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Monday, May 23, 2005

A complete life

On last Saturday evening, that is the 21st, at about twenty to eleven, my grandmother died. My mother looked up from me at the other side of the bed, set in a little side-room in the hospital, and said that she thought I ought to get a nurse as Granny's hands were going very white very quickly. The nurse came in, and could feel a faint pulse. He went to take Gran's blood-sugar levels, but the machine did not seem to be giving him a clear reading. He went around the other side of the bed to take the pulse again, and just as he was doing that the drip stopped, and he could not find it. God had called a good and faithful servant home.

We are very fortunate. Granny had only really become seriously ill on the previous Thursday evening, when she complained of a bad tummy ache. She had a difficult Friday, and my Mum decided to bring forward a planned visit one weekend. On Saturday morning my Gran was not precisely well, but had not declined, and so all of us in the family went about our plans, though with the knowledge that this could well be the beginning of the end. But by lunchtime Gran had deteriorated rapidly, and was being admitted to hospital as an emergency. My brother, the practical one (and out of us three brothers the only one who drives) went down to Cornwall at some speed, and met up with a family friend and her daughter - whom Gran had known her entire life - to be with her in hospital. My Mum was, in a fashion typical for our family, an hour or so north of Birmingham without her car. At this stage though, we simply did not know about how serious this was.

That changed by late afternoon, when it had become clear that Granny had reached the final portion of her life here on earth. My mum had since been able to be in contact with the hospital, and given the order to not resucitate, in line with my Gran's wishes. The only question now would she - and me (picked up en route) - arrive before she went. In the event we were, and on reflection it is clear to us that Providence was at work here.

Obviously we have been on the 'phone a lot since, and the thing people have said again and again is that they had spoken to Gran in the last few days. Some very old friends popped in to see her recently, or others rang or wrote a letter. I recall Gran saying how busy a week it had been that Wednesday.

We will miss her terribly, for all that she was. And yet, of course, she is not truly gone. In the words of the hymnwright “Death, where is they sting? Where grave thy victory?” Christ has dissolved that barrier, and all that has merely happened is that my Gran’s earthly existence has come to a close. She remains part of the great Christian Community past and present. That is what I believe, so this is no good-bye, it is “until we meet again”. I am in no doubt that she has begun her journey to Christ, and also to be reunited with her husband, my grandpa, who died when I was four months old.

Granny was born in the fateful spring of 1918 in London, and she lived in London until twenty years ago when she moved to Cornwall. She lived a very full life, although myself of course I only know those final decades. She married my grandpa in the summer of 1941. After his death, of a heart attack, she embarked on a new stage of her life, a stage that would last just over twenty-five years. Her widow-hood was not simply an addendum, it was a whole new volume.

When she moved to Cornwall she threw herself into the life of the village, becoming one of its many pillars. She gave of her time to many things, the Royal British Legion, the Royal National Lifeboat Association (our Coastguard service), Meals on Wheels for the elderly (at one point everyone on her round was younger than her), and in countless ways with the local Parish, and a bunch of other organisations I will have forgotten. For all this she will be missed by many more than just those of us that were her family, or close friends. She touched so many lives, and touched them for the better.

In her last years my Gran’s boundaries contracted, as she first became unable to drive, slowly lost her mobility, until at the beginning of this year she had to go to a Nursing Home. She was never one to complain, there was always a certain steely determination that one always associates with those who lived through the Blitz. Resolutely cheerful she faced the loss of this independence with the same fortitude that she faced her entire life, and I do not believe she was unhappy there. Within a few weeks she had made friends with all the staff, and her birthday in particular was an occasion of joy.

I have, this last week, kept returning to the language of completeness. As I was there when she slipped away I was struck by how right the ending was. There was no sense of struggle, and no sign of pain, only of gentle rest. The sense of restfulness after finishing a mighty task, of a job well done. It was her time, and her work on this earth – her life – was done. She stayed with us until she was sure her daughter was there, and then she packed her bags, and went. She was always a great one for travelling. She had completed her life, and that is another reason why I cannot be overly sad. Rather I feel to have been enriched beyond measure by the blessing of knowing her. Christ is in each of us, and in her Christ shone.

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