be with your every day in your thoughts :) She sounded like an amazing woman :)
(love that dress)

daisychain said...

I am so sorry for your loss, what a beautiful tribute post <3 x

Estilo Hedónico said...

Amazing outfit!!! I love it!!
If you want, we can follow each other!! let me know!



Vix said...

I'm sorry to hear of your Great-Grandma's passing. I know that with dementia it's like we've already said goodbye to the person they once were but it's still a sad event nevertheless. Rose sounded like a remarkable strong and glamorous woman, I'm sure she would have been very proud of you. xxx

SabinePsynopsis said...

Rest in peace, Nana - what a beautiful post and memory to remember her. It is strange, independence was already a big topic for women in these times. My grandmother was born 10 years earlier and went to University of Prague and did her pHD... Combining 6 children with a career was a struggle for her though. xo

Jean at www.drossintogold.com said...

It's so special that you have the memories and stories to share, intensely individual yet universal. As you described her I thought of the grandmothers I never knew.

I thought of my own mother, who will be 90 at the beginning of December. She's gradually sliding into her own world, one that's difficult to access, especially living far away. That's one of the reasons I started my blog. My father, at 89, can pull up the site and show her my pictures as a way of reminding her who I am.

Thank you for sharing your Nana with us. I wonder if she ever secretly wanted to be a high court judge?
I'm glad she got her sports car.

marta r. said...

i cried while reading this..my great-grandma died less than a year ago, and she was a month shy from turning 94 y.o., born in 1918, so this story reminds me al lot of her..thanks for sharing and writing so beautifully every time, english is only my fourth language but i always read your posts with pleasure :)
a hug for these sad times

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I am so sorry for your loss, dear Rosalind. My thoughts are with you, your mum, and the rest of the family she left behind.

I love how you call this your folk tale. It is beautiful and touching and REAL, the way all folk tales are. Your nana sounds like an extraordinary woman who found her purpose within the boundaries of the time. She was also extremely blessed to have you as her "Sweet Rose".

My grandmother (we call her Grandmère, obviously there were francophiles in the family despite us living in the tropics) is turning 100 yrs old in January. We are all hoping she hangs on until that date. But it really is just a date. Regardless of the length of her life, we should just celebrate the woman she was -- university educated at a time most women were not, with incredible wit and humor, yet willing to raise 6 children (my mom's family) quietly while her husband rose to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Your comment on being the high court judge made me smile because my grandfather & grand-uncle used to refer to me as the "lawyer", when I was an argumentative 4 year old. I think I just disappointed them as the years went on and showed no inclination for a career in Law! (Only now am I appreciating that so many people I enjoy talking to are from the legal profession.)

I'm sure your Nana, from her saintly perch, is happy to join your great-grandfather among the roses. And she leaves behind her Sweet Rose to continue to bloom.

Big hug, J xxx

vintagevixenarts said...

A very sincere tear goes out to you and your family for the loss of your dear Nana. But oh what a wonderful bio that you have lovingly posted!I was instantly transported, and felt how endearing she was to you. Well done~

Thrifted Shift said...

Your folk-song tribute is lovely. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother.

Lydia said...

I'm so sorry for your loss! It sounds like your great-grandmother was an extraordinary woman, which seems to run in your family!

Anonymous said...

You are a beautiful, beautiful writer, thank you for sharing this and Rose with us.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful tribute to your great-grandmother. To have lived such a long life and through a war as well, her story may well be both ordinary and extraordinary but it's wonderful of you to share it with us. I hope you and your family are looking after one another during this hard time. x

Flis said...

This tribute to your grandmother is so beautifully written that there are tears in my eyes as I type this. Best wishes for you and your family in this hard time :) xxx

styleeast said...

Gosh, Roz, this brought a tear to my eye. What a beautiful tribute, and a fascinating story of the life your Nana led. Thinking of you all at this sad time, lots of love xx

adrielleroyale said...

I'm so sorry for your loss... You write so eliquently of her, I can only imagine what a blessing you were to each other. :) May your sweet memories be ever a comfort to you as you celebrate this life...

Tara said...

Dear Roz,

I am wholly saddened to hear of your loss. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to lose someone so close to you and who has, as evinced by your beautifully written, profound and utterly affecting eulogy, left such an indelible imprint on your life.
However, I do know it can be extremely difficult to retrace the well-worn cobbles of the past – picking up fragments of memories and tales that, no matter how joyful or humorous, will now be glazed with a sombre hue. Your “folk-song”, your ode to Nana, is a remarkable construction of pure truth and beauty – two components that, in today’s world, are quite difficult to see in tandem.
Put quite simply - I am honoured to have read it. Reading “Sweet Rose” – gaining both an insight into your life and that of your extraordinary great-grandmother – made me think about the minute, completely inconsequential thoughts and worries one lets rule one’s life when there are so many things of far greater importance out there.
I know, though you may not be a “high court judge”, Nana will be so proud of all that you have achieved.
I offer my deepest sympathy to you and your family and hope you will continue to “shake out” and “pass down” similar fond memories of Nana.

