Up, up and away

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunday was my granny's 90th birthday. To celebrate this momentous... er, moment, she had a party. 

We decorated the communal lounge of her sheltered housing complex with garlands of paper flowers, balloons, a big pink sparkly 90. My uncle created an amazing slideshow filled with scores of old photographs spanning probably a hundred years of family history. My mum put together a party playlist, my aunt cleaned out Marks and Spencers' food department and my little cousins skipped about being adorable and getting crazy high on sugar.

Hair was set, party outfits were dusted off, sausage rolls were consumed, sherry was sipped, and sipped, and sipped. 

I was examined with everything from confusion to astonishment. Is it really Kirsty? How can you be so tall? So beautiful? And a lawyer? The last time I saw you, you were [insert arbitrary estimation of height here]. Just milk, thank you dear, no sugar. Oh well, maybe a small sherry. Little bit more. (I was in charge of drinks. I can't imagine why.)

Aside from the fact that it was the hottest day of the year so far and the central heating was on FULL FUCKING BLAST, it was a really lovely party. I think my granny enjoyed it.

I have written about my nana before, but not very much about my granny, my dad's mum. Possibly because it feels somehow more intrusive to write about someone who is still (obviously) alive, and would have no concept of what a blog even is. Perhaps this is the best way to describe what she's like: she was made to leave our wedding at 10.30 because my great aunt was tired, and my granny has still. not. stopped. talking about it. She was horrified at having to leave so early and put it down to the fact that her sister-in-law is English and therefore clearly does not know how to have a good time at a Scottish wedding. If it had been up to my granny, she would have still been bopping away at midnight with the best of them.

In other words, for 90, she's pretty cool. A little wandered maybe, a little repetitive, and her eyesight and hearing make it difficult for her to always follow the thread of a conversation, especially in a big group, but she's doing pretty well. Hanging on in there. Happy birthday, granny - here's to your 100th!

As lovely as the party was, there was one moment that was so sweetly sad that I have carried around in my heart for two days, a little ball of sorrow and fear that I am unable to put down. 

My mum and I were chatting to one of my granny's friends, a sweet, friendly, bright spark of a man. My mum asked after his wife. Oh, you know, he said. The same.

It transpired that his wife of many decades has dementia. She sits at home. She does not speak. She wanders off, stares into space, murmurs odd nothings. Her husband lives at home with her - together, alone - and spends most of his time caring for her. 

In sickness and in health. Til death do us part. When you are young and healthy and taking these vows, all caught up in the giddy excitement of a wedding, forever is incomprehensible. Time stretches off into a hazy nothingness. But sitting there, talking to this nice old gentleman, all I could think was please don't let me end up like that. Don't let me become a burden on the people I love. And yet, what is the alternative? I was sitting in a room full of white fluffy heads, maybe three or four of whom at most still had living spouses. Endless empty days, with nothing left but the memories of better ones? No thanks.

Wow, this is all getting a little depressing. Hmm, how to turn this post around. Can't have you all rushing off to book your trips to Switzerland. 

I know - have you ever seen UP? Oh, how I love that film. As I've admitted before, I am such a sucker for a sad film. Sitting in a darkened room quietly weeping to the strains of a Hollywood orchestra must be one of the most soothing experiences in life. So, a film where the emotional suckerpunch comes TEN MINUTES IN? Jackpot!

Seeing an entire relationship condensed into those ten minutes is an oddly profound experience. (I know it's a cartoon but, as with all Pixar films, it's so much more than that, so shhhh.) There is romance, there is heartbreak, there is tenderness; it's beautiful. And yes, it is short. Scarily so. But is it worth it?

I think (hope) it will be.

Images: 1. Balloons by Ani-Bee 2. Party feet by ban.do 3. Camera and confetti by Bethan Phillips 4. The most adorable couple ever (via here) 5. I couldn't not post this (!) by Marrie Bot

14 boats moored

  1. Sounds like a lovely party.

    My grandad passed away 3 years ago and before our wedding my granny made my little brother promise that he would be her dance partner for the night. After my grandad had passed away, my grandma admited that one of the things she really missed, was the little moments of their everyday life, such as dancing in the kitchen when their song was on the radio...

  2. On a totally superficial note, I was at my grandads house for his birthday on Saturday and they had the heating on full blast-totally ridiculous!
    But great post otherwise, my gran is slowly slipping away. She doesn't remember things now, gets easily confused, and the other day went out on her own without my grandad knowing and got very lost. It's so sad to watch, and my grandad gets annoyed with her. But I think it's his way of dealing with having to watch this person who's been in your life for over 60 years disappearing.
    On a happier note, she danced all night at my cousins wedding recently with any man who would partner her!!

