I'm six years old. As was our weekly tradition; it's a Saturday night and I'm staying at yours. My hair, which, by the way, is circa 3ft long, has been tied into one of your trademark messy, fuzzy plaits, curled gently across my shoulder as I lay there in the dark. There's a storm outside, and as it picks up and the thunder starts roaring across the black, sinister sky and the rain starts hammering on the window, you potter in with your cup of tea and your packet of TUC crackers, wrapped up in your ivory, floral nightgown, and you sit on the chair at the end of my bed, crumbs falling into your lap. You didn't say anything. You just sat, eating those crackers. I didn't stay awake for much longer, because having you there was always enough, but, even in those brief, sleepy moments of mine, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a Grandma who would happily sit up until 3am if it meant I didn't have to. I also remember thinking you were the ultimate criminal for eating crackers after you'd brushed your teeth.
I'm eighteen years old. We're sat next to each other at Tommy's funeral. You've just lost the man you've loved and squabbled with for over fifty years. The most integral part of your life has come to its end and I know you're heartbroken. You're holding my hand as the poem I wrote for him is being read out. Your bottom lip is shaking and your eyes are laced with tears. Not a single one of them fell. I look at you and I know you're holding it together for me. You whispered how beautiful my words were and how proud you were of me. I bought you a Baileys at the wake and we said goodbye to him together. I never would have made it through that day without you.
I'm twenty one years old. You've made the spontaneous decision that you need to get a boyfriend so you've got someone around who can help you with the hoovering. We're sat at the dining table on my laptop, and we've loaded up 'Plenty of Fish.' You can barely navigate a Nokia 3310, let alone an entire website, so I wasn't too sure how many folk of your generation would be clued up on internet dating. 600+ results later; I don't think you've ever been more thrilled that I was wrong. We cry-laughed at 74 year old Londoner Terry and his explicitly written desires for a young, curvy, Asian babe, and then we cry-laughed some more at topless Peter from Gloucestershire, whose questionable camera angles had made him look like a cross between a wild yeti, and my left thumb. Once we caught our breath, you asked if we could look at the under 25s instead. You never did get your date, but it never really mattered. Topless Peter took pride of place on the cover of your birthday card that year and we laughed about it all over again.
In March 2013, 5 months after we struggled to find you a boyfriend on the Internet, you got diagnosed with bowel cancer. For the first time in my life, I experienced days where I just couldn't find a bright side or a silver lining, or some great, philosophical reasoning as to why this might be happening. Those positive things that I cling onto when things are shit were just completely non-existent; there was nothing positive about seeing you, this sharp, funny, vibrant woman laying helpless and confused in a hospital bed. There was nothing positive about the idea that my entire world was going to be cruelly and suddenly stripped of your presence. You weren't having any of it. You made it your mission to see me as a bridesmaid at my best friend's wedding that coming August. You promised me you'd be there.
You underwent major surgery to remove the cancer and ultimately to save your life. I spent evening after evening sat with you at the hospital, chinwagging about the ways of the world, mutually lusting over that Aussie anaesthetist, and generally feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the universe for letting you live. In hindsight; yes, your cancer was an awful experience, but it was also one that brought us together in a way that I could never have envisaged. I learnt so much from you during that time. I learnt so much about your life and your beliefs and your innate courage and your penchant for dishy young men with kind eyes and scattered facial hair....Familiar, I know. I learnt that it's okay not to be okay, and that I can still function as a human and be there for other people even when I'm tempted to break into a Havisham-style sob every five minutes. I discovered a new sadness that makes me treasure happiness even more-so. And of course, I learnt that hospital doughnuts are surprisingly addictive. You ordered one whenever they were on the menu and sneaked it into my hands every single time.
I've spent so much of my life with you and I've adored every second of it. I can't remember a time when you haven't supported me, except perhaps for that moment I cracked open the third bottle of wine on Christmas Day. You've shared with me your silly witticisms and you've let me drag you to the pantomime every year, and you've asked for every last tiny detail when I've been on a date. 'Ooooh look, isn't he lovely?! I think he might be the one Kath!' You've bought me slippers every winter and you've been the first person on the phone whenever anything noteworthy has happened. You've believed in me when I haven't believed in myself. You've loved me so fiercely and so purely, and it is a love I'll carry with me always.
I look at you and I know that heroism isn't about having a superpower, or being utterly fearless, or having cheese-grater abs. It isn't about living an insane fictional lifestyle or getting viral media coverage (I know you don't know what that means), or possessing the expert skill of kissing whilst upside down. (Your arthritic knees would never allow it anyway.) It's not even about prancing around in a fancy costume or swishing through the street in a cape. Nope, perhaps the truest of heroes are those who walk among us: those who throw goodwill around like confetti, those whose hearts are made of the finest gold, those who are extraordinary just by existing and make us feel extraordinary with just one kind glance. Perhaps the most worthy heroes are those who can inspire us to be so much better without ever thinking it or telling us that we need to be. That's you Granny dearest. And every last pinch of love that I have within me is yours. I'll never forget your face when you saw me as a bridesmaid.
If I'm anything like you are when I'm silver-haired and wrinkly, I'll know that it's been a life well lived.
Next Sunday, I'll be dressing up as my dear old Granny B and walking 10k at St Wilfrid's Hospice's first ever Hero Walk. If you've got a spare fiver and want to make a difference to this incredible charity and the community it serves, you can sponsor me right here!