Best Wishes,


Tela de Araña said...

What a lovely piece of History...

Melanie said...

This is a very moving post about a woman who was clearly loved dearly by her sweet rose. I easily forget the austerity of times gone by, especially when I am miffed by gender inequity today, but reading about your Nana is a reminder of how much easier life is for us now due to the forbearance of these strong capable women. I am sad for your loss but happy to hear the folk song your Nana left you. Your photo editorial is a beautiful tribute.

Fashionistable said...

Oh Roz I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your exceptional Great Grandma, I have tried but failed not to cry at your post. My heart was breaking at the tale of her upbringing. Certainly a reflection of the times - she was very lucky with your Great Grandfather thank goodness. It amazes me that this sort of match making still goes on in some communities today. It seems so outdated. We have to count ourselves lucky too.
It is good that through the mists of her dementia she could remember you (at times). And the fact that she had in her bag the picture of your Great Grandfather made me cry again. Maybe not unexpected news but very sad all the same. My love and kisses to you, your Mum and the boys. Xxxx

Christobel Amelia said...

I am truly sorry to hear of your loss Roz, I know a little about grief to know that it is an awful thing but I know that you will find your own ways of dealing with it and I hope that your creativity helps you.
I'm sure your Nana would have been so proud to read that fitting tribute-to have encapsulated her life in that way as a bystander without overshadowing or dominating her narrative is quite special.
I like to believe that the ones we love never leave us and that their influence and presence lingers on in our own lives.
In writing this narrative your Nana has lived on in a sense; you have immortalised her story and shared it with others which I think it wonderful.
Christobel x

L'age moyen said...

It's incredible what this generation (my grandparents) witnessed and how dramatic the changes were. There is no question at least for me that women underwent the greatest changes and in some ways were made more aware of their disappointments in life because of these rapid changes and the glimpses of a real life which we now live quite freely. How wonderful for you that you were able to know your great grandmother, and how wonderful for her to have had you in her life.

Maya Topadze Griggs (Soccer Mom Style) said...

what a special lady. I'm so sorry for your loss. Love the nickname Nana gave you :)

the color of your dress is so beautiful but in black and white pictures your dress is stunning.

Ireland Casswell-Clarkson said...

A very beautiful if tragic folk song that moved me a hardened cynic to the edge of tears but it's a strangely uplifting story in the end.
Your writing has improved tenfold in my eyes with this riveting, sad "folk song".
You have depicted her as the strong beautiful woman I'm was, I'm very sorry for your entire families loss. You look like the very image of an English rose in these pictures.

Pilgrim at Kerjacob said...

Just such a wonderful, tender and honest piece of writing about a very special woman of her time. She accepted her lot and as best she could made for the best.
Your mother and yourself are a continuation of her character and it is wonderful that YOU especially LIVE your life to the full.
My Nan died 46 years ago and hardly a day goes by that I don't think about her and recognise what she gave me for being who she was.

Thinking of you and the silver framed photograph.


Izzy/Bella said...

Hi Roz,
I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. You were lucky to know her so well, and she to have such a close relationship with you! You created such a vivid sense of her character and life. I could almost see these snapshots of a vivid woman. My family is so enormous that I never felt I knew any of the older generation as well as I would have liked to. I'd have loved to have written the story of my grandfather's extraordinary life and career (he was born in 1904, an identical twin and a very gentle, gambling part of the Jewish mafia in New York!), but he died before I had a chance to record his stories again. They were so great our family had already recorded them once and gave them to a "professional" writer who never returned them sadly. I could see you turning this into a biography of her, so much there to develop and that I'd love to hear more about. I loved your description of the ordinary beauty of her life. Your love and closeness with her are the most evident and touching part. I know you said she was frail for a while, but I also know the grief of losing someone who you almost never thought would die...My grandfather was 97, and the day he died was one of the saddest of my life. I'm sending you a big hug and kiss from America! I'm sorry this isn't my most perspicacious comment...Anyway not nearly as much as this piece deserves. You might have seen from my earlier comments I was reading your blog as a welcome escape from the election news going on now in America, and I have minus many brain cells at the moment. I'll have to revisit this piece tomorrow when I can breathe again.
Much love,

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