  3. Kiirrsstty - why did you have to write this post TODAY? When I've just found out that my man who has been away for 10 days is stuck in the US for another day? And even though it's only one more day, I just want him HOME. And I made the house all pretty and left a note on the kitchen table and his favourite food in the fridge and am wearing a dress that he likes... Tears. In. My. Eyes. At. Work. Damn. You.

    Alzheimer's disease and dementia are on both sides of my fiance's family. Both of his Grandmothers lost their husbands after many years of confusion, residential care, them not knowing who they were and even phone calls from the Police in the middle of the night because a man had been found driving the wrong way down the road in his dressing gown. But they talk so fondly of their marriages and fill their lives with their grandchildren, friends and hobbies. If that is going to be me (hopefully many, many years down the line), then I all I can hope for is a whole heap of memories of many happy, joyful years together. xx

  4. Why oh why did you have to put in that photo of Dad and I naked??? Only joking, we are much fatter! PS Lovely words about a lovely day for Granny

  5. I'm glad your Gran had a good 90th, sounds like she knows how to party!

    The opening sequence in UP has me in tears every time - it's so, so well done.

    My 91 year old grandmother has dementia with Lewy Bodies and it makes me sad every day to think about how her life is ending. But it also makes me more determined to make sure I live my life to the full and appreciate every minute of the time my husband and I have together. It may not be as long as I want it to be but it will definitely be worth it.

  6. Hi gorge I think this is my favourite post you have ever done. You are such a good writer please write a best seller so we can retire. xxxxxx

  7. Omg your husband is adorable. Fin - you're too cute!

    In other news: I cry every time I watch the opening sequence of UP. Also, where did you get that amaaaaaazing naked old people photo? It's tremendous!

    We are totally going to come visit you in Scotland. Cumbria is not too far away.

  8. I was convinced I could make it through the opening of Up without misting over. I was wrong. Mind you, there's a mobile phone company advert here about a father calling home while in various anonymous hotels that raises the dust quotient in the room as well, so plainly I'm more of a soft touch than I had hoped.

    As for the dreaded shuffle into Alzheimer's... if the family trends for heart disease and stroke don't render this a moot point, I have told Rebecca that should she see me renting a Cadillac for no particular reason when we're in our dotage, please don't ask any questions, and please stay away from the bottom of the nearest cliff.

  9. Thanks so much everyone for all your lovely comments - Fin gets top marks for enthusiasm (even if he is seriously deluded...) So sorry to hear that many of you have had to deal with this yourselves, it is just heartbreaking. But also inspiring, the way people face every day with such dignity and compassion - amazing.

    Zan - yes, do!! I have no idea how far Cumbria is but it can't be that far, right? The photo is of my parents JUST KIDDING it's from Pinterest. From a board called Geriatrophile. It's not what you think, honest...

    Colin - how did you cope with Toy Story 3? When I went to see it there was a guy about your age there with his kid who was seriously struggling. I'm talking ugly, loud, rasping sobs. In public. Oh, the shame.

  10. What a lovely post. And sad. And true. I adore the film Up. It was actually my husband who watched it first and said he'd filled up at that montage of their life and then we watched it again with my stepson and me and hubs are both blubbing while stepson (who was 9) looks at us like we're idiots! I can't imagine how it must feel to suddenly not have your best friend and soulmate in your life anymore after so many years together which is why i make hubs promise me he'll never die, a la "Team America" (another great animated film but for entirely different reasons!)

  11. Oh. And happy 90th to your granny!

  12. Aww, the Fin comment on this is totally priceless.

    Tearing up! I love Up--it's between that and WallE for projecting onto a sheet at the wedding. Pixar FTW.

    I love this post--there's something so heartwrenching about a couple caring for each other. But to me it is so very beautiful, and I hold that close to my heart. I know that I will be the one to care for C, as he already has several health issues and I'm younger. His grandma is a horrible person who resents his grandpa, who dutifully, resentfully, bitterly carries out her duty to care for him. I try to keep an eye on it so I remember to not be that person later in life.

    Congrats to your Granny!!

  13. Kirsty, I haven't seen and know nothing about Toy Story 3, so thanks for the warning.

  14. Your granny sounds awesome. Especially for *still* complaining about not getting to stay at the wedding until everyone left.

    UP makes me cry every time. It was on TV this weekend, and I actually left the room for 20 minutes so I wouldn't have to sit through the beginning. It makes me think of my grandparents too much right now, and I would've turned into a sobbing mess.

    DJ's granddad has Alzheimer's. It sucks. And that's all I have to say about that.


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