My last days with her, were spent avoiding her.
My sweet Italian grandmother that always openly held me – the grandchild from London she never saw as much – as her favourite.
I never knew what type of cancer she was diagnosed with and still prefer not to know. I like to think of her in her former, glorious state. In those last months she was nothing but a shell of herself. The fondest memories of my childhood were with her.
I always admired the stunning portrait of her, which hung in her bedroom, every night when I went to visit. She wore pearls and had her bold ginger hair in an up-do and looked like the princesses in the Disney films that I’d first ever watched, with her. Over the sounds of her hideously loud snoring, I’d lie beside her staring at the wallpaper, which audaciously matched the drapes and bedsheets, and listen to the horns from the infamous roads of Naples, all while basking in content that we were together again.
She’d wake at 5am and I’d follow soon after, clambering off the side of the bed, slipping on her wedge sandal slippers and dressing gown and scram into the kitchen. That tatty white floral gown hung off me like a seven dwarf in Snow White’s clothing, but it smelt of her and kept me warm.
There she’d be with the light on, bright as day, making my eyes water and handing me our traditional freshly squeezed orange juice. As we set off for work, my tiny self clung to her hand as she paced two steps ahead of me in a sea of adults, and my eyes would glisten in wonderment at the life she led and how joyous it was to walk a day in her life. She’d boast to everyone who came in her jewellery shop about how the beautiful granddaughter, whose picture she hung up in the silver photo frames she sold, had come to visit her all the way from London.
When she died, my step father woke me in the middle of the night. The phone rang at about 4am. I walked down, turned the corner of the living room and a moment of eye contact re-affirmed my instincts.
It felt like those mornings I’d walk to the kitchen in the dark – only freezing, with no comfort of a dressing gown, and the bright light in the living room wasn’t followed up by orange juice.
With all senses numb I took the phone and mum sounding deadened from crying, told me to pack a bag and that a flight was booked for me to fly over for the funeral later that day.
My chance to say goodbye was ultimately shattered by the heart breaking cliché of the delayed train. We sprinted knowing there was no point. Like in a movie, the words “I’m sorry you’ve missed the plane.” will always haunt me.
When she passed, she did so in the same dressing gown she owned throughout the 18 years I’d had the privilege of knowing her. I asked that it be set aside and kept. Now, as the owner, when the pressures of adulthood get to me, I sit holding it between my arms and visit my irreplaceable memories with a smile.