Earlier tonight I went and sat outside my Nana’s house. I didn’t knock on the door. I didn’t even get out of the car. I just sat, listening to the stereo and looking at her house. Her front door, her bedroom, the front room where she used to have the TV so loud she wouldn’t hear you knocking. The number of times I stood at that door, banging my fist against the varnished wood, certain she must be lying blue and frozen on the patterned carpet. Actually she was just listening to David Jason at a thousand decibels.
Of course it’s not my Nana’s house anymore. We had to sell it so she could live in a residential home. She didn’t want to leave her home. She’d been single as long as I’d known her and she was fiercely independent. Her house was her castle.
But there were reasons she couldn’t stay. One day she blew up the pressure cooker. She could have died if she’d been in the kitchen. We didn’t know she had dementia then, but looking back it should have been obvious. She’d proudly owned that same pressure cooker for 35 years and she’d never blown it up before.
Another day she let a man into her house who said he was a tree surgeon. She wanted the beautiful tree in her garden pruning a little. He chopped down the whole thing in 30 minutes and then followed her to the bank in his white van where she withdrew £250 and gave it to him.
The tell-tale signs weren’t always so sad. She was always outgoing and hilarious and just the right side of crazy, but one day she put on my white monkey mask that I’d bought for Halloween, slipped a white fluffy dressing gown over her clothes and paraded down the street, much to the neighbours’ bemusement. We were in hysterics. It was typical Nana, but she didn’t seem to remember doing it an hour later and that was not like her.
Last year she died in a bed that wasn’t her own. The day before, I sat with her and held her hand and sung Calamity Jane songs to her. She cried out a lot in those last few days but singing seemed to keep her sane for a few minutes. She even made noises sometimes, as if she was trying to join in. Before the madness, she always sung. All the time.
So tonight I went and sat outside her old house. Then I drove to the house she lived in when I was born and sat outside there for a while too. I do it sometimes. Just to be close to her. Just to think about her. Sometimes I feel jealous that the people inside get to own what she owned. They get to sit on the floor where I sat as she stroked my hair and bathe in the bathroom where I bathed while she read to me.
They’re just houses; cold bricks and mortar. They’re not her. But they’re part of our history. And sitting there, outside, looking in, just for a while, helps me feel closer to her. Grief’s weird, isn’t it?
Find out more about my Finding Nana project.