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Reflecting on half a decade without my Nan

Today marks five years since my maternal grandmother passed away. It’s mad, to think that much time could have elapsed already, but it has. Indeed, the older I get, the more time seems to be accelerating. There was once a time when five years seemed impossibly long. Nowadays, those half-decades snap by awfully fast.

In the run-up to the anniversary, I started to wonder what she would have made of the last five years of my life. Then it occurred to me that there’s really no need. I know exactly what she would have thought, what she would have said, how she would have reacted. I know because I know her. I know her, even though she has been gone for half a decade now.

I know she would have been ‘over the moon’ when I passed my Teacher Training course. I can picture her telling her friends at church how proud she was, and getting them all to sign a congratulations card for me. Sometimes I wonder how much easier that course would have been had she not died when she did. Maybe there is an alternate universe out there where she lived, and I got to finish my training without the added struggles of trying to grapple with my grief. Where the last few months passed uneventfully, rather than culminating in a full-scale meltdown. Sure, there would still have been drama, but I would have been much better equipped to deal with it.

When I didn’t get the first two jobs I applied for, Nan would have told me to ‘keep my chin up.’ This was her go-to phrase whenever things didn’t go to plan, and I have since appropriated it. Now, if someone I love is having a hard time, I urge them to keep their chin up because that is what she would have said. It’s a useless phrase, but I feel like someone should continue to use it now that she is no longer with us.

Nan loved photographs, and would certainly have requested pictures of me at my graduation ball. Knowing her, she would have phoned the next day to check that I hadn’t drunk too much. I had, but I wouldn’t have told her that. She would have been most disapproving if she knew just how much white wine I’d put away. That being said, if she hadn’t died, I doubt I’d have been quite so hellbent on getting drunk in the first place. Perhaps Alternate Universe Lauren had a perfectly sensible, restrained evening and a hangover-free Friday. We’ll never know.

Not being much of a traveller herself, Nan liked to live vicariously through the four grandchildren. Our adventures were her adventures. All she asked was that we stay safe and bring her a fridge magnet back. Knowing I was going to Florida at the end of my course would have made her life, never mind her day, especially when I came back with a new boyfriend in tow. I can hear her on the phone saying, ‘Oooh, I’m thrilled, darling.’

She would have liked Tom, I’m sure of it. I think the lip ring may have thrown her initially, but she’d soon have come round once she saw how well he treats me. I wonder if she’d have been any better at talking to him than she was to the others. Given how personable he is, I think she might. He certainly would have made a greater effort to talk to her. After all, this is the man who Googles topics beforehand so that he has things to talk to people about at social gatherings. As much as I admire the dedication, you’ll never catch me doing that.

In August of 2015, I moved to Abingdon to begin my first year of teaching. Nan wrote to me virtually every week before her health took a turn for the worse. I wonder how many letters would have winged their way there during the course of that year. Like all her letters, they would have been devoid of any punctuation except for full stops, and the word would have been spelt with a k at the end instead of a g. Knowing Nan, she would have insisted on helping me out with my astronomically high rent, although I wouldn’t have expected her to do so. Anything to make my life easier-that was her mantra.

She would have been delighted to learn that I was moving back to the Midlands to live with Tom after completing my NQT induction year. No doubt she would have rung me multiple times during the journey to check on my progress. ‘Where are you now, darling?’ I’m on the same train I was on last time you rang, Nan, oddly enough. I never said that to her, but I thought it plenty of times. She would have thought the flat was the height of luxury, and would have told everyone so. I think she would have been relieved, knowing I had finally stopped moving around and settled down close to home.

Nan was a great worrier. If one of the grandchildren was having a hard time, she could hardly sleep for fretting about us. Last academic year saw me stuck in a job I hated at a school I couldn’t stand, and it was taking a real toll on my mental health. Part of me thinks it’s a good job she wasn’t here, because I know she would have been worried out of her mind. Then again, maybe having her here would have made it marginally more bearable. When my line manager was making my life difficult, she’d have told me to ‘take no notice,’ and maybe-just maybe-I might have been able to. Even if she could have helped take the edge off a little, that would have been something.

Last year was not a good one for me. As well as the job, I also suffered a huge disappointment in my personal life. Afterwards, when I was struggling to process what had happened, I actually wrote out a scene in which I told Nan all about it. I imagined what I would say to her, and what she would say back: ‘Oooh, you mustn’t worry about that, darling.’ Writing that scene, I found myself remembering all sorts of tiny details, like the way her trousers used to ride up when she sat down, exposing several inches of skinny ankle and the black tights she wore underneath instead of socks. That piece is for my eyes only, but writing it helped me work through some of the tangles in my own mind and see a way forward. Channelling her voice brought me comfort, and it is a technique I will use again, should I feel the need.

Now, I’m glad to say, Nan would have nowhere near as much cause to worry. I left the job that was making me miserable, and am currently enjoying working part time while I get myself back in the right headspace. I have a wonderful, supportive partner who puts my well-being above all monetary concerns, and is more than happy for me to take some time out for myself. Things are quiet at the moment, but after the tumult of the previous year, that is far from a bad thing. Were Nan still here, there would be very little to tell her about, just my daily comings and goings, but then she always found those fascinating for some reason.

That being said, there has been one rather huge development of late. Last October a piece I had written was curated for the first time. I was over the moon as my Nan would put it, and have racked up several more curations in the six months since then. My fan base is steadily growing, and my confidence in my own ability has skyrocketed as a result. I only wish Nan could have been here to see it, as no one championed my writing more than she did. She’d have probably asked me to print off hard copies for her to keep in some folder she’d bought especially. No doubt she would foist said folder upon anyone who stopped by, insisting that they read my writing whether they wanted to or not. Her joy at my success would have rivalled my own, and it would have made that success even sweeter.

Alas, she is not here to read my writing. In some cases that’s probably a good thing. There are things I have written about that I never told her because I knew she wouldn’t approve, although my suspicion is that she knew all along. Who knows? Maybe reading my writing would have helped deepen our bond even further, if such a thing were even possible. Maybe it would have created a whole new level of honesty and openness between us. I certainly like to think so. But as she isn’t here to read my writing, she is just going to have to be the subject of it instead.

Written by

Lauren Phillips is a language teacher and writer with a deep love of words in all their forms. She uses writing to help her process her own tangled thoughts.

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