My grandmother, Sheila, was born on 27th December 1918. The first world war had just finished. Also, at that time the 'Spanish Flu,' was brought from the trenches and killed many more. My great-grandfather died in his bed when granny was only six days old. Whenever we would ask her about this she would say, "Well I was the youngest so I was spoilt by my brothers and sisters." Nine siblings in all, one wheelchair bound. Great-granny was saved from complete financial ruin because her husband worked for Guinness Brewery, which gave generous widows pensions and, thankfully, also her a job.
Gran was of the generation that didn't grumble or complain and alway counted their blessings. Or maybe that was just her nature. She talked happily about her childhood and her older sisters watching over her. Her brother Benny would hide sweets in his wheelchair and sneak them to her. She had phrases she used to repeat often to us, such as, "My mother always made sure we had good shoes, no matter how tough times were."
I get the impression when she met my grandfather, Matthew, that they were completely smitten. He playing gaelic football for Dublin, eventually winning an All-Ireland medal. He asked her to wait for a couple of years until they married so she did. They married during the Second World War, receiving food stamps as wedding gifts. She had granddad's All-Ireland medal made into a brooch that she wore every day.
I remember their marriage as one of mutual adoration and respect. They had five children: Maire, my mother, Sheila, Eithne, Matt and Trish. Every Tuesday she would go into town with her friend to the cinema. She wore her good shoes. Grandad would meet her at the end of the evening at the bus stop with her comfortable shoes so they could walk home together.
She was only 52 when her first grandchild was born, me. As a result I have many happy memories of visiting and staying with her. I used to get bubbles of excitement in my stomach if I saw Grandad at the school gate to collect myself and my two brothers, Kieran and Paul, when we were staying with them. My Aunt Trish was only eight years older than me, therefore, the coolest person on the planet with her make-up and discos. Grandad made up great stories and sang endless songs and granny baked the most delicious cakes.
Once of my strongest memories, however, was staying the night at their house while my parents went away for a night. I developed an ear-ache as I lay in the dark. Being a six year old I thought I'd get in trouble if I went downstairs. Unfortunately the ear-ached became more and more painful until I could stick it no longer. I went down to granny in the cozy front-room and looked at her. Breaking down into tears I went over to her and told her about my ear. I sat up on her lap and she just enveloped me in a huge, warm cuddle. The ear-ache felt better already.
Years later, when I told her that I was leaving banking to do Montessori teaching and she advised me against it. She remarked that 'I'd never make any money from that.' (She was right) But I replied that I was, 'happy doing the teaching and hated banking.' (I was right). Then she stopped for a minute and smiled at me, "You never cease to amaze me." I took it as a compliment.
She had fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She was the rock that sustained her two daughters when they were tragedically widowed at young ages. And every 27th December, the whole family gathered together to celebrate her birthday.
We all met again this year, without gran, as she was bed-ridden. I called in to see her in the wonderful nursing home that were giving her the best of care. I left a laminated picture from my son with a picture of the sun and a rainbow and a happy birthday message to her. I kissed her on her warm, soft, dark-skinned forehead and told her I loved her.
Those were my last words to her. She passed away peacefully this morning. Three days after her 93rd birthday. I'm thankful to have been surrounded all my life by so many loving relatives. To have loved and be loved the greatest life of all. xx