One Year Later – A Tribute to My Nanna

A little over a year ago, a beloved member of our family cast aside her earthly garment and was initiated into the greatest mystery of all. In holding with the unerring tradition of death, we have not seen or spoken to her since. However, the dissolution of her spirit from our outer perceptions has not stopped her from entering into our hearts and minds to be with us on all occasions – those trivial, those important and those frankly where she has no business being at all.

Yes, Nan – your spirit is still very much alive in our hearts, and very often our actions too.

I was re-reading a piece of writing which I abridged and read at Nan’s eulogy on behalf of her grandchildren. The actual piece was written a year earlier again, after visiting Nan at her nursing home one evening and realising that she was gradually drifting away.

I would like to resurrect it and post it in this blog as a public tribute to the charismatic, nous-filled and well-loved woman that was my Nanna, and also known as Nan, Nanny, Nanna Mac, Mum or Old Girl depending on which family member you ask. And critics would do well to remember – you can’t fatten a thoroughbred.


The first time you were unable to speak to me was a day in 2009 towards the end of winter, but it felt like summer.

As I drove north to visit you after work, the evening air was unseasonably warm and still, and kookaburra’s laughter echoed across the sky long after the sun had set. For a beautiful hour, the sun had lit up the sky like fire in the west, behind the mountains; the first silver evening star hung low and bright, summer is in the air (the cicadas have woken up) and it is your time. It is you. You are more in this summer evening then you are lying alone in Anam Cara nursing home, still and weak on your deathbed.

 Do you remember all of the sunset walks we took at Bribie, down at the beach, first on the surf side and then on the calm side? They were great – at first we would walk, you and your grandkids, maybe play around a bit in the surf – someone would have brought a soccer ball – sometimes you would take us for a BBQ in the park, and watch as we played and made new friends. Then we would sit in the sand together, and watch the sky change from corn blue to burnt orange to hazy pink; then indigo blue and finally spangled ebony. We all listened to the breaking the waves, and their gentle lapping as they climbed the beach and tried to tag our feet. We listened to hundreds of birds screaming in the warm night air, and the irrepressible laughter of kookaburras nearly as raucous as our own, and just as quick to lapse into a peaceful, easy silence. What magic lay on that beach, in those dream time years, where a tiny black poodle name Boko once ran, and gave you such joy, and where our family had a special tree, our names carved in it forever before it washed away to sea. I always believed you understood the language of the sea: its mysteries, its poetry, the scents and memories from bygone eras which wafted from it. Or perhaps you simply learned to listen better than others.

 As we grew older, we watched the sun set from a different side of the island, from the Bribie passage, facing west, and watched it sink behind the crooked Glasshouse Mountains. Sometimes we would all ride bikes, but often we would walk down together from Doomben Drive and get an ice cream – Bubble-O Bills and Golden Gaytimes were our favourites, but you never could resist a Havahart. I couldn’t begin to count the number of ice creams I ate with you at Scoopy’s, overlooking the Bribie passage, where a million lorikeets were screeching as the sinking sun chased them home into the tall pine trees, and you sitting there like a little girl, your hands full of ice cream, chocolate all over you face and both of us giggling uncontrollably because we know it’s worth every second of it. We’ll laugh about times like these, you and I. About the time a giant dog chased us into the surf, and we had to wade home, and then you lost the house key in the sand. Or how the police always pulled you over for riding your shiny blue Melvyn Star without a helmet. “We’ve had some laughs,” you’d always say to me, “We’ve laughed a lot and cried a lot.”

 And we did. Nan, you were the only person I could ever properly cry with.

 I see you this evening – lying small and alone in your darkened room; the oxygen tank an unwelcome drone and the clinical scents of the nursing home your new fragrance, although never the right ones. Dressed in pink and white, you look as fresh and summery as I’ve always seen you – in fact, I’ve never known you to wear black. This is the first time you’re unable to talk to me, and even through I’m trying my hardest I cannot help but cry a little. You can’t talk, can barely open your eyes, but somehow you manage to say, “I can’t talk darling. Tell me the news.” And through tears I try to tell you what’s news, try to make relevant to you a world you’re not a part of any longer. After a few minutes I stop. You were holding my hand, squeezing it the whole time, and I marvel as always at the strength and warmth of your hands – my favourite hands in the whole world. Then you pull my hands towards you, press them to your mouth and croak, “I love you darling. I love you very much.” And I am sobbing uncontrollably, telling you I love you as well. And suddenly your eyes have opened, and you’re looking at me in surprise. “Don’t cry my darling. Smile, always smile.” I do my best to reassure you that I will, and that I do. Still though, I can’t stop the tears. “Don’t cry, my darling. Cry tears of joy,” you croak, kissing my hands once more and then pushing them away. “Goodbye. Oh, I love you. Goodbye.”

 And in five minutes the visit is over, and I am heartbroken, because it is the first time you haven’t been able to talk to me, make me laugh, discuss the sunset, or go over the good times we shared. Yet I can feel you all around me because summer has arrived, and it is your time. I can feel you in the joyful laughter of the kookaburras, in the scent of BBQ in the still night air, in the hope and possibility of the months to come. And even here in the parking lot of Anam Cara nursing home the warm, gentle breeze hasn’t changed a bit from the one that visited us so many years ago, one summer as we played in the sand, and you sat with your grandkids and watched the sun set on the surf side, saw the sky light up and change from blue to orange to pink to indigo, to star-spangled ebony. If you listen, you can hear our laughter on it, the promise of childhood dreams fulfilled the song of the ocean, of summer, of you. Recorded on it are a million laughs, a million tears and a million happy memories of you. It’s all you, and always will be to me. I only wish I could tell you all about it. I’ll continue to smile until that time.