Losing a loved one is never easy. Melanie Mullan reflects back on special memories that were made before her grandmother passed away in December.
For the last three years, since I moved back to Dublin, my family and I would take turns spending a weekend with my Nana in Newry. Some weekends I would drive straight up from work on a Friday, others I would arrive on a Saturday morning just in time to bring her to her weekly hair appointment with Winifred, driving her over the windy hill and praying no cars met us from the other direction.
I would collect her Saturday edition of the The Daily Telegraph from the local shop, the magazine is vital for TV listings, while she was getting her hair set and we would return back to the house just in time to decide where to go for lunch. Nana knew the places she liked to eat and what each restaurant was good for; soup, sandwiches, big dinners, good parking. For her, a good meal meant how quick it was placed in front of you … and their choice of sweet for after, there was always room for dessert.
On afternoons when the sun was shining we would take the scenic route home, driving the backroads, Nana pointing out spots where she would go with the girls – her group of friends that she met through various French, Italian or iPad classes that she took up in her 80s. Some days we would stop for 99s, others we would drive to churches and monasteries, she didn't mind where we went, she just loved the drive. Back at the house we would light the fire and spend the evening watching endless amounts of murder mystery programmes – Nana would remember she’d already seen each episode halfway through – and I would get plyed with cakes and biscuits in return for keeping the coffee flowing and bringing a ham sandwich at supper time.
On Sunday’s I would bring her porridge, and then race to get the fire clean and rebuilt before she came downstairs to tell me how I was doing it wrong. It would always get rearranged when I left the room, and I would later be told what a great fire I had built. She would read her prayer book or catch up on mass on the telly, and a request was always made for me to play some songs on the piano before we went out for lunch.
Our weekends were all about eating out, she loved to be able to go out. For Sunday lunch she would tend to choose a hotel close to her house, conscious of the fact I had to drive back to Dublin later that day, while I desperately argued that I didn’t mind, the thought of having to fight another tough piece of meat and the ridiculous speed with which it came out was never an appealing meal for me. Wherever we ended up, the staff all knew her. “Lovely to see you, Mrs Mullan. Is this your granddaughter? Are you having your usual coffee? No vegetables for you?” The vegetables were a regular battle. She hated broccoli, or anything green, and I was never able to change her mind in relation to it. She shut me up once and for all one day by saying “Sure what good are they going to do me at this stage of my life?” That was that, then.
She wasn’t an easy customer either. I would regularly be mouthing my apologies to the waiter over complaints of food taking too long, coffee in the wrong cup or music being too loud. She didn’t mean it in a terrible way though, she just said it as it was. And they all loved her for it. As do I.
“Don’t forget to put out the bin, dear; check what colour bin Betty has outside her house so we have the right one. Will you close the curtains? Don’t forget to bring down my breakfast tray, dear. Would you mind filling the coal bucket, dear? I’ve been on to St Anthony for a man for you” … She kept me on my toes on those weekends but was always so thankful for the times we had together. When back in Dublin on Sunday evenings I would text to say I was home safe, her reply was always the same “I enjoy our weekends together, Mel.” So did I. I wouldn’t have changed them for a thing.
My weekends are coming and going, yet I can’t help but wish that I had my car hire booked, on the phone to Nana making plans to arrive in time to go to Winifred’s, the phone call always ending the same way, “Don’t forget to bring your piano music.”